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Create Sketchy - Style Vectors

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Illustrator is great for creating clean and precise illustrations, but some of the time you don’t want clean and precise. There are many illustrations that call for a sketchy or hand-drawn feel. Creating these effects are relatively easy with Illustrator’s Live Trace, Live Paint, Brushes and the ability to create you own brushes. Check out some of my sketchy illustrations on iStock for more inspiration.


This tutorial was created with Illustrator CS3.Keyboard shortcuts are displayed in orange. ⌘ is displayed for the Command key (mac), with the Ctrl key being the Windows equivalent (not displayed).

Scan and Trace

The easiest way to achieve that sketchy-style is to actually sketch and scan an illustration. Illustrator’s Live Trace and Live Paint work great for this technique.

Step 1 – Sketch

I usually start drawing with a pencil, but ink the illustration when I am done. Inking the illustration will bring out the contrast of your illustration, making it easier to get a good trace.

Step 2 – Scan

Scan the artwork as a 300 dpi grayscale image. The 300 dpi image quality will help to get all the fine details of the sketchy line when the illustration is traced.

Step 3 – Adjust Levels In Photoshop

In Photoshop, or any photo editing program, adjust the levels so the illustration has a high level of contrast.

Step 4 – Place Into Illustrator

Import the scan into your Illustrator document by going File > Place and find your scan on your computer.

Step 5 – Live Trace

When the scanned image is selected the Control Panel defaults to the Live Trace Options. Click the arrow beside the Live Trace Button and select Tracing Options. Or you can go Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options. Below are the options that I usually change when tracing scanned images.

Mode: Black and White

Path Fitting: 1pxMinimum Area: 1pxCorner Angle: 1Ignore White: Check this boxYou might recognize these settings from some of my previous tutorials. Even though I use these setting most of the time, I like to change them up to get a different type of line quality. After I trace the image, expand the trace with the Expand button on the control panel.

Step 6 – Live Paint Option

Now comes the point when I start to fill in the sketch with color. One way to do this is to use the Live Paint feature of Illustrator CS3. With the expanded illustration selected, go Object > Live Paint > Make. You will see that the bounding box has changed slightly. Now, the anchor points on the bounding box have little sprites in them. Select the Live Paint Bucket (k) from the Tools Panel to fill in the Live Paint. When you move over the illustration with the Live Paint Bucket (k)you will see areas highlighted. When you click it will fill the area with the selected color. Use the arrow keys to cycle through your swatches.

Depending on you illustration, sometimes the Live Paint spills the outside of your illustration. You can fix this by changing the Live Paint Gap Options. Go Object > Live Paint > Gap Options to bring up the Gap Options dialog. In the dialog you can change Gap Detection to be larger or smaller depending on your illustration

When you have finished painting the illustration, go Object > Live Paint > Expand, to bring the illustration back to the normal editing mode.

Step 7 – Free-Hand Paint

The Live Paint feature is great, but you might not have CS3 or what a different effect. I like to use the Pencil Tool (n) and draw shapes that don’t stay in illustration’s outline, creating a different sketchy feel.


Below is a final image using these techniques.

Brushes Libraries

You can also add a sketchy style with Illustrator’s Brush Libraries. There are numerous brushes available to create this effect. Open up Illustrator’s Brush Libraries by clicking on the bottom left pop-up menu in the Brushes Panel. When the menu pops up, explore some of the Artistic Sets of brushes. Simply select the object you want to apply the brush to and select a brush.

Create You Own Brushes

If you don’t like any of Illustrator’s brush sets, you can make your own from scanned brush strokes.

Step 1 – Make a Mark

First start out by making some marks on a paper with anything you like. Try using paint brushes, ink, crayons, markers, sponges, hand prints, stamps, or whatever you think will make an interesting mark.

Step 2 – Scan, Adjust, and Trace

Follow the previous steps for scanning, adjusting, and tracing the artwork.

Step 3 – Create Brush

Once the scan is traced, drag it into the brush panel. Select the New Art Brush option and in the Art Brush Options, change the Method to Tints. Now you can apply the brush to any object!

Optional Creation Method

If you don’t have a scanner or don’t want to deal with Photoshop, you can create a brush just in Illustrator with the Pencil Tool (n). First, double-click on the Pencil Tool (n) in the Tools Panel to bring up the Pencil Tool Options. Change the Fidelity to .5 to get some really gritty edges. Draw a brush shape, fill it with black, and follow the previous steps for creating a Art Brush. Another option would be to check out the options over on

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Create Sketchy – Style Vectors. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from
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