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© 2011 Ugur Akinci
This technical illustration tutorial is written with Adobe Illustrator in mind but it can be used with any vector drawing program that utilizes layers.
WHY VECTOR DRAWING?
Once an image is in vector format (like Illustrator .AI format) it can be scaled up or down to any size without losing any of its sharpness. Vector images have the same resolution (sharpness) at any size. Pixel images, on the other hand, become jagged and fuzzy when you enlarge them.
PHASE 1: Photo Prep
Prepare your photo by trimming its margins and making sure the edges fit the central object in the photo tightly. You can use Adobe Photoshop or any other pixel image editor for that. (Three free alternatives are GIMP, Irfan View, and picnik.com)
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Electronic Repairs)
BEFORE (a photo with unnecessary margins):
(Click on all images to enlarge them)
AFTER (same photo, trimmed):
Then increase its contrast and get rid of all color so that the lines of individual objects will be very easy to see.
a) Press Ctrl + L to display the LEVELS dialog box. Play with the controls to increase the photo’s contrast.
b) Select Image > Adjustments > Black and White from the menu (or press Alt + Shift + Ctrl + B) to turn it into a high-contrast B&W photo like below.
c) Select the PREVIEW check-box and play with individual color slides to get the maximum contrast possible:
PHASE 2: Drawing in Illustrator
(1) Launch your Adobe Illustrator.
(2) Select File > Place to place your B&W photo to Layer 1. Illustrator will display a number of command buttons on the top toolbar. Click EMBED to embed the image into Layer 1.
(3) Center the image and, if necessary, adjust the dimensions of the drawing area (File > Document Setup) to make sure all parts of the image are within the drawing area:
(4) Double-click Layer 1 to display the Layer Options dialog box:
(5) Select Template and give the layer a name (like “Template”). Click OK to close it. As you can see now the photo is dimmed out for your easy tracing:
(6) Create a new layer on TOP of the Template Layer by clicking the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers list:
The DARK layer band means it’s been selected and that’s the layer you’ll be working on.
(7) Now set your stroke thickness by pressing Ctrl + F10 and display the STROKE tab:
Set any stroke thickness you like. Use your artistic judgment there.
(8) Pick the drawing tool you like and start tracing your image from the top layer. For example, here is the ROUNDED RECTANGLE tool:
FILL and STROKE of your objects will be determined by your choices in the FILL and STROKE TOOL:
(9) Click the NONE button to erase either the FILL or the STROKE, depending which one is in front of the other.
(10) Finish you drawing by creating as many layers as necessary and tracing the photo in the template layer by using the appropriate drawing tools.
NOTE: If you can’t see the template photo, TURN OFF the intervening layers by click OFF the EYE ICON.
When you’re done, you can leave the template layer where it is by turning off its eye icon and making it invisible BEFORE saving your drawing. But that always adds unnecessary size to a file.
WARNING: If you’re sure that you’re done with the template photo and you will never again use it, delete the template layer. But if you think you can revisit the image sometime in the future and retrace the template photo, it’s best to leave the template layer where it is and save it together with the whole file.
Did you like this tutorial? What else would you like to see? Let us know. Thanks.