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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Summer
Design

How to Create a Subtle Summer Sunset Textured Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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

In today’s tutorial, we’re going to explore the process of creating a nice little summer illustration, using some of the most geometric shapes and tools that Illustrator has to offer.

Before we start, don’t forget that you can always add new features to the final result by heading over to GraphicRiver, where you’ll find a great selection of summer-themed vector items.

That being said, let’s jump straight into it!

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

Since I’m hoping you already have Illustrator up and running in the background, bring it up and let’s set up a New Document (File > New or Control-N) for our project using the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 1200 px
  • Height: 600 px
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72ppi)
  • Preview Mode: Default
setting up a new document

2. How to Set Up a Custom Grid

Even though today we’re not working on icons, we’ll still want to create the illustration using a pixel-perfect workflow, by setting up a nice little Grid so that we can have full control over our shapes.

Step 1

Go to the Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid submenu, and adjust the following settings:

  • Gridline every: 1 px
  • Subdivisions: 1
setting up a custom grid

Quick tip: you can learn more about grids by reading this in-depth piece on How Illustrator’s Grid System Works.

Step 2

Once we’ve set up our custom grid, all we need to do in order to make sure our shapes look crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option found under the View menu (that’s if you're using an older version of Illustrator).

Now, if you’re new to the whole “pixel-perfect workflow”, I strongly recommend you go through my How to Create Pixel-Perfect Artwork tutorial, which will help you widen your technical skills in no time.

3. How to Set Up the Layers

Once we’ve finished setting up our project file, it would be a good idea to structure our document using several layers, since this way we can maintain a steady workflow by focusing on one section of the illustration at a time.

So bring up the Layers panel, and create a total of six layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: background
  • layer 2: water
  • layer 3: horizon details
  • layer 4: clouds
  • layer 5: circular highlight
  • layer 6: texture
setting up the layers

Quick tip: I’ve colored all of my layers using the same green value, since it’s the easiest one to view when used to highlight your selected shapes (whether closed or open paths).

4. How to Create the Background

We’re going to kick off the project by creating the sunset background, so make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the first one), and then lock all the other layers so that we can get started.

Step 1

Create a 480 x 480 px circle, to which we will apply a subtle linear gradient, using #EFFF56 for the left color and #EF6B43 for the right one. Set the angle to 90º, center aligning the shape to the larger Artboard.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations background

Step 2

Start working on the sun’s glow, by creating a smaller 384 x 384 px circle (#ED7743), which we will adjust by lowering its Opacity to 40%, center aligning the resulting shape to the background.

adding the larger circle to the suns glow section

Step 3

Add the second glow section using an even smaller 288 x 288 px circle (#ED7743) with a 48% Opacity level, which we will center align to the one from the previous step.

adding the smaller circle to the suns glow section

Step 4

Create the sun using a 192 x 192 px circle, which we will color using #E87243 and then center align to the previously created shape. Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group all four shapes using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, locking the current layer before moving on to the next step.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations sun

5. How to Create the Water Section

Assuming you’ve finished working on the background, make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the second one) and let’s start working on the illustration’s next section.

Step 1

Create a 512 x 512 px rectangle with a linear gradient (left color: #6FA0CD; right color: #7DDBCD; angle: 90º), which we will position over the lower half of the background’s larger circle.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations water section

Quick tip: you might notice that we gave the rectangle a 16 px padding to its left, right and bottom sides in order to foolproof our design, since we’re going to mask it in the following step.

Step 2

Mask the shape that we’ve just created, using a copy (Control-C) of the background, which we will paste onto the current layer (Control-F), by selecting both it and the copy and then right clicking > Make Clipping Mask.

masking the illustrations water section

Step 3

Start working on the water’s outer reflection by creating a 240 x 32 px rounded rectangle (#FFFFFF) with a 16 px Corner Radius, followed by a narrower 176 x 32 px one (#FFFFFF), which we will vertically stack at a distance of 32 px from one another, positioning them 32 px from the water’s top edge (since we’re going to be adding two new rectangles over those empty spaces).

creating and positioning the main shapes for the illustrations outer water reflection

Step 4

Start filling up the empty spaces created by the shapes from the previous step, by creating a 192 x 32 px rectangle (#FFFFFF), which we will position onto the first gap, and a smaller 128 x 32 px one (#FFFFFF) which will go onto the second one.

filling up the empty gaps created by the illustrations outer water reflection segments

Step 5

Adjust the rectangles that we’ve just created by cutting out a 32 x 32 px circle (highlighted with red) from each of its side sections using Pathfinder’s Minus Front Shape Mode.

adjusting the shape of the illustrations smaller reflection segments

Step 6

Add the final section using a 64 x 48 px rectangle (#FFFFFF), which we will position below the smaller rounded rectangle as seen in the reference image. Once you have the shape in place, select and unite all of the reflection’s composing shapes into a single larger shape using Pathfinder’s Unite Shape Mode.

adding the nose section to the illustrations outer water reflection

Step 7

Adjust the resulting shape by individually selecting each of its bottom-center corners using the Direct Selection Tool (A), and then setting their Radius to 32 px with the help of the Live Corners tool. Repeat the same process for the square corners, using a smaller value (16 px) for their Radius.

adjusting the shape of the illustrations outer water reflection

Step 8

Add the little side sections using two 48 x 32 px rounded rectangles (#FFFFFF) with a 16 px Corner Radius, which we will position at a distance of 16 px from the reflection’s first and second rounded sections.

