Vector art is REALLY popular at the moment. Everyone is making vector art. It's not hard to do and you don't need to be able to draw to create it. Be warned though, vector art does take a lot of time and patience. Especially if you want to create OUTSTANDING art.
In this tutorial I hope to shed some light on how to make vector art and more importantly how to make really great vector art with Photoshop.
To see a better sized version of the finished vector just click here.
I suggest you read through the entire tutorial before you begin...
The Set Up
First you need to choose the image that you are going to vector. Make sure you REALLY like the photo that you are starting with. You are going to be looking at this image for hours and essentially your vector image will be similar to this photo. Lots of people do vectors of their favorite musicians and actors as a sort of tribute. I think this is a great idea because hopefully it motivates you to actually finish the thing and do a good job. Just be careful when you are selecting the image that you are going to vector...it must be a decent size so that you can zoom in and still see lots of detail. Anything smaller than 600 x 600 pixels isn't going to be much good at all. Bigger IS better in your selection of the photo to turn into a vector.
Open your image in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer twice.
Turn off the visibility of top copy.
Working on the middle copy desaturate it (Ctrl + Shift + U)
Next Rasterize this layer. Image >> Adjustments >> Posterize
Set the level to approximately 9 and click OK.
Rename this layer "Posterize"
Your layer palette should now look like this:
The Posterized layer is only there as a rough guide for when you get stuck. (Personally I always find the nose to be a little difficult and use the posterize layer to help me). Please please please don't use it to create your vector. If you do, your resulting image will be BLAND, BORING and LACK ANY ARTISTIC MERIT!
Turn the visibility ON for the "Background copy". This way you will just see the path and colour won't get in the way.
Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N)
Make sure it sits below the "Background Copy"
Select the mid tone shade for skin. Grab the pen tool making sure it is set to create Shape Layers (see image below). Trace around the face making sure that you close the path..
Once a shape layer is complete I like to turn ON and OFF the visibility of top "background copy" layer just to compare the two. Your layer palette should look the image shown below. Notice that I like to lock layers once I am happy with them so that I don't accidentaly move them.
I like to create the large blocked out areas next.
Trace the outline the hair. As a rule you should make the initial shade (the base colour) for the hair the darkest. You will then build up layers of lighter and lighter colours/shades from there.
Once you are happy with the layer, put it into a set called "hair" and lock it. I like to be organize so rather than naming every new layer in a vector I like to organize them into sets...like "hair set", "eyebrow set", "sleeve set' etc.
From the image below, you can see that I have blocked out all the main shapes and organized my layer palette.
This vector is a little unusual in that her hair is going to be absolute black so I used this layer to also form the absolute areas of black on the face too.
That's the basic set up all done. Now it's time to start forming the features.
Forming the Features
There's no set order in which to create the various features. I like to work on specific area until it's done and then move on. Having said that though, I always notice a little something to tweak once I'm working on another area...
I used a grand total of 316 layers to form this Bjork vector so obviously I can't show you every step by step layer, but I did make an animated clip of the layers. It's 16 hours worth of work condensed down to 1 minute ...don't blink or you'll miss some layers. See the video here.
What follows next is a breakdown of some specific areas with some tips thrown in. I'll start with the eyes because I always like starting with the eyes. They are definitely one of THE most important areas.
The eyes (well actually, eye in this case)
As you see, by comparing the original photo eye to my vector eye, I definitely didn't create exactly what was in the original photo. It's very important however to pay attention to the reflective quality of the eye. I've used several layers here to make it look semi-life-like and I work super zoomed in. Also you'll notice I used a pretty vivid violet colour under the eye...this really just adds interest to the vector.
Never use pure white for the eyeball. It will just look weird! If there is white anywhere on the eye it will be in the reflective highlight.
1. Put in the basic shapes of the eye. Note I used Layer Style Inner Glow on the iris layer. Make sure the pupil is round by using the eclipse tool.
2. Add in eyelashes (mine look a bit like cockroach legs ha ha). You can create multiple paths on a single path layer. I find a faster technique for shapes like this is to just create one and then duplicate it, altering it with transform and using the convert point tool.
3. Add in the highlights etc. You can see that the highlight has it's opacity lowered so that the layers below show through. By adjusting the opacity of your layers, your vector will have a greater complexity...it will appear like there are more layers.
When building up the light and dark areas make sure your shape layers have a low opacity (around 15%). By layering up the shape layers, you are going to create a more complex looking vector.
Look at the face and start picking out patches of colour/tone and create shape layers. Pointy, funky shapes are great..you don't need to follow the image exactly. A little abstraction from the photo is what is going to create an outstanding vector.
Look at the layers in the image below, you can see that many of them have a low opacity and interact together.
Don't get put off if your picture looks a bit terrible to begin with...just keep adding layers!
Just because you are colouring skin don't think that your colour palette has to be all the same either. IN fact, the use of various colours/tones is going to make your picture go from average to great. The above image shows some of the colours I used to form the skin, with varying opacity (not including lips etc). As you can see there's a bit of variety and my final vector is quite tame.
The image below shows the shape layers that form the nose.
Below is the finished mouth. Just like the eyes, avoid using absolute white for the teeth. You can see how the lips are made up of overlapping layers, with their opacity altered. In some layers I have adjusted the Mode also, just for some variety.
That's about it. You just need to do this same procedure for the entire image. Zoom in to the photo and look for patterns/shapes and recreate them!
Don't merge or rasterize your shape layers. As long as all your layers are shape layers then you have a vector piece of art...That means you can scale the original psd up and down in Photoshop and it will remain perfect and unpixelated!! The final output will NOT BE a vector file (it will be a rasterize jpg etc), to output a vector file you need to use Adobe Illustrator.