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After spending the last 6 years furiously consuming tutorial after tutorial to learn and better my Illustrator skills it’s time to give something back. This is a beginners tutorial in Illustrator, describing in detail the design of a simple but fun looking skull and cross bones. I find the best way to learn something like Illustrator is to jump straight into using the tools. The tools i’ve picked are basic tools you need to get to know so you feel comfortable working your way around Illustrator. I’ve created this in Illustrator CS5, if you have an older version of Illustrator don’t worry i’ve only used the very basic tools so you should be able to follow every step.
The image below is the final design you will hopefully end up with, a super slick skull vector that you can use as you wish. Alrighty, enough chatter, let’s begin!
Part 1: Setup your Illustrator document.
Open Illustrator as you normally would and click on File > New as shown below.
When the popup window appears, just duplicate the details i’ve shown below. It’s just the default document setup for ‘Web’ but i’ve added a name ‘Skull’. The size 800 x 600 is big enough for what we need to do.
You should now be looking at a brand new, blank page.
Part 2: Creating the round head of the skull
Start off by first selecting the shapes tool which can be found on the toolbar to the left of the screen. The icon has a rectangle pictured on it. However we don’t want to create a rectangle, we want to create an Ellipse (circle). To find the Ellipse, click and hold on the shape icon. This will bring up a small popup which will let you select the Ellipse.
Now that you have the Ellipse tool select we can draw the head of the skull. Make sure you can see your entire page by zooming out to about 150%. This will largely depend on your screen size, just zoom out or in enough to have your blank page sitting nicely within the viewable area. Zoom can be used quickly by holding down Ctrl and pressing on the ‘+’ & ‘-‘ keys on your keboard.
Now draw your circle. Click and hold the mouse click down and move your mouse until you see the circle grow. You might notice the circle is a bit skewed. Hold down Shift to combat this. Holding shift while drawing shapes just keeps the shape in proportion. Move your shape into the middle of the canvas. You should have the image below in front of you.
Make sure your circle is about Width: 230px, Height: 230px in size. This option can be found by clicking on your shape to select it and then looking to the top of your screen where the size options are.
Note: To select anything in your document in Illustrator you need to have the Selection Tool selected, which is the dark cursor in the tools panel. A simple way of selecting this tool is to press ‘v’ on your keyboard.
We need to give the circle a fill rather than a stroke which it currently is. Make sure the circle is selected and then click on the Fill option as shown below. We want a dark colour so use the following colour code 1A1A1A.
You should have a solid circle now, but we still need to remove the stroke around the circle. With the circle selected look to the top left of your screen, you should be able to see an additional Fill & Stroke option. Click on the Stroke option and set it to none as shown below (The white square with the red line through it means ‘no stroke’).
You should now have a simple dark circle in front of you.
This bit will provide you with some very handy tips. With your circle selected, hold Alt and press the down arrow on your keyboard. Hey presto you now have a copy of your shape. This will work using up, down, left or right on your keyboard. Change the new circle to a different colour so you can see it and also change the size to Width: 210px, Height: 210px. Finally with the circle still selected hit the up arrow on your keyboard 3 times. We don’t want a perfect circle shape, that’s just plain boring. You should have the same as the image below.
This is the final step of creating the head. Select both shapes by clicking on one shape, holding shift and then clicking on the other. Holding shift is multiple select. Now look to the menu at the top of the screen, select Window > Pathfinder. This will display the Pathfinder window which lets you do some interesting things. With the Pathfinder window visible and with your 2 shapes selected click on the Minus Front option as shown.
You should now have the finished outline of the skulls head.
Part 3: Creating the skull’s nose
Now that we’ve discovered some of the simple Illustrator tools, this should be a bit easier. Anywhere on the page draw a circle (we can position the nose after completing it). Remember to hold Shift to keep the circle perfectly proportioned. The circle needs to be Width: 16px, Height: 16px.
With your little circle selected (Make sure you use the Selection Tool from the Tools panel), hold Alt and press the left arrow on the keyboard. This will copy your little circle. Using the left arrow on your keyboard move your second little circle so it’s edge rests against the first (as shown below).
Select either of your 2 little circles, hold Shift and then press the up key on your keyboard. Once again this will copy your circle. Move the circle so it’s sitting above the other 2 and in the middle (shown below). Resize this circle to Width: 12px, Height: 12px and make sure it’s butted against the other 2 circles.
