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How to Make the Most Out of Your Vector Illustrations

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Read Time: 11 min

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to take your vector illustration and prep them for many uses, style them uniquely, and prepare them for sale on micro-stock sites. Let's get started!


I would like to share with you my method of creating three different styles of vector illustration based on one concept and sketch. You can make the most of your vector illustration concept by extending the usage possibilities and making it suitable for more designs and projects.

If you have a great illustration idea that you would like to incorporate in many different merchandise designs, it could be useful to have different looks of one illustration to use on those products where they are suited most. By creating different styles of one illustration you increase usage possibilities for designers who download your vector illustration on micro-stock websites, which makes it more valuable for them.

You can find the source files in the directory labeled "source" that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.

In This Tutorial

Let's take a look at what you'll learn in this tutorial, the tools you'll need, and other details.

You Will Learn

  • How to make the most of your illustration concept by extending its use.
  • How to create three styles of one vector illustration from sketch to finish in Adobe Illustrator while working in the same file.
  • How to work with brushes in Adobe Illustrator.
  • How to use these three styles in actual graphic projects.

You Will Need

  • Paper and Pencil
  • Photo, Camera, or Scanner
  • Adobe Illustrator (I used CS3)
  • Drawing Tablet

Step 1: Making a Sketch

I decided to illustrate the concept of a birthday and created this parrot character to communicate the idea of fun and happiness with bright colors of this bird and with details like hat, bow tie, gift box and flowers.

Make a sketch of your illustration. Improve it on paper until you are satisfied with the result. Transfer your sketch to your computer by making a scan or photographing it. I took a picture of my drawing with my camera and imported it into Photoshop, where I played with it until it was ready for work in Illustrator.

Step 2: Importing to Illustrator

Open Adobe Illustrator. Create a new document 800 px by 800 px (File > New). Import your sketch to Illustrator (File > Place). Check the box Template. The sketch is placed on a separate layer with lower opacity for your convenience and a new layer is created above it. Position your sketch in the center of the artboard using Align To Artboard. Name this layer "Sketch."

Step 3: Creating Line Art of a Parrot

Create a new layer and name it "Line - parrot." As we want this variant of our illustration to look a bit like an ink line art drawing, we'll select a couple of brushes from Adobe Illustrator brush libraries. I've selected "Tapered - Round" and "Tapered Stroke" brushes from the "Artistic Ink" group, and I set them to 3pt. I also used a round brush from the "Artistic Calligraphic" brush library.

The selected brushes appeared in my Brushes palette so that I could have easy access to them while working. I also made some custom brushes that I used later in my line work. To make your own brush create an ellipse with the Ellipse Tool (L), select the right anchor point with Direct Selection Tool (A), and drag it to the right until you have the shape that looks like an ink line.

Now grab your new shape with the Selection Tool (V), drag it to the Brushes Palette on the right and drop it there. The New Brush menu appears where you should select New Art Brush and press OK. Now name your new brush in the Art Brush Options window "Custom Brush" and click OK. You have made a custom brush that you can use in this project and save for the later use (Brushes Palette > Options Menu > Save Brush Library).

Create the basic shapes of a parrot using the Pen Tool (P) for straight lines as in the hat. Use the Paintbrush Tool (B) for ink lines like in the wing and tail. Also, use the Ellipse Tool (L) for circles in the eyes and in the bow tie. You can vary the thickness of the lines by changing the stroke weight. I used the thicker lines for the outer shapes of the parrot and thinner lines for smaller details.

Next draw the details of the body and the small lines of the feathers and legs of the parrot using the same brushes, but with thinner strokes. Group the details together according to the part of the body, so you don't get lost if you want to experiment with their size later.

After you finish your line work, you can make the sketch layer invisible by clicking on little eye icon near it (or the shapes icon if the layer is a template) and you will see your ink line art parrot.

Step 4: Creating Line Art of Flowers

Create a new layer and name it "Line - Flowers." Using the same brushes and techniques as in Step 3, draw the lines of the flowers. Use the Paintbrush Tool (B) to ink lines in the petals and the Pen Tool (P) for the shapes in the stems of the flowers.

Step 5: Creating the Line Art of Gift Box

Create a new layer and name it "Line - Gift box." Create one bigger rectangle for the box and another thinner one for the ribbon using the Rectangle Tool (M), then place them according to the sketch.

Give them no fill, just a stroke. Now use the Scissors Tool (C) to cut the lines of the rectangles where the box and the ribbon are hidden behind the parrot. In the end. you should have an outline of the gift box. Select the strokes and click on your custom brush to make the appearance of the line more like an ink line.

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create the shape in the center of the ribbon and the circles in the decoration of the gift box. Use the Paintbrush Tool (B) to draw the ribbon bow on top of the box.

To make the big circle groups in the decorations create two circles, one big and one small. Position the small one in the center of a big circle using the Align Palette. Give them a thin stroke, but no fill. Select them both, go to Object > Blend > Blend Options...

