As a freelance designer, it is always good practice to send your clients and vendors a holiday greeting at the end of the year. This year, instead of purchasing a box of cards made by another designer, why not show off your own design skills by sending out your own unique greeting card. And, to get you inspired, I have written this tutorial which will show you step by step how I created a cute little penguin with a snowflake background that would be perfect for a holiday card.
I will be using Adobe Illustrator CS3 to lay out a 5” x 3.5” card and prepare the file for 4 color digital printing.
Step 1: Create a new document & set up guides
Let’s launch Adobe Illustrator and create a New Document by selecting New (or Command + N) from the File drop down menu. In the New Document dialog window, let’s name the file “Holiday Card”. We are going to make the document size 5” wide and 7” tall (these are the full dimensions of the card before the folding process). Click on the Advanced options arrow to open this dialog, if it isn’t already. Change our color mode to CMYK and make sure the Raster Effects dialog is set to High (300ppi). Lastly, let’s show out rulers (Command + R).
Now we need to set up our printing guides (bleed, crop, safe and fold). Since we have the document’s dimensions set up to the final printed size, these are the easiest guides to drag out.
Before you begin, make sure you have your Smart Guides are turned on (Command + U) and Snap to Point is selected from the View drop down menu. Drag out four guides from the ruler (two from the top and two from the bottom) until the snap to the edges of the art board. You now have your crop guides.
For a full bleed guide, I like to create a rectangle shape, without a fill or stroke, that is 0.25” wider and taller than my art board and convert that into a guide. This gives me the prerequisite 0.125” on all sides that it commonly accepted as a bleed (the distance between the edge of what is printed and where it will be cropped). For me, this is much quicker than dragging out more guides and manually placing them in the correct positions.
Select the Rectangle Tool and choose none for fill color and stroke. Click anywhere on the art board to bring up the dialog box and enter 5.25” for the width and 7.25” for the height and click “OK”. Choose your Selection Tool (V) and, with the Rectangle still selected, align it to the absolute center of the Artboard. You accomplish this by bringing up your Align Palette (Window > Align), clicking on the Artboard icon and selecting Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center. The Rectangle should snap right in place. All that is left is to make this a guide by choosing View > Guides > Make Guide (Command + 5).
For your fold guide, simply drag a guide from the top ruler and place it exactly at 3.5” on the “y” axis. This is where your left ruler comes in handy. If you make a mistake, simply undo (Command + Z) and do it again.Lastly, you will need to have a safe guide which helps you from placing text is an area that make not print or be cropped during trimming. Remember that printing is not an exact science and it is highly recommended to have a safe guide. For a greeting card, we will need one for the front and back of the card.
In the same fashion as the bleed guide, I have my own method of creating the safe guide. Select your Rectangle Tool again, making sure your fill and stroke color is set to none, and drag a rectangle shape from the top left of the Artboard to the top right of the fold guide. Make sure not to drag the rectangle to the bleed guide. You want to stop at the crop guide. With your Smart Guides turned on, you should see “intersect” when you are exactly over your desired release point.
With this newly created shape still selected, choose Object > Path > Offset Path from the Object drop down menu. In the dialog that opens, select Preview and enter -0.125” for the offset amount. What this does is create a duplicate rectangle that is 0.125” smaller on all sides which is the perfect dimensions for a safe guide.
Deselect both rectangles. Select the smaller rectangle shape and convert this into a guide (Command + 5). Select the original rectangle and delete it as we no longer need it. To create the safe guide for the front of the card, repeat these steps.
At this point, I would recommend saving this as an Illustrator template so you won’t have to continually repeat these steps every time you are designing a greeting card that is 5” x 3.5”. Simply choose Save as Template from the File drop down menu.
Step 2: Create the background for the front of the card
I want a “cool” (as in temperature) blue sky as the background for the front of the card. Select the Rectangle Tool again. Set your stroke color to none and your fill color to C=24 M=4 Y=5 K=0. Drag a rectangle shape from the bottom left of the fold guide (starting from the bleed guide) to the bottom right of the bleed guide. This insures that the background color will fill the enter front of the card as it extends past the crop guides. Go ahead a lock this element so you won’t accidentally select it and name it “Blue Background”.
