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Design

How to Create a Zeppelin Illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called German Week.
How to Draw a Castle
How to Create a German Flag-Inspired Text Effect in Adobe Illustrator
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

We're honouring the German language and culture this week in celebration of the launch of the German version of Envato Elements

In today’s tutorial we’re going to take a look at the process of creating a floating zeppelin illustration in Adobe Illustrator, using nothing more than a couple of geometric shapes and tools.

So, assuming you already prepped yourself with a fresh cup of coffee, let’s jump straight into it.

What You'll Need

Before we begin, I wanted to point out that the texture that I ended up using for the current project is part of the Subtle Halftone Textures pack (more precisely halftone number five) which you can find over at Envato Elements.

Oh, and don't forget you can always expand your resource library by heading over to Envato Elements, where you'll find a great selection of vector graphics.

example of subtle halftone textures
Subtle Halftone Textures by Envato Elements

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

As always, we’re going to kick things off by setting up a new project file by heading over to File > New (or using the Control-N keyboard shortcut), and then adjusting it as follows:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 800 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 the Layers

Once we’ve finished setting up our project file, it would be a good idea to structure our document using a few layers, since this will help us maintain a steady workflow by allowing us to focus on one section of the illustration at a time.

That being said, bring up the Layers panel and create a total of four layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: background
  • layer 2: zeppelin
  • layer 3: gradient
  • layer 4: texture
setting up the layers

3. How to Create the Background

As soon as we’ve finished layering our document, we can start working on the actual illustration, and we will do so by creating the background. So make sure you’ve positioned yourself on the first layer, and let’s jump straight into it!

Quick tip: before we start, I wanted to point out that the entire project was built with pixel perfection in mind, so you might want to check out my How to Create Pixel Perfect Artwork tutorial, which should get you up to speed in no time.

Step 1

Grab the Pen Tool (P), and after setting your Fill color to #7AC6F4, carefully draw the main shape for the lower background cutout using the reference image as your main guide.

creating the main shape for the lower background cutout

Step 2

With the Pen Tool (P) still selected, quickly draw the smaller upper cutout, positioning the resulting shape as seen in the reference image.

creating the upper background cutout

Step 3

Once you’ve finished drawing the background segments, we can start working on the foreground clouds, which we will create using some circles of varying sizes. Position them on the sides of the bottom shape, coloring the front ones using #F0FBFF and the back ones using #D4F7FF.

creating the foreground clouds

Step 4

Since we want the shapes to remain constrained to the surface of the background segment, we’re going to group (Control-G) and then mask them using a copy (Control-C) of the underlying shape which we will paste in front (Control-F). Then, with both the copy and the grouped shapes selected, simply right click > Make Clipping Mask

Once you’re done, don’t forget to select and group all of the current section's composing shapes using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

masking the foreground clouds

Step 5

Move over to the smaller background segment, and start working on the sun by creating its glowing halo using a 112 x 112 px circle (#FFCF83) followed by two smaller ones (#FFCF83), each 12 px smaller than the last. Stack them on top of one another, making sure to lower their Opacity to just 16%. Once you’re done, add the actual sun using a 40 x 40 px circle (#FFCF83), making sure to select and group all four shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

creating the sun

Step 6

As soon as you’ve finished creating the sun, mask it using the same process used for the foreground clouds, so that it will remain bound to the surface of the underlying shape.

masking the sun

Step 7

Start working on the smaller floating clouds by creating three different shaped ellipses (#FFFFFF) for each instance. Make them overlap (1), and then adjust them by first pinching their side anchor points using the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) (2). Continue adjusting their shape by individually selecting their lower anchor points using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then removing them by pressing Delete, making sure to close the resulting paths using the Control-J keyboard shortcut (3). Once you’re done, select and group each of the clouds’ composing shapes using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

Quick tip: to achieve different variations, simply increase or decrease the width and/or height of the ellipses until you get the desired shape.

example of creating a floating cloud

Step 8

Finish off the background by positioning the resulting clouds as seen in the reference image, selecting and grouping all of the current section’s composing shapes afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

positioning the smaller floating clouds onto the upper background cutout

4. How to Create the Zeppelin

Now that we’ve finished working on the background, we can lock its layer and then move on to the next one (that would be the second one), where we will take our time and gradually build our little Zeppelin.

Step 1

Start by creating the main shape for the gondola using a 48 x 12 px rectangle, which we will color using #664240 and then position on the larger background segment, at a distance of 288 px from its left edge and 208 px from its top one.

creating the main shape for the gondola

Step 2

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by opening up the Transform panel and then setting the Radius of its bottom corners to 8 px from within the Rectangle Properties.

adjusting the shape of the gondola

Step 3

Add the window panels using eight 2 x 2 px squares (#F7C263) horizontally spaced 2 px from one another, which we will group (Control-G) and then position as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, make sure you select and group (Control-G) both the windows and the larger underlying shape together before moving on to the next step.

adding the windows to the gondola

Step 4

Start working on the balloon section by creating a 400 x 112 px ellipse, which we will color using #F99178 and then position on top of the gondola so that it ends up overlapping it.

creating the main shape for the balloon section of the zeppelin

Step 5

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by selecting and pushing its center anchor points to the left side by 32 px using the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Horizontal > -32 px), making sure to shorten the right anchor’s handles by 15 px in order to thin out its rear end.

