Creating A Vector Cartoon

by Curtoons


4 Steps To Creating A Vector File

Learn how to create a vector cartoon character camera ready for printing. This is the four step process I use in getting from a pencil sketch to a digital vector file. This is not the only path you can take in creating a high resolution image but this is the system I’ve been using for years now.

Cartoon Pencil Sketch

1. Sketching the Character

The first step is to draw the design on paper using a pencil. There are many professional pencil choices but I actually use a common .w7mm lead refillable pencil. In my early years in sketch on bristle board or high quality paper but since I began using the computer to scan my design in I now use whatever paper is within reach. Many times just using plain copy paper.

This stage usually takes the most time. I can redraw and erase certain areas up to 15-20 times just to get thing perfect. Notice the hair and the right hand. I have erased and redrawn these areas several times. I draw on a very small light table which rests on my drawing table. The light table is a cartoonists best friend. A light table will save time on adding different aspects to your design and can help you adjust placement before actually drawing. If you do not have access to a light table, try using tracing paper to overlay your cartoons.

After I have the sketch about where I want it I clean up any really messy area with an eraser and darken as many lines as I can. The darker I make my pencil sketch the more time I will save in the cleanup stage. I then scan the image on any normal scanner at 300 dpi. and save as a TIFF file.

Inking A Cartoon

2. Inking the Character

Early in my cartooning career I would actually use pen and ink to ink my cartoons. I then moved on to Rapidiograph pens. Using actual ink was always risky. I had to have really good paper and if I made a mistake or changed my mind I was in deep trouble. There was also the problem of ink drying and making a mess.

Once computers got really popular and Adobe Photoshop came into my life I threw out all of my inking tools. I now open that high resolution TIFF file in Photoshop. I use the contrast tool and darken the pencil sketched lines. This leaves me with a design that looks almost exactly like an inked cartoon. The better you can make the pencil sketch, the better this stage looks.

I then use the pen tool to thicken some lines and make others thinner. Rather than flipping between the pen tool and the eraser tool I simply flip the pen tool between black and white to either ink or erase. Simply hitting the X on your keyboard will flip your pen tool between a black fill and a white outline. I spend an amazing amount of time making sure every line is smoothed out and there are no fuzzy edges or bumps sticking out. The pen tip that you choose needs to have the fuzzy edges rather than a hard edge. I will be making a video to explain this soon.

When I have the inking complete it looks like the image above. If printed this design would look exactly like an inked cartoon.

Cartoon Vector Art

3. Vectoring the Character

The next step is to open a new page in Adobe Illustrator. Place the clean TIFF image in Illustrator and highlight it. Set Live Trace to Comic Art and click the Live Trace button. While still highlighted click the Expand button. You now have a vector image that is grouped with a vector box around it. Using the Direct Select Tool I normally delete the invisible outline square behind the image. I also delete any white areas that I want to be transparent on the final design, like an area that might be trapped between the characters legs. Ungroup and you’re ready to color and finish up.

Once I have the vector file I can easily move it around and place it above or below other vector images. I add any props or lettering at this stage. On the design above I added a vector lightning bolt to a vector surfboard and placed them under the character. I also added a vector necklace and placed it on top of the character. This is where I also add the company name and I also might add a little bit of color. Once I’m happy with this stage I save the design as a vector AI file and convert all fonts to outlines.

Cartoon Vector Character

4. Finishing Up

The last step is to add more color in Illustrator by clicking on white areas and filling them with spot color.  I also add some shading and highlights by creating small areas of lighter or darker colors. The white highlights are simply little white vector areas I created with the pencil tool. Once I finish this stage the design is complete! I can save as ans EPS file, a PDF file and export as a transparent PNG file. I then open one of those files in Photoshop and save the image as a JPEG.

That’s all folks! I will be creating a video to better explain everything above.



katumwa paul October 22, 2011 at 3:06 am

nice drawings and tutorials hope i can make it to a next level thanx

Curtis October 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Thanks! Keep after it and you will make it to the next level. I hope to get more videos added soon.

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