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Design

How to Create a Cute Cat Character in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the following steps, you will learn how to create a cute cat character in Adobe Illustrator. 

For starters, you will learn how to set up a simple grid and how to create the main shapes of the head using basic shapes along with some Warp and Rounded Corners effects. Using a simple blend, the Inner Glow effect and some Gaussian Blur effects, you will learn how to add shading and depth for your flat vector shapes. 

Moving on, you will learn how the Transform effect can make your work easier, and how to add some neat shading effects using the Appearance panel. Using some stroke tricks, you will create some nice eyebrows and whiskers. Finally, you will learn how to create a pretty simple paw pattern.

For more inspiration on how to adjust or improve your final character, you can find plenty of resources at GraphicRiver.

1. How to Create a New Document and Set Up a Grid

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, enter 850 in the width box and 700 in the height box, and then click that More Settings button. Select RGB for the Color Mode, set the Raster Effects to Screen (72 ppi), and then click Create Document.

Enable the Grid (View > Show Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). For starters, you will need a grid every 10 px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid, and enter 10 in the Gridline every box and 1 in the Subdivisions box. Try not to get discouraged by all that grid—it will make your work easier, and keep in mind that you can easily enable or disable it using the Control-" keyboard shortcut.

You can learn more about Illustrator's grid system in this short tutorial from Andrei Stefan: Understanding Adobe Illustrator's Grid System.

You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Don't forget to set the unit of measurement to pixels from Edit > Preferences > Units. All these options will significantly increase your work speed.

setup grid

2. How to Create the Head

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and focus on your Toolbar. Remove the color from the stroke and then select the fill and set its color to R=241 G=119 B=44. Move to your artboard and simply create a 400 x 300 px shape—the gird and the Snap to Grid should make this easier. Place this squeezed circle about as shown in the following image.

ellipse

Step 2

Now, you will need a grid every 5 px. Simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 5 in the Gridline every box.

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create two 100 x 40 px shapes and place them exactly as shown in the following image. Once again, the grid and the Snap to Grid will help. Fill both shapes with yellow (R=251 G=176 B=59) and then go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 20 px Radius and then click OK.

rectangle

Step 3

Make sure that your yellow rectangles are still selected and Group them (Control-G). With this newly made group selected, go to Effect > Warp > Bulge. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click OK.

Make a copy of your group (Control-C > Control-V) and place it exactly as shown in the second image.

warp bulge

Step 4

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create three 40 x 100 px shapes, and place them exactly as shown in the following image. Fill these shapes with that same yellow and then go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 20 px Radius and then click OK.

rounded corners

Step 5

Group your three rectangles (Control-G) and then go to Effect > Warp > Bulge. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click OK.

warp

Step 6

Select all the shapes made so far and Group them (Control-G). Make sure that this new group is selected and go to Effect > Warp > Fisheye. Enter the attributes shown in the following image, click OK, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance.

With the resulting group of shapes selected, hit Shift-Control-G three times to Ungroup all those groups and subgroups. In the end, you should have seven yellow shapes and one orange.

warp fisheye

Step 7

Select your seven yellow shapes and turn them into one compound path (Control-8 or Object > Compound Path > Make). Select the orange shape and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select it along with your yellow compound path, open the Pathfinder panel, (Window > Pathfinder) and click the Intersect button.

Be sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and turn it into a new compound path. Select it and focus on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance). First, replace the existing fill color with R=152 G=78 B=255 and then click that Opacity piece of text to open the Transparency fly-out panel and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

compound path

Step 8

Disable the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-") and then go to Edit > Preferences > General and make sure that the Keyboard Increment is set to 1 px.

Select your orange shape, make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F), and bring it to front (Shift-Control-]). Select this copy, replace the orange with yellow, and then go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -5 px Offset and then click OK. Fill the resulting shape with a random blue and then move it 10 px up using the Up Arrow button on your keyboard.

Reselect both shapes made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black (R=0 G=0 B=0), lower its Opacity to 5%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

offset path

Step 9

Select your orange shape, make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F), and bring it to front (Shift-Control-]). Make sure that this copy stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel.

Remove the color from the fill and then select the stroke. Set the color to black, lower its Opacity to 5%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then click that Stroke piece of text to open the Stroke fly-out panel. Set the Weight to 20 px, and don't forget to check that Align Stroke to Inside button.

stroke

Step 10

Select your orange shape, make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F), and bring it to front (Shift-Control-]). Make sure that this copy stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel.

Set the fill color to blue and then go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Enter the attributes shown in the following image, click OK, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance

Make sure that the resulting group remains selected and focus on the Layers panel. Open the existing layer, take a closer look at your selected group, and then Ungroup it (Shift-Control-G). Delete the blue shape and select the remaining masked shape. 

