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TUTORIAL: Designing torso prints in Adobe Illustrator


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#1 ED-209

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Posted 18 March 2012 - 01:36 PM

Hi everyone, I've been posting some prints for custom minifig stickers/decals recently, and several people have asked how I make my images. I use Adobe Illustrator and I thought I'd make a tutorial detailing the process.

Firstly, Illustrator is a professional grade product, so it's packed full of features that can get a bit overwhelming at first. I will really only be focusing on the tools and methods I use in making minifig decals, but it's quite easy to get very clean and precise results with a little practice. It's also worth noting that Illustrator is quite expensive! They used to release free trial versions - you may want to look into sourcing one before you commit to any purchases.

Additionally, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to go about drawing the images, this is merely a guide to the way I personally do it.

Just quickly, you can hold the space bar to turn on the drag tool. Space + control for the zoom in tool, and space + control + alt for the zoom out. I find this the quickest way to move in and around the images.

OK, let's get started!

PART 1: Setting up the guides.

1. Open Illustrator and create a new blank document (ctrl+N). I just use a standard A4 page, as that's the size I'll be printing. Set the resolution to 300dpi and the colour mode to CMYK.

Posted Image

2. Now because we're drawing something very small, we need to be very precise about our measurements. Press ctrl+R to toggle the display of rulers across the top and left side of the page. If you've defaulted to inches, you'll need to go to "Edit > Preferences > Units & Display Performance" and change the general units to millimetres.

3. Click and hold on the ruler at the top of the page, and drag down to drop a horizontal guide. Just drop it somewhere near the top. Do the same with the vertical ruler. These guides will form the edges of our torso design.

Posted Image


4. Now zoom in to the position where the two guides intersect. Zoom in all the way, so the magnifier cursor no longer has a "+" sign in it! Place your cursor in the little white square where the two rulers meet, and click and drag to the precise point where the two guides intersect. This will reassign the "zero point" of both horizontal and vertical rulers. If you don't get it quite right, just repeat until you do.

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5. Zooming out to a more comfortable level, we're now going to drag out another horizontal guide, and another vertical guide. Only this time we're going to position them exactly. A minifig is 15.44mm wide at the waist, and 12.77mm high (excluding the neck post), so our new guides need to reflect that. I personally like to use 16mm and 13mm, as the overlap is minuscule, but gives a little wiggle room when applying the decals/stickers.

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PART 2: Base image.

6. Now comes the fun part! I'm going to reproduce the forestman design from series 1 of the Collectable Minifigure range. So I find an image online and copy it, then paste it into Illustrator. This is the result:

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7. Way too big of course, but that's fine. We zoom out until we can see the edges of the image. Click on the image object to highlight it, then click and drag on one of the corners to resize it. Hold shift to constrain the proportions.

8. You'll need to do this a few times to get the position just right, but we're aiming for the printed surface of the figure to line up with our guides. If the image you're using isn't exactly straight, hover the mouse cursor around the corners of the image until it turns into a curved arrow. Click and hold to rotate. Here's the end result:

Posted Image


9. Now go to the layer window (F7 to bring it up). Create a new layer above our old one, and lock the old one so we can't accidentally select or change it.

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10. Ensuring you've got layer 2 selected, zoom in and drag a new vertical guide to the 8mm mark - this will prove invaluable when drawing anything symmetrical!

11. Most objects drawn in Illustrator have two colours assigned to them, a "stroke" which is the colour of the linework, and a "fill" which is the colour inside the lines. At the bottom of the vertical tool bar are the current colours you have for both fill and stroke. Fill is the upper left, stroke the lower right. Click to select fill, click to select the "none" option beneath it. Then double-click the stroke to both select it and bring up a colour palate. I use a bright blue or pink to start with, just so I can easily keep track of it. Now select the pen tool (P) and we're ready to draw.

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PART 3: Drawing lines.

12. OK, now we start drawing some lines. Zoom in a bit if you need to, and click on the guide intersection at the bottom left corner. Then move up the line of the torso, just 0.75mm short of the top. Click and hold here, to drag some handles out from the point. A line between two points with no handles will be perfectly straight, but a point with handles will cause the line to form curves. You'll want to make sure the bottom handle is in line with the line, and the upper handle reaches nearly to the top guide. Now move across the guide to the 13.1mm mark, and click and drag here to create another point with handles of the same size, but this time running across the horizontal guide. (Hold shift here if you need to constrain.) Your results should look much like this:

Posted Image

13. Use the selection tool (V), and our linework is now an object. The object will appear to be already selected, but it's actually only the last point which is selected here. Make sure to click somewhere else to deselect the object, then click on it again to select. If we were using the other arrow tool, the "direct selection tool" (A), we would be highlighting only the individual points.

