Intuitive Tools for Digital Artists

Vector Drawing with a Graphic Tablet (Part 1 – Path Creation)

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Drawing with a Graphic Tablet, typically a Wacom device, allows the vector artist a bunch of advantages such as acceleration of the illustrative creation process; Ease of drawing as compared to drawing with a mouse, the correlation between the line width and the pressure on the stylus, and, finally, the creation of a more natural and unique style graphic.

In this article we will discuss how to configure the Graphic Tablet for easy operation and configuration of Illustrator’s standard vector drawing tools to create a variable width path for illustrations. I will also describe several practical exercises that allow you to quickly master the Graphic Tablet. In the second part of this article, you will learn how to color vector illustration with the help of the Graphic Tablet. So let’s get started!

Setting up the stylus

Set up the stylus for convenience in use. The basic tools of creating the path of the image are the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B). The differences in their use will be discussed a little bit later.

In the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes), open the Artistic Calligraphic brush library in the fly-out menu (Open Brush Library > Artistic > Artistic_Calligraphic) and choose any brush of a round shape.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Double clicking on the icon of the brush in the Brushes panel brings up a window with its settings. Set the brush diameter a little bigger (for clarity), set the brush diameter dependence of the pressure on the pen and the value of Variation that is equal to the maximum diameter of the brush.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

These parameters will allow us to change the thickness of the path from 0 to twice its size (in my case it is 60 pt). Take the Blob Brush Tool and set the points by changing the pressure on the stylus, as shown in the picture below.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

The purpose of this exercise is to see whether you can easily control the diameter of the brush. You have to create as many points of different diameters/sizes as possible. Particular attention should be given to pressing the stylus with minimum of pressure. You should try to easily achieve a very small resultant brush diameter as this allows you to create a variable width path without interruption.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

If this exercise seemed difficult for you, do not worry as the issue is not in your hands, but in stylus settings. To access their settings, Macintosh OS users must open System Preferences from either the Dock, the Apple menu, or from the Applications folder. Then click on the Wacom Tablet icon. Windows OS users must click on the Windows Start button and choose All Programs. Then select Wacom Tablet and chose the Wacom Tablet Properties option. Now adjust the Tip Feel parameter by moving the slider and not closing the Wacom Tablet Properties window, repeat the exercise.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

I had to make the stylus firmer from its default settings. But this depends on your preference, but, nevertheless, is a very important setting. You can learn about the other settings of the tablet from the user guide, but in most cases the default settings are acceptable.

Setting up the drawing tools

Paintbrush Tool (B)

To get the access to the tool settings, double click on its icon on the Toolbar.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Let’s take a look at the parameters of the Paint Brush Tool…

  • Fidelity controls how far you have to move your mouse or stylus before Illustrator adds a new anchor point to the path. For example, a Fidelity value of 2.5 means that tool movements of less than 2.5 pixels aren’t registered. Fidelity can range from 0.5 to 20 pixels; the higher the value, the smoother and less complex the path. The picture below shows two curves that were created with different values of this parameter (4 and 0.5).

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Smoothness controls the amount of smoothing that Illustrator applies when you use the tool. Smoothness can range from 0% to 100%; the higher the percentage, the smoother the path.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

What value of Fidelity and Smoothness to set? I personally find that the optimal value of Fidelity is 4 pixels and of Smoothness is 0%. Of course, it depends on your drawing style and the tasks that you set to achieve. If you partied all night, then use a greater value!

  • Fill New Brush Strokes applies a fill to the path. This option is most useful when drawing closed paths.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Keep Selected determines whether Illustrator keeps the path selected after you draw it.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Edit Selected Paths determines whether you can change an existing path with the Paintbrush Tool. For example, you can continue the created path.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Within: [x] pixels determines how close your mouse or stylus must be to an existing path to edit the path with the Paintbrush Tool. This option is only available when the Edit Selected Paths option is selected.

The last three options are normally turned off during the work of most illustrations, but you need to know about their existence for the solution of specific problems.

Blob Brush Tool (Shift + B)

The Blob brush tool differes from the Paintbrush Tool (B) in that it creates the resutant strokes by generating closed path areas in the desired shape. It can also automatically weld previously drawn areas to the new strokes in a manner similar to the Pathfinder toolset. Also, note that there are no centre “bezier splines” to a Blob Brush Tool stroke which does restrict precise editing later on, but it does allow for more accurate editing using the Eraser Tool (Shift + E).

To get the access to the settings of the tool, double click on its icon in the Toolbar.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

You are familiar with some of the options. Let’s meet the new ones.

  • Merge only with Selection specifies that new strokes merge only with the existing selected path. If you select this option, the new object is not merged with another intersecting path that is not selected.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

As you noticed, Size, Angle and Roundness can be set directly in the Blob Brush Options dialog window, without creating a new brush or using brushes library, as it was with the Paintbrush Tool (B). This is more convenient.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Now let’s figure out the Calligraphic brush options which can allow you to gain access to the full range of brush capabilities.

  • Fixed creates a brush with a fixed angle, roundness, or diameter (default without using the tablet).

