Create a Vintage Birthday Card
If you feel like your Illustrator drawings are missing some style, this tutorial is perfect for introducing you to some new techniques to give your art some character. To achieve a vintage look, you must keep your design simple, use only 4-5 colors, and add distress to give it the “Printed on Paper” look that Vintage Designs are well known for. To get started, open a new document (ctrl+n / cmd+n) and set up a document at 8.5 W x 5.25 H (a standard birthday card size).
Since you are drawing on the front and inside of the card, it is best to make two Artboards. To do so, press Shift+o, hold Alt/Opt, click the artboard and drag it down to create a duplicate artboard. If you’d like, you can drag a ruler guide to the center so it is easier to see the middle fold of the card.
Choose 4-5 colors that you will be using throughout the project. A good place to find great color schemes for any project is Adobe Kuler. Choose a subtle light color to place in the background. Press (M) for the Rectangle Tool and layout the background color. Create a new Layers in the Layers Panel and lock the light color background layer.
Start Drawing your character by using simple shapes with the Ellipsis Tool (L) or Rectangle Tool (M). Instead of using the Pen Tool (P) to make complex shapes, use the Pathfinder Panel to Combine two shapes or Subtract/Erase one shape from another. It saves more time and creates better and simpler geometric shapes. You may need to bring forward (ctrl+] / cmd+]) or push back (ctrl+[ / cmd+[)some shapes so rearrange them until your happy with the overall look.
Your figure should now be finished. Place some text at the top to match the look and feel of a traditional Birthday Card. The front of your card should look similar to the example below. It's looking great but it is missing something to give it the extra pop. We are now going to simulate the textured/ misprint feel that you see in many vintage designs and prints.
To add the paper grain texture just like in the example below, Select the shape and go to your Appearance Panel. The Appearance Panel is used to add multiple layers and effects to on Shape or Object, Much like Layer Styles in Photoshop. Start by adding a new Fill Layer by clicking the paper icon at the bottom of the panel. Select a Black to Black gradient. Turn the Opacity on one side of the gradient to 0% to have the gradient have a transparent fade. Add an effect by clicking the FX Icon at the bottom of the Appearance Panel. Select Texture>Grain. A new window will open, You can play around with the settings to get the effect you desire but the default settings should work out fine so click OK. Next, in the Appearance Panel, There will be an Opacity option underneath the Fill layer you have been working on. Click Opacity, in the dropdown menu choose Multiply and change the Opacity to about 20%-30%.
Keep repeating this process until you have the desired effect you are looking for. You can always revisit and change the effect in the Appearance Panel for easy editing.
Next, let's stylize the heading text. When you have the text you want, select the text and go to Effect>Warp in the Top Menu Bar. A new panel will pop up that will let you preview and choose different text warp effects. Find one you like and click OK. To get the outline effect like the example below you simply need to Copy & Paste your text two times. The three Header Texts will be stacked on top of each other. Remember to Bring Forward (ctrl+] / cmd+]) or Push Back (ctrl+[ / cmd+[) to organize and stack the the Header Texts appropriately. Layout the Text to have a Dark Color on top, the Background Color in the middle and a Lighter Color on the bottom. It should now look similar to the image below.
The final effect we will be adding is a simple Distress Look by adding some background color over our figure and text. This will give the illusion that the image is slightly misprinted and was created by hand, a very common effect in traditional print making. You will need to find an image or vector of some sort of gritty texture (Concrete Texture, Dirt Texture etc.). If you can find a texture, just place the gritty texture image in Illustrator, select it and use the Live Trace Tool to get a black silhouette of the image you placed. Now that we have the a gritty texture vector, make it the same color as the background color and place it over parts of the text and the figure. Resize and position the texture but try not to use to much to where your drawing is no longer recognizable.
Wrapping It Up
The techniques introduced in this tutorial are a great way to add dimension and personality to your illustrations. The Appearance Panel gives you plenty of tools and opportunities to experiment with and develop a style that is unique. Practice making basic shapes and test out all of the different features that Illustrator’s Appearance Panel has to offer.