Monday, June 27, 2011

Vector Art with Photoshop

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tutVector 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 Adobe Photoshop. We’ll be creating shape layers which are vectors.
In order to even start to think about doing this tutorial YOU MUST KNOW HOW TO USE THE PEN TOOL. If you don’t know how to use the pen tool just do THIS TUTORIAL first, (it’s not hard honestly).
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 01
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 rasterized jpg etc), to output a vector file you need to use Adobe Illustrator.
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 favourite 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 + Shft + U)
Next Posterize this layer. Image >> Adjustments >> Posterize…
Set the level to approximately 9 and click OK.
Rename this layer “Posterized”
Your layer palette should now look like the one shown above.
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 + Shft + 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..
Oen Tool Shape Layers
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 accidently move them.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 03
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 organised so rather than naming every new layer in a vector I like to organise 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 organised my layer palette.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 04
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. If the video below isn’t working try CLICKING HERE (or come back tomorrow).
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.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 05
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.

Skin Shading

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 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.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 07
Don’t get put off if your picture looks a bit terrible to begin with…just keep adding layers!
Skin Colour Palette in Photoshop
Just because you are colouring skin don’t think that your colour palette has to be all the same either. Infact, 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.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 08

The Mouth

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.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 09
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 rasterized jpg etc), to output a vector file you need to use Adobe Illustrator.
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 01
To see a better sized version of the finished Bjork vector, just click HERE
Photoshop Vector Tutorial 06

Creating a Vector image in Photoshop

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The Challenge:

I'd like to show you a technique on how to vectorize from a photo reference in Photoshop. Often, Photoshop's vector capabilities are quickly shot down by those familiar with true vector programs, like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, or Macromedia Freehand. And, yes, Photoshop's vector shapes is by no means a figurehead in comparison, but what tools are available offer no real limitation as to what they can do.

NOTE: Since version 6 Photoshops Vector capabilities have improved and for a brief overview see this spec from Adobe.

Brief Explanation: Rastor vs Vector

Rastor is purely Pixel based, simply meaning that an image is created by color values assigned to it on a pixel by pixel basis.(most commonly photographs and scanned images).

Vector is object(shape) based bound together by anchor points to form a solid object (if those anchor points join/connect). These Anchor Points follow each other in a dot-by-dot or line-by-line formation along a Path.

Reap the Benefits:

The true benefit of using vector shapes and paths is that it is not limited to resolution, unlike rastor, no matter the scaling direction, it still maintains quality and sharpness.
Vector Shapes can also be reshaped and stylized. However, most filters require that the shape be rastorized before proceeding.(So always backup the original shape before using filters!.)
The Tools

Number one Tool is patience, along with practice. Don't expect to get it on the first try, nor the second , or even the third. I sure didn't.

The main tools are located on the Toolbar, respectively, the 'Pen Tool (P)', the 'Path Selection Tool (A) & the 'Shape Tools (U)'.
Consider the area I have enclosed below as the tools with all the vector capabilities built it. It's just a matter of knowing how to use them!!

The Pen Tool is used for creating those dot-by-dot or line-by-line shapes confined by a path direction of your choice..
The remaining Pen Tool options are used for manipulating any given anchor point you previously created by the Pen Tool.

The Path Selection Tool is used to manipulate the whole object from one x,y position on your document to another.
The Direct Selection Tool offers freetransform options to a single anchor point or to the path between any two anchor points.

The Shape Tools are predefined shapes built into Photoshop. Readymade Shape Vector Masks that can be used in combination with your own shapes. They can easily be manipulated to suit your needs by using the two previosly mentioned tools.

The Image

Below is the iamge (the minicar) I will recreate to give it the vector look and feel.
The quality of the image is not so much an issue in this case, as long as, theres enought detail to trace.

The Process

Lets begin this tutorial by opeing the source image.
'File/Open' and browse for the source file called theimage.jpg.

When you have that done, all Photoshop will do is open the source file, but in the process it locks it into its own layer, as I have captured.

What we need to do first and foremost is to save this file to Photoshops .psd file format.
Next go to 'File,Save As' and from the dropdown 'Format' options choose 'Photoshop (*.PSD, *.PDD)' and hit the 'Save' command option.(Of course being aware of the 'Save In' location option at the top)

Next, lets unlock that base layer and turn it into a new and separate layer.
Do this by double clicking on the locked layer. You'll be prompted with a 'New Layer' dialogue box. Fill in a new name as I have captured and hit the 'OK' command button.