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Random creates a brush with random variations in angle, roundness, or diameter (is on without using the tablet). Enter a value in the Variation box to specify the range within which the brush characteristic can vary. For example, when the Diameter value is 15 and the Variation value is 5, the diameter can be 10, or 20, or any value inbetween. Two strokes on the picture below were made with a brush with Random parameter. The diameter of the brush varies from stroke to stroke, but not when creating the path.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Pressure creates a brush that varies in angle, roundness, or diameter based on the pressure of tablet’s drawing stylus. This option is most useful when used with Diameter. It is available only if you have a graphics tablet such as Wacom’s Bamboo, Intuos and Cintiq series. Please refer to the previous article Using a Wacom graphics tablet with vector artwork in Adobe Illustrator. Enter a value in the Variation box to specify how much the original value the brush characteristic will vary. For example, when the Roundness value is 75% and the Variation value is 25%, the lightest stroke is 50% and the heaviest stroke is 100%. The lighter the pressure, the more angular the brush stroke.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Stylus Wheel creates a brush that varies in diameter based on manipulation of the stylus wheel. This option is intended to be used with an airbrush pen that has a stylus wheel on its barrel and with a graphics tablet that can detect that pen.
  • Tilt creates a brush that varies in angle, roundness, or diameter based on the tilt of a drawing stylus. This option is most useful when used with Roundness. It is available only if you have a graphics tablet that can detect how close to vertical the pen is. The picture below shows two vertical lines with different inclination.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Bearing creates a brush that varies in angle, roundness, or diameter based on the bearing of the pen. This option is most useful when used to control the angle of calligraphic brushes, especially when you’re using the brush like a paintbrush. It is available only if you have a graphics tablet that can detect the direction in which the pen is tilted. The picture below shows a horizontal line which when creating I was inclining Stylus in different direction.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

  • Rotation creates a brush that varies in angle, roundness, or diameter based on how the drawing stylus pen tip is rotated. This option is most useful when used to control the angle of calligraphic brushes, especially when you’re using the brush like a flat pen. It is available only if you have a graphics tablet that can detect this type of rotation.

I think there is enough theory for today. Let’s practice.

Exercise 1

To begin, let’s learn how to create lines of variable thickness, the shape of which is most frequently used in the graphic artworks. Brush settings should be as simple as possible (round brush, diameter dependant on pressure).

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Exercise 2

Now we can move on to creating an artwork. Vector illustration, in most cases, is created based on a sketch created in Photoshop or a scanned pencil drawing. I think it will be easier to work with the finished illustration, where lines of the path are clearly visible. I scanned a traditional coloring book for kids and placed it in the document (File > Place …).

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Change the brush parameters to ones shown in the picture below.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

The purpose of this exercise is simply to repeat the path of the image, not caring about the path of variable thickness yet. In the process, you can reconfigure the Fidelity and Smoothness, as indicated above. It is not necessary to copy the whole image, it is enough to feel that you are hand drawing confidently, and that you understand how the parameters of the brush affect the smoothness of the line, as well as how quickly you need to create a line. Use the keys “[" to decrease and "]” to increase the diameter of the brush. Brush color should be chosen different from the color of the sketch path (e.g. red).

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Exercise 3

Set the brush diameter to be related to pressure.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Try to copy the thickness of the path of the scanned image.

Vector Drawing with Graphic Tablet

Working with such an image, you will quickly learn to wield a stylus.

Conclusion

Only practice and a desire to draw will teach you how to perfectly master this wonderful tool. In the next tutorial we will work with other drawing tools and learn how to color images with a graphic tablet.

Continue reading with the next part instalment of this tutorial: Vector Drawing with a Graphic Tablet (Part 2 – Coloring)

Footnote: A Wacom Intous 4 tablet was used for the creation of this article.

About the author

My name is Iaroslav Lazunov, I am a graphic designer from Zhytomyr, Ukraine. I am glad that I finally found the job in my life that I can share my knowledge and experiments with you in my tutorials.

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook or visit my blog Vectorboom.

Written by Nicholas

Nicholas

With a strong engineering background and a flair for innovation, Nick steers the team to create great stuff.

Comments (10)

  1. Can I say, “Hell yea!” ? The most informative article I’ve read yet regarding tablets and illustration.

  2. Hi Mahmudul – this tutorial was written using Win XP, but we also use Mac OS 10.5, 10.6, 10.7 and Win Vista/7 for testing.

  3. Thank you for this! Yes you deserve credit because credit is due. This has made my graphic tablet I bought for my son for christmas make sense and tell me if he will like it…or at least give me a better guess since he asked me for paint and a easle (sp?) and I thought this would be a better fit as he would never run out of virtual paint ;) I always encourage him in his art so hopefully my choice to go this route will be good….but back to you I do really appreciate your time and how well you explained this to even the unexperienced as I am. Kuddos

  4. Awesome article. Your explanation was so simple and logical, but it actually gives a lesson on setting up your tablet and Illustrator features to make things easier in the future. Thanks!

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