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3 Easy Ways to Create Vector Silhouettes

3 Easy Ways to Create Vector Silhouettes

Subtle, simple shadows

Creating vector silhouettes is an easy way to add simple illustrations to your design work. Silhouettes can be achieved in several ways. In this simple tutorial, Ill show 3 different ways to creating silhouette shapes using Photoshop and Illustrator.

Method 1 - The Vector Outline

First up, find a good photo containing the image you would like to silhouette. For these examples, I’ll be using this image below. You can download it here, or simply use your own.

Place your image on a layer in Adobe Illustrator. Make sure that layer is set to template with images dimmed to around 50%. To do this just double click the layer in the Layers panel. If you don’t see the Layers panel, click Window | Layers.

Now lock the layer, and create a new one. On this new layer use the Pen Tool (P), and begin clicking points around the horse and riders outer most edges. Make sure your fill is set to none, and your border color is set to something you can easily see. In this case, I chose a light blue.

Continue to go all the way around until you are able to click and join with the first point. Now using the Anchor Point Tool (Shift + C), go back and click and drag the points to create the curves of the silhouette.

You should now have a completed outline. Using the Pen Tool again, go back and draw the inner shapes where you will cut the background out of the final silhouette. In my image, it would be around the horses reins and the riders arms.

Change all of your strokes to fills, and make sure the main or largest horse and rider shape is pushed to the back by selecting it and clicking Object | Arrange | Send to Back (Cmd+Shift+]). Now select all the shapes and click the Subtract button on the Pathfinder panel. If you don’t see the Pathfinder panel, click Window | Pathfinder.

You should now have your completed silhouette. You can delete the background image layer and change your shapes fill color to black.

Since the hair in the horses tail and mane were hard to trace, I decided to enhance those areas a bit with the Pant Brush Tool (B)

Method 2 - The Photoshop Way

In this method will be using Photoshop to create the silhouette. Open the image in Photoshop, and convert it to black and white by clicking Image | Adjust | Desaturate. Now with over to Quick Mask Mode by pressing the letter (Q) on your keyboard. Use a large brush to draw over the horse and rider. This will create the overall shape of our silhouette.

Now exit quick mask mode by pressing (Q) on the keyboard again. You’ll then need to invert the selection by pressing (Cmd+Shift+I).

Create a new layer by pressing (Cmd+Shift+N), and fill the selection on this new layer by clicking Edit | Fill. Choose Black for the Contents.

Now you can delete or turn off the original photo layer. Select the contents of the fill layer by (cmd+clicking) on the layers thumbnail. Copy (Cmd+C) then head over to Illustrator. Once in Illustrator press (Cmd+V) to paste the image.

Now choose the Sketched Art preset on the Image Trace panel. If you don’t see it, click Window | Image Trace.

Then click Object | Expand to turn it into an editable vector shape.

Method 3 - Hand Drawing Your Silhouettes

For this final method, we’ll print out our image and use a black pen to trace the image on tracing paper. You don’t need to print out a super high quality image. Choose a fast draft black and white setting to save on ink. You can also erase a major portion of the background since we won’t need it.

Using a fine liner pen like a Micron or Sharpie, trace around the edges of the horse and rider.

When the trace is complete lay the sheet on the scanner and go back to digital. Open the scan in Adobe Illustrator. Once there, use the Sketched Art preset on the Image Trace panel again. Also click Object | Expand to turn the outline into a vector shape.

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A) choose any point on the inside stroke of the shape.

Now press the delete key on your keyboard twice to delete the inside stroke path. This will create a sold black shape.


I hope you found these methods useful for creating silhouettes. Feel free to share some of the silhouettes that you’ve created using the comment fields below.



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