How to create a Christmas card in Adobe Illustrator

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In this tutorial you'll learn how to make your own personal Christmas card. December is right around the corner and it’s almost time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas so why not make your own unique card?

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Step 1

Take a piece of paper and start drawing with a pencil, it doesn’t matter if you’re not great at drawing because it doesn’t have to be perfect. Start by drawing some typical Christmas elements, think of: mistletoe, presents, stars etc. When you’re happy with the sketch, start tracing and filling the shapes with a black marker or pen, but make sure the lines are thick.

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Step 2

 If this is the first time you're drawing your own calligraphy, it's best to practice. You can use a brush and watercolor or gouache, I prefer to use a felt tip brush pen (Tombow, Copic or Koi are the ones I use). Draw the letters out separately and practice the line thickness, this is the most important part of making an aesthetically pleasing image. Keep in mind, when you go up = less pressure on the pen/thinner line, when you go down = more pressure/thicker line. Another tip is to use round shapes and keep it playful.

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Step 3

If this is too difficult you can always use a font, for example Bromello has a similar style. I prefer to start with the longest word, in this case it's Christmas because then I know where to place the shorter word ‘Merry’. Draw a wide arch, it'll help you align the text and makes the design more dynamic. Sketch the text on top.

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Step 4

Now "Christmas" is sketched, it’s easier to see where the middle is, so you can sketch ‘Merry” centered above.

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Step 5

Trace the sketch with a black brush pen or with a paintbrush. Use a black fine liner to hide some inconsistencies you might have, smooth out the corners or adjust the irregular lines. Erase the pencil lines and scan the paper.

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Step 6

Open the sketch with the calligraphy and illustrations in Photoshop and adjust the Brightness and Contrast. The values don’t really matter, as long as you can see a bigger contrast between black and white. The darker the lettering and illustrations are, the better it is for tracing in Illustrator. Go to Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast.

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Step 7

Open Illustrator and create a new document of 21 x 15 cm, an average postcard size. But if you'd  like to make a smaller or bigger postcard then you can change the values here.

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Step 8

Copy the text and illustrations from Photoshop and paste them onto the Illustrator file, you can do this by selecting the whole artboard with Command+A, copy Command+C and paste in Illustrator with Command+V. Or if you prefer, you can save the file as a jpeg (Command+S) in Photoshop and place the image in Illustrator (File>Place).

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Step 9

The image is probably bigger than the artboard but that isn’t a problem. Scale the image to the size of the artboard and click on Image Trace > Black and white logo>Ok.

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Step 10

While selecting the image, click on Image Trace Panel and drag the Threshold slider down, right up to the point the shapes seem to "break". The lower the Threshold, the more details you maintain, in this case the Threshold is set to 110 because otherwise the letters won't connect anymore. Set the Corners to 10% to create softer and rounder shapes. Set the Noise to 15pt to add more details from the sketch. And tick the box: Ignore white. Close the window to confirm.

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Step 11

Click on Expand right above the artboard and you’ll see that the illustrations and text will be outlined. This is a fast way of converting the illustrations into a vector shape, but the best way is to trace the shapes by hand with the Pen Tool. But using Image Trace for converting is the easiest and fastest way and fits with the type of style we’re going to use today.

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Step 12

You’ll notice that everything is traced in blue and that even the edges of the original image have their own outlines (the square box),  you can delete this layer by using the Direct Selection Tool or using the Shortcut A. Click on the image and press Delete.

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Step 13

Create a new artboard by selecting the Artboard Tool or using the shortcut: Shift+O. Click and drag until you’ve got the right size (big enough to place all the elements). Select all the objects, select with the Select Tool (Shortcut V) and place all the elements on the new artboard.

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Step 14

Use the Lasso Tool or the shortcut Q to select the text first, you can do this by drawing a circle around it. Then press Command+X to cut the text out of the group and press Command+V to place it on the smaller artboard. Press Command+G to group the text, so that the whole shape will function as one.

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Step 15

Use the Direct Selection Tool (Shortcut V) and drag out one of the corners while holding Shift+Alt, to make the text bigger. Select Align above the artboard and click on Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center.

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Step 16

Start selecting the separate elements and place them decoratively around the text, don’t forget to group them as soon as you paste them on the artboard. Make sure to scale the elements smaller/bigger to make it more dynamic. Or you can reflect some pieces if you want to repeat some shapes, Right click>Transform>Reflect>Vertical>Ok.

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Step 17

The card should look more or less like this. Now we just have to add some color and we’re finished.

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Step 18

Choose a color scheme to use; the colors that I’ve used are added in the image above. Place a background behind the image you’ve created, choose the Rectangle Tool from the sidebar or use the shortcut M. Click once and use these values: 21 for width and 15 for height and click Ok. You’ll see that the box is placed on top of your artwork, Select box>Right Click>Arrange>Send to Back.

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Step 19

Create the color samples you would like to use and select them all, click on the Color swatches Panel above and click on New Color Group, you can give it a name and click on Ok. Now these colors are saved into the swatches panel for easy access.

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Step 20

To change the colors of the different elements, select the shape and click on the Live Paintbucket Tool or Shortcut K. And select the color you'd like to use (in this case I had to select white from the swatches panel) and click on the shape you'd like to give a new fill color. You can switch between colors by using the left/right keys.

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Step 21

Add little color details, for example the white buttons and face of the gingerbread man.

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Step 22

For the background we’re going to add a Vignette. Select the Rectangle Tool and click on the artboard, the values should be the same as we used before, and click on ok. Go to Color swatches and select Super Soft Black Vignette, use the Gradient Panel on the side, if it's not there, select it in the Window Panel above. Select the swatch in the middle and delete it.

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Step 23

Slide one Gradient Slider all the way to the left and the other slider to the right. Double click on the right Gradient Slider and select swatches. Select the Dark green/petrol color we added. And change the Opacity to 80%. Select the gradient slider to the left, select the same color and go to color, select Opacity 65% and use the sliders to create a lighter (random) version of the color.

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Step 24

The last step is to place the Gradient Layer on top of the artwork and Right Click>Arrange>Send Back>Command+] (to bring it one step forward). Finished!

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