adding the side segments to the illustrations outer water reflection

Step 9

Since we’ll want the larger reflection and side sections to act as a single larger shape, we’ll have to select them and then use Pathfinder to create a Compound Shape.

turning the illustrations outer water reflection into a compound shape

Step 10

Once we’ve created our compound shape, we can apply a nice smooth white linear gradient, with a 20% Opacity for the left color stop and 60% for the right one, making sure to set the Angle to 90º.

adding the gradient to the illustrations outer water reflection

Step 11

Add the smaller reflection using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the larger one, which we will scale down using the Scale tool (right click > Transform > Scale > Uniform > 50%).

adding the inner water reflection to the illustration

Step 12

Position the resulting shape on the upper edge of the larger reflection, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all the shapes together before moving on to the next step.

positioning the illustrations inner water reflection

6. How to Create the Horizon Details

Make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the third one) and let’s start adding a few details to the illustration’s center section.

Step 1

Grab the Pen Tool (P), and use it to draw the little island using #C4583B as your main Fill color. Take your time, and once you’re done, move on to the next step.

drawing the illustrations island using the pen tool

Step 2

Give the island some depth by adding a couple of darker sections using #AA4531 as your Fill color, making sure to select and group (Control-G) all its composing shapes afterwards.

adding the darker sections to the illustrations island

Step 3

Create the little cruise ship using a few rectangles (#C4583B), which we will adjust by pushing some of their anchor points to the inside. Take your time, and once you’re done, make sure to select and group all of its composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the cruise ship to the illustration

Step 4

Since the right section of the island will most likely go outside of the background’s surface, we’ll want to mask it using a copy (Control-C) of the larger circle, which we will paste (Control-F) onto the current layer (right click > Make Clipping Mask).

masking the right section of the illustrations island

7. How to Create the Clouds Section

Assuming you’ve finished working on the previous section, jump on up to the next layer (that would be the fourth one), where we will quickly create the clouds.

Step 1

Start working on the first set of clouds by creating an 80 x 16 px rounded rectangle (#FFFFFF) with an 8 px Corner Radius, which we will position at a distance of 56 px from the background’s left edge and 102 px from its top one.

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations first cloud group

Step 2

Create another 80 x 16 px rounded rectangle (#FFFFFF) with an 8 px Corner Radius, which we will position underneath, at a distance of 88 px from the background’s left edge and 16 px from the previous cloud segment.

creating and positioning the second shape for the illustrations first cloud group

Step 3

Create the inner segment using a smaller 32 x 16 px rectangle (#FFFFFF) which we will adjust by cutting out a 16 x 16 px circle from each of its side sections using Pathfinder’s Minus Front Shape Mode.

creating and adjusting the center shape for the illustrations first cloud group

Step 4

Create smaller side segment using a 32 x 16 px rounded rectangle (#FFFFFF) with an 8 px Corner Radius, which we will position at a distance of 16 px from the wider lower segment. Once you’re done, select and group all four shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the side segment to the illustrations first cloud group

Step 5

Create the second cloud group using the same process, but this time take a couple of moments and play a little with the segments’ length values, positioning the resulting shapes on the right side of the background.

adding the second cloud group tot he illustrations background

Step 6

Select both cloud groups and turn them into a larger Compound Shape, applying a white linear gradient with a 90º over them, using an 80% Opacity for the first color stop and 20% for the second one.

applying the linear gradient over the illustrations two cloud groups

Step 7

Finish off the current section by adding the plane trails using two 80 x 4 px rectangles (#FFFFFF) with 2 px left corner Radius, which we will vertically stack 12 px from one another, applying a subtle linear gradient (60% Opacity for the left color stop; 10% Opacity for the right color stop) to them.

adding the two plane trails to the illustrations background

8. How to Create the Circular Highlight

Make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the fifth one), and then quickly create the circular highlight.

Step 1

Create a copy (Control-C) of the background’s larger circle, which we will paste (Control-F) onto the current layer, and then adjust by first setting its color to white (#FFFFFF) and then removing a smaller 448 x 448 px circle (highlighted with red) from its center.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the illustrations circular highlight

Step 2

Finish off the highlight by setting the resulting shape’s Opacity to 30%.

adjusting the opacity of the illustrations circular highlight

9. How to Create the Texture

We are now down to our illustration’s last section, so assuming you’ve locked the previous layer and positioned yourself onto the next one (that would be the sixth one), let’s wrap things up!

Step 1

Paste another copy (Control-F) of the background’s larger circle onto the current layer, making sure to change its color to black (#000000).

creating and positioning the main shape for the illustrations texture

Step 2

Select the circle and then apply a Grain texture over it, by going over to Effect > Photoshop Effects > Texture > Grain and setting its Intensity to 11, its Contrast to 100, and its Grain Type to Sprinkles.

adding the texture to the illustration

Step 3

Adjust the resulting texture by setting its Blending Mode to Soft Light and its Opacity to 20% from within the Transparency panel.

adjusting the illustrations texture

Step 4

Finish off the illustration by selecting and masking its texture so that it will remain constrained to the background’s surface.

finishing off the summer sun illustration

It’s a Wrap!

There you have it—a short and simple tutorial on how to create your very own summer illustration. I hope you’ve managed to keep up with each and every step, and learned something new during the process.

finished project preview
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