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How to Create a Unicorn Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

A new request from one of our readers—a unicorn illustration!

As with all my tutorials, I want to show you that creating cute illustrations does not necessary require usage of complicated tools and extraordinary knowledge of Adobe Illustrator. Today we’re going to make a unicorn illustration using basic shapes. We will use the Scissors Tool (C) a lot and the Warp effect.

If you ever wonder why I am always using the Warp effect, it's my way of avoiding the Pen Tool, which is a bit complicated for beginners and usually requires extra tools such as a drawing tablet. I like to prove that drawing in Adobe Illustrator can be simple and fun!

If you need some inspiration or are not sure how unicorns look like, feel free to check GraphicRiver's adorable unicorn images.

And now, let’s get started!

1. How to Create a Unicorn

Step 1

Open Adobe Illustrator and create a new document with 850 px x 850 px in Width and Height.

We’ll start by creating the head, neck, and body of the unicorn. Draw an ellipse using the Ellipse Tool (L). Set no fill color and any stroke color for this shape.

Next, make a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M), as shown in the image below. Create a slightly larger ellipse, placing it at the bottom, overlapping the rectangle.

creating the head neck and body

Step 2

Let’s select the rectangle, which is going to be our unicorn’s neck. Go to Effect > Warp > Arc. In the new window, adjust the options from the image below. As you warp the neck, make sure that none of the anchor points are overlapping the head.

warping the neck

Step 3

Let’s warp the bottom ellipse by using another effect: the Flag effect. Go to Effect > Warp > Flag. Enter the options you see below and watch the result.

warping the body

Step 4

Now that we’ve warped the rectangle and the ellipse, we’re going to expand these irregular shapes. Select one of these shapes, and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Repeat the same procedure for the second deformed shape. Select all three shapes and unite them by pressing the Unite button on the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). 

To finalize the shape, use the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) and stretch the handles until you achieve the result you want. If you want to delete some of the anchor points, use the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-).

Also, one important detail: on the Stroke panel, check Round Cap in the Cap section and Round Join in the Corner section. Always make sure that these buttons on the Stroke panel are switched on.

uniting the head neck and body

Step 5

Let’s create a shape that can be used to add more details on our unicorn. Draw a thin horizontal ellipse. Select this ellipse, and using the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C), make the right and left anchor points sharp by clicking on them. 

Let’s use the Flag effect to warp this shape. Go to Effect > Warp > Flag and apply the options in the image below. Don't forget to expand the final shape: keeping the shape selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance.

creating the strand

Step 6

Make several copies of this shape and place them along the left side of our unicorn—this will be the mane. If you have some unfilled gaps between shapes, just add an ellipse (similar to the inserted red ellipse in the image below). 

Once you are happy with the length and shape of the mane, select all the shapes you've created and unite them by pressing the Unite button on the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder).

creating the mane

Step 7

Using the same technique, let’s give our unicorn a tail. Make a few copies of the pointy ellipses, rotate them as necessary, and unite them to make a single shape.

creating the tail

Step 8

Let’s move on to the legs. Create a vertical ellipse, and then apply the Flag effect: go to Effect > Warp > Flag, and use the options below. Expand the appearance of this shape (Object > Expand Appearance).

For the hoofs, add two tiny overlapping ellipses as shown in the image below (see the red ellipses). Select both of these tiny ellipses and unite them: press the Unite button on the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). 

You should now have two shapes: a long, irregular ellipse for the leg and a heart shape for the hoof. Make a copy of the leg in front (Control-C, Control-F). While keeping it selected, hold down the Shift key and select the hoof. Then hit the Intersect button on the Pathfinder panel. One leg is done!

creating the leg

Step 9

Give this leg to the unicorn. Then make three copies and give these to him as well. Notice that the legs in the back are positioned slightly higher due to perspective.

placing legs

Step 10

Let's make an ear. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw an ellipse. Then take the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the right and left anchor points, and slide them down. Copy the created shape, make it smaller, and place it inside the larger shape.

creating the ear

Place the ear on the unicorn's head.

placing the ear

Step 11

What’s a unicorn without a horn? Adding one is really easy! Apply the same method as you did with the ear. Make a vertical ellipse, and then move the right and left anchor points all the way down by using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and the Down Arrow key on your keyboard.

creating the horn

Place the horn on the unicorn's head.

