Make a Stylized Graphic in Illustrator

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Make a Stylized Graphic from a Photo in Illustrator

Stylized Graphic from a Photo in Illustrator
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

In this tutorial, I'll be using Illustrator to make a stylized graphic with a monochromatic color scheme, which simply means that I'll be using just one color with various tones. When finished, I'll make a second version of the graphic using more than one color. I'll trace over a photograph, use the Pen Tool to create shapes that outline various tones, then fill my shapes with color, and rearrange layers. When done, I'll have two versions of the same graphic, and the know-how to make even more.

Although I am using Illustrator CS6, you should be able to follow along with any fairly recent version. Just right click on the below link to save a practice file to your computer, then open the file in Illustrator. To save the file with a new name, choose File >Save As, rename the file, "ice_skates," make the file format Adobe Illustrator, and click Save.

Download Practice File: st_ai-stylized_practice_file.png
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Size Artboard

Size Artboard
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

I want to turn the pair of ice skates within the photograph into a stylized graphic. I chose this photograph because it has a nice range of tones, which is important for the kind of graphic that I'll be making.

In the Tools panel I will select the Artboard tool, then click on one of the corner Arboard handles and drag it just inside the edges of the photograph. I'll do the same with the opposite handle, then press the Escape key to exit the Edit Artboard mode.

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Convert to Grayscale

Convert to Grayscale
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

To select the photograph, I will choose the Selection tool from the Tools panel and click anywhere on the photograph. I'll then choose Edit > Edit Colors > Convert to Grayscale. This will turn the photograph black and white, which will make it easier to distinguish between the different tones.

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Dim the Photograph

Dim the Photograph
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

In the Layers Panel, I will double-click on the layer. This will open the Layer Options dialog box. I'll click on Template and Dim Images, then type in 50% and click OK. The photograph will dim, which will allow me to better see the lines that I'll soon be drawing over the photograph.

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Rename Layers

Rename Layers
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

In the Layers panel, I will click on Layer 1, which will give me a text field to type in a new name. I'll type in the name, "Template." Next, I'll click on the Create a New Layer button. By default, the new layer is named "Layer 2." I'll click on the name then type in the text field, "Dark Tones."

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Remove Fill and Stroke Color

Remove Fill and Stroke Color
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

With the Dark Tones layer selected, I will click on the Pen tool, located in the Tools panel. Also in the Tools panel are the Fill and Stroke boxes. I'll click on the Fill box and on the None button below it, then on the Stroke box and None button.

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Trace Around the Dark Tones

Trace Around the Dark Tones
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

A closer view will help me to trace with greater accuracy. To zoom in, I can either choose View > Zoom In, click on the small arrow in the lower-left corner of the main window to choose a zoom level, or use the Zoom tool.

With the Pen tool, I will draw around the darkest tones to form shapes. I'll start with the dark tones that forms the shape that make up the sole and heel of the ice skate in front. For now, I'll ignore the light tones within this shape. I'll also pay no attention to the wall behind the ice skates.

If you are new to using the Pen tool, it's located in the Tools panel and works by clicking to create points. Two or more points create a path. If you want a curved path, click and drag. Controlling Handles emerge that can be used to edit your curved paths. Just click on the end of a handle and move it to make adjustments. Making your last point over your first point connects the two and creates a shape. Using the Pen tool takes some getting used to, but it becomes easier with practice.

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Select the Paths

Select the Paths
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

I will continue to trace around all the dark shapes, such as the partially revealed sole of the skate in back, and the many eyelets. Then, In the Layers panel, I'll click on the target circle for the Dark Tones layer. This will select all the paths that I've drawn for this layer.

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Apply a Dark Color Fill

Apply a Dark Color Fill
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

With the Dark Tones layer selected in the Layers panel, I will double-click on the Fill box in the Tools panel, which will open the Color Picker. To indicate a very dark tone of blue, I will type in the RGB value fields, 0, 0, and 51. When I click OK, the shapes will fill with this color.

In the Layers panel I will click on the eye icon to the left on the Dark Tones layer to make it invisible.

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Trace Around the Middle Tones

Trace Around the Middle Tones
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

I will create another layer and name it "Middle Tones." This new layer should be selected and sit above the rest in the Layers panel. If it doesn't, I'll need to click and drag it into place.

