There’s something about the rounded, gentle textures of vectors that makes them a playful and very tactile contrast to an elegant model shot.
In this tutorial, Camilo Bejarano shows you how to ramp up this juxtaposition, hand-drawing elements before scanning them in and transforming them into dramatic, colourful designs that interact neatly with the photograph.
This technique offers many opportunities to creatives: you can use it to add or accentuate colour, to alter the feel of a photo, or to suggest moods and thoughts that aren’t immediately apparent from the photo itself. Best of all, it’s a lot of fun and offers you the chance to let your creativity run riot.
Time to Complete
Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop
First, we’ll need to find the right image – this is key to the whole piece. It can be a photo you’ve taken yourself, or a stock image. If you want to use the same image I’ve used here, you can download it for a small cost from Shutterstock at
bit.ly/9P42mk. I recommend seeking out images with little or no background.
Once you have found the right image, open it in Photoshop and print it onto A4 paper. The reason we print the image so small is so it’s a manageable size for sketching on.
Before drawing over the print-out, do some practice sketches, to give you a clearer idea of the end result. Once you have a good idea in place, begin sketching it around and over the photograph. Try to create the shapes and forms that communicate well with the object or objects.
Once you have a composition that really clicks, make sure the line quality is consistent and that it’s dark enough to scan clearly. You may need to retrace your shapes if the lines are too light. Scan in your work or photograph it to import to your computer. If you’re using a camera, make sure that the image is completely straight-on to the camera.
Depending on the quality of your scanned image, you may need to open it in Photoshop to retouch it, such as darkening lines. I usually do this to make sure I’m confident that the trace is going to line up.
Back up the original photo and open the duplicate. Make sure the dimensions are correct for your final output. Now create a new layer with the drawing you created over the original. Take the drawing layer, set it to a 50% opacity and resize it so the photos match with each other in height and width – it should be exact.
Once the images line up, export a flattened version of the image to Illustrator. This may take some time so it’s a good opportunity to put some music on or make a cuppa.
Adjust the canvas to the size of image and begin tracing each of the shapes you’ve created on new layers. I usually use a red outline and no fill to trace all the shapes first, so I don’t have to worry about colours and gradients. Put each set of objects on a new layer.
Now that all the shapes are vectors, we need to create a colour palette to work with. Pay close attention to the lighting of the image you’re working with because this will work as a guide for your gradients and colours. Start filling in all the shapes with colour, gradients and highlights.
Now that you’ve finished adding colours and gradients, delete the layer that contains the photo, and export your vectors to Photoshop. Use the Export as PSD option it helps keeping the layers you have created. Open your file in Photoshop, and import the original model shot into the file, placing it in a layer behind all the layers. Ensure that everything lines up correctly and that the relationship between the photo and vector elements is as smooth as possible.
Almost done. Since we’re using this artwork for print, now that everything lines up, ensure you convert the file to CMYK. If you like you can adjust or add some extra colour, overlays and textures to the artwork. Since all the layers are separated you can easily add shadows and finishing touches to your artwork.
Colombian-born multidisciplinary designer Camilo Bejarano is based in the US, where he works under the name Ph7labs. His work has appeared in titles including The New York Times, New York magazine, Revista Colectiva, and IdN.
He says: “Since I was very young, I’ve always enjoyed drawing and building things – passions which later led me to become an illustrator.”