Designer’s color technique in Adobe Illustrator. Vector illustration


Post 5 of 8

I continue my lessons on vector illustration, where I gradually explain about my own technique on creating a vector picture. First, take a look at my earlier lesson about working with final outline of the sketch «How to prepare a sketch. Outlining in Illustrator».

Today I will show you how to work with color.

In process of creating a vector illustration I personally use local colors, excluding gradient. This technique allows you to obtain «softer» pictures, without bold contrast.

Of course, it’s just a matter of taste, but I like it more this way. Gradient is also good, but you really need to know how to work with it, otherwise you might end up with a mess and your picture might look dull and sad.

If you are new to Illustrator, I recommend trying both techniques, but it’s more convenient to start your color experiments putting in practice volume principles, merely using local colors.

Take a look at these pictures in cartoon style.

vector illustration tutoarials

Both of them are excellent, in its own way. But what differs them? That’s right, it’s the technique. The first example is not using gradient, but tonal adjustments of shadow and light with the use of local colors.

In the second example a certain cartoon artist is actively using gradient tool, efficiently modeling the characters and creating a noticeable volume.

Now, let’s pass from general examples to a plan of actions we need to take and a thorough description.

General description of my working process creating a vector illustration

At first I lock the layer with general outline. Underneath I create a new layer and begin to fill it gradually, starting with the biggest areas of color in the picture. So far I’m not going into small details.

At this stage we must use the general-to-specific pattern. This way we form a general color palette, which can still be changed during the progress of illustration if we feel that some colors don’t match or if we, for some reason, decided to change the character’s T-shirt from green to yellow.

vector illustration tutoarials

When you’re done with general coloring, it’s time to pass to shape modeling in color. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer omitting the gradient tool, so to achieve certain volume I use only local colors. If I need to make form shadow, I use the same color as the object itself, applying transparency mode “multiply”, or simply change the tone to a slightly darker one.

I apply the same technique to light zones too, with the difference that main color should be changed for a lighter tone.

vector illustration tutoarials

If I need to show even more volume, I simply repeat previous steps a couple of times, changing tones to lighter or darker ones (it depends if I work with shadows or with lights).

In such way I sequentially move from general color zones towards the smaller detailed zones.

How to elaborate a color illustration, examples.

Sequential work on little details is as important as all other aspects of the picture. But sometimes you can lose yourself in a particular fragment and forget about the general picture. I would not recommend you doing this, because it can affect the integrity of your illustration, and in the end you will waste more time trying to bring it back.

It’s better to act gradually and by plan, than turn off your logic and drown over an inspirational impulse. It may sound harsh, but I recommend you being more pragmatical with commercial projects, and always be aware of time factor.

However, let’s move on..

Make a clear plan of actions in your mind. In this lesson of working on vector illustration I made a short check-list for you:

  • Working on general color zones
  • Shape modeling in color
  • Shadow modeling of the shape
  • Working on light
  • Adding reflected light and highlights

And there’s one more step:

  •  working on outline

You may want to color the outline too. It’s a matter of taste and depends on the idea of your picture. There are several reasons for using one technique or another. The outline stage can be quite laborious and time-taking, but it’s worth it, and your final picture will have consederably more volume. We’ll come back to this question later, meanwhile let’s concentrate on each step of our check-list.

Working on general color zones

Before starting to work with color I like to pick some color combinations.
For this task you can use online platform
This page will help you choose most winning combinations for your work.

When I’m ready with the general color palette, I create a new layer with the first basic color, that covers entirely my shape like a canvas. Next, on top of this layer I put my general color spots, then I paint smaller details too, and so on until I finish the whole picture.

vector illustration tutoarials

Modeling in color

When we’re finished with the main local colors, we can add halftones, taking main colors as a base, and sliding them to a darker or lighter side. This way we form our volume shape by color. As in previous stage, we apply this technique to all shapes in our picture.

vector illustration tutoarials

Shadow modeling

In this stage we must take into account the direction of light source. This will determine the position of proper shadow on the object.

vector illustration tutoarials

I create the proper shade of an object using transparency mode «multiply».

Light modeling

From the previous stage, we must have determined the direction of main light source. Using this information, we work on those parts of the picture, where light rays would fall.

vector illustration tutoarials

Adding reflected lights

Reflection of light represents the light spots, reflected from surrounding objects. Even if your object (a character in my case) is isolated from the area and you draw it on a white background, the color of reflected light can be imaginative, – you can make it cold or on the contrary, warm. This will add to your illustration more volume and credibility.

vector illustration tutoarials

A universal way to add reflected light in cartoon illustration – is just putting it around the shape. Actually, you can end your work right after this step. But there remains a question about your overall outline.

vector illustration tutoarials

Working on outline

Now we’ve reached the final stage of our picture – coloring the outline**. **I will make a step-by-step lesson next time, while now I will just show some of the main actions you must take.

First, expand all lines into objects and gradually start combining the outline color with the shape color. Where it is needed, use light tones or vice versa dark ones, considering your final goals. For example, reflection and halftones can be done with the help of color modeling, the same as we did with shadows and light, i.e. copy the main color of the object to the outline color, slightly changing its tone for a lighter/darker one.

That’s basically all the trouble.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can leave out the last stage with outline coloring, keeping it black. It all depends on your goals. I keep a black outline in cases where I need to gain most volume.

The technique described in this lesson is what I’ve learned and established from my own experience, trying out different methods and variations.

In the end, I would like to show you a video from Sergio Ordonez, an illustrator with a very interesting and unique color technique.