14. Now select the reflect tool (O). Position the cursor directly on top of the 8mm guide, hold alt, and click. A new dialogue box will pop up, allowing us to indicate the precise details we wish. Select vertical, and hit copy. We should now have two identical line objects. If you only have one line with a crazy loop at the top, you've probably accidentally reflected the point rather than the object as a whole. Just ctrl+Z to undo, and repeat step 13.

Posted Image


15. OK, now we're going to fuse these two objects together. Use the direct selection tool (A), and highlight the bottom point of the left object, then hold shift to select the same point on the right object. You can also achieve the same result by drawing a box around both points, as long as you don't draw it high enough to accidentally select any of the other points. Either way, you can now press ctrl+J to join the two points. Then go select the top two points, and join them too. You should see this:

Posted Image


16. At this point, I'd recommend adjusting the thickness of the object's stroke. Use the stroke window (ctrl+F10), and change the stroke weight from 1 point to 0.5 of a point.

17. Go to the layer window again, and create a new layer and lock layer 2 that we've just finished working on.


PART 4: The details.

18. Now comes the point where our projects will probably diverge. If you're replicating another design, you'll obviously be drawing those elements. But either way, use the pen tool like before to draw lines, dragging to create handles when you need curves. You can use the rectangle (M) and ellipse tools (L) when need be, and the same scaling, reflecting and rotating tools we used earlier. Use the direct selection tool (A) to adjust the position of the points and handles so they're just right.
I usually use several different layers to keep elements separate, and to help keep foreground elements separate from background ones. You can also use "object > arrange" to move objects forward and backwards in relation to each other, but only within layers. You can also press ctrl+G and ctrl+shift+G to group and ungroup objects for convenience.

19. Once you've started drawing elements, you can colour them in. Most outlines on Lego designs are in black, and you can use the CMYK values from Peeron's colour chart to match the object elements: http://www.peeron.com/inv/colors
For instance, the forestman's sleeves are tan so I'll colour the collar to match. So I select the two objects that form the collar, and use the colour window (F6) to enter 14,21,47,0. Then I'll repeat the process with the dark green section, with the values 100,58,100,33. The belt buckles aren't meant to match any other part of the figure, so I'll feel free to use whatever colours I like here, just trying to find a brassy look that feels right. The belts I'll match with reddish brown, as his quiver and bow came in that colour:

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PART 5: Cropping.

20. The final step I take is to create a crop mask; a white box with a hole in it the exact shape of the torso. This means that any overhanging objects (the belts and collars here) are masked to look nice and presentable.
Create a new layer on top of all the others and draw a large white box in it. The box needs to be large enough to obscure all your other objects (with the exception of the image we used to trace.) Now hide this layer and unlock layer 2. Highlight the blue outline we made earlier on, and holding shift and alt, I press the left arrow key. This duplicates the object as it moves it. The original outline I can now fill with green and stroke to "none", and the new object I will move to the masking layer.

21. To move a selected object between layers, first highlight it then go look at your layers window. There will be a little coloured square in the layer, off to the right. This represents the selected objects in the layer. Simply drag it up to the masking layer.

22. Hide layer 2, and unhide the mask layer. Select the torso shape and hold shift then press the right arrow key. This will move the object back to the exact same location as before, but keep it on the current layer. Press ctrl+shift+] to ensure that the torso shape is in front of the white box.

23. Now hold shift and click the white box so both it and the torso shape are selected at the same time. Bring up the pathfinder window with ctrl+shift+F9. Hold alt and click on the second "shape mode".

Posted Image

This will subtract the shape of the object in front (the torso shape), from the shape of the object behind (the box). Think of it as using a cookie cutter, and the dough left behind once the cookie shape has been removed is what we see here. You may find that you need to reassign the fill colour of the new shape, and set its stroke back to none.

