Print Poster Tutorial – Bringing Doodles and Sketches into Your Illustrator Workflow

Time taken: 1 hour 10 mins

Difficulty: Beginner to mid-level

Resources used: Blobs font

Screen Shot_1_header

The assigned project was to create cool and fun gig poster prints for a student union nightclub event – a big campus shindig before the kids go back for the holidays. Out of ideas and inspiration, I thought I’d raid my sketchbook for inspiration – something that I often do when faced with designer’s block. I happened upon a couple of doodles and sketches that I figured would be ideal for a winter, holiday design with a bit of an edge to it.

Print Poster Tutorial

A few character sketches that I figured would make fine subject matter –


The doodle that gave me the main idea for the piece –

Screen Shot_2

After scanning the sketched page, I brought the first sketch into Photoshop .

Screen Shot_3

I cropped the scan, selecting the character I wanted to use.

Screen Shot_4

I painted out the unwanted areas, cleaning up any loose pixels. Using the (⌘M, Ctrl M) curve function, I created contrast and more consistent blacks, while whitening the negative space.

Screen Shot_5

I opened up the doodle sketch in Photoshop and repeated the curve clean up of the scanned image (⌘M, Ctrl M). I then created a new work path (path menu, new path) and pathed out with the pen tool (Option-click + P, Alt-click + P) the specific area I wanted to use.

Screen Shot_6

After selecting the chosen path layer (path menu, make selection, “0” feathering) I cut and pasted this path into my original scanned layer.

Screen Shot_7

After joining the two sketches into one file, I applied a darken mode (layers menu) on my overlapping layer. I then used the eraser tool to notch out some of the pixels to join the two sketches together.

Screen Shot_8

To prepare the sketch for Illustrator, it was important to close off any open pixels.

Screen Shot_9

Choosing the brush tool, I meticulously closed off any open areas. Once this was completed, I merged all layers (⌘E, Ctrl E)

Screen Shot_10

The next step was to bring the cleaned-up file into Illustrator. After creating a new file in Illustrator, I pasted the sketch image into my workspace and using the live trace function (choose “image trace” in head menu) I chose the “3 colors” setting. I chose this because although it picks up the odd gray areas in a black and white image, it recognizes details that default tracing often ignores. In this sketch that was highly–contrasted, it generated a pretty even and solid image result and it wasn’t difficult to tidy up the odd grey path at a later stage anyway.

(It should be noted, that the live trace feature doesn’t work with all sketches and it’s sometimes better to path out the sketch, this particular sketch happened to be pretty “loose” and “sketchy” in appearance anyway, so it lends itself to live tracing, plus I made sure that it was correctly prepped for live trace in Photoshop.)

Screen Shot_11

Once the sketch had finished tracing, I expanded the object and fill (object, expand, expand appearance).

Screen Shot_12

Once the file had been expanded, I went into the image with my Direct Selection Tool (A) and deleted the background white and inner-white areas (for the purposes of this tutorial, I have illustrated this using a grey background).

Screen Shot_13

After taking out all unwanted white areas, the sketch was ready for more detailed clean-up. The image actually required little clean-up. There were a couple of paths that needed closing and merging but no need for anything super-accurate due to the sketchy nature of the artwork. To clean up the missing line-work on this sketch, I used my favorite brush the “blob brush” to replace any incomplete and broken lines with clean black lines.

Screen Shot_14

With all paths closed, it was easy to select areas with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and fill with a specific Pantone color (swatches, open swatch library, color books, Pantone + CMYK Coated).

Screen Shot_15

Upon completion of the character coloring process, I created a new layer and drew a rectangle (M).

Screen Shot_17

Using the eraser tool (Shift+E) and choosing a rounded shape, I notched out the rectangle to give it a “snowy” look.

Screen Shot_18

This is a very easy trick to do and creates a nice illustrative effect.

Screen Shot_20_1

To add some snowdrops to the design, I selected my blob brush with a left- angled brush.

Screen Shot_20_2

After adding some snowflakes, I went into the blob brush again, and selected the opposite brush angle and added the rest of the snowflake effect.

Screen Shot_21

Getting to this stage of the design gave me a better idea of how I could integrate the copy. I think in design there’s often a “natural order” when it comes to composition and by trying things out, opportunities for copy placement often arise naturally and without meticulous planning.


