One of the most satisfying uses of Adobe Illustrator is to transform your rough pencil sketches into colourful illustrations. It’s great to see your concepts come to life with crisp linework and bold colours, but sometimes the result can be a little disappointing when the vector art just doesn’t have the punch you had hoped for. Follow this step by step process to discover some of the simple techniques I’ve learnt that really help give your illustrations that pro look.

The artwork we’ll be using for this guide is a drawing of a Spartan helmet that I randomly decided to put on paper this morning. Starting with traditional mediums of pen and paper is really the best way to get an illustration started, it’s so much easier to flesh out your concepts with a free-flowing pencil than it is with a mouse controlled digital tool. Where Illustrator really takes over though is when we “ink” the sketch with crisp linework then bring it to life with colour and shading.

Tracing your sketch

Open up Adobe Illustrator and go to File > Place to select your scanned sketch file. Reduce the Opacity of the sketch to around 20% then use the shortcut CMD+2 to lock it into place on the artboard so it can’t be accidentally selected.

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  1. Excellent, you really made my day, I’m teaching Illustrator techniques to young comics students and your whole lesson can be used as a complete approach of drawing in this software…

  2. i have some problems in tracing, like logos etc, but in this tutorial i learned too much about tracing. thanks dear for this kind of amazing tutorial.

  3. Great tutorial/artwork, thanks for putting it together and sharing! I’m really trying to find a good analog-to-digital workflow and found this tutorial so clutch.

    For users with drawing tablets, I find that the Pencil tool can also be useful during the “thick-to-thin” portion of the tutorial. Of course, you might want to adjust the sensitivity to avoid getting overly curvy results.

  4. Nice tut, I always found it difficult to add shadows to my illustration, but some time i will have to add shadows so, your tut is nice but please could you explain how did you draw the initial sketch?

  5. Great article, i miss doing these types of illustrations but i’m inspired to do some more, they give a great ‘cartoony’ feel. Thanks Chris!

  6. I’ve always been afraid of adding shadow and highlight to my vector illustrations and yes I’ve forgotten everything from art class, but this gives me the impetus to revisit these important techniques. Thanks for sharing; this is sure to improve my work!!!

  7. This is really useful for adding hightlights and shadows to any illustration without picking colors. Thank you!

  8. Awesome! I am supposed to do sumn like dis. Thanks for adding to my resources Chris. Keep up the good work

  9. Wow, I was over for a while, and then today find this wonderful tutorial. Thank you, I’ll try it with some sketches of my boyfriend. This will be fun!!!

  10. Thanks for doing a tutorial. I don’t have illustrator, but gives me ideas for other ways to use my Photoshop. Very generous on your sharing. Have a great Tuesday. :)

  11. I love the illustration techniques which you used in this tutorial. I will try to use this tut for making vector art. Thanks for sharing such a lovely artistic tutorial here.

  12. Wow ! you created a nice tutorial and I will share it with my artist friends. You always create informative tutorial. Thanks for posting.

  13. You shared a useful article about vector conversion. I have recently learnt designing and following your tutorials.
    Keep rocking and thanks for sharing such a informative tips.

  14. Awesome tutorial from you. You are creating very nice tutorials about designing techniques. Thanks for sharing useful articles.

  15. Wonderful….article.!!!
    Man you are the master of designing. I learn a lot of things online here that is really very hard to find anywhere online. I really appreciate to teach us like this and to share your wonderful experience with us.

  16. How many time do you take to build this logo with photoshop?
    I usue Adobe illustrator for my logo : and I’m surprised with these advanced tips and tricks that we could made with this tool. Really thank for the tips.

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