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How To Design a Sweet Linework & Typography Combo

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In this tut, we'll create a quick sketch similar to the style made famous by the ridiculously gifted guys at Mulheres Barbadas. We'll scan our sketch in, ink it up in Flash, move it over to Illustrator for coloring, add some nice typography and finish in Photoshop for some subtle grunge. A graphics tablet of some description will make this tut (and probably your life in general) 90% more satisfying, but isn't essential - if you're nifty with a mouse you'll have no troubles inking up your sketch tablet-less-ly. Let's get started!

Step 1

The most involved part of this otherwise simple tutorial is the sketch. Everyone has a different style, so we won't be telling you what to draw or how to draw it, that's up to you! That said, there are some things to bear in mind that will help make your project great! To begin this tutorial, have a think about what purpose you want this artwork to serve. If it is for a client, what will your design promote/advertise/represent? What kind of people will be seeing it? Does it compliment the product or service it is associated with? In our case, this work was done for Sticks Clothing, a music/skating clothing label in Australia. So our drawing needed to appeal to young skaters.

Once you're clear on the answers to these questions, it's time to start brainstorming what's going to fill your page. What elements are you going to include? We chose to use some pop culture elements (chucks, tv, spray can etc), unusual looking characters, recognizable objects (playing cards, toothbrush, trees, tentacles etc), and some patterns, which make for great white-space fillers! (bubbles, noodles, swirls etc).

Step 2

Equipped with a solid idea of what elements to use, all that's left is layout! This just involves arranging your elements in an interesting/clever manner. This is where you can get really inventive with your use of patterns; use them carefully around your larger characters and objects to eliminate awkward white space (note: not all white space is awkward, but that's for another tut!), and fill in shapes. This is our finished sketch below. As is apparent, it really doesn't have to be perfect - as long as you are happy with the form and layout, linework and finer details can be added in the following steps.

Step 3

Now we need to get your sketch from paper to screen. As you would expect, the most efficient way to do this is simply to scan your art onto your computer. Scan your artwork at A4 (Letter) size and about 150dpi. Bring your scanned document into Photoshop. This is where we'll prepare your linework for inking. At the moment, you'll find that after the scan your white paper has become an ugly grey and your lines could be clearer and more distinct. This is easy fixed. First of all, save your image as a PSD file. Next, desaturate your image by pressing Command+Alt+U. We are eliminating the color from the image so we can just work with tones. Create a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Brightness/Contrast) with the Use Legacy option ticked, and increase both the brightness and the contrast until your image looks like the one below- the paper should disappear into white and your lines should be nice and clear. Play with the levels until you are satisfied.

Step 4

Once your linework is crisp and clear, we are ready to start inking! We chose to do this part of the process in Flash, as the brush engine is relaxed and fun to work with. That said, Illustrator or Photoshop can be used to achieve much the same results. It's up to you! The principles remain the same regardless of which program you choose. Let's keep moving- open up Flash, create a new Flash File (note it doesn't matter which version of Actionscript you choose) and import your image (Command+R). In the dialogue that appears, ensure that the layer containing your artwork is ticked, and also tick the option at the bottom that says "Set stage size to same size as Photoshop canvas". Hit OK. Your sketch should appear on the stage. Name your layer "sketch", and ensure you save your Flash file before continuing.

Step 5

At the moment, our sketch is too bold to easily ink over, so we will convert our image to a Symbol and adjust it's Alpha level. Do this by selecting your sketch with the Move Tool (V) and hitting F8 to convert it to a Symbol. Name it "sketch" and choose Graphic as the Type. Press OK.

Step 6

Again, ensure that your new symbol is selected (V) and bring up the Properties panel (Command+F3). Open up the Color Effect section and from the Style dropdown, select Alpha. Set this slider to about 20 - 30%. Now your sketch is completely ready for inking!

