Using only a printer, scanner, some paper and Adobe Illustrator, you can make a kick-ass vector illustration for use in anything from web, print to motion… and all without the use of an expensive tablet.
Most tutorials will show you how to perfectly set up a drawing tablet, fiddle with settings and brushes, and all to get replicate the look of a hand drawn piece of art. The only catch of course is that you’re expected to have invested in the latest $550 tablet. Fortunately, for the die-hard old school craftsman of digital art, there is a much more fun and rewarding way to bring your ideas to the vector universe.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Start with Paper and Pen
It’s not time to draw to your hearts content yet; first we make a rough sketch of what you think your artwork should look like to get an idea of shape, structure and the layout.
Step 2: Thinking in Layers with Paper and Pen
Now that we have a rough idea of the layout, we can move on to breaking it down into pieces and drawing the background element first. The great thing about using this method of paper and pen to printer to scanner is that we don’t have to worry about drawing perfect lines or being confined to drawing our character at a very small scale. It will all be editable soon.
Draw to your heart’s content! Work on refining the element, or group of elements in the background of your composition. Don’t worry about drawing to scale, use the size of paper that will allow you to add as much detail as you’d like, because in the next step we’ll be scanning in our artwork.
Step 3: Scan, Scale and Repeat
Once you’re happy with the background artwork, it’s time to get it on the computer. Scan your artwork and open it up in Adobe Photoshop.
Next, create a document in Photoshop that will be the size the artwork that you need. In my case, it was 8in x 13in @ 300dpi.
Drag your scanned artwork into this new document, place it and scale it to size (don’t worry too much about pixilation), then adjust the levels on the scan (Image > Adjustments > Levels…) to bring out the black and make it as high contrast as possible.
Now lets print it out!
Step 4: Layer on Paper
Place your scaled, leveled and printed artwork on a light table or table with a white top, then lay another sheet of paper on top. With your background artwork faintly shining through, you’ll be able to continue drawing the next layer of your artwork without disturbing the background.
If you make a mistake, not to worry, it can either be corrected in illustrator while tracing, or you can simply start your new layer again on another sheet. Use this step to push the limit of your creativity until you get the look that you’re shooting for.
Import to Photoshop…
Adjust the levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels…) on this image to make the blacks stand out.
On a new layer, copy and paste this illustration into the original document you created in step 3. You should now have this second illustration on a layer above the background illustration layer.
Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to roughly trace around the character, and then go to Select > Inverse to select the white background. Press Delete on your keyboard.
You can repeat steps 3 and 4 as many times as you want to get the look that you need. Keep in mind that all of this will have to be traced in illustrator, so make it as complex as you’d like.
Step 5: Trace in Adobe Illustrator
Open Adobe Illustration and create a new document with the same dimensions as your Photoshop document.
Place the Photoshop file into your new illustrator document.
Then, using the Pen Tool (P), start tracing.
Once you are satisfied with your trace, delete the background scan, and bring it back into Photoshop for colouring and finishing touches. You could also colour in Illustrator, but use whichever program you are most comfortable with.
Step 6: Add to Photoshop for Colouring
In Photoshop, open the document from step 3. Switch over to your traced illustrator file, make sure all layers are unlocked, and press Command + A on Mac or press Control + A in windows.
With everything selected, go to Edit > Copy. Switch back over to your Photoshop file, and go to Edit > Paste.
A paste dialog will popup, select Smart Object and press OK.
You should now have a giant vector smart object of your traced artwork in Photoshop. To colour, simply lock the smart object layer, and colour in layers underneath.
Add funky text, lens flares or custom brushes and VOILA! You’ve created a vector illustration that can be scaled to any size and used in a variety of mediums, all without the use of a tablet.