How to create a vector character from sketch

Our imagination has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, it seems as though it could be more colorful, more dynamic, and more detailed than ever before, thanks to 100 years of relentless progression in the creation of cartoons, comics, animation, and now the highly refined world of digital perfection. We can now take dreamlike, cave dweller ideas and turn them into anything we want. And when we mean anything, that is no overstatement because that is the beauty of character design. Anything is possible.

Now it’s time for you to make those steps to creating something of your own. It’s an incredible feeling to bring your creative vision to life, and with all the current technology available, it’s never been easier to make that happen. Whether you want to create a fascinating vector character, develop illustrations for an upcoming project or start building animation assets, it all begins with creating characters from scratch. In this article, we’ll explore how to create a vector character from initial sketches to using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Additionally, we will take you through one example scenario illustrating the process step-by-step. So let’s get started!

Brief History of Cartoon Design

To better understand how to create a vectorized character, it’s worth looking at some of the pioneers in the industry. Iconic artists such as:

  • Walt Disney – Disney Brothers Studio
  • Stan Lee – Marvel Comics
  • Osamu Tezuka – The godfather of Japanese Anime
  • Dr. Suess – The Cat in the Hat

All have helped shape modern day characters with their unique styles and innovations. One thing to really emphasize here is the sheer impact these innovators have had on generations, and it doesn’t seem to matter how old you are. You will most likely know of their work. You couldn’t help but laugh or feel energized by the playful stimulation of their out-of-this-world creative projects. The success of these artists and others has paved the way for anyone to create their own illustrations from scratch with relative ease because we all possess the ability to imagine such crazy ideas.

Finding your characters inspiration

Some of the best character designers of the past century have generated their best works, not just from inspiration from other illustrators, but certain obsessions. This can derive from specific traits in a particular personality, an ego or something totally unexpected. Perhaps thinking out of the box will give your cartoon character the ’It’ factor an audience yearns for.

Take some time to study the work of your favorite artists and immerse yourself in the world of cartoons, comic books and animation. Brainstorm ideas, take note of any interesting characters or creatures, some of which can be found right here in the Freepik asset library, to find your creative spark. There are even some films out there that are worth a watch. “American Splendor” is a film about a comic book artist who finds his inspiration from his own life. An important part of character design is having fun with it, so don’t be afraid to put your own spin on things.

Steps to create your own vectorized character

The first step in creating your own vector character is idea generation.

Creating your character involves a lot of creative thought and planning. But before you even start sketching out ideas on paper, it’s important to understand the basics of character design. Whether you’re creating a funny little friend for a kid’s picture book or an intense action hero for an adult-oriented series, there are certain steps to follow when crafting your character.

Idea generation

The first step in creating your own illustration is idea generation. Think about the type of character you want to create and start jotting down some ideas. To get started, take a look at these attributes which could define your character:

  • Time and place: Is the character from our universe?
  • Friend or Foe: Is the character going to play a role in a twisting narrative? What role will it play?
  • Style: Is the character wearing skin-tight spandex, an IT expert or a trendy hipster?
  • Personality: This is what could define your character’s decision-making, shaping it to fit a role in a bigger story.
  • Background: To give your character an edge, perhaps take into consideration its past.

It’s important to get a clear sense of who this character is before you start designing them. After all, this character needs life experience if it’s going to stand any chance in the cartoon world.

Sketching out concepts

Now that you have an idea of who your character is, it’s time to start sketching out concepts. Begin by drawing some basic shapes on paper to help define the character’s body and facial features. Sketch out a few different versions until you find something that looks right. Doing this step will also help you figure out what kind of design elements might work best for your illustrated character.

Drawing the head of your character

The head and face of your vector character is probably the most interactive and engaging section, so it is essential we give it the attention it deserves.

The head and face of your character is probably the most interactive and engaging section, so it is essential we give it the attention it deserves. After all, it is the face that gives away much of the character’s emotions, gestures, and charisma.

Starting from a basic circle can help define the head’s proportions, and since we are working with symmetry dividing the head with a cross down the center will help as a guide when placing facial features. Use techniques like accentuating facial structures such as the eyes, chin, cheeks, eyebrows, and ears. This can help an audience instantly recognize and determine the character’s personality. Hair, if indeed it has hair, is almost like an accessory to support its identity. Long, flowing hair could point towards vanity, whereas shorter hair can come across as modest.

Want to know more? Check out this step-by-step guide on how to draw a cartoon of a cute raccoon in Illustrator.

Drawing the body of your character

Now that you have the head of your character drawn, it’s time to draw their body. Start by drawing a basic stick figure with arms and legs, this will act as a skeleton. Position the body into an action, whether it’s simply standing upright or flying into space like superman. You will then have to add flesh to the stick figure. Having some knowledge of anatomy can help here, but it is not essential. This is where you can make decisions about its physique. Then add details like clothing and accessories to give your character more personality. Once you’re done, you can start refining the lines and adding colors and shading as needed.

Digitizing your drawings into Photoshop or Illustrator

Once you have a few sketches that you’re happy with, it’s time to digitize them. Scan them into your computer, or if you don’t have a scanner, using a high-quality camera will do the job just fine. Open up Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator and start vectorizing your sketches by drawing over the image using the Pen Tool. In Illustrator, you can convert an image to a vector using Image Trace. Once your design is vectorized the possibilities are endless. Working digitally, will allow you to easily adjust colors, shapes, and other details until you get the exact look and feel that you’re going for.

Add depth to your design using color and shading techniques

Now that you have a basic version of your vectorized character, it’s time to start adding some depth and movement to your design. The most striking illustrations use color and shading to their advantage. Frank Miller’s comic series “Sin City” is a fascinating example of using shade and the absence of color to support his dystopian vision. But creating a depth of field in a 2D design can be a challenge for any artist. Begin by using techniques such as cross-hatching or stippling to get a feel for a graphic finish. However, with Photoshop’s vast collection of brushes, you can find the right choice for your design. Exploring color and shading techniques in Photoshop or Illustrator will give your character the kinetic energy it needs. Consider how each element might interact with light and shadow, adjusting the colors accordingly. This will help create a more realistic look for your character.

Add details and final touches to your character design

Finally, it’s time to add some final touches. Consider adding text or even special effects like sparks and smoke for added depth. You can also use elements found in Freepik’s asset library to add more variety to your design. Just make sure that you don’t go overboard with the details, as this could take away from your character’s overall design. In addition, you can drop your character into an existing Landscape Illustration to bring your creation into some form of setting.

Take your vectorized characters to new heights

After creating your character sketch and converting it into a digitalized vector design, you can use it to create animations too! There are plenty of tools available that allow you to animate your character in a variety of ways. Adobe Animate and Autodesk Maya are two popular programs for creating short-form animations. Once you’ve created the animation, you can then export it as an .mp4 file or upload it directly to Videvo for others to enjoy!

Creating character designs from scratch is a fun and rewarding experience. With the right tools and techniques, you can bring your creative vision to life with relative ease. Whether it’s for a graphic design project or just something to enjoy, creating your own character illustration is sure to be both a challenging and rewarding experience. So go ahead and give it a shot! You never know what kind of amazing creations you might come up with! Good luck!