Move to the Appearance panel or the Transparency panel (Window > Transparency), lower the Opacity to 30%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light. Return to the Layers panel and simply lock your masked shape to make sure that you won't accidentally select or move it later.

inner glow

Step 11

Enable the Snap to Grid (Control-"). Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 200 x 50 px shape and place it as shown in the following image. Fill this squeezed circle with white (R=255 G=255 B=255), lower its Opacity to 50%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a 20 px Radius and click OK.

gausssian blur

Step 12

Disable the Snap to Grid (Control-"). Select your orange shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -120 px Offset and click OK. Select the resulting shape, move it 20 px up, and replace the existing fill color with R=243 G=158 B=93.

Focus on your Toolbar and simply double-click on the Blend Tool to open the Blend Options window. Select Specified Steps from the Spacing drop-down menu and enter 50 in that white box. Reselect your orange shape along with the one made in this step and hit Alt-Control-B to create a new blend. In the end, things should look like in the second image.

blend tool

Step 13

Focus on the Layers panel. First, lock the existing layer and rename it "Head". Use that Create New Layer button to add a second layer, rename it "Eyes", and select it.

Enable the Snap to Grid (Control-"). Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 90 x 100 px shape, fill it with blue, and place it exactly as shown in the following image.

layers panel

3. How to Create Eyes

Step 1

Make sure that your blue shape is still selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 5 px up and 10 px to the right. 

Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with the linear gradient shown below and lower its Opacity to 25%. Keep in mind that the yellow zero from the Gradient image (Window > Gradient) stands for Opacity percentage.

minus front

Step 2

Reselect your blue shape and make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 70 x 80 px shape, make it green, and place it as shown in the first image.

Select both shapes made in this step and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with white, lower its Opacity to 25%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

intersect

Step 3

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 25 x 35 px shape, fill it with R=63 G=60 B=54, and place it as shown in the first image. Using the same tool, create a 10 px circle and 5 px circle. Fill both shapes with white and place them as shown in the second image.

Create a 25 x 50 px shape, make it white, and place it as shown in the third image. Lower its Opacity to 25% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

oval

Step 4

Select your blue shape and replace that blue with the radial gradient shown below. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to stretch the gradient roughly as shown in the following image, and then go to the Appearance panel. Select that fill and go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Enter the attributes shown in the following image, and then click OK.

radial gradient

Step 5

Make sure that your main eye shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the existing fill and duplicate it using the Duplicate Selected Item button.

Select the bottom fill, remove the existing Outer Glow effect, and then go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the attributes shown in the left window (in the following image), click OK, and then go again to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. This time, enter the attributes shown in the right window and then click OK.

drop shadow

Step 6

Make sure that your main eye shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Use the Add New Fill button to add a third fill, select it, and then drag it below the other two fills. Lower its Opacity to 10% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, apply the linear gradient shown below, and then go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 10 px Offset and then click OK.

linear gradient

Step 7

Make sure that your main eye shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the stroke and make it white. Align it to inside, set the Weight to 2 px, lower its Opacity to 15%, and change the Blending Mode to Overlay.

stroke white

Step 8

Make sure that your main eye shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Use the Add New Stroke button to add a second stroke and select it. Change the color to black, set the alignment to outside and the Weight to 2 px, and then lower its Opacity to 10% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

stroke black

Step 9

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create an 85 x 75 px shape and place it exactly as shown in the following image. Remove any color from the fill and select the stroke. Set the color to R=241 G=88 B=17 and increase the Weight to 10 px.

Make sure that this new shape remains selected and go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points. Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the five anchor points highlighted in the image below, and simply remove them using the Delete button on your keyboard. In the end, things should look like in the second image.

direct selection tool

Step 10

Make sure that your orange path is still selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Open the Stroke fly-out panel, check the Round Cap button, and then select Width Profile 4 from that Profile list.

round cap

Step 11

Make sure that your orange path is still selected and keep focusing on the Appearance panel. Select the existing stroke and duplicate it. Select the bottom stroke, increase its Weight to 20 px, and replace the existing color with R=241 G=119 B=44.

Once you're done, select all the shapes that make up the eye and Group them (Control-G).

add new stroke

Step 12

Make sure that the group of shapes that makes up the eye is selected and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Drag that Move-Horizontal slider to 180 px, check the Reflect X box, enter 1 in that Copies box, and then click OK.

transform

4. How to Create the Nose

Step 1

Let's focus on the Layers panel for a moment. Lock your "Eyes" layer and then add a third layer and make sure that it goes on the top of the panel. Select this new layer and rename it "Nose".

