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  1. Design & Illustration
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Design

How to Create a Collage Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Easy Character Design.
How to Create Easy Kawaii Animals in Adobe Illustrator
How to Create a Cute Spring Rabbit in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

So far I’ve been making tutorials strictly by using vector shapes. But in this tutorial, I will show you how to create a fun digital collage in Adobe Illustrator by using photo textures.

What You Will Need

In this tutorial, we will use photos I took of a few objects whose textures I found interesting: my winter sweater, my favorite plaid shirts, and some old wooden doors. You will find them in the zipped file provided with this tutorial.

Also we'll be using two stock references available to download at Pixabay:

For higher-quality stock references, I recommend using stock resources available for purchase on PhotoDune and GraphicRiver

1. Draw a Simple Character

You can either do a drawing in Adobe Photoshop or do it the traditional way: on a paper sheet and then scan it. If you decide to go with a traditional one, use a black marker. This way you will get nice lines which later are going to be easier to trace.

Some tips for drawing a character: try to do it in at least three stages:

  1. Face
  2. Body
  3. Details

You can see how the character design goes easier once you establish the facial features. Make sure all of your lines are closed. This will be very important in the later steps.

2. Create a New Print Document

Go to File > New (Control-N). In the dialog box, set the profile to Web and set the Width to 800 px and the Height to 900 px.

Create a New Print Document

3. Import the Drawing

Go to File > Place and select the drawing file. Position it in the middle of the artboard. Try to place the drawing a bit lower at the bottom part of the artboard, so your character won’t look as if it’s cut in half but rather as if it’s appearing from the bottom of the artboard. 

Import the drawing

4. Trace the Drawing

Step 1

Once you've positioned the drawing, trace it simply by selecting it and going to Object > Image Trace > Make and Expand. The drawing will get vectorized, and it will break in pieces too.

To make things easier to work with, we will need to ungroup the drawing. Click on the now vectorized object and go to Object > Ungroup.

Trace the drawing

Step 2

Select the white space around the character and delete it.

Delete the background

5. Import Photo Content

We can start importing the textures. Each part of the character will be assigned a corresponding texture. I decided to go with wood textures for the face and hair, plaid fabric texture for the hat and the shirt, a knitted wool texture for the scarf, and rusty metal for the background. 

Photos used for textures

I encourage you to take photos of patterns around you: your favorite sweater, the bricked wall around the corner, the neighbor’s wooden door, the tiles at the train station… Patterns are all around us; we just need to notice them better. 

Step 1

We will start with the face. Now that we've ungrouped the image, we'll need to merge a few parts which belong to the same group, such as the face and the ears. Select those three parts and go to Object > Compound Path > Make. This will merge these three shapes, and they will act as one. Click on it again and copy it (Control-C). 

Merge the face parts

Step 2

Download the face texture.

Go to File > Place and open the downloaded texture. Once you've imported it, click on it and Paste in Front (Control-F) the already copied face elements.

Step 3

Select both the texture image and the face shape and do a right-click anywhere on the working area. Select the Make Clipping Mask option.

Make clipping mask

Once you've done this, the Clipping Mask will be created and the wood texture will be visible only on the face area.

preview

Step 4

Let’s do the same with the other parts.

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the white surface of the scarf and copy it (Control-C).

Selec the Scarf area

Step 5

Import the scarf texture. Go to File > Place and import the photo texture labeled as Scarf.

Paste in Place (Control-F) the copied scarf shape over the texture. Select them both and right-click on them. From the menu, select Make Clipping Mask. You can also do this by following the menu Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Make a clipping mask

The illustration should look like this so far.

Preview

Step 6

Let's move on to the shirt. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the white surface of the shirt and copy it (Control-C).

Select the shirt

Step 7

Import the texture. Go to File > Place and import the photo texture labeled as Shirt. Position it over the body part, scaling it down if necessary. Paste in Front (Control-F) the copied shirt shape over the texture. Select them both and right click on them. From the menu, select Make Clipping Mask.

Make a clipping mask

We can see how the patterns slowly start filling our illustration, and it looks good!

Preview

Step 8

We have two more objects to fill with patterns: the hair and the cap.

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), carefully select the parts of the hair, including the parts near the eyebrows and behind the ears.

Select the hair parts

Step 9

Open the Pathfinder panel and click the Unite command. Then go to Object > Compound Path > Make, or simply use the shortcut version Control-8

Merge the hair parts

Step 10

Once we've made sure all of the hair parts are united, we can import the designated texture for this area. Just as in the steps before, we go to File > Place and import the photo texture labeled as Hair. Position it over the hair part, scaling it down to fit the area.

Paste in Front (Control-F) the copied selection in front of the photo texture. 

Paste the copied selection

Step 11

Select both, the photo texture and the vector hair shape and right click on them. From the menu, select Make Clipping Mask.

Make a clipping mask

Step 12

Once we are done with the hair, we move to the last part, the cap. We will divide it into two groups: the panels as the first, main group, and the peak together with the button as a second group. 

First, we will start with the side panels. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the two side panels and merge them, using the Unite command from the Pathfinder panel. Also, go to Object > Compound Path > Make. Copy them (Control-C).

Merge the two side panels

Step 13

Import the texture labeled Cap 1 and place it over the cap part. Paste in Front (Control-F) the side panels. Select them both and right click over them. From the menu, choose Make Clipping Mask

Make a clipping mask

Step 14

For the central cap panel, we will again import the same texture, only this time we will rotate it 180 degrees so we can get a different position of the plaid.

So once again, copy the central panel (Control-C) and import the texture. Go to File > Place and select the texture labeled Cap 1. Right-click on it and go to Transform > Rotate.

Step 15

A dialog box will appear. Just enter 180 as an Angle value and click OK.

Enter 180 as an angle value

Step 16

Paste in front (Control-F) the central panel and right-click on it. From the menu, choose Make Clipping Mask.

Make a clipping mask

Step 17

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), click on the middle panel and adjust the texture in a way which will be different than the rest of the panels. This way we have the same texture only differently juxtaposed so we can visually distinguish the three panel parts.

Adjust the texture

Step 18

Finally, we will add texture to the last empty part of our illustration: the button and the peak of the cap. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select them both. Open the Pathfinder panel and use the Unite command. Then, go to Object > Compound Path > Make (Control-8). Copy the merged objects (Control-C).

Merge the two parts

Step 19

Import (File > Place) the texture labeled Cap 2. Position it so that it covers the entire cap part. Scale down the size if necessary. Select both the texture and the pasted vector shape and right-click on them. From the menu, choose Make Clipping Mask

Make a clipping mask

The illustration so far should look like this. We assigned a texture to every part of the illustration. Let’s add a background to it.

Preview

Step 20

Download the background texture. Import (File > Place) the downloaded texture. Right-click on it and go to Transform > Rotate

Add and rotate a background

Step 21

A dialog box will appear. Enter 90 as an Angle value and click OK.

Enter 90 as an angle value

Step 22

Select the background texture file and right-click on it. Go to Arrange > Send to Back.

Send to back the background

We have a space background! We are almost done—let’s add some final touches.

Preview

Step 23

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select one of the character’s eyes.

Select one of the characters eyes

Step 24

Go to Select > Same > Fill Color. All of the illustration’s black color, including the outline, will be selected.

Delete the selected areas

Step 25

Now just press Delete. Every vector outline and line should disappear, leaving the dark background to fill those gaps. This will only work with dark backgrounds because lighter ones may cause confusion.

Preview

Step 26

Let’s put all of this into a nice frame which will fit our 800 x 900 pixel artboard.

Select the Rectangle Tool and click once anywhere on the working area. A dialog box will appear. Enter 800 px as a Width value and 900 px as a Height value. Click OK.

Create a rectangle

Step 27

A white rectangle will appear. Open the Align panel (Window > Align). From the Align To option, select Align to Artboard. Then use the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center commands in order to align the rectangle perfectly to our artboard.

Align

Step 28

For the final step, Select everything you have on your working area and Right-click on it. Select Make Clipping Mask.

Make a clipping mask

Awesome Work! You're Done!

I hope you had fun while making this digital collage. Using textures is a good idea not only in illustration, but also in other fields, such as graphic or web design. You can even print it and find a nice place for it in your room. 

Now, try making it with your own drawing and photo textures and show us the results in the comments below. 

Final result
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