How to Create an Awesome Retro VW Beetle Vector in Illustrator
In this tutorial we’ll be using Adobe Illustrator (CS4 in this case, although can be completed using most versions of Illustrator) to create a vector image of an original Volkswagen (VW) Beetle. We will be making use of one of Illustrators most-used tools; the Pen Tool, as well as adding some finishing touches using a graphics tablet (an affordable Wacom Bamboo tablet in my case) to give the vector a nice hand-drawn style.
If you like this tutorial, keep your eyes peeled for the follow-up tutorial, in which we’ll be using our vectored VW Beetle to create a lovely retro and textured poster in Adobe Photoshop.
Open up Adobe Illustrator and create a new Print Document (which presents your color mode to CMYK and gives you a high PPI/DPI [pixels per inch or dots per inch]). Change the name of your document to something suitable, and change the size of your document to something that’ll fit an image of a car (so just make sure it’s horizontal). There’s no need to worry about your bleed settings, as we’re only creating a vector. We’ll worry about this in the follow-up tutorial where we will be designing a print-ready poster.
Head over to Flickr and download this photo that I took back in 2010 when I visited a Bug Jam festival/car show. Go to File > Place Image, locate the downloaded photo and place it into your document.
Double-click on your only later to bring up the Layer Options window. Change the name to “Source Image“. Tick the Lock and Dim Image checkboxes, and change the dim images percentage to 30%. Click OK. This will fade your image, and also lock it, which will stop us from accidentally selecting it whilst working on our canvas.
In the Layers Panel, click on the New Layer icon. Double-click on the new layer and rename it to “Vector“.
You’ll need to know how to use the Pen Tool reasonably well to follow this tutorial, so if you need to brush up on your skills, I’d recommend the following guide: Illustrator’s Pen Tool: The Comprehensive Guide.
With our layers now set up, it’s time to make a start on our vector. Select the Pen Tool from the Tools Panel. Remove the foreground color from the Toolbar at the top of your screen, and change the stroke color to black. Change the stroke settings/width to 1px.
Click on a point at the top of your cars main body shape, as seen below. Now click on another point what is ultimately a couple of inches away (on your screen). Drag the anchor points around until the line matches the top line of your car almost perfectly.
Carry on doing this along the top of your cars main shape until you get to the back window.
Once you get to the back window of your Beetle you need to tackle your first real angle. In which case, you’ll probably want to zoom in a little more, and work on a lower scale in terms of distances between each of your anchor points. Take your time here and try to get your lines perfect.
We’re not going to start closing off the roof shape on our car. The idea is to create lots of little shapes that will eventually build up the main shape of our car. It will in the mean time become a messy canvas of lines, but once we fill these shapes in we will be able to position them below and above each other to hide the things we don’t want to see.
The following line doesn’t have to be tired – it simply needs to be between the two lines parallel to the roof of our car (in between the highlighted and shadowed areas) as seen below.
Carry on following this line and then close the shape off at the front of the car.
We’re now going to move on to our second shape. This time we’ll be tracing the shape that overlaps our roof – the shape that we just followed the center line of to close our previous shape.
We can now move onto one of the larger shapes of our car – the main body. You’ll notice from the screenshot below that the shape isn’t neat at all. This is simply because all of the jagged lines will be covered by other shapes, such as our bonnet and wheel arches.
The top line of our shape needs to be hidden beneath the roof shape, so just make sure the line doesn’t appear underneath the bottom line of our previous shapes. This is probably the quickest shape to draw in the whole of our car due to it not actually having any lines that need to be overly accurate.
Now create a shape for your cars bonnet. This shape all has to be accurate other than the small line on the right which will be covered by our front wheel arch.
You’ll notice now that our lines/strokes are starting to look rather messy, and it’s beginning to get hard to tell each line apart from each other with a quick glance. For this reason, I recommend click on each one of your shapes one at a time and changing the stroke color to something unique, like below. This way you’ll be able to tell shapes apart easily.