Step 2a: Create a Snowflake
Now let’s create some snowflakes. Make sure you have white selected as your stroke color (stroke weight should be 5 points) and nothing selected as your fill color. Choose your Polygon Tool and drag out a polygon shape while holding the shift key. Release the mouse when you have the size you like. With the polygon shape selected, choose Object > Transform > Rotate from the top menu and enter 90 degrees as your value and select “OK”. This will be the center of our snowflake.
Now, select your Pen Tool and set the fill color to none and the stroke color to white with a weight of 5 points. (You should have Smart Guides turned on for the next step). Hover over the top point of polygon shape until you see the word “anchor” and click to insert an anchor point. Holding the shift key, add another anchor point directly above this one. This should create a straight line stem for your snowflake. With the straight path selected, open up your Stroke Palette window and choose Round Cap to round out the path you just created.
Using the exact same principles, we will create the branches on the snowflake stem. With the Pen Tool selected, hover over the stem you created, about 1/4 of the way from the top, until you see the word “path” and add an anchor point. While holding the shift key, place another anchor point on a 45 angle to the left. (Holding the shift key will insure that your end anchor point will be on a 45 degree angle).
Select this newly created branch and, while holding down the shift and option keys, drag a duplicate directly below it. Now hit Command + D to create one more branch of equal distance below the second one. Select all three branches and use the Reflect Tool to create an exact copy of them immediately on the right side of the stem.
At this point, let’s convert the stem and branches to shapes by selecting each one individually and choose Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Now, select your stem and all your branch shapes and, from the Pathfinder Tool Palette, select Add to Shape and Expand.
All we have to do now is create the remaining stems and branches. Select your stem and branch shape and hit “R” to select the Rotate Tool. Option + Click in the center of the polygon shape to bring up the Rotate Palette. Enter 60 degrees for the, select Preview to make sure it lines up properly and Hit “Copy”. Hit Command + D until you have completed the entire snowflake.
Outline the stroke on the polygon shape in the same way your did the stem and branches. Select the polygon and your branches and convert everything into one shape using the Pathfinder Tool. You now have a nice snowflake.
Step 2b: Make a random snowflake background
We are going to use the Symbol Sprayer to randomly distribute snowflakes on the front of the card. The Symbol Sprayer is most effective when you begin with a random set. Make 3 or 4 copies of your snowflake and resize them so that no two are the same size and cluster them together.
Once you have your desired sizes, bring up your Symbols Palette. Select the snowflakes and drag them into the Symbols Palette window which will bring up your options. Name it “Snowflakes” and choose Graphic as type and hit “OK”.
Hit Shift + S to bring up your Symbol Sprayer. The next steps are going to be entirely up to you and based on your desired effect. The first thing you will notice is that your cursor has changed to a large circle (representing your brush size) with a spray can icon in the center. If you click and drag, you will spray out instances of the snowflakes across the artboard that overlap one another, which may be an effect you want to achieve.
In this case, I want to randomly place instances across the artboard and attempt to avoid any overlapping. Don’t worry if you end up overlapping some of the snowflakes. We are going to use additional spray symbol tools to further randomize this background. Go ahead and spay until your heart’s content.
As you can tell from mine, it isn’t quite as random as I would like. We can easily remedy this by using the Symbol Sizer, Symbol Scruncher, Symbol Shifter and Symbol Spinner Tools. Go ahead and experiment with each of these tools to get your desired effect. You can resize the brush while pressing the left and right brackets. You can also perform opposite effects on all of these tools, except the Symbol Spinner, by pressing and holding the Option key while using the tool. Once you are done, simply break the link from the Symbols Palette to change the instances into a group of vector elements. (Note: You can take this further by direct selecting snowflakes after you have broken the link and resizing and rotating them individually.) Lastly, select your snowflake group and change the Transparency to 50%. Lock this layer.