Step 7

Zoom in one or two levels using the Magnify Tool (Z), select the Brush Tool (B) and choose a nice thick brush size. We've used a zoom level of 200% and the brush size fourth from the top. Click on the button labeled "Use Pressure" (marked below) if you have your tablet handy. Now it's a matter of drawing over your sketch to create lovely strong black linework. Use the tablet to create tapering lines as shown below; this gives your linework more body, and makes it far more visually interesting. Begin by outlining your main areas of detail.

Step 8

Use the Eraser Tool (E) to refine your lines. Give nice sharp points to the ends of your tapering lines, and clean any haggard areas, as shown below. The light blue represents erased areas.

Step 9

Once you've laid your basic, thicker lines, start filling in smaller areas. It's a good idea in Flash to zoom in (400 - 600%) and use a slightly smaller brush size for finer details, but always remember to refer back to 100% to ensure your lines are not too thin.

Step 10

When you've finished all your linework, hide the sketch layer, sit back, and take a good look at the masterpiece you've created! The hard stuff is over, now we are going to prepare for coloring...

Step 11

Head up to File>Export>Export Image... choose your save location and select Adobe Illustrator (*.ai) as your file type. Save and close your Flash file. Start Illustrator and open up your newly saved *.ai file. You'll see a mess of linework, as the original sketch has been brought over along with the linework. Simply delete your sketch and you should be left with nice, clean, vector linework. Save the file. Now we are going to add color. We have a choice between using Live Paint (K), or the Pen Tool (P). We opted for the Pen Tool to save fiddling around, because of the large areas of color we'll be creating. We picked two bold colors and selected specific areas of our artwork that best suited those colors (we used Magenta: R=255, G=0, B=120 & Green: R=220, G=255, B=0). See the result below.

Step 12

Lets ease the stark contrast between the black lines and white background. Create a shape using the Pen Tool (P) around the entirety of the artwork. Give this a nice beige color (we used R=247, G=243, B=220). Next give your lines a fill color of (R=50, G=50, B=50). The result is much easier on the eyes.

Step 13

That's the color all done! Now we will add some nice typography, using a great font called ChunkFive. This font can be found at a brilliant website called The League of Moveable Type. Think of something witty you want to say in 3 - 6 words. We used the phrase "Why We Do What We Do" for Sticks' Why? page on their site. Type out your words and position them roughly how you want them to appear.

Step 14

Press Command+Shift+O to turn your text into outlines. This will make the words easier to resize and position. Adjust your phrase until it is uniform and balanced, as below.

Step 15

Next use the colors from your artwork to color your text. Be inventive with which colors you choose for which words. Experiment until you're happy with how it looks! You can also position the letters closer to each other to eliminate the annoying gap between letters (See W+H & W+E).

Step 16

Your text is done! It's time to move over to Photoshop for the finishing touches. First create a new document in Photoshop. You can create any size you like, but we made ours 1500x1070px and 150dpi. Head back to Illustrator, select and group (Command+G) your text, copy (Command+C) it and move back to Photoshop to paste (Command+V) it. Select Paste as Smart Object. Do the same for your linework. Position your two smart objects on the canvas. Feel free to use the below image as a guide.

Step 17

We are very near completion, be strong! Now we need to prepare a nice, subtle grungy background. We used a concrete texture from - another fantastic resource for such images is CG Textures. Take your chosen texture, bring it in to Photoshop, desaturate it, tweak the Brightness and Contrast until you have something akin to the image below...

Step 18

Save your background texture and import it into your artwork file (File>Place). Decrease its opacity to about 30%, or to taste. Set the Blending Mode of your text and artwork layers to Multiply. Add, using the Shape Tool (U), a period at the end of your phrase. Finally, create a new layer above your background and below the artwork and text. Set its Blending Mode to Overlay and, using a large soft brush (about 10% opacity), lightly paint some black around the edges to bring out the texture more. Here's the final result!


This is a very versatile way of presenting your sketched creations. Below are some more examples from the Sticks Clothing site... visit the site for wallpapers of the artwork displayed here. Thanks so much for reading this tut, hope you enjoyed the process!

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