With the Pen tool still selected, I'll click on the Fill box and None button. I'll then trace around all the middle tones in the same way that I traced around all the dark tones. In this photograph, the blades seem to be of middle tone, and also part of the heel and some of the shadows. I will use my"artistic license" to make the shadows near the hooks smaller. And, I'll ignore the small details, such as the stitching and scuff marks.

Once I've finish tracing around the middle tones, I will click on the target circle for the Middle Tones layer.

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Apply a Middle Tone Color Fill

Apply a Middle Tone Color Fill
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

With the Middle Tones layer selected, and also the drawn paths, I'll double-click on the Fill box in the Tools panel. In the Color Picker, I'll type in the RGB value fields, 102, 102, and 204. This will give me a middle tone of blue. I'll then click OK.

I will click on the eye icon for the Middle Tones layer. Now, both the Dark Tones layer and Middle Tones layer should be invisible.

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Trace Around the Light Tones

Trace Around the Light Tones
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

There are light tones and very light tones within this photograph. The very light tones are called highlights. For now, I will ignore the highlights and focus on the light tones.

In the Layers panel I will create another new layer and name it "Light Tones." I'll then click and drag this layer to have it sit between the Dark Tones layer and the Template layer.

With the Pen tool still selected, I will click on the Fill box and None button. I'll then trace around the light tones in the same way that I traced around the dark and middle tones. The light tones seem to be the boots and laces, which can be drawn in such a way as to create one large shape.

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Apply a Light Color Fill

Apply a Light Color Fill
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

In the Layers panel I will make sure that the Light Tones layer is selected and also the drawn paths. I'll then double-click on the Fill box in the Tools panel, and in the Color Picker I'll type in the RGB value fields, 204, 204, and 255. This will give me a middle tone of blue. I'll then click OK.

I will click on the eye icon for the Light Tones layer, making it invisible.

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Trace Around the Highlights

Trace Around the Highlights
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

The highlights are the few brightest white parts of an object or subject, where strongly illuminated.

In the Layers panel I will create another new layer and name it "highlights." This layer should sit above the rest. If it doesn't I can click and drag it into place.

With the new Highlights layer selected, I will click on the Pen tool and again set the Fill box to None. I will trace around the pure white or highlighted areas.

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Apply a White Fill

Apply a White Fill
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

With the drawn paths selected, I will double-click on the Fill box in the Tools panel, which will open the Color Picker. I'll type in the RGB value fields, 255, 255, and 255. When I click OK, the shapes will fill with pure white.

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View Combined Layers

View Combined Layers
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

Now comes the fun part, which is to reveal all the layers and see drawn shapes working together to form an image. In the Layers panel I will click each empty box where there was once an eye icon to reveal the icon and make the layers visible. To be sure that all the layers are deselected, I will click on the Selection tool in the Tools panel then click off of the canvas.

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Make A Square

Make A Square
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

Since I'm done tracing, I can now delete the template. In the Layers panel I will click on the Template layer then on the small Delete Selection button, which looks like a small trash can.

To make a square, I will select the Rectangle tool from the Tools panel, double-click on the Fill box, and in the Color Picker I'll type in 51, 51, and 153 for the RGB values, then click OK. I'll then hold down the shift key as I click and drag to create a square that surrounds the ice skates.

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Resize Artboard

Resize Artboard
Text and images © Sandra Trainor
I will click on the Artboard tool and resize the Arboard by moving the handles inward until it is the same size as the square. I'll press Escape to exit the Artboard mode, choose File, Save, and I'm done! I now have a stylized graphic using a monochromatic color scheme. To make a version using more colors, continue onto the next step.
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Make Another Version

Make Another Version
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

It's easy to make different versions of the same graphic. To make a version using more colors, I will choose File > Save As, and rename the file. I'll name it, "ice_skates_color" and click Save. This will preserve my original saved version and allow me to make changes to this newly saved version.

I want the Highlights layer to remain the same, so I will leave that layer alone and click on the Target circle for the Light Tones layer. I'll then double-click on the Fill box, and in the Color Picker I'll move the Color Slider down the Color Spectrum bar until it reaches a yellow area, then click OK. I'll make changes to the Middle Tones layer and Dark Tones layer in the same way; choosing a different color for each. When done, I'll choose File > Save. I now have a second version, and can make a third, fourth, and so on, simply by repeating the above steps.