It’s easy to associate vectors with flat shapes – but creating Illustrator images with real depth needn’t be a headache. In this tutorial, Thomas Burden (who works under the name ...There Will Be Unicorns) shows how you can create striking, vibrant work in Illustrator using a simple colour palette and basic blur effects – particularly Illustrator’s built-in Gaussian Blur effects.
Along the way, you’ll also learn how to bring simple shapes to life, and how to create charming characters and elements, using only basic Illustrator and Photoshop.
Shading elements in Illustrator with the Gaussian Blur leaves your objects completely editable. Once you’ve scaled these elements to the right size, you can import them into Photoshop for a quick brightening up and some tweaks to layer blending modes and styles.
The net effect is fresh, clean and irresistibly cheerful.
It’s a good idea to start by sketching on paper: I find it easier and quicker to mark out rough compositions and characters or elements by hand first. These are very rough, though, and I don’t even bother scanning them in, preferring
to take snapshots with a digital camera for speed. Scan yours in if you prefer.
Loosely trace these jottings in Illustrator, using the basic Shape tools in combination with the Pen tool to keep a uniform and simple look to all the elements. Then choose a colour palette – keep this as simple as possible. I usually use no more than 10 colours. Use these as a base to work with while getting the major compositional elements in place.
We’ll focus on creating one element, as almost everything is created using the same process. Open Rainbow Volcano.ai from the CD in Illustrator. Then select Illustrator > Preferences > General. Tick the box marked Scale Strokes & Effects.
This ensures that any stroke and effect applied to an object will scale relatively to the object it is applied to – which is key here, as adding strokes and effects is the bulk of what we’ll be doing.
Select the red shape that I created from a basic rounded rectangle shape. This will form the base of the rainbow volcano, and, once shaded, coloured and duplicated, will form the rest of it too. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + G to group the object and double-click it to enter the group.
Now draw a highlight line with the Pen tool (P), just inside the top left of the shape, with a white stroke and a thickness of 3.5px with rounded ends.
With line selected click Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set it to 10. You will see the effect appear in the Appearances panel on the right. If this is not open then select Window > Appearance from the menu or use Shift + F6. Double-click the effect in the appearances panel at any time to edit it.
Now reduce the opacity of the line to 29%. There you have it – a highlight.