How to create outline illustrations in 5 easy steps

Hello there! I’m Alex and I’m a full-time freelance illustrator, here are some of my works.

Many people constantly contact me via email and social networks asking to share the process of designing my illustrations.

Today I’ll show you how to create a mug of tea in my style in 5 easy steps.

This is my first tutorial and it’s very superficial, just to give you an overview of my typical workflow in Adobe Illustrator.

Let’s go!


1. Setting up a new document

Create a new document (File -> New) with the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 800px
  • Height: 600px
  • Color Mode: RGB

2. Lineart

After creating a document, you have one layer called ‘Layer 1’, rename it to ‘mug’ and create a new layer under ‘mug’ called ‘lines’.

I usually work with 4px stroke width for the main objects and 2px stroke width for little details.

2.1 Main shapes

Select the ‘lines’ layer and choose ‘Pen’ tool (P). Stroke width: 4px, stroke color: #454b6e, no fill color.

I’ve got a ground line of 140px and rectangular outline of a mug right in the center of ground (52x56px).

Let’s make the corners of a mug rounded: 4px radius for top corners, 12px radius for bottom corners.

To make a handle I created 2 semicircles with radiuses of 8px and 17px, then aligned it to the right side of the mug.

When the main shape of the mug is completed you can add a tea bag. Create a rectangle of 14x18px size and 2px corners radius. The rope of a tea bag can be done with a small semicircle and a straight vertical line, for the rope I used 2px stroke width.

2.2 Adding more details

I’ll add a smoke, a little scratch in the mug’s body and a couple of gaps on the ground. These details will be enough to make illustration richer keeping it minimalistic.

You can use ‘Scissors Tool’ (C) to create gaps on a ground (7px wide). The scratch is just a line and a dot with 2px stoke width.

To create a beautiful rounded smoke I use the following technique. First, I create circles with different radiuses like on the screenshot below.

Then I remove one point from each circle path to get semicircles.

I play around with the sizes of circles and move them around until I’m happy with the result.

Then I place it above the mug. Here’s how the composition looks now.

3. Coloring

Here’s a little trick, I always keep colors on a separate layer (it will help a lot in the future on Shadows & Lights stage).

So what you need to do now: copy ‘lines’ layer and name it ‘color’, then place it below (not inside) ‘lines’ layer.

Lock ‘lines’ layer and select ‘color’ layer. Select all the objects on ‘color’ layer and remove the stroke from them, then select ’Live Paint Bucket’ (K) and fill the mug with #00b5e2 color, the tea bag with #ffbf5a.

So here is what I’ve got on ‘color’ layer if we hide ‘lines’ layer.

4. Shadows & Light

4.1 Shadows

It’s time to add lighting to the illustration. I usually use top left corner for a source of light in my illustrations, this one is not an exception.

Create a new layer ‘shadows’ and place it above ‘color’ but below ‘lines’ layer.

I’ll do 3 shapes of shadows for the mug: in the bottom of the mug, under the teabag and on the handle. The shapes don’t have to be perfect or totally theoretically correct, they just have to look nice 🙂

Fill all the shadows shapes with black color, then add a various transparency values to each shadow (via opacity option: 20% for the handle, 15% for the tea bag, 7% for the mug’s bottom shadow).

4.2 Light

We’re almost there, let’s add light to our mug. The process is the same as for shadows. Light will be located on ‘shadows’ layer as well.

I’ll add one glare shape in the top left corner of the mug which consists of 2 rectangles: 1 full-width horizontal and 1 vertical (with rounded bottom corners). Unite two rectangles in one shape with ‘Unite’ option in ‘Pathfinder’.

And one more small glare for the tea bag.

Fill the shapes of light with white color and add transparency (25% opacity for both shapes).

5. Adding a subtle background.

The process for creating a background is the same as creating the main object, the only difference is in colors brightness and saturation.

I’ve added a simple teapot in the background, for the stroke I used #e2e4f2 color and for the fill — #f4f9ff. I’ve decided to remove shadows and light from the background, but I usually do lighting in the background as well in my illustrations.

The illustration is complete, here’s the result:

Conclusion

This is how the overall process looks like, but it misses one crucial thing — the ’sketch’ phase, which I think I’ll explain in future tutorials.

In this tutorial I focused mostly on showing that creating a minimalistic illustration/icon is not that complicated and anyone can do it. Though there are so many things and techniques that I’d like to share with you.


Thank you for reading! Let me know if this one was useful for you and you want to see more.

Here’s the .ai source file of the illustration.

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