placing the horn

Step 12

To make the romantic, dreamy eyes and cute, smiley mouth, let’s start with an ellipse. Then grab the Scissors Tool (C) and click on the left and right sides of the ellipse. Delete the upper part of the ellipse. You should be left with an arc.

creating the eye

Step 13

Let’s place the arc as the eye, and add a few eyelashes using the Line Segment Tool (\)

Make a copy of the arc (the closed eye without the lashes) and place it as the unicorn’s mouth. Add two tiny circles as nostrils. While drawing the ellipse, be sure to hold down the Shift key to get a nice, even circle. Place another copy of the arc on the horn to make the horn look as if it's inside the mane.

creating the eyelashes mouth and nosdrils

Step 14

Whoa—hold your unicorns! We’re almost there! Here we have everything drawn and placed together. Now let's make our image more natural, as if it were drawn with the Pen Tool. 

But before we do anything, ungroup everything: select all (Control-A), and go to Object > Ungroup. Repeat this ungrouping a few times until the Ungroup command is no longer active.

Now we need to cut some unnecessary parts using the Scissors Tool (C). Examine your unicorn carefully and decide which parts need to be cut off. Keep an eye on the intersections of two or more lines. In the image below, I marked the paths that I’ll be cutting away with pink color.

cutting unneeded parts

And here he is! Our unicorn!!

how the unicorn looks after cutting off

2. How to Create the Rainbow and Clouds

Step 1

First thing—we definitely need a rainbow for the unicorn, a place where unicorns usually live.

We will start by drawing a large circle: use the Ellipse Tool (L) while holding down the Shift key. Then we will make five copies of this circle, each with consistently decreasing radii. Go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the options presented below. Don't forget to enter the number of copies. In our case, there are five. As a result, you will get a set of circles. Expand appearance of these circles: while the shape is selected, go to Object > Expand Appearance.

creating the rainbow

Step 2 

Now we will learn how to draw a cloud. Simply draw a circle (Ellipse Tool (L) while holding the Shift key). Make a lot of copies of this circle (Control-C and Control-V for a few times). Distribute these circles to have them intersecting and to fill in all the areas of your cloud. You can resize some of the circles to achieve a cloud shape, as seen in the image below. 

Finally, select all circles and unite them by using the Unite button on the Pathfinder panel. Our cloud is ready.

creating the cloud

Make a second copy of this cloud and place them on both sides of the unicorn.

placing clouds

Step 3

In this step, we will cut the lines of the rainbow which intersect with the image of the unicorn and clouds. Before cutting the rainbow lines, you will need to ungroup them (Object > Ungroup), perhaps even a few times. 

Now select the Scissors Tool (C) and click on the paths where the rainbow lines intersect with the lines of the unicorn or clouds. Delete the unnecessary parts of lines to make the rainbow image appear behind the unicorn and clouds. Our image is now ready to be colored!

cutting off

3. How to Color the Illustration

Step 1

Select everything (Control-A), go to Object > Expand, and in the new dialogue window choose Stroke, OK. To fill the object with a color, create a rectangle (Rectangle Tool (M)), filled with any fill color. Place this rectangle behind the illustration (Control-X, Control-B). 

Be sure that all parts of the illustration are covered by this rectangle. Again, select everything (Control-A) and hit the Trim button on the Pathfinder panel. Then ungroup the whole illustration as it will be grouped, and delete the rectangle frame.

coloring the illustration

The resulting image should look like this:

pressing the Trim button in Pathfinder

Step 2

Now you can change the colors of the different parts of the image to your taste. I didn't list the color codes for the illustration as it’s not so important to be exactly the same. Our main focus here is using the basic shapes to replicate a Pen-Tool-drawn-like artwork. As always, I like to give you more room to express your creativity!

colored illustration

Step 3

If you wish, you can add a few stars around the illustration. To make the stars, use the Star Tool. Hold down the Control key on your keyboard while drawing the star and watch how the corners change!

adding stars

Step 4

Add an 850 x 850 px square behind everything as a background. Our unicorn illustration is ready!

adding the background

Awesome Work, You're Done!

Yayyyy!!! We've made it!! You’ve completed yet another beautiful illustration! As you can see, by using a very simple technique and transforming the simple forms, you can create an illustration that looks as if you have used more complex tools. 

You've probably learned something new and practiced something you already knew, but I sure hope that you enjoyed this tutorial! Looking forward to seeing your results! If you have any questions, ask away in the comments below.

final image
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