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Adding Existing Images

Now that you have learned the basic tools for creating and editing paths and shapes, you can use them to make more complex illustrations. First, you will need to load an image for your template.

Click File from the Menu bar, then New. The New Document window will ask you for the size details of the file you would like to create. Normally you can choose one of the presets for the size of your document, but for now you will make a custom size.

In the Preset Details on the right, change the dimension of the document from "Points" to "Pixels," then enter "1050" for the Width and "600" for the height. In the first space underneath the Preset Details, change the name of the file from the default name to "tutorial-illustrations." Do not alter any other details. Click Create at the bottom of the window.

Note that in the screenshot below, Your Recent Items may be different for you depending on which formats you have used. It does not matter which format you have selected as long as you enter the file specifications described above.

Screenshot of inputs to create a new file. See information above.

Once the new file has been created and the workspace opens, you can place nook-card, the image that you downloaded at the start of the tutorial. To do this, click File from the program Menu, then Place. Locate the nook-card image and double click on it. Your cursor should now have file icons, "1/1," and a preview of the image beside it, which indicates that you need to choose where you are placing the image. Click on the top left corner of the artboard and drag until the bounding box reaches the right corner of the artboard. Release your click to place your image. To ensure that the image takes up the whole artboard, you can adjust the image as necessary with the selection tool.

Screenshot demonstrating the placement of the existing image.

Making the Template Layer

In the Layers panel, double click on the empty space next to Layer 1's name. In the Layer Options window that shows up, select "Template," then enter "30" or "30%" into the box next to "Dim Images." Change the Layer Name to "Template," then click OK. The Template layer should now be locked and slightly dimmer than before.

Screenshot of the inputs for the Layer Options menu. See information above.

Combining your skills

Through this tutorial, you have so far learned many skills and methods for creating and editing paths. You can combine what you have learned to create simple and slightly complex illustrations. First, you will start with a simple illustration of a leaf, then a slightly complex illustration of a character.


Create a new layer and change its name to "Leaf" to get started. Do not make the Leaf layer into a template.

There should be two layers titled "Leaf" and "Template" respectively.

Zoom into the left side of the artboard containing the hand-drawn sketch of a leaf. In the Swatches panel to the left, make sure you have None selected for the fill color. In the Stroke Weight box on the right of the control bar, set the weight of the stroke to "3pt" instead of "1pt".

The first step will be to trace the outline of the leaf, using the Curvature Tool (Shift + `). Starting at the top of the leaf, trace the outline to the best of your abilities. When you reach the portion of the leaf with a hole cut out of its side, continue around the outline as if the hole does not exist. Do not trace over the line in the middle of the leaf yet.

Remember that you can:

  • Undo mistakes with Ctrl + Z (Command + Z on Mac).
  • Double click on the previous anchor point or double click when placing the next anchor point to create a straight path.
  • Use the Curvature Tool to edit the path after you placed it.

Screenshot of the leaf's outline and curvature points.

Next, with the Ellipse Tool (L), create a perfect circle by holding Shift when you create an ellipse. Move and adjust the circle so that it lines up with the template hole in the leaf. Remember that you can adjust the size of the circle as necessary by dragging on the points of its bounding box. The circle should be slightly overlapping with the path you created using the Curvature Tool.

Screenshot of the leaf's outline with a circle.

Select the leaf's outline and the circle you made using the Selection Tool. In the Pathfinder panel, press the Minus Front button. This should subtract the circle from the leaf, creating a new outline that matches the template. If this was not your result, you may try again after:

  • Bringing the circle to the front by selecting the circle, right clicking, going to Arrange, then Bring to Front.
  • Making sure you have both the outline and the circle selected.

Screenshot of the leaf after pressing Minus Front.

Next with the Curvature Tool or Pen Tool, place a path down the middle of the template line in the center of the leaf. Be sure to place a single path, not a closed shape, through the center of the line. Edit the path as needed to match the general shape of the template's line.

Screenshot of the path placed through the center of the line on the leaf.

Using the Width Tool (Shift + W), adjust the width of the path you just placed to match the template's line. You will need at least two width points: one to thicken the path at the top and one to thin the path at the bottom. You can add extra width points as necessary, though too many might negatively affect the shape of the path.

Screenshot of two width points on the path.

You can color the leaf now that you have completed the lines for it. While you still have the middle line of the leaf selected, change the stroke color to a dark green in the Swatches panel. Next, select only the outline of the leaf with the Selection Tool (V). In the Swatches panel, choose a lighter green for fill color, and None for the stroke color. Your leaf should now look similar to the image below.

Screenshot of the finished leaf.



Make a new layer and rename it to "Character." Since this next illustration will be slightly more complex than the leaf, you will want to keep your objects more organized with sublayers. In the Layers panel directly to the left of the Create New Layer button, click Create New Sublayer. Rename this new sublayer "Lines" by double clicking on its name like you would for a regular layer. Creating a separate sublayer for the outline of an illustration often makes it easier to color later.