Having seen the design evolve, I also saw an opportunity to add some dynamic copy without having to resort to simply picking a font from a hat! So, I went back to the drawing board and sketched out some copy elements to place into the design.

Screen Shot_22

After scanning the design into Photoshop, I repeated the curve adjustment process to prep them for bringing into Illustrator.

Screen Shot_23

I brought the copy sections into Illustrator and live-traced each one, expanding and removing the white areas.

Screen Shot_26

I added color to the copy-shape paths and roughly re-sized it to fit the space, then repeated this process with the other copy elements

Screen Shot_27

I planned this design to include copy in the central area of the composition. After discovering the perfect font online called “Blobs”, I drew a simple curve shape with my pen tool (P) to add copy along the path.

Screen Shot_28

Using the “type on a path” tool in the pen tool sub-menu, I added copy to the path.

Screen Shot_29

After laying the central copy down, I used the pen tool to draw simple triangle shapes as word-dividers.

Screen Shot_30

The copy was working out well, but I wanted the copy to fit the design shape better.

Screen Shot_32

Using the free distort tool in the head menu (effect, distort and transform, free distort) I added distortion to the copy segments – expanding the appearance after each distortion (object, expand, expand appearance).

Screen Shot_35

I repeated this process with other copy areas.

Screen Shot_36

Once the main copy areas were finished, one of the final design touches was to add footer copy with social media info.

Screen Shot_37

After creating the footer copy in white, using the Blob font, I copied and pasted the green rectangle shape I created earlier, transforming the scale and shape.

Screen Shot_38

With the design almost complete, I just needed to add the club’s logo to my design.

Screen Shot_38

The design was complete.

Screen Shot_40

A quick checklist I always make sure I do before taking the illustrator file to large format print:

  • Ensure that my artwork/artboard is cropped specifically sized for my poster requirements with plenty of bleed clearance around the edges between edge and artwork
  • Convert all font elements into shapes (object, expand, expand/fill)
  • Ensure all paths I want spot-colored are attributed a specific Pantone color (swatches, open swatch library, color books, choose swatch color specific to your printers requirements)


How the finished and printed poster design, printed for Roland DGA, looked.

Share your designs with us on our Flickr Pool Showcase and as always, feel free to leave any comments and questions below!

Illustrate & Design an Alternative Gig Poster in Photoshop

Fonts Used:

Boston Traffic

Birth of a Nation

Brushes Used:

Watercolor Splatters


Last year, I was commissioned to create a poster/flyer for a heavy rock venue in the UK. The instructions I got were that they wanted something “edgy” and “hardcore”. Punk rock artwork is something that I typically do and I had created similar images for bands in the past, so it was the perfect project for my particular skillset.

Original thumbnail sketch

The Ink Stage

I started the project with a few thumbnail sketches of a man in a mask surrounded by various surreal and bloody elements. The band had just released a record called the Nightwatchman and I wanted to create my image based on this plague era image of a masked man.  I always produce my illustration projects in this manner; creating the rough layout and concept idea before jumping headlong into any ink drawing. It helps me to cement the idea in my mind before I start any inkwork. I have little concern over “how good my thumbnails look.” I merely need to put some ideas down on paper. In fact, I don’t even use a pencil to sketch and create most of my thumbnails in biro on whatever bit of paper I have handy!

Reference sheet created for the project that includes pictures of my own hands and ear!

The next step in my process is to gather all the reference materials I need. Because I barely do any pencil sketching apart from a very basic outline, I rely on solid reference materials. Some of these I find online and some I create myself (an iPhone is a seriously useful tool for taking reference shots)

Finished inked artwork

The reason why I don’t pencil sketch is because I like to ink on a clean canvas without the distraction of pencil marks. This makes the need for good reference more important and I always have the copies of my reference materials in constant view. To ink my artwork, I use three kinds of ink pens; a Paper Mate Flair pen, a medium Sharpie, and a Pilot Fineliner for the finishing details.

Illustrating directly in pen creates a particularly “energetic” style.  The fact that you are forced to edit and rethink the composition as you go is very liberating; if I make a mistake and I have to adapt the artwork to incorporate the mistake. The errors you make become as much a part of the illustration as the intentional ink lines.  It also generates the thick, black, and “dirty” style that I like.

The Digital Paint Stage

After creating my Photoshop canvas as an 8.5”x11”mini-poster (300dpi in CMYK mode), I scanned, dropped, and resized my ink drawing onto my Photoshop canvas. 

Once the scanned image was on my artboard I used my curves menu to consolidate the black and white in the layer and get rid of any loose grey pencil lines and uneven black (insure that the channel is set to CMYK and use the settings below as reference.)

The next step was to knock-out the white in my black layer.  I used my eyedropper tool to sample the white in this layer. I then went to select>color range and brought up my color range menu. To select all the white in this layer, I used the fuzziness toggle bar to ensure that all the white areas in this layer were selected.

After okaying my color selection, I deleted the selected white from my black layer.

The next step in the process was to start painting the piece. For this project I used a pack of watercolor splatter brushes (see top of article) – adding them to my default wet brush menu. I love this brush set that very closely mimics a loose watercolor paint style.  I also find the wet ink brushes particularly useful for digital painting in a very natural paint style.

I used a limited color palette of yellows, pinks, blues and browns to create my image; using the lightest to darkest tones first, and gradually moving into the central face image. Each major color layer was separated, starting with my “yellow layer”. Once my yellow layer was created, I used a selection of my watercolor splatter brushes to add random splatter shapes. I set my brush opacity to 70% to mimic a more “watery” effect

The painting process I use is very “free” and “casual” I separate each color layer and try to put colors down as fast as possible without thinking about it too much. The watercolor splatter brushes are ideal for building this type of loose paint texture. I ensured that each color layer was set at least to 50% opacity in this artwork and built realistic textures by turning the opacity down on particular brush strokes.

As well as using the watercolor splatters, I built texture using various wet brush effects to add splatter details in each individual layer.

To finish the background portion of my digital painting, I added a very opaque white layer (27%) and brushed in some white to tone down some of the harsher paint areas and knock-out the darker shades in the central character area.

For the main mask and face image, I created a new layer and painted my central character.

Once the central character was painted and the white highlights added, I wanted to add some finishing touches of dripping ink to complete the illustration. After creating a new layer, I drew some basic lines with a wet brush.

I selected these lines with my magic wand and using the warp tool (edit>transform>warp) bent and curved them to mimic the flow of dripping lines.

I then created a new layer called “small drips” and using the same technique as before for individual lines, drew and warped thinner lines to finish the paint project.

The Copy and Info Design

The big challenge in this particular project was the amount of copy they required on the poster; the client’s intent was to use the artwork as both mini-posters and flyers and they were very adamant on the copy elements they wanted to include.

With this in mind, I figured that I’d create a simple layout that compartmentalized all the copy elements in the head and foot of the artwork.

After re-sizing my artwork to free some space up in the head and foot of the piece, I created a new group and added a new layer. In that layer I drew a simple square with my polygonal lasso tool.

I then simply flooded the marqueed area with a solid black using my bucket fill tool to create a cut-out “punk-rock” style graphic.

I created a new text layer and used the font Boston Traffic to give my copy that stenciled punk rock vibe – laying the copy element inside the cut out shape.

The other font I used in this design was Birth of a Hero to further the destroyed and distorted look. After creating a new layer, I then continued this design approach by creating another cut-out shape with my polygonal lasso tool.

Again, I flooded this shape in black with my bucket fill tool. I then copied and flipped this same shape (edit>transform>flip horizontal>flip vertical) and placed it below my copyline.

I then added new text layers to finish off my header copy.

After creating a new layer, I repeated the process of drawing a shape with my polygonal lasso tool and bucket-filling with black. With this particular shape, I went back to my polygonal lasso tool to draw and delete a section from the top of my shape.

I then added new copy layers using my stencil font.

Using the band font styles I was supplied, I added new layers and built a text treatment in the lower left of my design.

I then copy and pasted the cut-out layers from the design header and used them in the footer copy to add some design synergy.

To complete my punk rock layout and to create some extra-footer space, I added a new layer to create a border around my design. Using the polygonal lasso tool again, I drew a cut and distorted shape around my design.

With my selection still active I then flooded the border by first inverting my selection (shift+ctrl+i) and then using my bucket fill to make it a solid black.

To complete my design, I added the remaining copy to the foot of my layout.