How to create Christmas theme illustration in Adobe Illustrator

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It’s that time of year again! Although it’s December, we feel warm surrounded by presents, pumpkin pies and Christmas cards. But why buying generic cards when you can use your very own ones, with your very own design on them. Or make an illustration and give it as a present. In this tutorial I will show you how to create your personalized holiday illustration.

1. Draw a sketch

Step 1

Create a new document. Set the width to 1000 pixels and the height to 1200 pixels.


Step 2

For this task, we'll need to use the rulers and make a central vertical guide line which will divide the artboard in two equal pieces. We'll draw the sketch mostly on the left side.


Step 3

Draw the sketch using your pen tablet. Use a very light shade of grey. In case you don’t have one, try to do it on a sheet of paper. Scan it and import it here. I drew a snowman’s head with a holiday greeting message in the center, and on the left side I did some details floating around (a Christmas tree, a present, some candy canes, a few stars and lights and some floral branches.


Step 4

If you also drew the sketch using a tablet* – rasterize it (Object>Rasterize). In the dialog box just click OK. Select and lock (Control + 2) the rasterized drawing. Keep it locked until you are done tracing.


*In the case you're importing your scanned handmade sketch, just lock the layer (Control+2).

2. Choose a color palette

The color palette transmits the feelings we get from a design when we look at it.So if we want to achieve a holiday festive feeling, we should use the obvious red and green combo which reminds us of Christmas. Then we can go for Ivory white, dark blue and dark yellow.


3. Start tracing the sketch

To build our illustrated elements, we'll mostly use the Pen Tool (P). It might be difficult to get used to it at first, but once you do, you can do amazing designs and illustrations.

We'll trace the drawing object by object and I'll guide you throughout the process.

Step 1 – Snowman

We can start tracing the bigger objects first. In our case that’s the snowman’s head.
Start with the head and hat then move to the smaller details like the eyes and the mouth. Once you're done, you can use the colors from our palette to color the snowman character. Use the red and green for the hat and the ivory white for the face.


Step 2 – Candy canes

Trace the cane shape first (2). Then make four stripes over it as a new shape(3). Copy the cane and paste it in front of the striped shape.  Select the newly pasted shape and the striped shaped and use the Intersect command from the Pathfinder’s panel. This will give us the final candy stripes that we need (5). Then, color the cane in red and the stripes in ivory (6). Duplicate the cane (7). Use inverted palette for the second cane, white cane and red stripes (8). Flip the second cane horizontally and position it over the first one, so they make an X shape (9).


Step 3 – Branches

Tracing the branches might seem complicated, but you just need patience while tracing the leaves. Ultimately, you can trace just one and then multiply and arrange it over the sketch. Color the branch red and the leafs in ivory.


Use the same method when tracing the other two branches and color them in with an inverted palette – ivory for the branch, red for the leaves.


Step 4 – Stars

This should be easy. All you need is to draw one spindle like shape. Then multiply it and rotate it so you can easily get a star shaped object. You can resize some of its parts in order to get a more elegant shape.


Step 5 – Present

First we'll do the largest part – the box. Then we’ll move on to the ribbons. You don’t need the pathfinder tool here, try to make them by just using the pen tool instead. When we use the pen tool without trying to be very precise we get a relaxed drawing, which seems more natural. Color the box in green and the ribbons in red.


Step 6 – Fir tree

The first tree has curved branches so it might be a bit difficult to do, but as I said – don’t try too hard tracing the lines precisely. After the branches, trace the trunk. Color the tree green and the trunk in red.


Step 7 – Holly

Just like the tree, the holly plant has some curves, which shouldn’t be too hard to make.  When you're done, color the leaves green and the fruit red. Once you color them, add some small details on the leaves (4).


Step 8 – Details

So we have these little details to fill the empty space between the larger objects .A couple of light bulbs, stars and a heart. After tracing, color them as in the example below.


Step 9 – Calligrapghy

Ok, time to get serious. But don’t be afraid, tracing text is a long process rather than a difficult one. We can start with the word “Happy”. Trace letter by letter and don’t sweat if you don’t follow the lines exactly– that will result in an even more natural feel to the calligrapghy. Also trace the inner lines. When you're done, color the text in ivory white.


Carry on with the rest of the text. The word “Holidays” is next, so use the same tracing method as you used on the previous word. You might need some patience but the result will be amazing. Once you're done, color it in ivory white.


4. Composing

After we're done tracing and coloring, we can move on to composing the design. Of course we have our sketch to guide us, so have no fear.

Step 1 – Background

Make a rectangle shape the same size as our artboard – 1000 pixels wide and 1200 pixels high. Color it dark blue.


Step 2 – Composing the illustration

Find a central spot for the snowman’s head. He will be the central figure in our illustration. Beneath him, add the text message we have – Happy Holidays.


From this point on, we'll add our traced objects to the left side of the design and few on the central vertical line. So add the floral branches and the candy canes on the left. Add the holly and the star centrally. We're adding the bigger objects first.


Keep on adding the rest of the objects. Place the pine tree, the present, the heart and the light bulbs. Keep working on the left side of the design.


In order to fill in some of the gaps in the design, we'll add some smaller objects.  Draw some plain drop shapes and circles and color them in ivory white. Position them where you see  empty spaces. Add some of the previously designed stars.


Draw a few more circles in different sizes. Color them in ivory and scatter them around the left side of the design. Fill the empty spaces.


Select all of the objects on the left side. This excludes the central snowman’s head, text, candy canes and stars. You can include one central object though, for orientation purposes later. I included the holly at the bottom of the design.


After you've selected the objects, group them (Control + G). Duplicate the group. Then, right click on them and go to Transform>Reflect. From the dialog box, choose the Vertical axis and click OK.


After you've reflected the whole group horizontally, try to adjust it on the right side of the design. Use the holly on the bottom as a guide. You’re done when it overlaps the holly from the left side.


When you adjust and balance the two groups, ungroup the objects and delete one of the hollies at the bottom and you are finally done! Congrats! This holiday design looks well balanced and in perfect symmetry.


In case you were wondering how the design would work when used as a poster, a greeting card or whatever you like, you can always make a mockup in Adobe Photoshop. I was wondering how it would look as a framed poster so I used this Freepik poster template, but you can try it with anything you want – from wrapping paper to t-shirts.


Download this mockup for free in Freepik:

Now you can show the world what you have learned.

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