Creating Line Drawings in Adobe Illustrator

One Grumpy Dude

This is one grumpy dude. He was created in Adobe Illustrator with the brush tool. I don’t use the program a lot, but when it comes to “inking” my drawings, I find it very useful. Here’s an in-depth look into the making of this cute little grandpa guy including:

  • How to place a sketch into a new document
  • Some digital drawing tips
  • How to fix little mistakes after you’ve drawn your stroke
  • Ways to finish and color your drawing

Preparing to Draw

I start by placing my sketch into a new Illustrator document. Go to File–>Place. Find your sketch file. Before you click OK, make sure the box that is marked “Template” is checked. Notice that your sketch has been placed on its own layer and has automatically been locked and changed to 50% transparency.

My original sketch.

My original sketch.

Be sure to select “Template”.

Be sure to select

Locked and ready.

The sketch placed in Illustrator. Locked and ready.

Get your tools ready. The default brush set will not do for most artists. Create a variety of brushes to use for your drawing, or open up ones that you have saved. For more about creating and modifying your brushes, see my brush tool tutorial.

My brush palette features round calligraphic brushes in different sizes.

My brush palette.

Laying Down Your Brush Strokes

To ink drawings in Illustrator, I like to use the brush tool. I like it better than the pen tool because it better simulates the traditional inking experience and results in looser drawings. Learning to trace a drawing on the computer with a tablet can be really frustrating. You may have to try several times before you get just the right stroke. Just keep practicing using your tablet and eventually you will find yourself pushing Undo less and less.

Some Tips to Get You Started

  • Try “drawing” with your brush, as opposed to just tracing your sketch. Try not to be too stiff and concentrate on staying loose and spontaneous. Try not to break your flow by fixing every little mistake. Just push through, and you can go back and fix it later.

Don’t concentrate so much on making an exact tracing of your sketch. Stay as loose as possible.

Starting your inking.

  • Use a variety of line. I’ve made a custom brush palette with several different sizes, from a bold 7-pt line to a very thin .5-pt line. You’ll notice that any drawing I do has a balance of thick, medium, and thin lines. Also put some variation within the strokes themselves. Use a tablet and set the brush to be affected by your pen pressure.

Notice the use of both thick and thin lines in my little drawing.

Thick and thin lines.

  • Lay down each stroke with confidence. Your lines will be smoother and more stable. Try to keep your strokes longer, instead of shorter. When drawing with your tablet, try to use your whole arm, and not just your wrist.
  • Take advantage of the shape tool for those objects that are just too difficult to draw with the brush tool. I’ll usually resort to the shape tool for circles, ellipses, and squares. You’ll notice that I use the ellipse tool for the table in my Bake Sale video.

The table in my Bake Sale Drawing was done by drawing two ellipses.

Drawing my Bake Sale table.

Fixing Your Drawing

When you have finished laying down your drawing, you can now go back and fix any small mistakes you may have made.

  • Using the Brush Tool – Highlight the stroke that you want to fix. Now, simply “redraw” a brush stroke over it. Notice that the stroke that you highlighted changes. I find this tip useful for fixing slight curves, or changing the endpoint of a stroke.

I used the brush tool to lengthen this stroke.

Select your path.Redraw over it.All fixed!

  • Changing the Thickness – If a stroke is just slightly too thick or thin, highlight it, then select a different brush. The stroke will change to the size of the new brush. You can also use the Stroke palette by changing the “1 pt” to another value. “2 pt” will double the thickness, “.5 pt” will half the thickness, and so on.
  • The Pen Tool – If need to remove just a portion of a stroke, use the pen tool to add points to the path. Use the Direct Selection tool to delete the unwanted parts.

The ellipses I draw went straight through my pie. I used the pen tool to fix the overlapping areas.

Select your path.Add points with the pen tool.Delete your unwanted line.

Keeping Your Drawing Organized – Layers and Groups

If your drawing is a bit complicated, it will benefit you greatly if you stay organized. Group paths that are part of the same element, such as a person or an object, by selecting all the paths and going to Object–>Group (or pressing command+G). Now, when you click on one of the paths using the Selection tool, the whole group will be selected. This will make it easier if you need to move or resize your object. It will also keep your Layers palette more organized. If you want to add paths to your group later, click and drag them in your Layers palette. If you need to select a single path, use the Direct Selection Tool or ungroup by going to Object–>Ungroup.

How to Use Your Finished Drawing

You can experiment with different ways to finish your illustration. If you just want to color your drawing with solid colors, I like to use the pencil tool in Illustrator. Create a new layer and place it underneath your drawing. It may also be a good idea to lock your drawing layer, so you don’t accidentally modify it. Pick a fill color and set your stroke color to empty. Draw your shapes underneath your drawing. If you accidentally color outside the lines, you can modify the shapes in the same way fixed your brush strokes. Select your shape, then redraw your edges with the pencil tool to fix it.

Coloring with the pencil tool.

Also experiment with different inking styles. Try different sizes and types of brushes to create different effects. In the picture below, I used a very thin brush to add some cross-hatching to my drawing. I liked how it gave it a more hand-drawn feel.

Adding some cross-hatching

I also like to copy and paste my drawing into Photoshop. The beauty of creating your drawing in Illustrator is that you can resize it any size canvas you like. I keep it on it’s own layer and paint underneath.

This is an example of a drawing that I brought into Photoshop to color.

A drawing colored in Photoshop.

I hope this helps you create more interesting line drawings in Illustrator. If this has helped you, let me know — I’d love to hear any success stories. Leave a comment or email me a link to your image. Also leave any questions or further suggestions. Happy Drawing!

