Vector illustration is very versatile and beautiful, but for many artists it's too mathematical and unintuitive to create. Drawing with Bezier curves doesn't feel like drawing at all!
However, the newest update to Photoshop CC has solved most of the problems you could have with the Pen Tool by adding a new variation of it—the Curvature Pen Tool. It's very intuitive to use, and it's still as powerful as its classic counterpart. Let me show you!
1. How to Prepare the Background for a Vector Illustration
Before you create anything in vector, it's good to have a sketched background that will be your reference for the whole process. You can use my butterfly from the tutorial below:
Copy the image of the butterfly and open a New File (Control-N) in Photoshop, using your clipboard as a template.
Lower the Opacity to make the reference barely visible.
Go to View > Rulers. Click and drag the vertical rule to place it along the middle of the butterfly's body.
Go to Image > Image Size to make the file bigger and easier to work in (later you will be able to make the image as big as you wish, because vector images resize losslessly).
2. How to Create the Vector Butterfly's Body
The reference is ready, so let's start creating! Click and hold the Pen Tool to find the Curvature Pen Tool.
Place a few points around the thorax of the butterfly. The shape will be estimated automatically.
If you want to change the color of the shape, just double click its thumbnail.
Create the abdomen the same way.
Photoshop tries to read your mind when you use this tool, but it's not always successful. You can adjust the shape on your own by simply clicking the path and dragging it. You can do this to any other point as well.
Use this method to create the head. Use a different color for the eye to make it stand out, and place it under the layer of the head.
You can also draw lines with this tool. Just draw the start and end points, and then adjust the curve.
To turn the shape into a line, remove the Fill and add the Stroke. You can also adjust the thickness.
Add the tip of the antenna.
3. How to Create a Butterfly's Wings in Vector
Before you start drawing the wings, create a New Layer under the body (you can Group the layers of the body to keep order) and lower its Opacity to see the reference below. Outline the upper wing with a few points.
Adjust its shape by adding more points and dragging them.
Create the other wing the same way.
The pattern will take a lot of layers, and we don't want to change the Opacity of all of them separately, so Create a new Group and lower its Opacity.
Outline the big cell first. Use a bright, neon color for it.
Add another cell and adjust its shape to keep a thick border between it and the other cells.
Use this method to create all the other cells. The lower wing may need another group placed under the upper wing.
When you're done, change the Opacity of all the layers back to 100% and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the half of the butterfly. Copy it as a whole with Edit > Copy Merged.
Paste the copy and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal and place the half next to the other. Keep in mind that this copied part is not vector—if you want to make the image bigger, repeat this last step afterwards.
Do you want to create other beautiful butterflies with this method? Try my tutorial about butterflies to find the steps to create four different species, as well as your own wing patterns: