By Ivan Petrusevski

Final product image

What You’ll Be Creating

So far I’ve been making tutorials strictly by using vector shapes. But in this tutorial, I will show you how to create a fun digital collage in Adobe Illustrator by using photo textures.

What You Will Need

In this tutorial, we will use photos I took of a few objects whose textures I found interesting: my winter sweater, my favorite plaid shirts, and some old wooden doors. You will find them in the zipped file provided with this tutorial.

Also we’ll be using two stock references available to download at Pixabay:

  • Wood grain texture structure
  • Milky Way

For higher-quality stock references, I recommend using stock resources available for purchase on PhotoDune and GraphicRiver.

1. Draw a Simple Character

You can either do a drawing in Adobe Photoshop or do it the
traditional way: on a paper sheet and then scan it. If you decide to go with a
traditional one, use a black marker. This way you will get nice lines which
later are going to be easier to trace.

Some tips for drawing a character: try to do it in at least three stages:

  • Face
  • Body
  • Details
  • You can see how the character design goes easier once you
    establish the facial features. Make sure all of your lines are closed. This will be very important in the
    later steps.

    2. Create a New Print Document

    Go to File > New (Control-N). In the dialog box, set the profile to Web and set the Width to 800 px and the Height to 900 px.

    Create a New Print Document

    3. Import the Drawing

    Go to File > Place and select the drawing file. Position it in the middle of
    the artboard. Try to place the drawing a bit lower at the bottom part of the
    artboard, so your character won’t look as if it’s cut in half but rather as if it’s appearing from the bottom of the artboard.

    Import the drawing

    4. Trace the Drawing

    Step 1

    Once you’ve positioned the drawing, trace it simply by selecting
    it and going to Object > Image Trace > Make and Expand. The drawing will get
    vectorized, and it will break in pieces too.

    To make things easier to work with, we will need to ungroup
    the drawing. Click on the now vectorized object and go to Object > Ungroup.

    Trace the drawing

    Step 2

    Select the white space around the character and delete it.

    Delete the background

    5. Import Photo Content

    We can start importing the textures. Each part of the
    character will be assigned a corresponding texture. I decided to go with
    wood textures for the face and hair, plaid fabric texture for the hat and the
    shirt, a knitted wool texture for the scarf, and rusty metal for the background.

    Photos used for textures

    I encourage you to take photos of patterns around you: your favorite sweater, the bricked wall around the corner, the neighbor’s wooden door, the tiles at the train station… Patterns are all around us; we just need to notice them better.

    Step 1

    We will start with the face. Now that we’ve ungrouped the image, we’ll need to merge a few
    parts which belong to the same group, such as the face and the ears. Select
    those three parts and go to Object > Compound Path > Make. This will merge
    these three shapes, and they will act as one. Click on it again and copy it
    (Control-C).

    Merge the face parts

    Step 2

    Download the face texture.

    Go to File > Place and open the downloaded texture. Once you’ve imported it, click on it and Paste in Front (Control-F) the
    already copied face elements.

    Step 3

    Select both the texture image and the face shape and do a
    right-click anywhere on the working area. Select the Make Clipping Mask option.

    Make clipping mask

    Once you’ve done this, the Clipping Mask will be created and the
    wood texture will be visible only on the face area.

    preview

    Step 4

    Let’s do the same with the other parts.

    Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the white surface of the scarf and
    copy it (Control-C).

    Selec the Scarf area

    Step 5

    Import the scarf texture. Go to File > Place and import the
    photo texture labeled as Scarf.

    Paste in Place (Control-F) the copied scarf shape over the
    texture. Select them both and right-click on them. From the menu, select Make
    Clipping Mask
    . You can also do this by following the menu Object > Clipping
    Mask > Make
    .

    Make a clipping mask

    The illustration should look like this so far.

    Preview

    Step 6

    Let’s move on to the shirt. Using the Direct Selection Tool (A),
    select the white surface of the shirt and copy it (Control-C).

    Select the shirt

    Step 7

    Import the texture. Go to File > Place and import the photo
    texture labeled as Shirt. Position it over the body part, scaling it down if necessary. Paste in Front (Control-F) the copied shirt shape over the
    texture. Select them both and right click on them. From the menu, select Make
    Clipping Mask
    .

    Make a clipping mask

    We can see how the patterns slowly start filling our
    illustration, and it looks good!

    Preview

    Step 8

    We have two more objects to fill with patterns: the hair
    and the cap.

    Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), carefully select the
    parts of the hair, including the parts near the eyebrows and behind the ears.

    Select the hair parts

    Step 9

    Open the Pathfinder panel and click the Unite
    command. Then go to Object > Compound Path > Make, or simply use the shortcut version
    Control-8.

    Merge the hair parts

    Step 10

    Once we’ve made sure all of the hair parts are united, we can
    import the designated texture for this area. Just as in the steps before, we go to File > Place and import the photo
    texture labeled as Hair. Position it over the hair part, scaling it down to fit
    the area.

    Paste in Front (Control-F) the copied selection in front of the photo texture.

    Paste the copied selection

    Step 11

    Select both, the photo texture and the vector hair shape and
    right click on them. From the menu, select Make Clipping Mask.

    Make a clipping mask

    Step 12

    Once we are done with the hair, we move to the last part,
    the cap. We will divide it into two groups: the panels as the first, main group, and
    the peak together with the button as a second group.

    First, we will start with the side panels. Using the Direct
    Selection Tool (A)
    , select the two side panels and merge them, using the Unite
    command from the Pathfinder panel. Also, go to Object > Compound
    Path > Make
    . Copy them (Control-C).

    Merge the two side panels

    Step 13

    Import the texture labeled Cap 1 and place it over the cap part. Paste in Front (Control-F) the side
    panels. Select them both and right click over them. From the menu, choose Make
    Clipping Mask
    .

    Make a clipping mask

    Step 14

    For the central cap panel, we
    will again import the same texture, only this time we will rotate it 180
    degrees so we can get a different position of the plaid.

    So once again, copy the central panel (Control-C) and import the texture. Go to
    File > Place and select the texture labeled Cap 1. Right-click on it and go to Transform > Rotate.

    Step 15

    A dialog box will appear.
    Just enter 180 as an Angle value and click OK.

    Enter 180 as an angle value

    Step 16

    Paste in front (Control-F)
    the central panel and right-click on it. From the menu, choose Make Clipping
    Mask
    .

    Make a clipping mask

    Step 17

    Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), click on the middle
    panel and adjust the texture in a way which will be different than the rest of
    the panels. This way we have the same texture only differently juxtaposed so we
    can visually distinguish the three panel parts.

    Adjust the texture

    Step 18

    Finally, we will add texture to the last empty part of our illustration: the button and the peak of the cap. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select them both. Open the Pathfinder panel and use the Unite command. Then, go
    to Object > Compound Path > Make (Control-8). Copy the merged objects
    (Control-C).

    Merge the two parts

    Step 19

    Import (File > Place) the texture labeled Cap 2.
    Position it so that it covers the entire cap part. Scale down the size
    if necessary. Select both the texture and the pasted vector shape and right-click on them. From the menu, choose Make Clipping Mask.

    Make a clipping mask

    The illustration so far should look like this. We assigned a
    texture to every part of the illustration. Let’s add a background to it.

    Preview

    Step 20

    Download the background texture. Import (File > Place) the downloaded texture. Right-click on it and go to Transform > Rotate.

    Add and rotate a background

    Step 21

    A dialog box will appear. Enter 90 as an Angle value and
    click OK.

    Enter 90 as an angle value

    Step 22

    Select the background texture file and right-click on it. Go
    to Arrange > Send to Back.

    Send to back the background

    We have a space background! We are almost done—let’s add
    some final touches.

    Preview

    Step 23

    Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select one of the
    character’s eyes.

    Select one of the characters eyes

    Step 24

    Go to Select > Same > Fill Color. All of the
    illustration’s black color, including the outline, will be selected.

    Delete the selected areas

    Step 25

    Now just press Delete. Every vector outline and line should
    disappear, leaving the dark background to fill those gaps. This will only work
    with dark backgrounds because lighter ones may cause confusion.

    Preview

    Step 26

    Let’s put all of this into a nice frame which will fit
    our 800 x 900 pixel artboard.

    Select the Rectangle Tool and click once anywhere on the working area. A dialog
    box will appear. Enter 800 px as a Width value and 900 px as a Height
    value. Click OK.

    Create a rectangle

    Step 27

    A white rectangle will appear. Open the Align panel (Window > Align). From the Align To
    option, select Align to Artboard. Then use the Horizontal Align Center and
    Vertical Align Center commands in order to align the rectangle perfectly to our
    artboard.

    Align

    Step 28

    For the final step, Select everything you have on your working
    area and Right-click on it. Select Make Clipping Mask.

    Make a clipping mask

    Awesome Work! You’re Done!

    I hope you had fun while making
    this digital collage. Using textures is a good idea not only in illustration, but also in other fields, such as graphic or web design. You can even print it and find a nice place for it in your room.

    Now, try making it with your own drawing and photo textures and show us the results in the comments below.

    Final result

    Read more here:: How to Create a Collage Illustration in Adobe Illustrator