Next, lets duplicate the original 'theimage' layer and if your using Photoshop 7, create a new 'Layer Set' to store all the individual objects(multiple layers). Do so by clicking on the Folder icon at the bottom of the 'Layers Palette', double click on the 'Set 1' default text header and change to what I have (Elements).


The Mighty Pen Tool

Lets start by creating a solid outline of the whole car.
Set the foreground color by choosing the 'Eyedropper Tool (I)' to sample the darkest area of the image. In this case it's close to black.

Next select the 'Pen Tool' from the toolbar. And up on the 'Options Toolbar', make sure the 'Shape Layers' option is selected as I have captured (in orange outline).

Then just start adding 'Anchor Points' at areas where you think they will require some adjustments.

TIP: Ctrl + (Plus Sign Key) to zoom in and Ctrl + (Minus Sign Key to zoom out on areas that need special detail. I do this a lot to achieve greater detail.

NOTE: By having the 'theimage copy' layer on top, the path outlines show through without disrupting the view of my next anchor point. Throughtout this tutorial, I will be toggling visibility of this layer a lot.

Connect The Anchor Points

After making your way around the minicar, connect to the first Anchor Point to create a solid shape. Then hide the 'theimage copy' layer to see what it looks like. (As I have captured.) Then lets start manipulating those anchor points to wrap/fit the minicar properly.

This is what the 'Layers Palette' now looks like, with the new Vector Shape Layer highlighed in blue. Also, if you click on the 'Paths' tab of the layers palette you can see the 'Paths' version of that layer.

Convert Anchor Points

Now turn visibility mode of the 'theimage copy' layer back on.
Select the 'Convert Anchor Point' tool and begin wrapping those areas that need curvature to the image.

Make sure the 'Shape 2' layer is selected, in the 'Layers Palette'.

With the 'Convert Anchor Point' tool, I started on the foreground wheel, click the 'Anchor Point', and drag in the direction of my (black) arrow unto it starts fitting the underlying layer.

TIP: 'Convert Anchor Point' creates two bezier handler points, for further curvature control.

Begin to get comfortable with the 'Convert Anchor Point' tool and work your way around the shape path, trying to get a close a wrap as possible.

TIP: After converting some anchor points, you'll realize that some of the original anchor points were not necessary at all. In fact the fewer the anchor points the smoother the curvature! Use the 'Delete Anchor Point' tool to eleiminate unwanted anchors.

Here's my final shape after applying as much of the 'Convert Anchor Point' tool as possible.
We'll use this for the base (darkest under layer).

Next I duplicated the 'Shape 2' layer (to get 'Shape 2 copy') and manipulated its anchor points to wrap the dominant color of the image, primarily the blue (body) of the car. Click on the Thumbnail Preview of that layer to get the 'Color Picker', and change the black to blue #3672BD.

Now this is what the body of the car looks like.

Next lets work on the windows.
Toggle the 'theimage copy' (black one) back on and hide 'Shape 2 copy' layer (the blue one).

Select the 'Pen Tool (P)' again, and up on the 'Options Bar' make sure 'Subtract from area shape(-)' is turned on.(I have outlined in orange)

Hide 'Shape 2 copy' layer in the 'Layers Palette'.
Select 'Shape 2' layer in the 'Layers Palette'.
Then start tracing in the areas of the window that are on the opposite side of the car.

Toggle the 'theimage copy' visibility mode to off, to see whats happening.
Your subtracting from the same shape layer, giving the illusion of transparency.

To apply the same affect on the other two windows without adding a new layer, simply hold Ctrl + Alt, then click and drag that subtraction path to duplicate. (Do this twice.) Then place the duplicate shapes into place.
Use the 'Convert Anchor Point' tool again to define the corners to wrap in the right positions.

Apply the same technique to the 'Shape 2 copy' layer, except trace along the foreground windows to get a final image as I have captured.(All the while, have 'Shape 2' visibility off.)

Now that we have the crust of the vector shape in place, the rest is simply adding new shapes, lines, and some tectures. We'll fill in those windows later!

Giving it depth

Next apply the same techniques as we did creating the the base shape layer to the (white) roof of the car. Using the 'Pen Tool (P)' to add Anchor Points, then 'Convert Anchor Point Tool' to create curvature.

Next, with the 'Ellipse Tool (U)' on the toolbar, draw the back hub cap, then hold the 'Shift' key and draw in a second ellipse(the foreground hub cap).