Reselect the Pen Tool and draw your front wheel arch. I used a pink stroke for this. Both the wheel arches have to be 100% accurate as they will be the two shapes at the top of our canvas, meaning nothing will overlap them.
Do the same for your back wheel arch…
Now for another simple shape, and another that has to be traced accurately; the side-skirting/step at the bottom of the cars side.
Now trace the two side windows… Here is what we have so far with the source image hidden.
We’re now going to create the shape that will create the darkness behind our wheels. This shape simply needs to follow the lines you can see between the wheel/tyre and the wheel arches. The top of the shape can be a messy as you like as it will be hidden behind the rest of the cars shapes.
Select the Elliptical Tool and whilst holding the Shift-Key, draw a circle for your wheel. Now draw another for the alloy. Position them correctly, and then copy and paste them and position them over the front of your car also.
It’s time to start adding some color now. Select the main body shape of your car, and change the color. I chose a bright orange. Go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back to send your shape to the back of your canvas, allowing the other shapes to sit on top of the color.
You should end up with something like this…
Select the shape underneath your car which’ll be fill in that black space behind our wheels. Move it to the back of the layer behind all our other shapes and fill it with a dark grey. You’ll notice I made a mistake earlier and didn’t cover the whole area that needs to be covered, but this is a simple fix.
Simply click on the shape and then select the Direct Selection Tool (the white arrow). Select an anchor point and reposition it. Repeat this step with all the anchor points until the area is covered.
Fill in a bunch of your other shapes, including your two roof shapes, your wheel arches, and windows.
You should have something that now looks like this…
Select your rear wheel arch and nudge it down a little. Select the Pen Tool and trace your rear light shape. Fill it with orange.
Do the same with your actual light, filling this with red.
Reposition your wheel arch back into place.
Draw a shape to represent your rear window. Everything other than the line that is the edge of the window can be quick, as it’ll all be hidden. Fill it with a light grey.
Now position your shape behind all the other shapes. You should end up with something like this…
Do the same thing with your front windscreen. Be sure to keep it quite narrow so that it doesn’t look out of place.
Using the techniques we’ve been using throughout the tutorial, create your headlights, being sure to position them behind the other shapes.
Click on your wheels alloy shape. Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Place. This will duplicate your shape in the exact same position. Whilst holding the Shift-Key and Alt-Key, reduce the size of your shape. By holding the Shift-Key you will be keeping it in proportion, and by holding the Alt-Key you will be resizing it in the same center spot. Change the color to a darker grey.
Repeat the step again, changing the color to a slightly lighter grey.
Copy the new additions to our wheels and paste them. Position them over our front wheel.
Now repeat the step twice more on a much smaller scale, creating the center of our alloys.
Using the Pen Tool, draw some quick shapes as seen below. Feel free to rush these – we want them to look quick.
Your wheel should look something like below…
Here’s a slightly more zoomed out version, allowing you to see the back half of the car with the source image hidden.
Create a new shape on our side-skirting/step. Fill it with a lighter grey.
We’re now going to finish off our vector with some line work, using a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet. Select the Brush Tool. Select the round brush type from the drop-down menu in the toolbar, and change the stroke to 0.1pt (although this varies depending on how large your canvas is – mine is relatively small and therefore even a 1pt brush is far too thick!).
The idea behind using the graphics tablet for our line work is that the lines aren’t perfect; we want to give our vector a bit of a hand-drawn, retro, worn look. Draw the first initial line which separates the door from the rest of the car.
Draw lines around the top of the car (the door line) and the front of the door.
Now draw on your line for the bonnet. I added some additional lines to act as vents.
Also draw lines going across the whole length of your car. This represents what was the silver trim on our original source image.
To complete the look of our wheels, scribble a few lines on to your alloys, representing each of the shapes we created earlier. The trick to this is to do it fast.
Draw lines around the lights, wheel arches, cars body and windows. Also draw on any additional extras such as the door handle, hinges and petrol cap.
And with that, we’re done!
The Follow Up…
Remember to keep your eyes peeled for the follow-up tutorial, where we will be using this vectored VW Beetle image to create a retro poster in Photoshop! Of course feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.