Our 2013 Digital Holiday Card had a cool, organic-feeling art style that seemed hand-drawn, but was done almost entirely in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Find out how to make your Illustrator work look hand-drawn with our Illustrator & Photoshop organic art tutorial.
There are artists among us. They’re people that can create artwork with a stroke of a pen or a graphics tablet, wonderful organic artwork that has character and personality, from nothing but their own imagination.
I am not one of those artists. Sure, with a careful and steady hand, I might be able to make something passable in Painter or Photoshop — with heavy use of the Undo option! — but nothing like what a true artist could do. So, when we decided on a hand-drawn-looking art style for our 2013 Digital Holiday Card, but with our resources busy elsewhere — meaning I was going to have to fly solo — I had my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I found a neat workflow using Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop that allowed me to create what I was envisioning, and today I’m going to show you how I did it. So if you’re artistically-challenged like me and don’t have enough time to hire or access to a True Artist, read on for how I made this:
You see, Adobe Illustrator makes giving your vector artwork a hand-drawn feel really straightforward. The secret is in the Wrinkle tool.
The Wrinkle tool does exactly what it says on the tin: it wrinkles lines and shapes based on its configuration settings. It lets you take a shape from this…
…with just a couple clicks and drags. Let’s dive into its options!
The Wrinkle Tool’s Options
To open the Wrinkle tool’s option dialog, double-click its button in the toolbar. A dialog like this will pop up:
The Global Brush Size section allows you to configure several important parameters for using the Wrinkle tool. The larger the width and height you choose, the broader the effect is; conversely, smaller width & height result in a more pronounced and detailed jitter. Compare the effect of a larger-sized Wrinkle brush at 200px vs. a smaller one at 50px:
If we went even smaller, the lines would be even shakier. Whichever size you choose will depend on your artwork and just how much you want to wrinkle it. Also, as the dialog notes, adjusting the brush size on-the-fly using the mouse is done by holding down Option or Alt and then clicking and dragging; if you want to make sure your width & height stay proportioned (rather than the brush turning into an oval), you can hold down Shift as you adjust the size with the mouse.
Next up is the Angle option; for our purposes, you can leave this at 0°. Finally, wrapping up the Global Brush Size section is Intensity; this does exactly what you’d expect. A higher intensity will quickly wrinkle your shape to the maximum you specify in the Wrinkle Options section below, and a lower intensity will be a slower effect. I usually prefer something in the 2-10% range to avoid things quickly turning into a destroyed, Jackson Pollack-looking scene.
Let’s move on to the Wrinkle Options section. The Horizontal and Vertical options let you control just how “big” the wrinkle effect is, how far horizontally and vertically the effect can possibly go. For our purposes on the holiday card, I set these to 100%; your needs may vary. The Complexity and Detail options are related. Adobe’s help says that Complexity “specifies how closely the results of the particular brush are spaced on the object’s outline.” Likewise, Detail “specifies the spacing between points introduced into the object’s outline (higher values space points closer together).” Basically, the higher the detail & complexity settings, the more chaotic the wrinkle effect will be within the confines of the horizontal & vertical settings in Wrinkle Options, and the higher the intensity setting in Global Brush Dimensions, the faster the effect will take hold.
This section wraps up with a couple checkboxes. Brush Affects Anchor Points will wiggle any anchors around at the same rate as the shape; I usually leave this unchecked. Likewise, the in & out tangent handle checkboxes will affect any handles you may have used to edit curves, beziers, etc. I usually leave these checked. Lastly, Show Brush Size is good to have checked, as it will show you the actual brush diameter instead of just a point.
One last thing to note about the Wrinkle tool: using it will affect all unlocked shapes that are within the brush’s diameter, not just the ones on the currently selected layer. So, if you’re stacking shapes and only want to wrinkle some of them, be sure to lock the ones you don’t want to affect.
So now you’ve gotten the gist of the options — let’s make some hand-drawn-looking art!
From Clean Vectors to Messy
- Start with your shape of choice in stroke-only form. I’m going to use a simple serif lambda.
- Select the Wrinkle tool, and double-click to set your options. Hit OK.
- Position the brush so that it’s intersecting your shape, and — here comes the actual wrinkling! — click and drag the brush over your shape. You should see it start wrinkling up. The effect will be applied continuously while the mouse button is held down, until it hits a maximum level of wrinkling based on your settings
- Now, the first couple times you do this, you may mangle your shape. No worries! Just undo, adjust the settings, and try again until you have something that looks as organic as you’d like it to be. You can always release the mouse and tweak specific parts of the shape too — the wrinkling is additive.