Zoom in so you can see the nose a bit clearer. We are now going to use the Pen tool. Select the Pen tool from the Tools panel (it looks like the end of a calligraphy pen).
This bit may be a little bit tricky for some, but i have faith in you. Looking at the three circles, and using the Pen tool create a shape identical to the one shown below (second image).What i’ve done essentially is made the 3 circles look like one simple shape. There are 5 points to this shape which you need to create using the Pen tool. It’s like a dot to dot. With the Pen tool, click once to start your new shape, then click at the next point until you get back to the original point. You’ll get the hang of it. Use a different colour as well (I’ve used red) so you can see what you’re doing.
To make all of these pieces join together to make one object, select the 4 shapes. You should still be able to see the Pathfinder window. With the objects selected click on the Unite option. The will join the shapes together to make one object. Easy!
All you need to do now is move the nose piece into the correct spot. Move it into the center of the head shape you created earlier. Then holding Shift press the down key on your keyboard twice. Holding Shift and using the arrows keys lets you move objects further, and therefore quicker. The nose should now be sitting in the right spot.
Finally we just have to make the nose the right colour. With the nose still selected, select the Eye Dropper tool in the Tools panel and then click on the head shape of the skull. This will replicate the colour onto the nose shape, which speeds things up for us. The Eye Dropper tool can also replicate a stroke or a gradient. That’s it, we have our nose. We’re getting somewhere.
Part 4: Creating the skull’s eyes
Now for the eyes. You should be pretty comfortable drawing circles by now. Draw another circle off to the side of the skull’s head and make it Width: 70px, Height: 70px. Also give it the same fill as the other shapes by using the Eye Dropper tool. Refer to Part 3, Step 8 if you can’t remember how.
With the circle still selected, copy it by holding Alt and pressing the left key on your keyboard. With your new circle change the colour so you can see what you’re doing. Set the size to Width: 58px, Height: 58px and move the circle into the middle of the first as shown below.
With the Selection Tool selected (press ‘v’ on your keyboard), select both shapes. You should be able to see the Pathfinder window (Part 2, Step 7). Click on the Minus Front option in the Pathfinder window. This will cut the red circle out of the circle below leaving you with a shape similar to that of the skull’s head.
With your new shape still selected make a new copy (you should know how to do this now, another method is to press Cmd + C on your keyboard to copy, then Cmd + V to paste. Use Ctrl instead of Cmd on a PC). With your copied shape, just move it to the right of the first as shown below.
Zoom right in on your 2 shapes a bit so you can see what you’re doing. Looking at your first shape, select the Direct Selection Tool from the Tools panel (Shortcut: A on your keyboard). Now click on your first shape and just take not of the little dots on the shape.
With the Direct Selection Tool, select the the small dots i’ve highlight in the image above and press Delete on your keyboard to delete these 2 points. This will turn your shape into a half version.
You will notice there’s a strange line sitting where the shape has been cut. This has happened because the shape has not been closed yet. Select the Pen tool (Press P on your keyboard) and close the shape by clicking on the point shown below.
Now click on the point to the right of the first as shown below. You will know when to click, as a tiny little ‘o’ will appear just next to the Pen tool. This means you’re closing the shape.
Now do the same with the other side, highlighted below.
Zoom out a bit so you can see both of your shapes and repeat Steps: 5-7 creating the same half circle shape – only the opposite side this time (shown below).
Step 9: Press V on your keyboard so the Selection Tool is selected and click anywhere off the shape (on the white page) so no shape is currently selected. This is done in case any points are still selected which would affect this next step. Now click back on the second shape (the one with the bottom cut off) and change to the follow size. Height: 80px, Width: 42px. Now move the shape so it’s sitting in the same place as shown below.
Now select the Rectangle Tool and draw a rectangle that sits between the 2 shapes. This defines the line between the upper eyelid and eyeball. My rectangle is Width: 80px, Height: 7px. Position your rectangle as shown below.
You may notice the corners of the eyelid are a bit messy as shown below.
Using your Direct Selection tool (Press A on your keyboard) click on the points of the rectangle and move them so they are in line with the half circle as shown below. The points should snap in line with the eyelid half circle. We want a nice clean corner here.
Do the same with the other corner of the eyelid so both sides are smooth. You should now have a nice eyelid/eyeball shape. Highlight the 3 pieces and click on the Unite option on the Pathfinder window.
The basic shape of your eye is now complete.
Now for the pupils. Select the Rectangle tool and draw a Rectangle that is Height: 17px, Width 5px.
With the small rectangle still selected make a copy.
