Illustrator Character Design

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Designing characters in Adobe Illustrator is an easy workflow which incorporates sketching on paper, scanning, then reworking in both Photoshop and Illustrator.

The first step is to scan in a rough pencil sketch drawing, in grayscale at a resolution of between 200-240 dpi (dots per inch). Open the scan in Photoshop to refine the sketch. First duplicate the layer. Then fill the background layer with white (Edit, Fill) and give the duplicate layer (ie. your drawing) an opacity of 20%. Then create a new blank layer on top on which to trace. Sketching can now be done using a Wacom graphics tablet or using the mouse. If you draw the head, body, legs and arms on separate layers you’ll be able to scale, rotate and move these to get the proportions the way you want them. If you hold down Control you can manipulate anchor points individually. Now group your layers.

Create a new layer outside the others which will be the final clean sketch to be used as a template for creating the vector line art in Illustrator. Open Illustrator and create a new document, size A4 for example. Go to File, Place, and tick the Template box – this will place the artwork onto a new locked layer set at 50% opacity over which you can trace.

Now go to View, Outline – this shows the line work as paths without stroke or fill colours, but the underlying pencil lines are visible and easily traced with the Pen tool, or the new improved Pencil tool. The former is used by clicking on points on the artwork and dragging out handles to define the curves. The latter is best used if you double-click on the tool to first adjust the Smoothness slider. Then you can draw round the character freehand.

The automatic Image Trace feature can be used but it’s best to draw the lines by hand thus ensuring that less anchor points are generated and the lines kept smoother. You could trace the line art as if they were shapes rather than single lines – this will give you much greater control over the look of the lines than you would get with a calligraphic brush. You can also add, subtract and convert anchor points.

Now switch to View, Preview mode to see the filled in shapes. Erase any overlapping shapes with the Eraser tool. Now lock the drawing layer and create a new layer to add coloured fill shapes. It’s best to use Swatch colours so that these can later be adjusted globally using Select, Same, Fill Colour.

Now create a new layer named Shading. Set its blending mode to Multiply and its opacity to 40%. Add flat coloured shapes to simulate shadow areas on this layer.

Multiple artboards could be created at this point to create different versions of the artwork. Simply copy the artwork from Artboard 1 onto the others and make your changes.

We then can export the artwork into different formats depending on the end use: JPEG or PNG for web, and PDF for printing or sending to a client. The File, Save As options are for saving as vector files; the File, Export options are for bitmap formats.

Tom Gillan has been training Adobe Illustrator to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. Visit illustrator courses webpage for more information on how to enroll.

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