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a 60 x 35 px shape. Fill it with R=98 G=64 B=50 and place it exactly as shown in the first image. Focus on the bottom side of this new rectangle and switch to the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-). Simply click the right anchor point to remove it and then pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the left anchor point and drag it 30 px to the right. In the end, your brown rectangle should turn into a triangle, as shown in the second image.

delete anchor point tool

Step 2

Make sure that your brown rectangle is still selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 10 px Radius, click OK, and then go to Effect > Warp > Arc Upper. Enter the attributes shown below, click OK, and then go to Effect > Warp > FishEye. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click OK.

nose shape

Step 3

Disable the Snap to Grid (Control-"). Make sure that your brown shape is selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 3 px up. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, lower its Opacity to 10%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

minus front

Step 4

Make sure that your brown shape is selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 10 px up. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, lower its Opacity to 10%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

minus front

Step 5

Enable the Snap to Grid (Control-"). Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 20 x 5 px shape and place it as shown in the following image. Fill it with white, lower its Opacity to 30%, and change the Blending Mode to Overlay.

highlight

Step 6

Make sure that your brown shape is still selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the stroke and make it black. Set the alignment to outside and the Weight to 2 px, and then Lower its Opacity to 10% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

stroke

Step 7

Make sure that your brown shape is still selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the fill and go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Enter the attributes shown in the following image, click OK, and then apply the two Drop Shadow effects shown below.

inner glow

5. How to Create a Mouth

Step 1

Return to the Layers panel for a moment and lock your "Nose" layer. Add a fourth layer and drag it below your "Nose" layer. Rename it "Mouth" and make sure that it's selected.

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 40 x 50 px shape, and place it exactly as shown in the first image. Fill it with a random green and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 20 px Radius, click OK, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance. Duplicate the resulting shape (Control-C > Control-V) and place the copy as shown in the second image.

green rounded rectangle

Step 2

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 30 x 50 px shape and place it exactly as shown in the first image. Fill it with a random red and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 15 px Radius, click OK, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance.

red rounded rectangle

Step 3

Select your two green shapes and add copies in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select these copies along with that red rounded rectangle and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Select the resulting shape and replace that flat fill color with the linear gradient shown in the following image.

linear gradient

Step 4

Make sure that your red shape is still selected and apply the three Drop Shadow effects (Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow) shown in the following image.

drop shadow

Step 5

Using the Pen Tool (P), create a 20 px vertical path and place it as shown in the following image. Make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Remove any color from the fill and select the stroke. Set the color to black, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Set the Weight to 5 px and select Width Profile 1 from that Profile list.

stroke profile

Step 6

Delete the right green shape. Select the left one and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy and focus on the Appearance panel. Remove the fill color and select the stroke. Set the color to R=98 G=64 B=50 and increase the Weight to 4 px.

brown stroke

Step 7

Make sure that your rounded rectangle with the brown stroke (made in the previous step) is still selected and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the two anchor points highlighted in the first image and Delete them. Keep the remaining path selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Open the Stroke fly-out panel and select Width Profile 4 from that Profile list.

delete anchor point

Step 8

For this step, you will need a grid every 1 px. Just go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 1 in the Gridline every box.

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a 4 px circle. Place it as shown in the first image and set the fill color to R=98 G=64 B=50.

Select your green rounded rectangle, lower its Opacity to 40% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then apply the linear gradient shown below. Don't forget that the yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage.

brown circle

Step 9

Select the three shapes highlighted in the following image, Group them (Control-G), and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click OK.

transform

6. How to Create the Whiskers

Step 1

Return to gridline every 5 px—simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 5 in the Gridline every box. Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and create three 10 px circles. Fill these shapes with R=241 G=119 B=44 and place them as shown in the following image.

circles

Step 2

Using the Pen Tool (P), draw three simple paths roughly as shown in the following image. Select them and focus on the Appearance panel. Remove any fill color and then select the stroke. Apply the linear gradient shown below and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Set the Weight to 3 px, check the Round Cap button, and then select Width Profile 4 from that Profile list.

whiskers

Step 3

Select the three circles and the three paths that make up the whiskers, Group them (Control-G), and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click OK.

transform

7. How to Create the Ears

Step 1

Focus on the Layers panel for a moment. Lock your "Mouth" layer and then add a fifth layer and make sure that it goes in the top of the panel. Select this new layer and rename it "Ears".

Pick the Pen Tool (P), create a simple shape as shown in the following image, and fill it with R=241 G=88 B=17.

pen tool

Step 2

Using the Pen Tool (P), create a simple shape as shown in the first image and fill it with R=20 G=76 B=0. Using the same tool, create a triangle like the one shown in the second image and fill it with the linear gradient shown below.

pen tool

Step 3

Return to the Layers panel and drag your "Ears" layer to the bottom of the panel, below that "Head" layer. Make sure that the "Ears" layer remains selected.

