How To Design Better Illustrations


As an illustrator, you’ll know that you have your own process that you use to create your designs. You’ll be familiar with a range of tools and techniques that you’ve developed over time. You’ll have developed your own style and learned to bring your own interpretation to your work.

This article isn’t here to show you how to be a perfect illustrator. Instead, it’s here to highlight a bunch of tips and techniques you could incorporate into your work. All illustrators have good days and bad days. A true master is defined by the ability to create consistent results. Below are some tips which we hope will help you to develop a consistent practice as an illustrator.

Creating a palette

Before you start working on an illustration, you’ll probably plan your colors. You’ll have your dominant color selection, your secondary colors and a couple of accent colors to add interest to your designs.

You’ll also use a range of different stokes in order to produce your design. Some of these strokes will give you broad impact and others will be used to create texture or shading.

Mark off the different colors and strokes you will be using in order to create a consistent palette. You could also add the different brush strokes and capping that you will use when you begin to work. This will help you to work more efficiently and assist you with developing consistency throughout your illustrations.

Adding shading

Shading gives your illustration depth and detail, allowing it to emerge from the screen with substance. This is never easy when you’re presented with a palette of flat colors. By selecting a consistent range of colors to use for both shading and highlighting, you’ll have everything you need at hand when adding detail to your illustrations.

Your shading color should be an opacity of the stroke you’ve selected, and represent the darkest version of that color. This will help you to add depth.

Monitoring your stroke widths

When you plan you’re illustration, your brush strokes will play a crucial role in achieving the results you want. Your stroke widths will create the overall feel of your illustration. By planning the level of detail you’d like, you’ll be able to assess the different strokes and sizes that you want.

Creating a palette for your brush strokes will help you to keep them consistent as your illustration starts to emerge. This will help your illustration to develop consistency. When you can control your strokes, you’ll be free to work on the details or shadings within your illustration. Turning off scale strokes will enable you to keep your strokes consistent throughout.

Make use of Pathfinder

If you’re not interested in using your pen tool to draw and map out your illustration, you could always use Pathfinder. Pathfinder will assist you with merging and forming shapes until you get the design you want. You can then cut out your design and use it in its newly emerged form.

Pathfinder is an extremely powerful tool if you don’t enjoy drawing. It allows you to create the shape you need without having to design it from scratch.

By learning how Pathfinder works, you’ll be able to manipulate shapes which take you in the design direction you most want. If drawing does not appeal to you, then Pathfinder could be the most powerful tool you own.

Learn the shortcuts

By learning the shortcuts you’ll be able to work more efficiently. Many people don’t set out to learn the shortcuts in Illustrator. Instead, they learn them along the way until they seem to be an intuitive way of working.

Although there are many different shortcuts and the instructions can feel intimidating at first, they will eventually become second nature. As every illustrator works differently, it might be helpful to use the shortcuts for your most frequent tasks.

By getting to know your way around Illustrator and how you can use it most effectively you’ll be able to concentrate more on your designs and less on the software. The computer program which provides a barrier between you and your work will all but disappear. You’ll be able to enjoy all the efficiency a digital design program brings.

Select your style

Once you’ve elected to work on a commission, your first step will be to select the style you’d like to bring into your work.

You might already have an idea of the atmosphere you’d like to create or the colors you’d like to use. However, you could begin by creating a mood board of inspiring designs before you begin. Find images which inspire you and put them together to form a collection. You can then examine these choices and see how they have constructed their designs. You could also draw on aspects of their designs and incorporate this into your overall plan.

If you have an idea of what you’d like to do, it is time to create a plan. Have a look at the meanings you’d like to recreate and the brand you want to represent through visual imagery. Once you have your basic concept you can experiment until it starts to take the shape you would like best.

Follow the brief

Although you might be able to provide an illustration which goes beyond your client’s imagination, you will still need to follow your brief. Working together in collaboration will ensure that your clients get what they need while you still have the opportunity to use artistic interpretation.

If you have a very tight brief, you’ll know from the outset exactly what your client requires from you. This can provide you with a roadmap which will result in an effective result.

Take into account the various elements your client is looking for and work out how to fit them into your clients’ needs while still using your creativity to influence the end result.

Use a drawing pad

Using a mouse will place a barrier between you and your designs. This will have a huge impact on your results. By acquiring a drawing pad and pen, you’ll be able to work naturally. Although they might look intimidating, a drawing pad is actually very easy to use. If you practice, you’ll be able to use it in no time at all. It will feel as familiar to you as drawing on a page. There is a wide range of drawing pads and pens which will suit both your needs and your budget.

Focus on your outline

Before you color in your drawing, you’ll need to ensure that the basic structure is as you want it to be. Your drawing or sketch will provide the basic framework of your concept. Until this is correct, it will be impossible to move on. Getting your basic sketch right might take up a lot of time. If you’re working on a tight deadline give yourself enough time to work on your sketch before you plan out your colors and brush strokes.

Use layers to your advantage

If you’re a new designer, you may fear to make a mistake in your design. You might also be familiar with the eraser tool. However, you don’t have to keep erasing any mistakes you make. Digital art is formatted in layers. By using multiple layers you’ll be able to paint over any errors that you make.

As you use layers to improve upon your work, you’ll notice that you become increasingly efficient. You’ll also start to see your confidence grow as you produce the results you want time and time again.

Draw on photo references

As an artist, you’ll focus on detail. However, most people do not have a photographic memory. As a result, a photograph will be your best friend. When you use photographs as a reference point, you’ll be able to access all the details you need in order to produce an incredible image.

Start collecting a range of different reference photographs to store on your computer. This will give you to have a range of different choices when you need inspiration for a design.

You can also use your photo collection to learn about color, light and anatomy. This will help you to learn how the foundations of your designs fit together in real life.

Just keep drawing

If you want to be a great illustrator remember that practice makes perfect. Malcolm Gladwell estimates that it takes almost ten years of constant practice to fully master a skill. The more you draw, the more you’ll be able to expand your knowledge, gaining more complex skills as you go along.

The more you practice your drawing, the more you’ll see your talent develop. Eventually, your drawing will feel like second nature to you. You’ll train your arm and your hands to create the movements you want and you’ll be able to put all of your goals into practice.

You can also familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of digital programs so that you can use them intuitively. Don’t let digital design intimidate you. Once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll open up a whole new world of opportunity.


So there you go! No matter where you are in your illustration career, follow these tips and you’ll soon develop a consistent practice which will bring you the results you want.