In the Blend Options Menu set spacing to Specified Steps and fill in 6. Leave Align To Page for the Orientation. After that go again to Object > Blend > Make and you will get the group of circles for our decoration.

Duplicate the circles and place them according to the sketch. Select the circle group and expand it (Object >Expand > Expand Object > OK). Ungroup the object to get a set of circles.

Create a shape above the circle with the Pen Tool (P), as shown below. To make the straight vertical and horizontal lines with the Pen Tool (P), hold the Shift key down while creating the shape.

Select both objects and press Divide in the Pathfinder Menu. Ungroup them and delete all the unnecessary shapes beyond the outline of the box. I've also deleted a couple of lines from the circle groups to make them more decorative and uneven.

Now cut the other circle groups using Divide in the Pathfinder menu to delete the parts covered by the shapes of the parrot and the ribbon. Create the small circles using the Ellipse Tool (L).

Step 6: Adding Line Art Text

As this illustration could be used for a birthday greeting, I decided to add "Happy Birthday!" text to it. Create a new layer and name it "Line - Text." Use the Type Tool (T) to write "Happy Birthday!" and select the text, then decide on the font by trying out different fonts from your Fonts Library (Type > Fonts).

As I was planning to color the text later, I used Abadi MT Condensed Extra Bold 45 pt font from the default Adobe Illustrator Library. Give the text no fill, just a stroke, then center the words and position them according to the elements of the image.

At this point you should have the finished line art version of your illustration.

Step 7: Coloring the Line Art Drawing

Create a new layer and name it "Color - Parrot." Position it underneath all the layers labeled "Line," but above the "Sketch" layer.

Start creating the basic shapes of the parrot using the Pen Tool (P). Keep the "line" layer visible and try to make shape outlines in the middle of a stroke from the "line" layer. Make sure your layer color is properly visible (to change the color of the layer double-click on the layer in the layers palette). If your line does not look right, fix it by dragging the anchor point with the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Create all the basic shapes of our parrot using the same technique. Select the bright colors for the shapes and color them. Give the shapes fill, but no stroke. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) for the eyes.

Create new layers for the flowers and for the gift box and name them accordingly with "Color - " label. Using the same method as with the parrot shapes create the basic shapes of the flowers and the gift box. Create a new layer and name it "Color - shadow." Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a big ellipse and place it underneath the parrot and gift box shapes.

Next, create a new layer called "Color - text." Copy the outline text from the "Line - text" layer and paste it to the "Color - text" layer. Expand the text (Object > Expand) to get separate shapes for each letter. Now select letter by letter and color them in different colors using the colors of the image we've used for basic shapes. Finally, group the text.

Step 8: Adding Details

At this point, we can add the details to the picture such as shadows, highlights and some additional strokes. Start by creating a new layer and naming it "Color - Details." You can create separate layers for every part (e.g. "Color - parrot details") or keep all the details in one layer, but don't forget to group them for easier editing.

Create shadows of the parrot first. I used the Pen Tool (P) for all of the shadows. Try to keep the edges of your lines in the middle of the "Line" layer strokes.

Using the same method, but this time lighter colors, create highlights.

Repeat the same procedure for flowers and the gift box. At this point you should have a finished second variant of your illustration - colored line art illustration.

Step 9: Creating a Color-Only Variant

Now it is time to see how our illustration looks without all those black lines. If you followed the instructions correctly, you should have a set of "Line" labeled layers and a set of "Color" labeled layers in your layers palette. Simply turn off the visibility of all "Line" layers by dragging your cursor over the little eye icons near them and you will see the "color-only" version you've created. It should look like this.

At this point it is good to zoom in and fix all the gaps between the shapes and mistakes we've made while coloring in.

After the shapes are fixed, let's add some more details. I wanted more details in the parrot feathers and the gift box, so I borrowed some strokes from the "Line" layers. Copy the thin strokes and place them on the new layer "Color - strokes."

Repeat for all the details you want to add. In the end, you should have a finished color-only version of your illustration.

All your variants are in one file, divided into separate labeled layers. By switching the visibility of layer groups, you can view all three variants. Consider this a source file. You can save each variant separately for use in your projects.

Step 10: Using Your Illustration in Projects

As a result of your work you get one vector file with three different variants of one vector illustration. It is time to use all of them in your projects.

If you sell your illustration on micro-stock websites, you can prepare this illustration for sale following the steps I've described in my tutorial "How to Create a Vector Illustration and Prepare it for Micro-Stock Sale" (Steps 11 -16). In addition to those steps, I recommend creating a copy of this document and editing it according to micro-stock requirements. Remember to expand all the strokes in your illustration (Object > Expand) before uploading it for review.

I've made some little projects to show how all three variant could be used. The line art version can be used as a coloring page for children.

It could be a big greeting card colored by your kid as a gift to friends on their birthday.

The line art + color version could be printed as a Birthday Card to send to your friends and family.

Color-only version can be used as a Birthday e-card for email birthday greetings. You can make a simple design in Illustrator and save it as a template for the future.

There are lots of possibilities to make the most of your illustration and I hope that this tutorial gave you some ideas. Thank you for reading!

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