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24. The only thing left to do now is to export the finished product. Go to "view > guides > hide guides", or alternatively press ctrl+; to do the same. Then delete layer 1, as we no longer need it. Then go to "file > export" to save it in your preferred file format. Don't forget that a bitmap is uncompressed, and I'd recommend saving a copy in a lossless format to preserve the quality. I up the resolution to 600dpi in the export stage.

Posted Image

And now we can do a bunch of recolours very easily! And it's very easy to add your own flavour to things, think of other elements to add/remove. For medieval characters, think about adding pouches, potions or daggers to their belts, or a talisman around the neck. If it's a peasant perhaps add patches where their clothes have been mended, or splotches of mud. Or blood? Add creases where you want to indicate folds in the fabric. Mix and match between your characters, lots of the elements in my designs I reuse on others. Just copy them across, rotate/resize/recolour as needed.



That's it, we're all done! That actually took a lot longer than I realised it would, but I hope it's been interesting and been valuable for anyone interested, and most of all fun!   :grin:

If there are any questions, or any points I haven't covered in enough detail please let me know and I will do what I can to make things clearer.

#2 Aveal the black sheep

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 02:31 AM

Just a brief glance yet but, as one of the person who asked for it, thanks for doing this tutorial. Tomorrow I'll read it with more attention and I'll have my take on a torso in the next few days. I'll be sure to post the results.
Again thanks for doing this :)

Edited by Aveal the black sheep, 20 March 2012 - 02:33 AM.

Posted Image  
Barur Tormek, Level 10.5 Cleric 270 years old Male Dwarf
Power:14 Defense:1 Health:18/18 Ether:14/14 Gold:189

Equipment:Rune Staff (WP: 4), Robe of the Magi (SP:1), Guardian Halberd (WP: 5, target's defense is used as additional WP)

Inventory: Topaz (Lightning), Ruby (Fire), Potion, Remedy, 2 Venoms, 5 Bones, Bedroll, 2 Tonics, , Mulled Wine (Causes the Inspired-effect, doubling the target's current and maximum health for the duration of one battle.), Ice Bomb, Fire Bomb, Dirt Bomb, Grand Tonic, Lightning Bomb, Water Bomb, Holy Bomb



http://www.brickshel...m/gallery/Aveal

#3 caperberry

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 02:49 AM

Awesome - thank you.
Posted Image

#4 LuxorV

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 02:19 PM

I haven't thanked you for this beautiful tutorial yet, ED-209! :blush:

I added it to the Minifig Customisation Index and Guidelines topic, btw.

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#5 fred67

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 03:21 PM

Fantastic Tutorial.  I'd like to mention InkScape as a free alternative vector program for those of us who are too cheap or poor (or both) to buy Illustrator.

I'll definitely be running through this a few times.  Way to go, Ed-209! :thumbup:

#6 Bounty Hunter Supreme

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Posted 22 April 2012 - 01:30 PM

Step 4 doesn't seem to work on Inkscape.  :wacko:  I did everything it said to, but the rulers' zero points didn't actually reset at all!

EDIT: Actually, scrap doesn't seem to, it DOESN'T WORK! AT ALL!  :angry: :angry: :angry: :angry: :angry:

Edited by Bounty Hunter Supreme, 22 April 2012 - 01:40 PM.


#7 ED-209

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 02:10 PM

View PostBounty Hunter Supreme, on 22 April 2012 - 01:30 PM, said:

Step 4 doesn't seem to work on Inkscape.  :wacko:  I did everything it said to, but the rulers' zero points didn't actually reset at all!

EDIT: Actually, scrap doesn't seem to, it DOESN'T WORK! AT ALL!  :angry: :angry: :angry: :angry: :angry:


I'm sorry to hear that, I've never used Inkscape before so I'm afraid I can't really help you there.  :sad:
That being said, I can say that it certainly works in Illustrator as I explained in the tutorial.

Maybe someone who's familiar with Inkscape could write a tutorial about it? There might be a similar way to accomplish the same kind of result.

#8 WhiteFang

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Posted 17 May 2012 - 05:45 AM

I know this will be a bump but I seriously didn't know that Illustrator is capable of extracting decals from the very real minifigure's design and edit from there. I thought decals were drawn or designed from the computer software and I got no idea it can be done in this fashion. Thank you for enlighten me. I am sure I had my Illustrator software somewhere...

