Creating a Vector Portrait with Curly Hair in Illustrator

I’ve created several vector portrait tutorials in the past, however one request is made several times and that is how to create curly hair.

In today’s premium tutorial, I’m going to show you one of the easiest ways of creating detailed curly hair. So let’s jump in and begin creating!

Tutorial Details
  • Applications Used: Adobe Illustrator CS5
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Estimated Completion Time: 3h +

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Final Product What You’ll Be Creating

Step 1

I start by creating a New document and then File > Place my stock image onto the canvas. As I want the hair to be one of the biggest features of this composition, I want to make sure that it has enough space to garnish the attention from the viewer. I then set up my layers as shown in the Layers panel below. In the layer “BG” I have placed a white fill Rectangle (M) over the stock image set to 50% Opacity. This is to make the edges of my shapes more prominent against the stock image when I’m tracing shapes.

Step 2

I often use the default “Skintones” palette from Adobe Illustrator. You can access these by clicking on the drill down menu in the Swatches panel > Open Swatch Library > Skintones. For Caucasian skin, I select the top four palettes so I can mix them to create multi tone shading. Skin isn’t all one color, there are different shades depending on the area of the face/skin, which I’ll go into later on. By clicking on the folder to the left of the palette, you can automatically add them to your Swatches panel.

I’ve then selected a mid tone and used the Pen Tool (P) to trace my overall skin base shape.

Step 3

For the initial skin shading shapes, I’ve used the same skin tone as the base and traced areas of highlight on the face with the Pen Tool (P). I’ve then created a Compound Path (Control + 8) with the first set of shapes and used Pathfinder > Minus Front from a duplicate of the skin base shape.

I use the same process several times. Once done, I set the shapes to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 10% then Group them (Control + G).

Step 4

Using a slightly darker skin tone, I trace areas of shadow with the Pen Tool (P). Again after one set is created, I’ll add it to it’s own Compound Path (Control + 8). Each Compound Path is then set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 10% and then Grouped together (Control + G).

Step 5

As you may have noticed the shapes go beyond the base shape. I’ve duplicated the base shape and Grouped the two groups of skin shading shapes (Control + G) and then created a Clipping Mask (Control + 7). All future skin shading shapes will be added to this Clipping Mask to keep a clean edge.

…and that’s the end of the preview!

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