adjusting the shape of the balloon section

Step 6

Add the balloon’s bottom darker section by creating a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the resulting shape, which we will adjust by selecting and then removing its top anchor point. Make sure to close the resulting path using the Control-J keyboard shortcut, coloring the new shape using #C15142.

adding the darker outer segment to the balloon section

Step 7

Add the inner, lighter section using a second copy (Control-C) of the larger balloon, which we will paste in front (Control-F). Change its color to #EA7B65, and then individually select and push its top and bottom anchors to the inside by 16 px (right click > Transform > Move > Vertical > +/- 16 px depending on which anchor you start with).

adding the lighter inner segment to the balloon section

Step 8

Create the darker bottom half using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the resulting shape, which we will adjust by first changing its color to #D86552 and then removing its top anchor point, immediately closing the path using the Control-J keyboard shortcut. Once you’re done, make sure you select and group (Control-G) all of the balloon’s composing shapes before moving on to the next step.

adding the inner darker segment to the balloon section

Step 9

Add the colored tip using an 8 x 112 px rectangle, which we will color using #664240 and then center align to the balloon’s left edge, making sure to mask it (right click > Make Clipping Mask) afterwards using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the larger underlying shape.

adding the colored nose section to the balloon

Step 10

Create the nose cone using a 12 x 4 px rectangle (#664240), which we will adjust by individually selecting and pushing its left anchor points to the inside by 1 px using the directional arrow keys, positioning the resulting shape so that it overlaps the larger balloon by 2 px.

adding the nose cone to the balloon section

Step 11

Add the main shape for the upper rudder using a 40 x 32 px rectangle (#D86552), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its top-left corner to 32 px, its top-right one to 4 px and its bottom-right one to 20 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties.

creating and positioning the upper rudder

Step 12

Quickly decorate the rudder by adding the darker vertical section using an 8 x 32 px rectangle (#664240), which we will mask using a copy of the underlying shape, followed by an 8 x 8 px circle (#664240), which we will position as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, make sure you select and group (Control-G) all three shapes together before moving on to the next step.

adding details to the upper rudder

Step 13

Add the bottom rudder using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Horizontal) and then position on the bottom side of the balloon. Make sure to send them underneath all the other shapes once you’re done (right click > Arrange > Send to Back).

adding the bottom rudder

Step 14

Create the side elevator using a 40 x 8 px ellipse (#664240), which we will adjust by selecting and pushing its inner anchor points to the left by 4 px, positioning the resulting shape 16 px from the balloon’s rear end.

creating and positioning the side elevator

Step 15

Add the little support segments using four sets of three 4 x 2 px ellipses (#664240), following the line of the balloon’s inner sections as seen in the reference image. Take your time, and once you’re done, make sure you select and group all of them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the support segments to the balloon section

Step 16

Finish off the zeppelin by adding the side engine using a 12 x 8 px ellipse (#664240), which we will adjust by selecting and pushing its inner anchor points to the left by 2 px. Position the resulting shape as seen in the reference image, making sure to select and group all of the airship’s composing sections afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

creating and positioning the side engine

Step 17

As soon as we’ve finished working on the zeppelin, we can add the little trail lines using three 1 px thick rounded rectangles (#FFFFFF), which we will position around the ship at a distance of 8 px.

adding the trail lines

Step 18

Finish off the illustration by adding a few floating clouds (#FFFFFF), following the same method used to create the background ones. Once you’re done, don’t forget to select and group all of the shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the larger floating clouds

5. How to Create the Gradient Overlay

Before we lock the current layer and move on up to the next one (that would be the third one), we’ll need to add a copy (Control-C) of the background’s two cutouts and the zeppelin’s main body to the Clipboard since we’re going to be using them to create the overlay.

Step 1

We want to start by pasting the copies that we’ve just added to the Clipboard onto the current layer using the Control-F keyboard shortcut.

pasting the main shapes for the gradient compound shape

Step 2

Next, we need to make our shapes behave as a single larger one by turning them into a Compound Shape. First select them, and then open up the Pathfinder panel and head over to its advanced menu and hit Make Compound Shape.

creating the compound shape for the gradient overlay

Step 3

Once we’ve created our compound shape, we can open up the Gradient panel and apply a smooth linear gradient using #662D91 for the left color stop and #FBB03B for the right one.

adding the gradient to the compound shape

Step 4

All we have to do now in order to make the colors pop is open up the Transparency panel and set the gradient’s Blending Mode to Color Burn, making sure to lower its Opacity to just 30%.

adjusting the blending mode

6. How to Add the Texture

Once we’ve added the gradient overlay, we can lock the current layer and then move on up to the last one (that would be the fourth one), where we will finish our little illustration by applying a nice subtle texture to it.

Step 1

We’ll want to start by first copying (Control-C) and then pasting (Control-V) the custom texture onto our current layer, making sure to resize it so that it ends up covering the entire Artboard.

pasting the custom texture onto the current document

Step 2

Once we have the texture in place, all we have to do is mask (right click > Make Clipping Mask) it using a compound shape created from the background and the zeppelin’s main shapes (the three that we’ve used a few steps ago), making sure to lower its Opacity to 60% before hitting finally hitting that Save button.

adjusting the opacity of the texture

Great Work!

As always, I hope you had fun working on this little project and most importantly managed to learn something new and useful during the process.

That being said, if you have any questions, feel free to post them within the comments section and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

finished project preview

Want to Learn More?!

If you want to expand your skill set and learn something new and useful, I've taken the time to handpick a few tutorials which I strongly recommend you check out!

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