Reimagine Learning

Line Art: An Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

Posted by Jackie | Jan 13, 2012 10:43:18 AM

Happy New Year from Second Avenue! After taking a couple of weeks to enjoy the end of the year holidays and festivities, we are back with another Technique of the Week. In this installment, we will be returning to the creative side with tips on how to create a black and white line art piece using Adobe Illustrator. (NOTE: You should be familiar with the Pen Tool prior to following this tutorial.)

The use of line art can be an effective technique depending on the type of look you are going for in a piece. Its stark contrast makes for a striking appearance that puts emphasis on the edges and form of your subject. Since line art provides a lot of clarity, it is a style that is often used for educational or informational artwork. Using this technique in Adobe Illustrator allows you to maintain full control of line width and shape, creating a very crisp look to your artwork.

For this example, I found this photo of an African elephant and will be making a line art piece of its head. The wrinkles will provide for an interesting result. When preparing an image for reference, you should keep in mind that a higher resolution will allow you to include more detail.

We will begin by placing the reference image onto the art board. If you do not know how to do this, simply go to File > Place... and a file browser will pop up, allowing you to choose which file you want to place. I generally keep this image in a separate layer from my line art and lock the layer once it is all set. If your reference image is ever in the way of your line art creation, you can try altering the opacity in the Transparency Panel to make things more clear.



After placing our image, make a new layer for your paths. I organized my layers according to region of the elephant, but it’s up to you how you would like to organize your paths.

It’s time to make art! We will be using the Pen Tool (No Fill, black stroke of varying weight) and Selection Tools exclusively for this. Take your pen tool and start tracing the outer parts of your reference, beginning the path from one end of the line you want to create. After you are completed with the outer line work, start tackling the inner details in the same fashion, using a thinner line weight.


Here is what we have so far, sans reference. It’s rather... flat. We can help fix this by varying the weight of the strokes. When doing this, keep in mind that the thicker strokes should be used for objects closer to the viewer, shadowed areas, and outer line work while the inner details, farther objects, and lighter parts should be a thinner width.


Before the Stroke Change
And After!


The result is not perfect, but it is an improvement. Unfortunately, the lines are still looking a bit blocky and the piece isn’t very clean yet. Assuming your strokes are close to the final width you would like them to be, it’s time to start refining the line work with some tapering and smoothing. In this part, we will be making good use of the nifty command known as Outline Stroke.

Before we go on to the next step, I highly recommend duplicating all of your artwork layers because you will not be able to go back to your original strokes once you use the Outline Stroke command on them. If you are ready, select the path you would like to work with first and select Object > Outline Stroke.



You can see the results above. The stroke of the path is now its own shape. We can use the anchor points of this new shape to morph the stroke.

If you are working with an organic form or a form where the lines represent a flowing shape, I recommend tapering all of the ends of your lines. This technique will get rid of the block-like feel of your original lines most effectively. There are a couple ways you can go about doing this.

Before Tapering
After Tapering


For almost all of my lines, I use the method pictured above. I completely deleted one of the end anchor points from the path by left-clicking on the point with the Pen Tool. One point is remaining to cap off the line, making the line appear tapered rather than chopped at the end. Note that your lines will not usually come out looking clean like in this example and the path will most likely need further tweaking.

Another method, which I used for the tusk detail lines, is to Average the two end points. You can do this by selecting the two points and selecting Object > Path > Average... (Alt + Ctrl + Join on Windows). This will bring up a window that will ask how you want to average the points. Choose “Both” so the points meet up with each other and the line will appear tapered. This method is a little quicker, but I do not like it as much as the previous method since there are multiple points to deal with if you want to edit the shape further.



To help bring the line work together, I use the Pathfinder Panel to Unite intersecting lines. To do this, you must have this panel open (Window > Pathfinder). Select the two shapes you would like to be united and click the top-left button. This will combine the shapes into one path.

Before Uniting Paths


After Uniting Paths

Now that the paths are combined, you can either leave them, or smooth out the shape and create the effect of an implied shadow as explained below.

In the area you would like to edit, add anchor points to either side of point you would like to smooth out as shown above. Delete the middle anchor point at the intersection by left-clicking the point with the Pen Tool. This will smooth out the intersection as well as create an implied shadow effect. You will probably want to clean this up, as simply deleting the middle anchor point will not be enough in most cases.


Before Editing
Adding Points...


After Editing

Continue to edit your line work using these techniques until the entire piece is complete. Always keep in mind how wide your lines should be depending on the placement and how the light is hitting the object.

Here is my final result! Don’t be afraid to experiment a little with colors as well.

Until next time,


Topics: Blog, Technique of the Week, Art, Tutorial

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