Welcome to this first Process Recess1 outlining the basics of my vector illustration workflow using Adobe Illustrator and Astute Graphics. Here you’ll learn about how I like to create simple, dynamic, and easy-to-edit vector line art for digital inking.
|Need to Have(s)||Adobe Illustrator|
Astute Graphics – VectorScribe
Astute Graphics – DynamicSketch
|Nice to Know(s)||Parametric Design|
Direct Selection Tool
Anchor Point Tool
Object Stroke Options
Variable Width Tool
My current workflow revolves around editability, flexibility, and how much of it I can reasonably maintain throughout a process. It’s my default approach when working. And when working on something manually, I look for ways to automate and optimize as much as I can.
That thought process eventually led me down the road of parametric and procedural art/design. And while ostensibly limiting, it’s the kind of workflow that helps me produce my best and most creative work (IMO).
Working with Parametric and Procedural Line Art
Illustrator’s variable-width tool is the biggest in my toolbox when approaching line art parametrically. I use it for most, if not all, of my line work. And it helps me quickly achieve more complex-looking results while reducing the amount of effort it takes to get there.
The work above was created for the DeviantArt 19th Birthday Celebration Campaign and demonstrates:
Creating Paths with the MVP of Anchor Points
MVP = Minimum Viable [Anchor] Points
I shoot for the least amount of anchor points possible when making vector paths. And I find that any vector path with a curve ≤ 90° needs only two (sometimes three) anchor points to create it. And by default, constraining their bezier handles to either 45° or 90° increments gets me the results I’m after. When needed, I’ll make quick adjustments here and there, but that starting point gets me at least 80% of the way through.
Parametrically Creating Brush-Strokes
I use variable-width points for pseudo-shape-building—eliminating the need for shape fills and closed paths. These points give me complete control of stroke width across the entire length of a vector path, simulating the same function. And it frees me to create and edit brush strokes on the fly, allowing for significant changes with minimal work.
Compare these two approaches:
Building with Variable-Width
Procedurally Editing Line Work
And finally, I use Astute Graphics’ path extension and trimming tools to help me efficiently create and edit my vector paths. They let me naturally extend and retract a vector path from its current angle without modifying existing anchor points or bezier handles. And it works well with variable-width points since they automatically adjust and reflow according to how the path is extended or trimmed.
In-tandem, these tools give me even more freedom to experiment without disrupting surrounding work. Whereas before, making adjustments meant finagling anchor points and bezier handles all over the place.
Finagling, be gone!
And that’s about it; yay! There’s not much to it than that. This article covered 99% of my vector inking workflow in Adobe Illustrator—the remainder being a set of custom keyboard shortcuts. But the techniques I introduced here are the vital-few that stuck with me after years of stumbling through my digital art journey. I’m still trippin’ super hard btw, but I hope some of these tips and resources help save you a stumble or two along your art journey as well.
- Process Recess: The title of this series is inspired
stolen fromby the awesome work of James Jean. Go buy his stuff!