How I Create an Illustration in 2 Hours

Design Process for a Thank You Card

After a lot of practice, I’ve been able to speed up my illustration process so that I can go from initial concept to final design in just under 2 hours. I typically always use the same process, not matter if if I’m working on a personal project or a client illustration. Below is my process for creating a Thank You card personal project to send to guests who attended
my wedding.

I first start out with a rough sketch of the design. I don’t spend a lot of time on my sketches because I know that I’ll be making significant changes once I start outlining the design in Illustrator or Photoshop. However, I do try to make the layout, frame and general look and feel as polished as possible if I’m sending it off to a client for review. In this case, I’m the only one seeing this sketch, so I keep it quick and loose.

I then scan my design with ScannerPro and upload it to Illustrator. This app makes your sketches look awesome.

Initial Sketch

Color Palette

Before starting on the design, I choose a palette of around 5–7 colors. I choose one main color, and then use a tool such as Spectrum or Illustrator’s color tool to help me choose a palette. Since this card will be sent out in the fall and uses organic forms, I chose a softer, neural-tone palette.

Starting the Design

I place my sketch in Illustrator and set the opacity to around 60–70%. I adjust the opacity so that I can see the sketch underneath, but light enough so that it’s not distracting me while I work on the design. I then start quickly laying out all the basic shapes and elements.

My Illustration Toolkit

Superior Needle Drawing Pen: .03mm or .05mm
Staedtler .5 mechanical pencil
Eraser: any old kind
Leuchtturm notebook (these are AMAZING)
Epson 1430 printer
ScannerPro app (best $3.99 I’ve ever spent)
Illustrator
Spectrum app: scanning app
4by6.com: for printing

Shortcuts that I use a million times while illustrating.

Command + 2: locks the layer
Shift + M: Combines two shapes
Command + 3: Hides a layer so that I can work on the layer underneath
Command + Option + drag: Allows you to zoom in and out
Shift: Hand tool
O + Enter + Enter: Flip Horizontal/Vertically
Shift +O +Option +drag: Duplicate and move artboard
Option +Drag: Duplicate

Finalize Layout

I quickly lay out the basic shapes, loosely following the sketch that I previously created. At this stage, I review the design to see if it is
visually balanced.

Remove Sketch and Review

Once I feel comfortable enough that I have the basic layout, I remove the sketch and start adding in additional elements.

Adding More Balance

The design is looking a little sparse in a few areas. I tend to copy and paste elements to speed up my process, but I try to make small edits so that they design doesn’t look to repetitive. The goal is to make the illustration look polished, but not too reliant on the technology.

Final Touches

After going through and balancing out the design, I start on the fun part. I add in shadows for depth and small details to make the design feel relaxed and cohesive.

Print and Review

Next, I print out the design and check for anomalies. I bought an Epson 1430 a few months ago and it’s changed my life. I now print out absolutely everything to double-check my designs. My eye can catch mistakes much easier when I’m looking at a printed design versus the screen. I look for crowded or sparse areas, unbalanced color or odd lines. Since this is an organic shape, the lines should be curved rather than straight.

Final Design

Total time: 2 hours

I am fairly happy with the design, especially since I limited the process to just ~2 hours. If I were to extend the design, I would add in more shadow details and leave colors. Now I send it off to be printed! I use 4by6.com and love their matte prints, they seem to really hold the color accurately and the paper has a smooth finish.