A Step-by-step Guide to Designing Custom Illustrations Without Any Drawing Skills

Learn 2 popular illustration styles you can easily create from scratch

I see many businesses today use stock illustrations or images. Although these options are cheap, the brand message is diluted because the visuals are not exclusive to the product.

In a world where 74 percent of social media and B2B marketers use visuals in their promotions, how you set yourself apart visually is critical.

If your brand is prolific, people will learn the visual language associated with your brand. As soon as they see the same stock illustrations associated with another product, your brand identity will weaken.

With custom illustrations, the elements of a brand’s identity can coalesce around a shared perspective and personality. They communicate to customers on an intuitive level and help brands tell their story in an enduring way.

However, many designers shy away from working as illustrators for the fear that they don’t have drawing skills. We’re here to show you how any designer can develop beautiful illustrations, no drawing required.

We’ll look at two popular illustration styles, and apply very simple steps to develop your own artwork from scratch, using Adobe Illustrator. You can follow along, and apply what you’ll learn to create great looking pieces for your next project.

Recreate the famous space illustration

Credit: Nina G.

Designer and Illustrator Nina Georgieva is the trailblazer behind this notorious Dribbble piece, and now, the style has become a trend of its own.

Stealing inspiration from Georgieva, we’ll create our own space illustration, following a few easy steps.

This is what you’ll get in the end.

by Tidjane Tall

1. Start with the stars

Using Illustrator’s “star tool,” create a four-point star. Then make it 75 percent transparent.

While selected, duplicate it in place by pressing Ctrl+C, then Ctrl+F.

Scale down the shape in front.

Next, add a glowing effect; select the bigger shape; and apply a “Gaussian Blur” effect from the “Appearance” panel.

Finally, you can store your star shape inside the “Symbols” panel to use it later in the composition.

2. Create the cloud’s shape

Stack rectangles together with various widths.

Merge them together with the “Pathfinder” panel.

Finish up by giving the entire shape a high “corner radius” value.

3. Make the planet texture from the clouds

Starting with the cloud shape, create the planet texture effect as shown above.

Stack many cloud shapes together, and make sure you have a succession of outward and inward curves to create a wavy pattern.

4. Tweak the texture

Simplify the wavy pattern before applying it to the planet shape.

Remove extra points on one side of the texture and flatten it.

5. Create a textured planet

Overlap the wavy pattern with a circle, and create a division by using the “Divide” option within the “Pathfinder” panel.

Delete the extra shape created outside of the circle, and create a lighting effect by applying different gray values to each side of the planet.

6. Add an atmosphere to the planet

Create two bigger circles, and paste them behind the planet with Ctrl+X then Ctrl+B.

Align them properly.

Add transparency to the new circles and a blur effect to the third circle (within the “Appearance” panel).

Group (Ctrl+G), and store the result inside the “Symbol” panel.

7. Duplicate and color the planets

Copy several planet shapes from the ”Symbols” panel, and recolor them using two different colors for each side.

Use the “Direct Selection Tool (A)” to select and the “Eyedropper Tool (I)” to pick, and apply a color.

8. Scale and position your planets

Move the planets in different positions with the “Selection Tool (V),” and give them various sizes by dragging the white corners that appear when selected (maintain the “Shift” key for proportional scaling).

9. Add the rings

Draw a few line circles around the planets to make the rings.

To paste smaller planets in front of the rings, select them, then press Ctrl+X (cut) and Ctrl+F (paste in front).

10. Add some clouds and stars in the sky

Going back to the “Symbol” panel, drag-and-drop some clouds and stars shapes.

Duplicate, scale, and position them as you wish across your space.

Here’s the final result.

by Tidjane Tall

Play around with scale, position, and colors to really make it your own.

Add some typography, and voila, you have a new, customized desktop background.

Recreate an illustration inspired by the Monument Valley game

Credit: Monument Valley artwork & game by Ustwo studio

Monument Valley is a best selling game created by UsTwo studio. It won dozens of awards, including Apple’s best iPad game of 2014, and its illustration style is inspired by Escher’s beautiful geometric artwork.

Now you’ll learn how to easily create the same visual style that made this game such a huge success.

This is what you’ll get in the end.

by Tidjane Tall

You will only use planes and cubes as building blocks for the entire illustration.