There should be a total of four layers titled "Character", "Lines", "Leaf", and "Template" respectively.

Move your view of the artboard to the right with the racoon-like character centered. Deselect the leaf using Ctrl + Shift + A (Command + Shift + A on Mac), then choose None for the character's fill color and black for the stroke color. In the control bar at the top of the program, increase the stroke weight from "1pt" to "3 pt".

Either with the Pen Tool (P) or the Curvature Tool (Shift + `), trace the outer lines that make his head and ears. Next, trace the large bean-shaped "mask" on his face. Edit your paths as necessary to match the template lines.

Screenshot of the character with the outer lines and mask traced.

Notice that the remaining lines can be traced using a combination of ellipses and line segments. Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create an ellipse for his round nose just below his "mask," then position the ellipse so that it somewhat matches the template. Repeat this process, creating two ellipses for his eyes, two for his irises, and two for the insides of his ears. The ellipses that you create for his irises and the insides of his ears will extend past the lines in the template, but this can be fixed with the next few steps. Remember that you can adjust the proportions and rotate shapes using the bounding box after you place them. There should be a total of seven ellipses.

Screenshot of the character with additional eyes, ears, and nose traced.

Next, you will create the remainder of the outline using line segments. With the Line Segment Tool (\), follow the template and place a segment through each eye to create eyelids. The line segments can extend past the border of the eyes and do not specifically have to start and end with the path of the eyes' ellipses. Continue to copy the template by placing line segments on the character's ears. Make lines crossing through the ellipses for the insides of the ears, then place the short lines across the tops of his ears. There should be a total of eight line segments: two for his eyelids, two for the insides of his ears, and two small marks on each ear.

Screenshot of the character with added line segments.

Now that these lines have been placed, you can use the Shapebuilder Tool to combine the shapes and delete unnecessary paths. First with the Selection Tool (V), select all of the paths you have created for the character, then take the Shapebuilder Tool (Shift + M) from the left toolbar. To create an eyelid, click and drag through both ellipses above the line segment on one eye, then release your click. Repeat this step for the other eye, too.

Screenshot demonstrating the use of the Shapebuilder Tool on the character's eyelid.

Create the inside of one of his ears by combining the bottom portion of the ellipse separated by the line segment with the rest of the head. Repeat this step for the other ear, too.

Screenshot demonstrating the use of the Shapebuilder Tool to create the insides of the ears.

If you have any paths or points that seem to be clustered together, you may need to zoom in closer to combine them with the appropriate shapes or delete them.

Delete the extra line segments around the character's ears and eyes that stick out from the rest of the outline. With the Shapebuilder Tool still in hand, hover over an extra segment while holding Alt (Option on Mac) until it is highlighted in a different color from the rest of the outline. When the extra segment highlights, click while holding Alt (Option on Mac) to delete it. Repeat this process for the other segments that stick out from the outline, including the extra segments that may stick into the character's ears or on his mask near his eyes. If you accidentally delete other portions of the character, you can always Undo your actions and try again.

Screenshot of the character's completed lines.

Because you now have the complete outline for the character, you no longer need to see the template. In the Layers panel, click on the "Toggles Visibility" button next to the lock on the layer called "Template" to make the template invisible.

As mentioned earlier, it is easier to color more detailed illustrations if you organize its objects into sublayers. You have one sublayer just for the lines, so next you will make a different sublayer for colors.

Go to the Layers panel, select the "Lines" layer by clicking once on it, then click on the Panel Options button in the top right corner of the panel (three horizontal lines). Click "Duplicate 'Lines'," and rename new copied layer to "Colors". This creates an exact copy of the paths contained in the "Lines" layer so that you can color it without altering the existing paths. Move the "Colors" layer under the "Lines" layer by clicking and dragging it into place. Make sure that you do not combine the layers into one.

Lastly, toggle the visibility and lock of the "Lines" layer by clicking on the "Toggles Visibility" and "Toggles Lock" buttons to the left of the layer's color. Doing this will make it easier to see the "Colors" layer as well as protect the outline in the "Lines" layer from any accidental adjustments.

There should be a total of five layers titled "Character", "Lines", "Colors", "Leaf", and "Template" respectively.

Select all of the visible paths with the Selection Tool (V), then take the Shapebuilder Tool (Shift + M) from the left toolbar. Now you will color the character, just like how you colored the flower earlier in the tutorial. Give the character any colors you want from the Swatches panel, though in the images below he has been given:

  • brown for the fur and eyelids
  • dark brown for the mask, nose, and tips of the ears
  • pink for the insides of the ears
  • white for the eyes
  • blue for the irises

Screenshot of the character colored.

With the Selection Tool, select all of your objects on the "Colors" layer, and change their stroke color to None. It is important that you do not have the Shapebuilder Tool in hand when you make this change. You should now have a lineless illustration.

Screenshot of the character colored and with invisible strokes.

