Drawing for Illustrator from a Stock Image

In Adobe Illustrator by Jason Secrest


This is the first of our Drawing for Illustrator series using a tablet to start from the initial sketch before we bring it over into Adobe Illustrator. Today we are literally tracing the image. This will be for those who just opened up their tablet and are looking to gain a little more practice getting down your lines. We are just kicking off this series and new playlist so we are starting from square one as we ramp up into more freehand sketching and drawing tutorials.

There is a bit of an awkward phase when you get your tablet, especially if you are not using a display tablet such as a Cintiq. I am using a 15 year old Intuos model 3 which would be consistent with a lot of the models under $100 that many beginners would be using.

So before you get too caught up on the tracing aspect, we are really focusing on a few things:


There is an awkward blind contour feeling with the non-display tablets. The process we are showing you will work for tracing as well as when we move away from tracing to draw from a reference. The goal is to get more confidence with where you cursor is and how it applies to getting your lines down.


Using a photo reference and pulling away from it as we adjust the opacity down from 50%-33%-16% after each step. I use stock images as a reference or starting point and then move away from the initial image to fit what I am looking for. This will be more obvious when stock images don’t match your desired look/design.


We are starting with a thick brush as we are zoomed out and we will shrink the brush as we zoom in and get more comfortable and confident with the lines we are drawing. The thicker brush will allow you to see the initial phases as we are fully zoomed out at 100%.


Table Settings

Follow the direction on your tablet for how to install the drivers and set up first. Look for their Properties or Settings. Most of the tablet settings that I can adjust have been turned off or disabled. All of the short cuts will come from the keyboard shortcuts for Illustrator not the tablet. If you have a rather large tablet that you can’t reach your keyboard then I would set up your Express keys.

Brush Settings

Once you have installed the driver, Photoshop will automatically read your tablet and convert your brushes to pressure once it recognizes your tablet pen on the tablet. There are buttons at the top control panel that you can control with pressure the opacity and flow. Any brush can be used- just click shape dynamics in the brush setting and play around with the control panel brushes. This is all personal preference.



Build with Pencil or Pen

Get down all of your major line work. Since you are dealing with lines remove any fills before starting. They will cover the resource image to let you know they are on. The major goal and takeaway is to just get your anchors and paths down. You will notice after we add on variation and stroke weight that a lot if not all of the paths and anchors will move to accommodate the new stroke weight.

Add Stroke Weight and Variation

The first thing I look at when adding on any variation is the ends of each individual path. If they are floating out in space that is the signal for a tapered line. When the ends touch or butt up against another line or shape that is a good area for thickness. Do notice that the lines go long and we are full blown “UGLY” in this step. The more you do your own drawings and take the time early the less overwhelming this step is.

Edit And Cleanup

After all of the stroke weight and lines are down you will notice that you will need to modify your paths and anchor points. Use the DST (white arrow) to move and modify anchors and handles. For cleanup we duplicated the layer and expanded appearance AND expanded the lines. We selected the lines to use the shape building alt/option feature to delete all of the overlapping.

Adding Color

After all of the cleanup is done. Pause the video at the end of the cleanup phase to see clearly the cone. I personally united all of the dark values and added some shadows with the blob brush. Select all. Object- Live Paint- Make. I used the cupcake swatches in the folder. Click on Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) and click on the areas to color. This will act the same as the paint bucket tool in Photoshop. Expand and Ungroup when complete.

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