The color palette has four colors for the water, grass, wood and building — each in three shades to simulate natural light.

1. Create an isometric plane

Start with a square, then follow these three steps to create an isometric shape. Pay attention because you’ll repeat this process every time you need to another isometric shape.

We’ll call it the “Isometric Effect:”

Go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel Select “Isometric Top” inside the “Position” dropdown — within the option panel that appears. Set “Extrude Depth” to zero under “Extrude & Bevel” first option.

You now have an isometric plane.

To better play around with the shape, go to Object > Expand Appearance.

This will let you change the plane’s color and freely move points.

We’ll call it the “Expand Effect.”

2. Trace the faces for the island

To create the three faces of the island shape, create a square and two elongated rectangles.

Repeat the “Isometric Effect” on each.

For step two, apply “Isometric Top,” “Isometric Left,” and “Isometric Right” respectively.

3. Complete and color the island base

Apply the “Expand Effect,” and color each face with different shades of green, with the brightest always on top.

4. Create cube faces in perspective

Apply the “Isometric Effect” on three squares, with isometric left, top, and right on step two. This gives you the three faces you’ll need to get an isometric cube.

Note that every object in your illustration will only use three faces. That’s the beauty of the isometric perspective.

5. Compose a cube

Release the shapes with the “Expand Effect,” bring the faces together, and apply three shades of gray to simulate lighting.

Tip: The lightest shade is always on top; the darkest, to the right; and the mid tone, to the left. Applying this to every shape within your illustration will create an impression of natural light.

6. Start the tree base

Follow the same steps as the isometric cube, and this time, elongate the left and right faces before connecting the whole.

Then apply three shades of brown to represent wood.

7. Finish the tree

Scale down the tree bark; duplicate a cube; and color its faces just like the land shape in green.

8. Use a cube to create the building blocks

Duplicate a cube, and color it in pink for the building material.

Play with scale; move lower points down to create a tower base; and scale it down to create a pillar.

9. Assemble the towers

Align the tower base and the pink cube.

Leave some space between them, and position three pillars within that gap.

For perfect alignment, make sure you set “Snap to Point” and “Smart Guides” in the “View” menu option.

10. Bridge the towers

Select the top and right point from a top plane, and snap to points with the equivalent plane in the twin tower.

Simply duplicate and resize a right-side plane to create an edge for the tower bridge.

11. Create stairs

Copy and paste three faces from a tower; align the edges to create a bloc; and then move the lower points to create a one-stair step.

Duplicate and position the steps several times.

12. Close the stairs

Align the points from the left sides to close the gaps from the stairs.

13. Flip the stairs

Select your completed stairs, and use the “Reflect Tool (O)” to create a second block that faces left.

Make sure you change the colors of the left and right faces to respect the lighting effect — darker shade to the right, mid-shade to the left and lighter shade on top.

14. Link the stairs

Attach some cubes to the stairs to create stepping stones, and link them with the towers.

15. Create a water-depth effect

Duplicate, and scale down the light blue surface.

Place it in various positions, and add an even darker shade of blue to finish the sea depth effect.

16. Start the deck by using existing planes

Just like with the stairs and tower bridge, start from existing faces, then align points properly to close up the shape, and finish by applying brown wood shades.

17. Add pillars to the deck

Select the tree bark, then duplicate, scale down and position to create the deck pillars.

Here’s the final result.

by Tidjane Tall

You can add bigger, dark spots on the sea, or smaller, colored isometric squares on the island plane to simulate grass and flowers.

Overall, have fun, move things around, and build some cool towers, using the simple building blocks you just learned.

In conclusion

As we saw with these three guides, you don’t need much drawing skills to create some good looking illustrations.

All you need to keep in mind are these 3 principles:

  • Start with a clear idea or concept in mind — what are you depicting?
  • Get inspired with existing artwork and styles — steal like an artist.
  • Observe and translate complex elements into basic geometric shapes you can work from — keep it simple.

Have fun creating your own illustrations, and upload your new piece of art in Dribbble and elsewhere on the web. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

— T.T.

P.S. Press on ♡ to show some love, and follow me to get more insights about design, creativity and productivity.


Originally published at www.toptal.com.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.