How to: Turn a sketch into digital illustration 📒 → 🖥

In this post I will show you how to turn a (badly) drawn sketch into a detailed digital illustration with few easy steps!

Before starting the tutorial: For this illustration I only used the sketch to plan the illustration beforehand. If you are more gifted with free-hand drawing, you can always scan your sketch and then trace it with the pen tool in Illustrator 🌱

Initial free-hand sketch

For the longest time I wanted to make an illustration that showcases arched windows, so I started with drawing 3 of them, then tried to place the complementary elements into the sketch. After roughly planning out what goes where, I switched to Illustrator.

Defining the composition in Illustrator

In Illustrator, I drew the outlines and overall composition by only using shape tools. Unlike what I had planned in the initial sketch, I extended the space to the back by adding a perspective line to achieve a more 3-dimensional scene.

Color palette

For this illustration, I prepared a color palette comprised of cool-toned greens and warm-toned grays and beiges.


Then I applied the colors according to their materials. Gray for the concrete, beige for the wood cladding, warm white for the stucco, and so on. In the meantime, I decided to widen the mezzanine floor just a little, to make room for more furniture.

Shadow study in Rhinoceros

Since the main attraction of this illustration is going to be the arched windows, I wanted to create a natural light effect. I made a quick 3d model of the illustration in Rhinoceros with approximate dimensions, and placed a light source to see where the shadows fall.

Dropping shadows in Illustrator

Then I traced the shadows with pen tool in Illustrator. To create a natural shadow effect, I used colors in a couple shade darker tones than the color of the underlying surfaces, while setting the opacity to 65%.

Making a grass texture out of a cut out

For outdoor vegetation I decided to use cutout images. I wanted to add a grass texture to the empty part on the left, but I did not have a grass cut out in the style I wanted. So, I cut the top of a bush cutout I had, using the clipping mask command.

Adding greenery

Then I placed the grass together with the other vegetation cut outs. With the addition of greenery, the illustration started to take its shape.

Adding the furniture and plant vectors

I made the necessary color changes on the flat vector furniture scales to make everything go well with the overall color palette. Then placed them in a lounge setting. Especially the chandeliers and decorations pieced the whole scene together. Only few steps left!

Placing human scales

I’ve chosen flat vector human scales in various poses, engaging in different activities. As I’ve done with the furnitures, I changed the colors of the clothings of human scales. One important thing when placing the people and furniture vectors is adjusting their scales, to give a correct sense of depth.

Preparing the noise texture overlay

This step is additional, but it definitely gives a nice finishing effect. I’ve searched for “noise texture” in Google images, and chose a high quality one from the results. Then set the opacity of this image to 6%, to turn it into an overlay texture. Place it on top of your illustration and you are good to go!

Texture overlay

That’s all! I am happy with how it is turned out, I didn’t expect cutouts and vectors to go this well together. So, did you find this post helpful? What do you want me to try next? Do you have other tips for making digital illustration? Please let me know in the comments. Until next time!

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