32 thoughts on “Creating Line Drawings in Adobe Illustrator

  1. skip wiley

    Thanks and great job on a fabulous, well written tutorial! I’ve only recently discovered your page and must say it has been immensely helpful.

    Have you ever thought about recording audio commentary for your video tutorials? It would be great to hear you talk through the process. This is something done by Anton Peck in his recent ArtCasts (… they have taught me so much.

    Anyway, keep up the good work! I cannot wait to see what comes next.

  2. Chris

    Great tutorials Dani! Do you think you could create an image link 90×36 pixels, and send it to me? I want to link to your site off my Blog ( (new years resolution to update blog more often and add tutorials and such)) and off my regular site (when I put up a links page). I would like to keep all my link graphics the same dimensions so when I get a ka-boodle of great links on my site, they won’t be a cluttered mess. Keep up the great work!

  3. Sarah

    This has been a great tutorial for me. I always seem to shun illustrator for photoshop, but I do need to learn how to use it.

    I was just wondering, the picture you coloured in photoshop, what format did you export it in? I have tried various forms as I have an outline of a drawing I was thinking of colouring in photoshop. But whenever I get it into PShop, the outline seems to look ragged once I start colouring. Is there something I’m doing wrong?

    Also, I was wondering if there was a way to bend a line in a gradient, as I’m trying to colour in a beetle’s shell, so the gradient colour needs to be curved.

    Well done on a great informative website!

  4. shona

    Hi Dani,

    I think your website here is really cool but the videos are a bit fast for me to understand what you are doing

    shona xxx

  5. Majo

    Hi Dani, I`m from Guatemala, in Central America.
    I love your site. I`m learning a lot with all your tips. I just want to say to you that you are a great artist, and that teaching what you do, just makes you greater. Thanks for sharing all your experience.

  6. Faye

    Hi!!!! I just wanted to say that I’m glad I saw your site. I was searching for inking tutorials, and now that I read this tutorial, I am now a rookie vector artist. thanks so much Dani :)

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  8. Jeremy

    I was trying to draw in Illustrator but when I go to draw the line appears bigger as I am drawing it and then shrinks down as soon as I let up on the pen. What can I do to fix this? Thank you

    your fellow illustrator

    1. Dani Post author

      Jeremy – It sounds like you want to decrease the sensitivity of the pen pressure settings. Go to the brush palette and double-click the brush you are using to modify it. Reduce the diameter of the brush or lower the variation. You may also want to check your tablet settings on your computer.

  9. Rhian

    Dear Dani,

    Thanks for such useful tips! I learned a lot from your site. I started checking it on a daily basis.
    I also have a question: I did try drawing in illustrator using pencil or brush tool according to your instructions but whenever I draw a line that overlaps an existing line, it seems that the new line “cancels or erases” the line that overlaps on it –especially if I start the new line from the old line’s anchor point. Is there a technique or solution to avoid that?

    Thank you!

  10. Rhian

    Dear Dani, hi again! Please ignore my question. I just read an old tutorial by about brushes :) and it solved my problem. Thanks a lot!

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  14. Dave Wittekind

    Excellent tutorial! Just as a reponse to Rhian, though the problem was apparently solved, to avoid modifying an existing stroke with a new one, EITHER make sure the first stroke is deselected before overlapping with a new one OR double click on the pencil/brush tool and uncheck “edit selected paths”.

  15. Nate

    Nice job. Was thinking of doing a similar tutorial myself. However, since my inking process is pretty close to yours, perhaps I don’t have to rush into it.

  16. Gregory Gunther

    Thanks for an interesting tutorial. It’s always good to see how otherd do their vector line work. I actually use the pen tools, (and shapes) to make my illustrations. Rarely do I even touch the brush tool. Of course I’m not using a tablet.

  17. Paul Corazzo

    I’ve been looking for a tutorial just like this.

    I have done mostly 3D stuff in the past but seem to have need for more 2D illustration stuff.

    Thanks. Now to get sketching.

  18. Elwood H. Smith

    Hi, Dani-

    Thanks for this easy to understand intro to using Illustrator to make an ink line. I’ve used Photoshop (ink in on watercolor paper with my Pelikan pen and then color it in using Photoshop) and, for vector line, I’ve used Toon Boom Studio, the animation program to do digital ink-ins, but I have Illustrator and keep meaning to investigate it. Thanks to this tutorial, I will.

    Best Wishes,

  19. Classic Boater

    Thank you! Know I understand what the stroke drop down menu if for when using brushes. I could not under stand why this window says “1 pt” when I am using a 4 pt brush! I guess “1 pt” really means 100% of brush size, so “0.5 pt” would mean one half of brush size, and 2 pt would mean two times the brush size. Even the books I bought didn’t explain this basic bit of information.

    Thanks again!

  20. Deborah

    Hi, and thanks for the tutorial. I am a long time, and old school artist just learning to use photoshop, and illustrator….I am working on projects that require these two wonderful, but challenging programs. So, I have been searching on line, and learned a lot about CS3 photoshop…now on to illustrator.
    Thanks again. I like that you use both the pictures and directions to teach.

  21. heidi2524

    Thank you very much for this post. This is exactly the info I needed to create the outlines for a coloring & activity book from the full-color illustrations of my children’s book.

  22. Bob

    HELp– whenever I’m inking with the brush tool, while setting down the stroke, there is a blue path line in the center of the stroke, or sometimes (depending on the brush chosen) no black stoke at all until I “let go” of the brush. How can I get rid of seeing this path guide while inking?? Illustrator CS5. Thanks–

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