To position accurately, Ctrl + click on the new ellipse, then right click on a single ellipse and choose 'Free Transform Path'. Right click again, and choose 'Distort'. Tweak the cornor bounding points until in the position as the hubs in the image. Repeat for the other hub.

I also started on the headlights (on a new layer) using the same technique. (Ellipse Tool ~ Free Transform ~ Distort ~ tweak into position)

Since new layers are being added and they could pile up, its sensible to name them appropriately. (Thought it is possible here to use as few layers as possible, as I did with the main body)

Next I started adding the bumper. Again, use the 'Pen Tool (P) to trace the area, 'Convert Anchor Point Tool' to wrap perfectly to the original image source. (It's all routine now, right!)

I then applied a layer style to the bumper to give it a somewhat chrome effect.
Right, click on the 'bumper' layer and choose 'Blending Modes' to apply the following three captures.

Next I'll begin to add some of the fine lines that comprise of the doors and other areas.
Select the 'Pen Tool (P)' again, except, this time, up on the 'Options Bar' select 'Paths', as I have captured.

Create a new layer, and call it 'Lines'. This layer should be positioned uppermost in order for them to show.
So, Toolbar - Pen Tool selected, Options Bar - Paths selected, begin clicking/adding Anchor Points in the direction that comprises of the main passenger door.

Next set the forground color to black (hit the D key), hit the (B) key to select the 'Brush Tool (B)' from the 'Toolbar', then up on the 'Options Bar', select the 'Brush Preset Picker' and choose a small, soft edge brush, like 3. But alter the Master Diameter to 2 (try 1 also), since 3 may be too thick.

Hit the (P) key to re-select the 'Pen Tool', then mouse over the the path you created in the 'Lines' layer, right-click and choose 'Stroke Path' option.

You'll be prompted to choose from a 'Tool Preset' to use to create the new stroke. Select, 'Brush' from the dropdown list, then hit 'OK' command.

I then reduced the 'Opacity' of the line layer to 54% to soften it.

I then went ahead (using the same above Pen Tool/Paths/Stroke Path technique on other lines.
I also added the front grill and applied the same style as the bumper above.
Added the mirror the window wipers and the mini logo crest at the front.
HINT: For reas that are too small to be manipulated with the 'Pen Tool (P), use the 'Polygonal Lasso Tool (L)' using the same click and add anchor points as the Pen Tool, then when complete, right click on the selection and choose either 'Make Work Path' or 'Fill' options.

For textures such as the highlights, lets use the 'Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to trace around those areas that require it, right click and 'Fill', with a soft blue color (I used #86A9D7).

After tracing as much as I can I applied a 'Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur of 1.1 pixels' (respectively) and reduced the 'Opacity' of the layer to 30%.

On a new layer I did the same Polygon Lasso effect for the darker areas, using #2A579C. Then applied a 'Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur of 1.1 pixels' and reduced the 'Opacity' of the layer to 30%.

Next I'll add the windows.
For this all we have to do is reuse our original 'Shape 2' for the backgorund windows, and the 'Shape 2 copy' for the forground windows.
First duplicate the original 'Shape 2' layer and call it 'backgroundwindows'.

Once its duplicated drag it below the orignial 'Shape 2' layer in the 'Layers Palette', as I have captured.

Then hit the 'A' key to select the 'Direct Select Tool' from the 'Toolbar', then hold the 'Shift' key and select the background windows individually.

Go to the 'Options Bar' and change the 'Subtract from shape area (-)' to 'Add to shape area (+) as I have encased in orange.

Those window areas will now be filled in with your foreground color, in my case black.
Next, with the 'Direct Selection Tool (A)' still active & still on 'backgroundwindows' layer, click on the outside path line as I have captured and hit the 'Delete' key on your keyboard. Now all we ahve are the windows, which is our goal here. Certainly saves a lot of time drawing them in again.

Now lets customize the windows with a a white tint. Do this simply by clicking on the 'Layer Thumbnail' as I have captured. And change the color to white (#ffffff) in the 'Color Picker' dialogue box. Then set that layers opacity level to about 23%.

Apply the same technique to the original 'Shape 2 copy' layer.
Duplicate, drag below the original, 'Direct Select Tool' and Shift + click to select the foreground windows, 'Options Bar' and switch to 'Add to shape area', then delete the outer path so that the foreground windows remain.
Click on that 'Layer Thumbnail' and change color to white, reduce opacity to about 43%.

All that remains now are fine details, amount is up to you. Below is my final image after adding detail to the hubs, lights, other highlights. Hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

A scenic version.