How to Create your own Cartoon Characters
This quick tutorial describes how I turn a simple pencil sketch into a finished color cartoon logo in vector format. This is the process I use in getting a design from paper to disk. There are many ways to create digital vector cartoon art, this is just one of those ways.
The first thing to do is decide what you are going to draw. This guide works the same for anything you draw, from a simple circle to a complex illustration. For this demonstration I have chosen to draw a funny cartoon cow.
Before I start sketching I normally research the Internet, books and many other sources looking for design inspiration. I also make sure I have good picture examples so I can make a cow look like a cow. Very few cartoonists can draw everything from memory so most all use some type of reference material. A collection of pictures used by many illustrators is called a “morgue”. It includes samples of anything an artist might have trouble sketching from memory alone.
The tools I use for my sketching process are very simple and inexpensive. I use cheap disposable mechanical pencils to draw with (7mm lead) and everyday copy paper to draw on. I place a small light box on top of my drawing table and draw on the light box. I draw lightly at first to get the shape of my subject sketched out. I then erase and redraw many times on each part of the design until I am 100% happy. The cow’s hand in the first picture shows that I erased and redrew the hand multiple times.
I loosely sketch all parts of the character beginning with the head. I darken the design by retracing over it several times as I become happy with the look. I also play with thick and thin lines to add a less mechanical look to the drawing. The pencil sketch is the final rough for this design. I clean up as many guide lines as I can and erase any dark pencil marks.
Scanning the rough pencil sketch is the next step. The design is scanned using a scanner/printer, nothing fancy. I scan at 300 dpi., 24 bit color and save the image as a .TIFF file. I use a Apple computer for all of my work but that does not play a part in the creation process.
Once scanned, I open the .TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop where I begin to clean it up. I first convert the CMYK color file to a grayscale file. Do not use bitmap mode or you will get very jagged edges. Using the pen tool I go over the rough lines with black and switch to white when I want to erase a small area. I use a line with a bit of fuzziness to it so I can blend out the hard bitmap edges. I do this over every line in the sketch, adding thickness to some lines and making other thinner. Every line should be as smooth as possible. This is basically how I “ink” my designs the inkless way! It sure comes in handy when you make a mistake, just undo and the mistake is gone!
When finished the design is black and white and as clean as possible. All lines are smooth and there are almost no jagged edges. This is the final inked drawing and looks exactly like I had used an inking pen. Another advantage to this form of inking is that I can go back and make corrections by “saving as” and creating a brand new file if needed. I also don’t have to worry about my drawing getting ruined.
The next step is to convert my 300 dpi grayscale image into a vector art image. I now use Adobe Illustrator which has it’s own built in auto tracing program. I open a new file and place the finished Tiff file onto the page. I select the image and use the comic art setting in Live Trace to create my vector outline. Once the design has been outlined you need to click “expand” and it’s done. You should now have a very detailed, black and white, vector image.
I ungroup the image and delete the white square background around the outside of the image. At this point each part of the cartoon cow vector image can be highlighted with the pointer tool and color can be added with the click of a mouse. I sometimes make last minute changes at this stage. Notice that I changed the flowers on the cow and I also added a thicker outline around the cow to make it stand out more and repositioned the tail slightly. You can disconnect vector nodes and move them around if you need to change a design at this stage. Once complete you should now have your own professional cartoon character that is print ready and can be sent electronically to a client or printer.
Once the cartoon image is vectored and colored I am ready to turn it into a logo if it is for a client. I scroll through hundreds of fonts picking any that I feel might work for the design and the client. I then take those fonts and create the logotype using each font face. I throw out any that I do not like. I look for fun, cartoon like and unique lettering. When I have a typestyle that I really like I normally try to change the font in a way to make it unique to that client. I may stretch a letter, curve the words or combine two different fonts.
If a background is needed I create it in Illustrator. I create circles, squares, fades and other effects until I have one I am happy with. Circles are the most popular background shape for logos.
This is a bogus cartoon logo design I created for a t-shirt company. I used a circle with cow spots for the background and used two different fonts. The top font was curved following the circle path using the tools in Illustrator.
I now have a vector art design saved as an .AI file. I usually keep this as my original raw file. I also create a vector .EPS file in which I convert the text to curves to avoid any font conflicts with possible printers. I then actually reopen the design in Illustrator and make any last minute color changes and might add a little shading to the design.
This cartoon cow was created as a possible t-shirt design for a very well known t-shirt company. The design was not purchased but was later sold to an up and coming search engine website. Contact me with any questions.