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Creating Vector Art for Tattoos or Iconography

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Picture of Creating Vector Art for Tattoos or Iconography
There's an awesome game called Hive. I've been slowly introducing everyone here at Instructables HQ to the game, but I only have one set and it's only a two player game. Slow going! And nobody else can play if someone already is. This is not a good recipe for cooking up a meme.

So what's an Instructioneer to do? Make a bunch of new sets, obviously!

Here's what you'll need to follow along with this Instructable:
  1. Sketchbook Pro, Sketchbook, or a piece of paper and a pencil. I am a company man, sad as it is, and I chose Sketchbook Pro. It was an easy choice because I got it for free. It's worth the price, though.
  2. Adobe Illustrator or comparable vector artwork software. Inkscape is free, open-source software
OK, so the first step will be making some art. Don't worry, anyone can art.

We're going to make it easy!
 
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Step 1: Create the Base Sketch

Picture of Create the Base Sketch
We're going to create a tribal style ladybug for this Instructable.

First, fire up your copy of Sketchbook Pro or your pencil and paper.

Take the size you want the final bug to be and divide that in half vertically. I mean that literally: draw a vertical line right down the middle of where the bug will be. If you're using Sketchbook Pro, hit the "Symmetry Y" button. That will automatically draw the line for you. It will also mirror everything you draw on the other side of the line.

Here's the big secret to this entire Instructable: we're only going to draw half. We'll let the magic of computers make the rest!

Once you have a nice line going down the page you've also overcome any psychological resistance to working with the blank page in front of you.

It can be paralyzing to sit and stare at a blank page before beginning a work of art. The most effective strategy I've found for overcoming this mental inertia is to immediately fuck the page all up. Crinkle it, rip it, cut it, burn it, put an ugly line right in the middle, do something to make a mark on the page. That way whatever you end up creating is better than your initial mistake. No more inertia!

Our vertical line takes care of this nicely.

Next, we can start sketching out what our bug will look like.

Since we're drawing a ladybug I started out by looking at some pictures of ladybugs on Google image search. I noticed immediately that they are insects. Specifically, that means they have six legs and 3 body sections. They have antenna, and the body has the obvious distinctive black spots on a red shell.

With those notes in mind, begin sketching. Remember that you only have to draw one side! The other side will be taken care of by Sketchbook Pro, or later in our vector artwork program.

As I sketch I try to inject as much tiny detail as possible, since I don't have to worry about making the other side perfect. Don't worry about the quality of this sketch or whether or not it even looks like a ladybug.

Don't worry about anything.

Step 2: Redraw the Whole Thing

Picture of Redraw the Whole Thing
My sketch is terrible! It's OK, though, I know how to fix it.

Fire up Adobe Illustrator or whatever vector program you're going to use. I'll try to keep my notes generic, but I am going to end up using specific Illustrator features because that's what I have and that's what I know how to use.

The first thing to do is to draw a vertical line that will represent the same vertical line you drew on the paper or in Sketchbook.

Once that line is in place either lock it or make a new layer and lock the layer the line is on. We don't want to accidentally select the line later or accidentally move it or bind it to some other piece of our drawing.

Now we can begin the process of reproducing your sketch using vector tools.

We're not going to let our vector program mirror anything. There's no need. In Illustrator, you can begin with the paintbrush tool (B). Here's a great trick with the paintbrush: you can redraw sections of a brushed line. This means you can rough in the head of your ladybug and then get the little details perfect later.

After you're done reproducing the lines of your sketch as a vector illustration let's add some detail and mirror the thing so it looks awesome!

Step 3: Vectorize That Thing!

Picture of Vectorize That Thing!
Right now we're not looking so good. Let's fix that.

First, we're going to dump the paintbrush lines we made and turn those outlines into solid colors. Select the shapes you brushed and then hit the D key. This will apply the default brush stroke, fill color, and stroke color to the shape. That's black and white with a 1px stroke. Then just invert the colors and remove the stroke color.

Now you've got nice, solid shapes with an organic feeling because they were hand drawn using the brush tool.

We need to make sure the paths are closed on the little stylized spots. Press (on a mac) Cmd+y, which will show the raw path information without any fill or stroke colors. You can easily see what is and is not a complete path.

Once those paths are whole, make sure they're over the ladybug shell. Then use the pathfinder tool to remove the front, which will leave little spot shaped holes on your ladybug shell.

We're almost done!

Next, we're going to add some detail and style to the antenna. At some point recently Illustrator introduced the Width Tool (Shift + W). This tool is fantastic for this use.

Click the antenna and then click the Default Fill and Stroke button over in the toolbar by the fill and stroke color indicators. This will remove the brush stroke while keeping the path intact. Remove the while fill color, we don't want that.

Next, hit Shift + W to switch to the Width Tool. Now click and drag on your line and it will adjust the width of the line as far as it can. Continue down the path until you've got something approximately cool looking.

Sometimes the Width tool will leave the tips of lines boxy looking. No problem, just adjust the width at that point to be ...pointy.

In the last step we'll take a look at how our bug came out!

See the photo for the final result of this step.

Step 4: Reflect Your Sketch

Picture of Reflect Your Sketch
ladybug.png
OK, now for the fun part. Delete the vertical line you created when we started the file. You won't need it anymore.

Select everything you've drawn. In Illustrator, go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Choose the vertical option and hit Copy, not OK. Copy. Super important. We want more stuff, not stuff the other way.

That will layer everything you've created, as a mirror image, over the other bits you created. Either hold the shift key to and move the duplicate shapes until they're symmetrical, or move them to the right with the arrow keys.

You may want to clean up some of the angles and make the lines join each other. No problem, just hit Cmd + y to see the paths, and then use cmd+alt+j to open the Path average tool dialog. Averaging points both vertically and horizontally will ensure they don't break symmetry.

If you want to make changes to your sketch at this point it's better to undo back until it's just one side again and then proceed forward when you're happy.

Take a look at the pictures in this step. We went from our rough sketch to this nice, smooth, approaching professional looking illustration using a few simple techniques.

By only worrying about half the sketch we can make something that looks great. Since you only have to worry about half the detail of the sketch, the final result has twice as much as it would have.

Let me see your bugs in the comments!

Absolutely great tutorial, but it take a time to learn work in adobe illustrator. For those who are less patience is easier to use online raster to vector service like vectorizeimages(dot)com

M.C. Langer2 years ago
Amazing!! I personally saw the final result and it has better quality than a lot of board games you find in a store. Good one!!!