Illustrator Beginner’s Series 7: Turning Lines Into Shapes

This is the seventh tutorial in the Illustrator Beginner’s series. We’ve already covered placing sketches, using the Pen tool, tracing sketches with the Pen tool, making symmetrical vector files, using the Ellipse tool and creating symmetrical curves. This lesson covers turning lines into shapes.

Here’s my sketch. You can either work on the same layer as your other shapes or create a new one to work on for the stem. If you want a refresher on using layers, you can refer to the first tutorial.

I start by drawing a curved line. If you need a refresher on the Pen tool, check it out here.

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

The palette pops up. I click on the up arrow next to the stroke weight. This increases my stroke weight by one at a time. I do this until it looks about the right width as my sketch. I ended up with a 10 pt line.

Next, I want to turn my line into a shape. I’m going to use the Outline Stroke. Go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. You can also use the Flatten Transparency.

Your line turns into a shape. It will now have a solid fill instead of a stroke. If you want to change the color back you can either change your colors the usual way or you can use the Eyedropper tool. To use the Eyedropper, select the stem, change to the Eyedropper tool and click on another object with it. I turned the layer with the eyes back to visible in my layer palette and clicked on the eyes with the Eyedropper. The Eyedropper changes the stem to the same color as the eyes. It also picks up the same stroke weight.

Here’s what my leaf stem shape looks like.

Next, I use the Direct Selection tool to adjust the shape. I pull out the bottom anchor points a little and the move the top ones in a little bit.

I want my stem to have a slight curve to the bottom, so I’m going to add an anchor point to the bottom. You can either add anchor points with the regular Pen tool or the Add Anchor point tool (located in the same spot as the Pen tool). To add an anchor point, select the stem shape. Then, switch to the Pen tool and click on the spot on the line where you want to add another point. I put one in between the bottom two points.

Next, I use the Direct Selection tool to move my new anchor point down.

Now, I want to make the new point curved. To do that, I’ll need to select the Convert Anchor Point tool.

Click and drag on the new anchor point with the Convert Anchor Point tool. Instead of moving the point, you’ll notice it creates handles and the line curves. Move it around until you get the desired curve. You can also go in and fine tune the shape with the Direct Selection tool.

Well, that’s it. You’ve finished tracing the sketch. I went back and turned on all the layers and turned off my sketch layer. I may or may not continue with this series, so hopefully, this helped prepare you for some of the other cartoon tutorials. Let me know if anything isn’t clear or you’d like further explanation of something.

This post was written on Content copyright 2009 Cory Thoman.

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  1. 09/02/23

    Cory, thank you so much for these very informative, very understandable lessons. I am a self-taught web designer who is currently attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division and Illustrator and Photoshop are new programs for me, particularly Illustrator. I have both CS3 and CS4 but am currently using CS3 till I get my new computer.

    I am having a lot of trouble learning how to control the pen tool and pathfinder, and these tutorials have helped quite a bit! I have to submit an assignment tomorrow that I have been struggling with for two days. Now I think I have it.

    I hope you will continue to write these beginner lessons. I haven’t found any others that truly addressed the beginner AND been fun to read. Thanks again! Consider yourself bookmarked from California. <3

  2. Cory


    Good to hear you’re getting the hang of it. Hopefully, your assignment goes well. I’ll try to get more for this series. Feel free to let me know if I missed something or you’d like to know more about a particular feature.

  3. Irene

    Hello I have been looking around about creating outlines thing.
    My question on this is that I have the following picture :

    Which is a line with brush. While I do the create outline (cause I need the shape as shown) it creates only the line. What should I do so as to keep the shape too? Is there another tool or it’s not possible at all?

  4. Cory


    Use the Flatten Transparency. It will retain brushes and dashed lines. Go to Object > Flatten Transparency. When the dialogue box pops up, move the slider to 100% vector and click OK.

  5. Irene

    Really thank you very very much I’m so impressed from the fast reply 🙂

  6. canimal

    HI! Thanks for the great tutorial!

    I have a problem. I made the stem just like you said. & turned the pen line into a shape. Problem is the outline still has the original pen line in it.

    here’s what I mean..

    what did I do wrong? 🙁

  7. Cory

    If you have a fill in addition to your stroke, it will create the extra line. You can either delete the line or just make sure you only have a stroke when you create outlines.

  8. Kim

    Hi Cory,

    I have a background in graphic design but at the time I graduated computer graphics were barely even heard of, let alone Illustrator. I’ve been attempting to teach myself and this series was probably the best I have seen for the beginner – it’s got a nice balance of not only explaining each step, but WHY you are doing it (which is so important for attempting things and experimenting).

    I really hope you will consider doing more. Thanks for sharing these!

    Kim in Seattle

  9. Cory

    Thanks Kim. I definitely need to make some time to write some more tutorials.

  10. steph

    Great sooo helpful! Thanks!

  11. sandaru

    Its very helpful. thank you!

  12. Pamela Hocken

    Hi Cory,
    I’m just getting back in to graphics after a long time out of the business. This was great way to knock off the rust. Excellent tutorial. Thanks so much.