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How to Create a Quirky Birthday Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

This post is part of a series called 10 Years of Envato Tuts+!.
10 Years of Design & Illustration on Envato Tuts+
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Birthdays are among the most fun events of the year. We all get excited about finding that perfect gift for our loved ones, accompanied by the perfect greeting card. So why not create a personalized birthday card instead of using the generic ones we can easily find everywhere? For this task I made a list of tips and tricks for you. Let’s start!

In case you want to download and use other birthday cards, you can easily find them on GraphicRiver.

1. How to Illustrate a Simple Cake 

Step 1

Before we start, we'll take a moment to create a color palette. We will use bright colors against a darker background. I noticed that bright and vivid colors work better over a darker background, so I decided to go for some warm and earthy tones against a dark grey background. I chose pink (#FE717C), orange (#FA6000), yellow (#FBB03B), light brown (#C69C6D), dark brown (#A67C52), and beige (#E6DDC4). We will place these colors over a dark grey background (#252828).

How to create a color palette

Step 2

To create this birthday card, we will use mostly the Pen Tool (P). It requires a bit of time and maybe some nerves if you are a beginner, but trust me, it's worth it when you see the final result. 

So start by drawing a simple cake. I made this cake in three parts: dough, frosting, and candles. The row of candles might seem tricky, but I wanted to make it easier so I made only three candles and multiplied them a few times. Start by creating the bigger objects first, and finish by creating the smaller ones.

How to illustrate a simple cake

2. How to Add Details 

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is: always question your illustration before you move on to the next step. I thought this cake was too simple and needed some details. The details also need to be simple and suitable to the style of the illustration. So I added layers over the dough, sprinkles over the frosting, and some simple stripes over the candles.

Step 1

Let’s add layers to the dough. Create two rectangle shapes and place them over the dough object. Color them in light brown (#C69C6D) (1). Copy (Control-C) and Paste in Front (Control-F) the dough object over the rectangles. Select the pasted object and the rectangles and right click on them. From the dropdown menu, select Make Clipping Mask (2). The rectangles will be masked in the dough shape (3). 

How to use Clipping Mask

Step 2

We’ll need to add some sprinkles over the frosting. Create a group of small lines or rectangles and color them in various colors from the palette. Place them over the frosting and scatter them randomly over it. 

How to add details over the frosting

Step 3

We’ll add stripes as details over the candles. Create a group of three diagonal pink (#FE717C) rectangles. Place them over the candle (1). Copy (Control-C) and Paste in Front (Control-F) the candle object over the rectangles. Select the pasted object and the rectangles and right click on them. From the dropdown menu, select Make Clipping Mask (2). The rectangles will be masked in the candle shape (3). 

How to add stripes over the candles

You can see that these simple, repetitive details are making a huge difference to the illustration.

 A comparison of the cake without and with the added details 

3. How to Turn an Object Into a Character

Step 1

Now that we've added the details, we are ready to bring the illustration to the next level—turning the object into a character. Almost any object can be converted into a cool character, if you find a nice place for the facial features like eyes, mouth, and nose. I added simple closed eyes and a smiling mouth in the same color as the background, dark grey (#252828), and a nose in a dark brown color (#A67C52).

How to add facial expression to a character

Step 2

Even though the facial expression is enough for an object to become a character, we can push the idea further and add limbs. So, again using the Pen Tool (P), create simple arms and legs. Try not to overthink them, and make them in a cartoon manner. Color them in beige (#E6DDC4).

How to add limbs to a character

4. How to Add Details to the Background

A character is not enough for this birthday card, so we will create some simple details and add them over the background. 

Step 1

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw two simple rectangles which will represent birthday gifts. Add details such as a lid and ribbons, and color them pink (#FE717C), orange (#FA6000), and yellow (#FBB03B).

How to create background details - Gifts

Step 2

Once again, using the Pen Tool (P), draw a cocktail glass and color it beige (#E6DDC4). Inside the glass, draw a triangle and color it pink (#FE717C). Additionally, draw a beige party hat with some pink stripes.

How to create background details - a glass and a hat

Step 3

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw a thin pointy shape in a horizontal position (1). Multiply it and place the duplicate vertically, in a “plus” formation (2). Multiply them again and Rotate them for 45°, creating a star formation (3). Try to create a few of them which will vary in size and color.

How to create background details - Stars

Step 4

Place the objects you just created over the background. Add some simple shapes such as triangles and circles. Scatter them over the left side of the character until there is no more empty space. If you want to achieve diversity, feel free to resize them and rotate them.

How to arrange the background details

Step 5

Now select them all and Group them (Control-G). Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the group. Right click on the pasted group, and from the dropdown menu, select Transform > Reflect. From the dialog box, choose the Vertical axis and click OK.

How to mirror the background details

Step 6

Position the reflected group of details on the right side of the artboard. The details should fill the space in perfect symmetry. But we don’t want the symmetry to look too obvious, so pick some of the bigger objects from the right side of the background and change their color or size. The change can be minor, just to break the perfect symmetry—this way the illustration looks more diverse. Also, delete some of the background objects that might overlap with the central character, such as the triangle near the hand.

How to arrange the background details

5. How Far Should You Go With an Illustration?

I believe every artist or illustrator poses this question very often. My answer is, the illustration is done when you achieve a balance of the initial idea and the work you have created. Not always do we end up having what we thought we would create, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can always push our limits further until we reach the point where there is nothing else to be done. 

In this case, I think we are quite done—we can only try to see how this illustration will look with the designated dark background color (#252828). But either way, the end result looks good, and I encourage you to try different background colors and choose the one you feel should be used. 

How to choose a background color

Great Job! Let the Party Start!

Following these few simple rules, you can create many other illustrations besides this birthday card. You can also apply them to posters, web banners, or t-shirt design. There are no limits once you get inspired.

End Result
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