View PostLuxorV, on 20 March 2012 - 02:19 PM, said:

I haven't thanked you for this beautiful tutorial yet, ED-209! :blush:

I added it to the Minifig Customisation Index and Guidelines topic, btw.
Thank you for putting it to the index as that is the place where I am searching for some guides.  :thumbup:

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#9 hjmediastudios

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 01:50 PM

View PostED-209, on 24 April 2012 - 02:10 PM, said:

I'm sorry to hear that, I've never used Inkscape before so I'm afraid I can't really help you there. :sad:
That being said, I can say that it certainly works in Illustrator as I explained in the tutorial.

Maybe someone who's familiar with Inkscape could write a tutorial about it? There might be a similar way to accomplish the same kind of result.

I'm making a tutorial about creating digital minifigs using Inkscape, GIMP, and Blender.
Check out my new Steampunk/Dieselpunk hybrid Cuusoo project: Hyperborea!

#10 ED-209

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 07:36 AM

View Posthjmediastudios, on 19 May 2012 - 01:50 PM, said:

I'm making a tutorial about creating digital minifigs using Inkscape, GIMP, and Blender.

Ooh, I'm particularly interested in the Blender tutorial!  :grin:

#11 Aveal the black sheep

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Posted 26 May 2012 - 10:01 PM

Finally got around to trying it =) I sticked to Forestmen so I could better follow the steps. So far I got this
Posted Image
but I'm having trouble with the buckles, the rectangles and how to put the fill between the two paths.Can you elabore more on them?=P
when this one is done I'll venture on one of my own designs.
Thanks Ed

p.s. the lines are rough I know, it was a quick test of the tutorial so I wasn't to perfeccionist

Posted Image  
Barur Tormek, Level 10.5 Cleric 270 years old Male Dwarf
Power:14 Defense:1 Health:18/18 Ether:14/14 Gold:189

Equipment:Rune Staff (WP: 4), Robe of the Magi (SP:1), Guardian Halberd (WP: 5, target's defense is used as additional WP)

Inventory: Topaz (Lightning), Ruby (Fire), Potion, Remedy, 2 Venoms, 5 Bones, Bedroll, 2 Tonics, , Mulled Wine (Causes the Inspired-effect, doubling the target's current and maximum health for the duration of one battle.), Ice Bomb, Fire Bomb, Dirt Bomb, Grand Tonic, Lightning Bomb, Water Bomb, Holy Bomb



http://www.brickshel...m/gallery/Aveal

#12 ED-209

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Posted 28 May 2012 - 12:36 PM

View PostAveal the black sheep, on 26 May 2012 - 10:01 PM, said:

Finally got around to trying it =) I sticked to Forestmen so I could better follow the steps. So far I got this

but I'm having trouble with the buckles, the rectangles and how to put the fill between the two paths.Can you elabore more on them?=P
when this one is done I'll venture on one of my own designs.
Thanks Ed

p.s. the lines are rough I know, it was a quick test of the tutorial so I wasn't to perfeccionist

You're right, I'm sorry I did kind of gloss over that a bit!  :laugh:   :blush:
The trick is to combine two shapes into one using a tool called Pathfinder. Open the tool "Window > Pathfinder" (or Shift+Ctrl+F9).

I've just drawn a couple of random shapes here to demonstrate, one on top of the other:
Posted Image

Select both objects, then Alt+click on the second Pathfinder tool:
Posted Image

This will subtract the front shape from the back shape like so:
Posted Image

You can use the tool to cut the centre shape of the buckle, just like cutting the hole out of doughnut. Just make sure the shape to be subtracted is in front of the other. Select and use "Object > Arrange > Bring to Front" ( Shift+Ctrl+] ) if needed.

And that's it! There are other pathfinder tools to add shapes, use only the intersecting parts, divide them, and various other options you can experiment with. I tend to use the add and subtract ones the most. Additionally clicking without holding the alt key will produce slightly different (less clean) results.

Hope that helps!  :grin:

#13 natesroom

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Posted 28 May 2012 - 05:36 PM

View PostWhiteFang, on 17 May 2012 - 05:45 AM, said:

I know this will be a bump but I seriously didn't know that Illustrator is capable of extracting decals from the very real minifigure's design and edit from there. I thought decals were drawn or designed from the computer software and I got no idea it can be done in this fashion. Thank you for enlighten me. I am sure I had my Illustrator software somewhere...

I didn't understand what you were saying here?

#14 DAVESLEGO

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 01:06 PM

ED-209 if you have a flickr page please post it here thanks :classic:



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