Here’s where I netted out with the wrinkle tool on the lambda. This was with a brush Width & Height of 50px, Intensity 10%, 100% Horizontal and Vertical range, a Complexity of 1, and Detail of 2:
Not bad for a 3-second sweep of the mouse! But now let’s make this look a little better. Let’s apply a brush style to our line.
- Open the Brushes palette. I have mine set as a part of a separate toolbar, but you can also pop it open via Window -> Brushes.
- Illustrator comes with several useful brush styles for the effect we’re going for, but you can of course bring your own or create one from scratch. That’s outside the scope of this tutorial, though. Click the palette menu flyout button on the top right of the Brushes palette, and go to Open Brush Library. Drill down to a suitable brush library; for this tutorial, I’ve chosen Artistic -> Artistic_ChalkCharcoalPencil.
- If your shape is selected, you can simply click on a brush and it’ll be applied. Otherwise, you can just click and drag a brush onto your shape.
- Some brushes are super-thick! Don’t worry, though; you can adjust their diameter/thickness using the standard Stroke Weight option. There are lots of other options when adjusting a stroke, like the profile and things, but I’ll leave that for you to play with.
Today, I ultimately chose the Chalk - Scribble brush, with with the stroke at 0.1pt with a uniform profile. Here’s where we’re at before we take it into coloring & texturing, which will be done in Photoshop:
Not too shabby for such quick work. All right, let’s export this out as a PNG24. Go to File -> Export… and choose the PNG format. Name your file and choose your folder, and then on the subsequent screen choose your Resolution and Anti-aliasing settings. I usually use 300 ppi and scale down later if it’s for web use, and choose Art Optimized anti-aliasing for this sort of thing. Lastly, set the Background Color to Transparent, and click OK to save. You’re done with Illustrator! Now, onto Photoshop for coloring and more.
From Lines to Color & Texture
- Open up the file you just exported in Photoshop, or place it into your existing project.
- Go ahead and create a new layer, filled with white, stacked below the outline you just opened. Then, create a new transparent layer also below the outline. You’ll be painting on this transparent layer so that you can easily erase any mistakes.
- Choose a suitable brush and color for your artwork. For my lambda, I’ll be using a simple grey color, and a brush hardness of 90%
- Go ahead and paint in the shape; it’s up to you to choose how closely you “stay inside the lines.” For this, personally, I usually prefer to use my small Wacom tablet because I’m not a huge fan of painting via mouse.
- Once you’re done, for extra credit go ahead and add more transparent layers on which you’ll paint in shading.
Once you’re done shading, you’ll have something like this. This was a quick 2-minute shade job for me, so with a little bit of care, a steady hand, and a little more time, you can get much better results:
Now on to the last steps: choosing the “paper” color, giving the image a texture, and adjusting blending of your lines!
- First, remember that empty white bottom layer? Go ahead and fill that with a neutral color, like a light desaturated tan. Don’t have anything too oversaturated.
- Load up a nice paper texture. You may already have some, but if you don’t, a quick Google search will turn up thousands and thousands of royalty-free high-resolution free textures. For this tutorial, I chose an antique-looking paper. Choose one that fits the mood of what you’re going for, and load it in Photoshop.
- Place the texture so it’s the topmost layer, over all of your other layers.
- Set the texture layer’s blend mode to Multiply, and fiddle with its Fill until it’s not overbearing.
- Chances are, your stroke layer is looking mighty dark and a little odd. Go ahead and adjust its blend mode & fill as well; perhaps Multiply at 49%? Different blend modes and Fill levels will give you different effects, or you can always drop the Fill to 0% and load in a Color Overlay layer style and tweak its blend mode & opacity as well, if a black stroke isn’t working for you.
- Because the paper texture has been blended with the layers below, you may have lost some detail. Don’t hesitate to play with things like an Unsharp Mask or High-Pass sharpening technique, or making your paper black & white and trying other blend modes. Really, this is the time to experiment until you get something that you like.
I went ahead and made my paper texture black & white, sharpened it, increased the saturation of the background layer, and threw a Sepia adjustment layer on my tutorial image. The result is pretty basic, but you can get a sense of how flexible this technique can be!
Let’s compare it to our original shape once again just to see the difference:
So there you have it. A simple, easy technique to breathe some hand-drawn life into your digital artwork, no contract artist required. Of course, if you can swing bringing an artist on board, by all means do so. But this is a great technique to have in your creative quiver. Be sure to hit up the comments if you have any questions or comments, or to share a picture that you made using this technique. Thanks for reading, and happy drawing!
- Greg Kefalas