Select the three shapes that make up your ear, Group them (Control-G), and then go to Effect > Warp > Bulge. Enter the attributes shown below, click OK, and then go to Effect > Distort &Transform > Transform. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click OK.

ear group

Step 4

Focus on the Layers panel, lock the "Ears" layer, and then unlock the "Head" layer and select it. Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), and create two 40 x 5 px shapes, a 50 x 5 px shape, and a 60 x 5 px shape. Fill all four shapes with R=241 G=88 B=17 and place them as shown in the first image, and then turn them into one compound path (Control-8).

Make sure that your new compound path stays selected and pick the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C). Simply click all left and right anchor points and things should end up looking as shown in the second image. Once you're done, move to the Appearance panel and lower the Opacity of your compound path to 30%.

anchor point tool

8. How to Create the Paw Pattern

Step 1

Return to the Layers panel and lock your "Head" layer. Add a new layer and name it "Bg". Drag it to the bottom of the panel and make sure that it stays selected until the end of the tutorial.

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 100 px square and fill it with yellow.

yellow square

Step 2

For the following steps, you will need a grid every 1 px, so go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 1 in the Gridline every box.

Focus on the bottom right corner of your yellow rectangle and pick the Rectangle Tool (M). Create a 24 x 14 px shape, fill it with white, and place it exactly as shown in the first image. Switch to the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and add a new anchor point to your white rectangle, as shown in the first image.

Focus on the top side of your white rectangle and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the left anchor point and drag it 1 px to the left, select the right anchor point and drag it 1 px to the left, and then select that middle anchor point and drag it 2 px up. In the end, your white shape should look like in the second image.

white rectangle

Step 3

Make sure that your white shape is still selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter an 8 px Radius, click OK, and then go to Effect > Warp > Arc Lower. Enter the attributes shown in the following image, click OK, and then go to Effect > Warp > Arc Upper. Enter the attributes shown below, click OK, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance.

warp

Step 4

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create two 10 x 12 px shapes and two 10 x 11 px shapes, and then place them as shown in the following image.

oval

Step 5

Select your right 10 x 12 px shape and pick the Rotate Tool (R). Hold the Alt button from your keyboard and simply click the bottom anchor point of your selected shape. This will set the center point in that spot and immediately open the Rotate window. Set the Angle to -15 degrees and your selected shape will rotate 15 degrees according to the location of that center point. Move to the right 10 x 11 px shape and repeat the same rotate command.

rotate tool

Step 6

Select your left 10 x 12 px shape and pick the Rotate Tool (R). Again, hold that Alt button and set the center point on the bottom anchor point of your selected shape. Set the Angle to 15 degrees and then click OK. Move to the left 10 x 11 px shape and repeat the same rotate command.

center point

Step 7

Keep focusing on those rotated oval shapes, pick the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C), and simply click the top anchor points.

anchor point tool

Step 8

Select the five shapes that make up the paw and set their fill color to black. Select the yellow square, focus on the Appearance panel, and simply turn off the visibility for the existing fill. Reselect this square along with the five shapes that make up the paw and simply drag them inside the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches) to save them as a pattern.

save pattern

9. How to Create the Background

Step 1

Return to gridline every 5 px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 5 in the Gridline every box. Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create an 860 x 710 px shape, make sure that it covers your entire artboard, and set the fill color to R=176 G=203 B=111.

green rectangle

Step 2

Make sure that your green rectangle stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Add a new fill and apply your paw pattern from the Swatches panel. Lower its Opacity to 25%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Uncheck that Transform Objects box and make sure that the Transform Patterns box is checked, set the Angle to 45 degrees, and then click OK.

apply pattern

Step 3

Make sure that your green rectangle is still selected and keep focusing on the Appearance panel. Add a third fill, lower its Opacity to 70%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then apply the radial gradient shown below.

radial gradient

Step 4

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 440 x 350 px shape, fill it with black, and place it as shown in the following image. Lower its Opacity to 20%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a 30 px Radius and click OK.

gaussian blur

Step 5

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 380 x 250 px shape, fill it with black, and place it as shown in the following image. Make sure that this shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the fill, lower its Opacity to 50%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a 20 px Radius and click OK.

Return to the Appearance panel and add a second black fill. Lower its Opacity to 10% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

gaussian blur

Step 6

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 380 x 280 px shape, fill it with black, and place it as shown in the following image. Lower its Opacity to 30%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a 20 px Radius and click OK.

gaussian blur

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how it should look. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects. Don't hesitate to share your final result in the comments section.

Feel free to adjust the final design and make it your own. You can find some great sources of inspiration at GraphicRiver, with interesting solutions to improve your design.

final product
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