Back in the Layers panel, toggle the lock on the "Colors" layer by pressing its "Toggles Lock" button. This leaves this layer visible, but locked so that you cannot accidentally alter it while you work on a different layer. Select the "Lines" layer by clicking on it once. Toggle both the lock and visibility by pressing the "Toggles Lock" and "Toggles Visibility" buttons. This will make the "Lines" layer visible to you and allow you to alter its objects.

Every layer except "Template" should be visible. "Colors" and "Template" should be the only layers that are locked.

Editing the outline of an illustration can be tricky, especially if you have paths that frequently overlap. To explain this further, you can look at the character's eyes. Although it appears that there's a single path separating the eye and iris from the eyelid, there is actually a total of three paths lying directly on top of each other. Because the Shapebuilder Tool was used to combine the line segment with the ellipses, they were made to be three individual, closed paths, all of which are positioned directly next to each other. If you were to deconstruct an eye as it is now, you would see that it is made of three unique shapes.

If you were to alter the width of an outline that had overlapping shapes such as these, the strokes would likely thicken in unexpected ways. For example, if you wanted to make only the bottom of the character's head slightly thicker using the Width Tool you would end up with the top of his mask being thickened as well because the border of the mask is part of the shape that makes the head.

Screenshot demonstrating how the Width Tool may work in unexpected ways with unique shapes. See information above.

Since you will soon be using the Width Tool to edit the widths of the lines, you will first need to break all of the shapes into individual line segments to avoid the problem described above. Using the Selection Tool (V), select all paths in the "Lines" layer" and click the Outline button in the bottom row of the Pathfinder panel. The resulting lines will be nearly invisible. While you still have the lines selected, go to the top control bar and type "2" into the Stroke Weight box. Hit Enter on your keyboard.

Although the outline looks exactly like it did before, every path you see is now made up of smaller segments instead of complete shapes. Now if you were to deconstruct one of the character's eyes, you would see that it is made up of four individual segments instead of three overlapping shapes.

With all of the paths in the "Lines" layer still selected, right click on the objects and click Ungroup so that you can work on the paths individually. Using the Width Tool (Shift + W), place a single width point on the path that makes the character's chin and slightly thicken the path's width. Place a second width point on the top of the character's head and slightly thicken its path. Do the same with the tips of each of the character's ear. The paths that make the chin, top of the head, and tips of the ears should all be slightly wider and taper at their ends.

Next, change the stroke colors of all the lines to whatever you like, though the image below has the border of the character as black, and all other lines as dark brown.

Screenshot of the completed character.

Preparing For the Next Lesson

In the next lesson, you will be creating a mock business card for a business that the character directs called "Nook's Homes." Before you learn how to create unique text, the existing objects need to be properly arranged.

Toggle the Lock on the character's "Colors" by clicking "Toggles Lock" on the layer, then select the whole character with the Selection Tool (V). Right click on him, then choose Group. Since you will not be editing the character anymore, grouping all of the objects together will make it easier to move him around. While he is still selected, move the character to the left side of the artboard so that he is covering the leaf. Toggle the Lock on the "Character" layer to keep it in place. Notice that both of the sublayers, "Lines" and "Colors", become locked.

With the character locked in place, you can select the leaf from underneath him. Select the whole leaf with the Selection Tool, right click, and group the leaf objects together with Group. Move the leaf group to the right side of the artboard where the character was. While still in the "Leaf" layer, use the Rectangle Tool to place a large rectangle over the nearly the entire right half of the artboard. Right click on the rectangle, go to Arrange, then Send to Back. Adjust the rectangle as necessary so that it does not meet the edges of the artboard or touch the character.

The leaf should roughly be at the rectangle's center. You can choose whatever color you like for the rectangle's fill and stroke colors, but in the image below, the fill color is the same as the character's eyes and there is no stroke.

Screenshot of the rectangle with the leaf at its center.

Finally, select the leaf group and the rectangle with the Selection Tool. In the top control bar, locate the Opacity box, which should be at the center or to the right depending on the size of the program's window. Delete "100%" from its input, enter "50" instead, then hit Enter on your keyboard to apply the changes. If you cannot see the "100%" in the Opacity box, you may need to click on Opacity in the control bar to find it. The leaf and rectangle should now appear to be dimmer. Toggle the Lock on the "Leaf" layer to keep it in place.

Screenshot of the rectangle and leaf at a lowered opacity.

Save your work before continuing by pressing Ctrl + S (Command + S on Mac).

Concluding Shapes Review

In this section you learned:

  • How to add an existing image.
  • How to make a template layer.
  • About the usefulness of sublayers and how to create them.
  • How to combine your skills to make simple illustrations.

If you would like to see more tips for organizing your art with layers and sublayers, watch the video tutorial listed below to learn more. This resource will also be listed at the end of the tutorial so there is no need to watch it immediately. You can move on to the next section, Text Tools, when you are ready.