Step 2c: Create rolling snow mound
Let’s grab the Pen Tool and create the rolling snow mound. Make sure your fill color is set to white and your stroke color is set to none. Start from the right and drag out an anchor point from right to left. Then drag out an anchor point from right to left roughly in the center of the card but below your first anchor point. Drag out one more anchor point on the left, again going right to left. Click on your third anchor point to convert this point from a bezier curve to a straight point. Finish the mound by adding points on the bottom left and right of the card ending at your starting point. Name this “Snow Mound” and lock the layer. At this point you can leave the background as is and move on to the penguin illustration. I’ve added a blue mound behind the snow mound for more depth.
Step 3: Create the penguin character
Before we begin creating the penguin, we have to remember that we intend to print this card and need use a Rich Black instead of a CYMK value for the color black (which ends ups looking washed out when printed). Open up your Swatches Palette and click the New Swatch icon. Enter the following values: C=40 M=30 Y=20 K=100 and click “OK”. Now we can begin to create our penguin.
Step 3a: Basic shapes of the penguin
We are going to use the Ellipse Tool to create the shape of the head, body and torso of the penguin. Select the tool and change the fill color to none and the stroke color to black. Draw out a perfectly round shape for the head by holding the shift key as you drag. Now, draw out another round shape for the body. Our penguins body is more of an egg shape than round, so we will need to direct select some points to create that shape. Tilt the body shape slightly to the left so that it is not at a 90 degree angle. Lastly, create another round shape for the torso. Do not worry if they overlap.
Step 3b: Head, Eyes and Beak
Select the head shape and change the fill color to the Rich Black and the stroke color to none. Now, drag out a tiny perfect black circle. Select the Convert Anchor Point tool and change bottom anchor point of this circle. Select your Direct Select tool and drag this point straight down.
Now choose Warp > Arc from the Effects menu and select Vertical/50% and hit “OK”. From the Objects menu, choose Expand Appearance.
This is one of the two tufts sticking out of the top of the head. Move it into place and make an exact copy using the Reflect Tool. Move the second one into place. You should now have two arcing in opposite directions. Select the two arcing shapes and the head and combine into one shape using that Pathfinder Tool. Expand and name this “Head”.
Create a new swatch with the color values of C=73 M=67 Y=65 K=80. Draw another oval inside the head as a subtle highlight. Name this “Highlight” and lock this and the “Head” layer.
Let’s create the left eye. Drag out a large circle for the eyeball and fill it with white. Optionally, I’ve created a subtle radial gradient of a light blue color and white, but it is not necessary. Copy this circle (Command + C) and paste in in front (Command + F). Fill it with the Rich Black and decrease the size (option + shift + drag). Drag out two more white circles, one larger than the other and arrange them to overlap inside the black circle. You now have one of the eyes completed. Select all of these shapes and group them together (Command + G) and name it “Eye”.
To compete the eyes, make a copy of the left one and place it on the right. You can leave it as is or place around with the location, depending on what you are looking for as an end result. Remember that the life of the illustration comes from the eyes, so have fun with it.
Let’s finish off the head with a cute little beak. We need to create two more swatch colors that are two different shades of orange. The darker orange will be C=1 M=49 Y=100 K=0 and the lighter shade will be C=1 M=28 Y=100 K=0.
Once again, using your Ellipse Tool, drag out an oval shape filling it with the lighter orange color. Make a copy (Command + C) and paste it in front (Command + F) and fill with the darker shade of orange. Select you Rectangle Tool and fill it with any color you are not currently using so you can see it and drag a rectangle over the second oval. Select both the rectangle and dark orange oval and choose Subtract from Shape > Expand from the Pathfinder Tool palette. You should now have the lower beak.
With the lower beak select, choose Add Anchor Point from the Pen Tool and add an anchor point in the center top of the lower beak. With you Direct Select Tool, move this point down to help form the top beak. Group these shapes together (Command + G) and name it “Beak”. Lock this layer.
