In this tutorial we are going to learn how to create a vector turtle character based on a vinyl toy named “Skuttle” from the “Little Trickers” series.
We’re going to be using Adobe Illustrator CS3 for this tutorial, but the majority of old versions and the newer version will work perfectly fine. If you don’t want to create a turtle, why not take a photo of one of your favorite vinyl toys or collectibles, or sketch your own and scan it in?
The first step is to open up Illustrator and place your photograph or sketch in. Set up a basic RGB document, I’m going to use a 800×600 canvas. Go to File > Place and place in your photograph or sketch. If you want to use my photograph, you can download it below by saving the image. In case you’re interested, the photograph was taken with a Canon 1000D digital SLR camera and a fixed 50mm 1.8 lens.
The first actual task we’re going to complete is producing an outline of our turtle. Before moving on, double-click on your layer and rename it to “Source Image“, lock the layer and dim your image to around 35%.
Create a new layer. Grab the Pen Tool and select transparency as your main color, and black as your stroke color. Give your stroke a weight of around 2 pixels (although this will vary if you have a smaller or larger canvas size).
Start to outline the first part of your character, however only do one half of your image – this is because we will be duplicating the half we do and flipping it. This is always a good trick if you need to make something symmetrical!
As you can see we have only created the one half our turtles brow, but we are now going to fix that.
Fill the shape with white, and then copy it by going to Edit > Copy and then paste it in place by going to Edit > Paste In Front. This will create a duplicate of our shape in the exact same position. Go to Object > Transform > Reflect and reflect your shape vertically.
Use your cursor keys to nudge your your new shape to the right, making sure it lines up correctly in the center.
Open up your pathfinder window by going to Window > Pathfinder. Select your two separate shapes and click on the Unite option to merge the two shapes into one.
Keep repeating this step until you have the basic shape of your character. You’ll notice that our shapes will start to overlap each other. This isn’t a problem, as we will be arranging them all later, or on the go.
To arrange your objects you can just go to Object > Arrange, or use any of the keyboard shortcuts which can be seen in the arrangement menu.
Remember to take into consideration all the little shapes such as shadows etc.
Occasionally you’ll run into small errors such in the screenshot below, where the two shapes don’t quite match up. To fix this you can use the Direct Selection Tool to select a particular anchor point and drag it out.
Do the same to both shapes until they match up correctly.
You can then merge the two shapes together using the method we used earlier.
Sometimes you may need to remove the white fill in your shape so you can see the image beneath – you can easily refill it again afterwards.
Carry on creating new shapes for your character – it’s a long process but it’ll look great if you take care over it!
Remember that your source image is only a photo and is not perfectly symmetrical, meaning you may need to work on this yourself in some areas. For example, my mouth just doesn’t line up, as seen in the screenshot below.
To fix this you can either do it manually using the Selection and Direct Selection Tool, or you can align the shapes to the center.
We’re getting there with the shape of our turtle – now we just need to complete the arms, legs, shell and the tiny bit of tail that we can just about see!
Start selecting shapes from your turtle and filling them with colors.
Keep on filling in your shapes with color. It’s going to look very flat until we start to add additional shading to it!
Because we only used lines for our teeth lines, the color beneath it will show through (as seen in the screenshot above). To fix this, we need to create a new shape and fill it with white, and then place it beneath our teeth lines. This may be easier to do on a brand new layer so that it doesn’t interact with our other paths.
You can now move the object back on to our original layer, and place it beneath the other objects.
After filling in all the shapes, it’s time to add some more depth to our illustration by adding gradients. We’re going to add gradients to our turtles body first (the grey area). We want the top and bottoms of each individual shape to be a little darker than the center of the shape.
Click on the top grey shape, and go to Window > Gradient. Add a 90 degree gradient going from a dark grey to a lighter grey, and back to the same dark grey.
Apply the same gradient to all of your other grey shapes. You can do this all at once by selecting each one of your shapes at the same time whilst holding the shift-key, and then applying the gradient.
With that done we’re going to start adding some gradients to other parts of our turtle.
The first thing we’re going to add a gradient to is our turtles eyes, using similar colors to what we just used in the body, but this time using a radial gradient rather than a linear gradient.
The next shape I’m going to add a gradient to is the top of our turtles head. I’m using a three-point linear gradient, going from the original color to a slightly lighter color back the original color. You can make new colors by using the color guide (Window > Color Guide) set to monochromatic to get different shades of the current color.
Keep repeating this process until you have filled the majority of your shapes with different gradients, like the screenshots below. Don’t feel like you always need to use a gradient because sometimes you don’t! You can use your source file or sketch as a reference.
Our turtle is heading towards completion! By adding a bunch of gradients we have improved the depth of the turtle a great deal. The last thing we want to do is add a very subtle touch of color to our turtles teeth, because lets face it, no ones teeth are this white! Select the white background we created earlier, and fill it with a gradient going from a very pale and faint yellow to a light grey.
We’re finished! To create an even cooler look, you could open up Photoshop and export your AI file by going to File > Place. Once you have placed your turtle, go to File > Place again and select a texture to put over the top of our angry turtle. This will automatically create a new layer.
Rasterize the layer by right-clicking on it and selecting rasterize layer, and then delete what you don’t need by clicking on the turtle layers thumbnail whilst holding the Cmd-Key, right-clicking and selecting inverse, and then hitting the delete key.
Play around with different color modes and blending modes to give your turtle a great looking texture!
I hope you liked this tutorial! Let us know what you think :)
You can download the final result in AI format right here: