Adobe Illustrator Cartoon Bug Tutorial

Below is a tutorial I’ve written for a cartoon character created in Adobe Illustrator. This is an alternative method from my other cartoon tutorial.

I start with placing a scanned pencil sketch in Illustrator. Go to File > Place and choose the sketch file. I usually use 72 dpi grayscale scans.

Next, I use the pen tool to trace over my scan. I like to use a color stroked line because it is easier to see. I also close all my paths, so each piece is an individual complete shape.

I remove the sketch once I’m finished tracing.

After I finish tracing, I change the colors. All the objects have a fill color and a 1 point black stroke. The black objects don’t have a stroke.

Next, I open my Brushes palette. Go to Window > Brushes.

I select the eyes, wings and body and click on the brush I want to use in the palette. This gives my line weight a varied look. I didn’t want to use the brush on some of the smaller details, so I just left the plain 1 point stroke.

Now, you’ll want to flatten transparency. Select all the objects and go to Object > Flatten Transparency.

A dialogue box will appear. Set the Raster/Vector balance to 100 and click OK. This will make all your strokes into outlined objects. It also separates the colored shape from the stroked line giving you two shapes.

After that, I start drawing my shadow shapes with the pen tool. Remember to close the path on those too, so they are complete shapes. Think of this step as drawing a cookie cutter that you’re going to use to cut up a shape.

A good tip for drawing your shadow shapes is to copy and offset the original shape. You can do this by holding down the OPTION key and dragging the shape. This will make sure your curves are the same since it is a duplicate.

Before I start cutting things up, I need to duplicate the the bug’s body. I start by selecting the gray body shape, then double click on the rotate symbol in the tool bar. This will bring up a dialogue box. I set the degrees to 0 and click COPY. This will create a duplicate gray shape in the exact same spot.

Next, I select my shadow shape and go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back.

With the shadow shape still selected, I shift click on the gray body. Now that I have both shapes selected, I go to the pathfinder palette and click on Minus Back Button. This cuts out the top shape with the underneath shape.

I fill this new shape with a slightly darker color to make it look like a shadow.

I repeat the last few step with the the eyes and wings. I also add a highlight shape.

I wanted to add some extra detail to the wings, so I selected the light blue parts and Offset the Path on them. Go to Object > Path > Offset Path.

A dialogue box will appear. I set the offset to -6 points. This creates a new shape inside the wings. I filled it with white and gave it a black stroke. Then, Flattened the Transparency or Outline the stroke to make the stroke a shape.

That’s it. Here’s what the final looks like.

This post was written on Content copyright 2008 Cory Thoman.

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  1. peter

    great and yet simple tutorial.

  2. 08/05/21

    Wow! I learnt something new about the brushes here! Thanks! I didn’t know I could transform the lines just by clicking on the brushes. Thanks Cory!

  3. angga

    great tutorial! thanks a lot

  4. Imran

    nice efforts..

  5. Chiner

    Excellent tutorial and I expect this is a great help to many people like me.

    Love the way the shadow effects are done so easily, I’d never have thought of that in a million years.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Abdullah

    Nice work dear…

  7. 08/12/01

    Usefull tutorial! Now I really love Illustrator than Coreldraw!

  8. 08/12/01

    Usefull Tutorial ! Now I more use Illustrate than Coreldraw!

  9. Andrew

    Thank you very much for such a thorough and useful lesson!

  10. wielen

    i love this part

  11. 08/12/25

    Wow, you are the man

  12. 09/04/05

    Cool. Love it.

  13. 09/04/08

    nice tut, great language, easy to understand, thanks πŸ˜‰

  14. 09/04/16

    I agree fabulous tut, simple and very easy to understand, thanks a lot πŸ™‚

  15. 09/05/05

    Another great tutorial! Thank you so much for taking the time and being so clear in your step by step instructions.

  16. 09/05/09

    Nice and informative site. Keep up the good work.

  17. 09/05/09

    i read every single of your post sometimes i read it over and over again really inspired many people here..wish you a good luck in everything you do..

  18. 09/07/12

    Great tutorial. What’s the difference between Flatten Transparency, Expand Appearance, and Outline Stroke? They all seem to do the same thing.

  19. Cory


    That’s a good question. I’m not sure why they all exist. They basically do the same thing, but they do different things. Outline Stroke just outlines strokes, but it won’t outline dashed lines or brushes. I rarely use Expand Appearance, but it looks like it works well for expanding brushes and effects, but doesn’t outline strokes. Flatten Transparency is probably the most complete. It pretty much will transform everything (brushes, effects and stroked lines) into shapes.

  20. 09/08/25

    Wow! Nice and simple. I want my son to try this out. He’s 10 but you were very intuitive. He’s the artist. I’m the wannabe.

  21. Beth Glidewell

    I was doing great until I got to the step that says,”After that, I start drawing my shadow shapes with the pen tool…” From there I’m lost. Also, what do you mean by “Before I start cutting things up…” Do you mean you’re duplicating the shape of something and then cutting part of it away to create a shadow? Sorry to be such a dumb blonde, but that’s what I am! You are so talented!! Thanks for being so generous with your knowledge.

  22. Beth

    Nevermind, I’ve got it figured out now. Thanks anyway.

  23. Cory

    Hopefully it goes well. Illustrator can feel more like sculpting with cut paper than drawing sometimes. Let me know how it works out.

    I’m glad you got it figured out. Sometimes I’ll write something, read it a week later and think “that doesn’t make any sense”.

  24. 09/09/09

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. πŸ™‚ Cheers! Sandra. R.

  25. 10/06/22

    hurray..i can make this…
    hugw thanks.
    cute tutorial..^^

  26. 10/08/10

    Sign: wdpad Hello!!! xwrke and 9221qtcwrspeea and 7026 : Nice blog!

  27. 10/10/15

    Great simple tut, i do twice the work for half the result!

  28. 10/11/09

    Lovely work, thanks for sharing

  29. ssiew15

    thanks i have a great time in here.!

  30. 10/12/25

    This is a very good post! Keep them comming!

  31. 11/01/02

    Great tutorial very cute character:D

  32. 11/02/12

    I did it! Mine looks a bit weird, but at least I finished it! My first drawing on Illustrator ever! Thank you so much for your tutorials, they’re great, honestly.

  33. hanbanan

    just at school doing your tutorial! love it! your so talented!!

  34. 11/08/06

    hi, its so cute, i used it as inspiration and made it in 3d, during a speed modelling contest, you can seethe output here, i hope u dont mind me ,, using it as inspiration

  35. angel

    its so beautiful.thanks a lot.please put more simple pictures.

  36. bug

    Cute fly! And choudry’s 3D model of it is awesome! πŸ™‚ Great work all around.

  37. 12/01/04

    hmm..i can learn easy because of this tutorial.. tnx a lot

  38. 12/02/26

    Nice tut. Your post very useful with me. thanks

  39. 12/11/26

    Thanks you so much. Great Tutorial. I have created my first character with the help of this post.