With the second rectangle still select look to the top of your screen and select Object > Transform > Rotate
A small window should appear. Rotate your rectangle 90 degrees as shown below. Press OK.
Move your rotated rectangle so it sits over the first, in a cross formation. Select the 2 rectangles and select Unite in the Pathfinder window to join these 2 shapes together.
With your cross selected, go to Object > Transform > Rotate again. With the Rotate window now in front of you, rotate the cross 45 degrees.
Move the cross into position.
We’re almost finished with the eye, hang in there. The final piece is the eyebrow which will give it that creepy badass look.
Draw a horizontal rectangle that’s Width: 76px, Height: 8px. Rotate this rectangle 20 degrees so it looks like the following.
Move the rectangle into the position i’ve placed it below.
Select the eyelid shape and isolate it by double clicking on it. This means you won’t accidentally click on the other shapes.
Select the Scissors tool from the Tools pane (Shortcut is C). The Scissor tool could be hidden behind the Eraser tool on the Tools panel. You just need to click and hold on the Eraser tool to bring up the additional tools. You should then be able to see the Scissors tool. Check out Part 2, Step 1 if you’re still having trouble finding this tool.
We need to remove the part of the eyelid that sits above the eyelid. Using the Scissors tool, click the Scissor tool on the outline of the eyelid. At the points shown below. (where the rectangle overlaps over the eyelid). You just have to click once on the outline for the Scissor tool to work.
Once you’ve used the Scissor tool at these points, the area inside the eyelid that has been cut will be a separate shape. There are actually 2 separate shapes here highlight both of them as shown below and delete.
Once you’ve delete that area your shape should look like the below image.
Double click anywhere in the white area to leave the isolated mode (The other shapes will be selectable again). If the eyebrow shape doesn’t quite line up with the eyelid, if the edge is a bit messy just go in with the Direct Selection tool (Press A on your keyboard) and correct the points as shown below.
Highlight all of the shapes that makeup the eye and select the Unite option in the Pathfinder window.
Now you just have to move the eye into place. Place it as i’ve shown below
At this point i think i want the eye a bit bigger. Currently it’s about Width: 80px, Height: 80px. Lets just make it a little bit bigger, i changed mine to Width: 88px, Height: 88px. See below.
Now one thing is obvious, the skull only has one eye. Using the hold Alt + left arrow on the keyboard copy the eye and move it over to the left side.
With the copied eye we still need to flip it. Go to Object > Transform > Reflect as shown below.
With the Reflect window open, click on the Vertical radio button and set it to 90 degress.
Move the eyes so there is equal distance from the outside edges of the nose and then select both the eyes and the nose and move them down a bit more so it looks like the following.
Ok, it’s starting to look pretty cool, we are getting oh so closer. The eyes were by far the hardest part. Next the mouth. Just remember with the eyes make sure they are the same gray shade as the nose and head. Do this using the Eye Dropper tool, which i explain in Part 3, Step 8.
Part 5: Creating the mouth of the skull
Using the circle tool draw a circle that is Width: 27px, Height: 27px.
Copy this circle so you have 2 identical and place them together exactly as i have shown below.
Select both circles and using the Unite tool in the Pathfinder window, merge the 2 shapes together.
With your new shape still selected, make a copy and shrink this down slightly. I took about 3px off the width and height. Then move it to the right of the first shape so you can see it.
Change the colour of the copied shape and then place it over the first shape as shown below. Try to place it exactly as i’ve shown, otherwise this could turn out a bit strange.
Select both objects and then using the Pathfinder window select this Minus Front option. This will cut the red shape out of the shape below leaving you with the following.
Zoom into your new shape and have the Direct Selection tool selected (Press the A key on the keyboard). Select the point highlighted below and delete.
That will leave you with the shape below.
Time to move this piece of the mouth into place. Place this in the exact position as shown below.
Now copy the mouth piece piece and move it to the exact opposite side. Use the hold Alt + right arrow (keyboard) copy technique.And finally repeat the Reflect steps as shown in Part 4, Step 23 (flipping the eye) so you have the result below.
All we need to do now is join the 2 pieces together. Zoom in a bit so you can see what you’re doing, and select Direction Selection tool (Press A on the keyboard). Select the point shown below.
Now hold Shift and select the opposite point on the opposite shape. We want both of them selected at the same time.
Now right click one of the points. You need to right click directly on one of the selected points or this won’t work. A small window will appear. Choose the Join option.
