It’s always harder than it seems when it comes to creating illustrated cartoon characters in softwares like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. And so I have created this guide to share with you my method.
Step 1: Find A Reference Image
All creations start from somewhere and I love to start by first deciding the subject of my creation. After which I will Google for reference images.
Here’s the reference image I got from www.emperor-penguin.com:
Step 2: Sketch the Image
Next I will pencil sketch the reference image. You can choose to do it on paper and scan it (like what I did), or choose to sketch it directly on Illustrator.
Here’s the pencil sketch of the penguin that I will use for this guide.
Step 3: Place Image on Your Artboard
Now, create a New Document in your Illustrator, and place the scanned pencil sketch in Illustrator. To place your scanned pencil sketch, Go to File and select Place.
A pop-up dialog will appear for you to locate your file. Click Place.
Here’s how the scanned image will be placed on the artboard:
Step 4: Create and Rename Layers
Next, Toggles Lock the layer with the scanned image and rename it to ‘Reference’. By enabling Toggles Lock, the locked layer will not be editable.
Then create a new layer by selecting the button Create New Layer.
Rename the layer ‘outline’.
Step 5: Illustrating Outline
Now, select the Pen Tool from the Tool Palette or access it with the shortcut tool by pressing the letter P on your keyboard (For more keyboard shortcuts for Illustrator, check out Illustrator Keyboard Shortcuts).
Now, trace your scanned sketch with the selected Pen Tool.
Once you are done tracing, you can hide the reference layer by toggling the Eye Icon on the Layer Palette.
Here’s how my completed outline of the penguin looks like.
Step 6: Coloring the Illustrated Penguin
Let’s first create a new layer by selecting the button Create New Layer and rename it ‘Color’.
Next, select the Pen Tool from the Tools Palette and start going over the outlines. In the image below, I started with the penguin’s left foot.
After which select the most appropriate color and fill it in.
Here’s my colored illustrated penguin. Now, the next step is optional, I will be adding simple shadows to this cutie. However, if you are satisfied with the look now, you can just save and do whatever you want to this cutie.
Step 7: Going the Extra Mile
Create a new layer by selecting the button Create New Layer and rename it Highlights.
Now, remember to lock all other layers so that you do not accidentally paint or delete elements from other layers.
By adding a small portion of darker color, you are creating tones and giving depth to this little cutie!
Now, add a little small white dot on each of his eyes to enhance him with life.
And there you go, your very own illustrated cartoon penguin! Isn’t he such a cutie pie?