Step 3c: Body, Fins & Candy Cane
Select the shape you created for the body and remove the stroke and fill it with white. Copy the shape (Command + C) and paste it in front (Command + F) and fill the new shape with Rich Black. Select the shape for the belly and remove the stroke and fill it with white. It should now start to resemble a cute little penguin! Select the shape for the belly and the Rich Black body and Subtract from Shape > Expand. Group the body together (Command + G) and name the layer “Body”. Lock this layer. The front of your card should look something like this:
Now, take your Pen Tool and create a triangular shape. The triangle does not have to be perfect. From the Effects menu, choose Stylize > Round Corners and enter 0.075” as your value and click “OK”. Depending on the size of your triangle, you may have to enter a higher or lower value. Lastly, from the Objects menu, choose Expand Appearance to finish off the wing. Make a reflected copy of the left wing using the Reflect Tool and move it into place on the right. Once you have them in place, group them together and name the layer “Wings”. Lock this layer.
We need to make a brush for our candy cane. Select the rectangle tool and drag out a small red rectangle. With your red rectangle selected, shift + option + drag a copy immediately to the right leaving a gap in between. Automatically repeat this step 15-16 times by hitting Command + D. Select all of the red rectangles and drag them into your Brush Palette window to create a new Art Brush. Simply name the new brush “Red Stripes” and hit “OK”. Delete the rectangles as they are no longer needed.
Select your Ellipse Tool and drag out a perfect circle. Make sure your fill color is set to none and your stroke color is set to white. With your Direct Select Tool, select the bottom anchor of the circle and hit delete. With the Pen Tool, click on the left anchor point of the semi-circle to continue this path. Add another anchor point below it to complete the shape of the candy cane. Change the stroke weight to 15 pt. and add Round Caps to the ends.
Copy (Command + C) the candy cane path and paste it behind the white one (Command + B). Change the stroke color to red and the weight to 20 pt. Choose Object > Path > Outline Stroke for the red stroke. Select the white path again and copy and paste it in front. Change the stroke weight to 1 pt and choose your Red Stripes brush as the brush. Choose Object > Expand Appearance to convert the brush into shapes. Lastly, select the white stroke and Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Select all three pieces of the candy cane and group them together. Name this layer “Candy Cane”. Resize the candy cane and place it under the “Wings” layer so it looks like our penguin is holding it.
Now to give our penguin some feet. Using the Star Tool, drag out a shape while pressing the Down Arrow on your keyboard to create a perfect triangle. Before you release the mouse, hold the shift key so the triangle has equal sides. Fill your triangle with the lighter orange shade and rotate it. Round the corners again with a 0.075” radius and Expand Appearance from the Objects menu. Move the foot below the “Body” layer and position it on the left. Make a reflected copy of the foot and place it on the right.
At this point you can take the illustration further by adding a little shadow element under the penguin, but it is not necessary. You can also design a back cover as well, but I will not be covering that here. Just make sure that when you finished designing the back cover, rotate the design 180 degrees.
Step 4: Prepare file for digital printing
Let’s prepare this card for 4 color digital printing. Did you know that when you save an illustrator file, the application saves all of the palette options, even if they are not used in the file. This actually bloats the file size so the first thing I like to do is to put my file on a diet. From the Window menu, open up your Actions. Find “Delete Unused Panel Items” and press the play button. You will notice your Swatches have been reduced to just the ones used in the file. This is the same for all other palette options.
Turn off your Guides and choose File > Save As. When the dialog window opens, select Adobe PDF as the format. From the Presets window, choose Press Quality. You should always check with your printer if there is a specific Standard setting or Compatibility setting required. For now, leave these set at the default. The same is true for your Output Settings. When you are done, press Save PDF.
I hope you found this tutorial both fun and inspiring. It is almost endless what you can achieve with Illustrator. This tutorial is intended to be introductory and to help you get comfortable with the application. Take the techniques and make them your own.
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