How to Make a Stylized Graphic in Adobe Illustrator

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

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Make a Stylized Graphic from a Photo in Illustrator

Stylized Graphic from a Photo in Illustrator

Sandra Trainor

Although we used Illustrator CS6 for this tutorial, 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
02
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Size Artboard

Size Artboard

Sandra Trainor

You want to turn the pair of ice skates within the photograph into a stylized graphic. The photograph shown has a nice range of tones, which is important for the kind of graphic that you'll be making.

In the Tools panel, select the Artboard tool, then click on one of the corner Artboard handles and drag it just inside the edges of the photograph. 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

Sandra Trainor

To select the photograph, choose the Selection tool from the Tools panel and click anywhere on the photograph.

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

Sandra Trainor

In the Layers Panel, double-click on the layer. This will open the Layer Options dialog box.

Click on Template and Dim Images, then type in 50% and click OK. The photograph will dim, which will allow you to better see the lines that you'll soon be drawing over the photograph.

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Rename Layers

Rename Layers

Sandra Trainor

In the Layers panel, click on Layer 1, which will give a text field to type in a new name. Type in the name, "Template."

Next, click on the Create a New Layer button. By default, the new layer is named "Layer 2." 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

Sandra Trainor

With the Dark Tones layer selected, click on the Pen tool, located in the Tools panel. Also in the Tools panel are the Fill and Stroke boxes. 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

Sandra Trainor

A closer view will help me to trace with greater accuracy. To zoom in, 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, draw around the darkest tones to form shapes. Start with the dark tones that form the shape that makes up the sole and heel of the ice skate in front. For now, ignore the light tones within this shape. (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

Sandra Trainor

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

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Apply a Dark Color Fill

Apply a Dark Color Fill

Sandra Trainor

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

In the Layers panel 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

Sandra Trainor

Now, 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, you'll need to click and drag it into place.

With the Pen tool still selected, click on the Fill box and None button. Then trace around all the middle tones in the same way that you 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. Use my "artistic license" to make the shadows near the hooks smaller. (Just ignore the small details, such as the stitching and scuff marks.)

Once you've finished tracing around the middle tones, 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

Sandra Trainor

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

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

Sandra Trainor

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

In the Layers panel, create another new layer and name it "Light Tones." 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, click on the Fill box and None button. Then trace around the light tones in the same way that you 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

Sandra Trainor

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

Finally,  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

Sandra Trainor

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

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

With the new Highlights layer selected, click on the Pen tool and again set the Fill box to None. 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, double-click on the Fill box in the Tools panel, which will open the Color Picker. Type in the RGB value fields, 255, 255, and 255. When you click OK, the shapes will fill with pure white.

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View Combined Layers

View Combined Layers

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 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, 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

Sandra Trainor

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

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

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Resize Artboard

Resize Artboard

Sandra Trainor

Click on the Artboard tool and resize the Artboard by moving the handles inward until it is the same size as the square. Press Escape to exit the Artboard mode, choose File > Save — and you're done! You 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, Choose File > Save As, and rename the file (for example, "ice_skates_color") and click Save. This will preserve your original saved version and allow me to make changes to this newly saved version.

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