Hooray we have a mouth! Just repeat Step 9 with the 2 points directly below the 2 we just joined, that way our mouth shape will be closed. Also make sure the mouth is the same shade of gray as the other shapes. Use the Eye Dropper tool as previously explained in Part 3, Step 8.
What’s left to do you say? Lets add some teeth. Using the Rectangle tool, draw a rectangle that’s Width: 6px, Height: 15px. Copy this rectangle so you have 5 teeth and place them as shown below.
If you’ve come this far, you’re doing well. It’s a long tutorial but practice makes perfect! There’s only one more piece that missing, the cross bones.
Part 6: Creating the cross bones
Believe it or not, this bit isn’t that difficult. Start off by drawing 2 circles, one should be Width: 50px, Height: 50px. The other should be Width: 37px, Height: 37px. Place them next to each other.
Move the small circle so it’s sitting exactly as i’ve done so below.
Now highlight both shapes and merge them using the Unite option in the Pathfinder window.
With your new shape still selected, make a copy and move it below the original shape. Change the colour of the copied shape so you can see what you’re doing. Make the copied shape slightly smaller at Width: 47px, Height: 33px and then move it into position as shown below.
Select both shapes and then choose the Minus Front option in the Pathfinder window.
We have the basic shape of the end of the bone now.
Draw a new rectangle that’s Width: 19px, Height: 19px, change the colour of it so you can see what you’re doing and then place it over the shape we created earlier – as shown below.
Select both shapes and then choose the Minus Front option in the Pathfinder window.
Almost there, now draw 2 rectangles Width: 8px, Height: 71px and place them as i’ve shown below.
You will notice the bottoms of the 2 rectangles don’t line up. Just extend the shorter rectangle so they are the same.
Copy the rectangle on the left and move it in slightly as shown below.
zoom in a bit closer and select the top right point of the rectangle using the Direct Selection tool (Press the A key on your keyboard).
Delete the point so it makes it a slightly distorted triangle.
One final bit. Draw a circle that is Width: 37px, Height: 37px. Change it to a different colour so you can see what you’re doing and then place it as i’ve shown below.
You will notice that the red circle is slightly transparent. I’ve done this so i could see the shape below. To access the transparency option just make sure the circle is selected with the Selection tool (Shortcut: v on the keyboard). Then look to the top of your screen and you should see an Opacity option. Set this to 70 % as shown below.
Copy the red circle shape and change the size to Width: 28px, Height: 28px Also change the colour so you can see it. Place it exactly where i have below. This will help give the bone a bit more shape. You will see what i’m trying to do in the next step below if that helps.
Select both shapes and then choose the Minus Front option in the Pathfinder window. You should have the following.
Zoom in a bit so you can see what you’re doing. Select the Scissors tool (Shortcut: press C on your keyboard). and then click on the 2 areas i’ve shown below. You should have noticed that you need to click right on the outline of the shape for the Scissor tool to work, otherwise it just won’t do anything.
With your Selection Tool (Shortcut: press V on your keyboard). Delete the larger shape so you’re left with the following.
Finally just make sure you use the Eye dropper tool (Shortcut: press I on your keyboard) to change the red shape to the same colour as everything else.
Finally zoom out and then select all of the shapes we just made and merge them together using the Unite tool in the Pathfinder.
All we have to do now is rotate the bone and place it. With the object select, go to Object > Transform > Rotate on the menu at the top of your screen. Rotate the object 50 degrees.
Place this bone to the upper left of the skull.
Oooh exciting it’s starting to look like something!
Copy the arm and then go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Set the reflect settings to the Vertical checkbox at 90 degrees. Move it to the opposite side of the skull.
Select both of the bones and create a copy. Select both of the 2 new copied bones and then go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Set the reflect settings to the Horizontal checkbox at 0 degrees. This will flip the 2 new bones so we can move them to the bottom of the skull.
Wow, all we have to do now is place the 2 new bones and we’re done! Hey presto! Well done, you deserve a giant high 5 as that was quite a lengthy tutorial. You now have a very smart looking skull vector to do as you wish!
I’m not going to tell you how to colour this guy, because you now have the skills to do that. I know i’m sorry. One thing i will tell you is that when you’re trying to colour this guy, just use shapes, fill them with colour and then send them behind the outlines by right clicking on the shape and choosing the option Arrange > Send to Back on the popup. That’s all i’ve done to create the coloured version below & using the techniques i’ve explained in this tutorial.
Apart form that, enjoy Illustrator, it’s fun :)