I’m trying to take a friend’s pencil-and-paper design and recreate it in Illustrator for use in a poster we are creating together. She’s proficient (away from the computer) and it’s my job to get her ideas into the computer. But sadly I’m a novice at Illustrator (and Photoshop), though I’ve been using Fireworks intermittently for years.

I’m using CS5 (Illustrator 15.0.2, Photoshop 12.0.4) on Windows 8 Enterprise RTM, and a Wacom intuos 4.

Here’s a fragment of the scan of the artwork I am trying to recreate (note that the hard edge is an artefact of my cropping the scan, not the artwork itself).

scan of paper-and-pencil artwork

And here are a few of my attempts to recreate it using the brushes in Illustrator. my poor attempts

As you can see the results look nothing like the original :-(

That leaves me with three questions, though the first is the one I most need help with.

Question 1 Can anyone explain the steps I’d need to take to recreate in Illustrator the pencil hatching from the original paper based artwork, or point me to a comprehensive tutorial covering the required techniques?

This seems to be straightforward in other answers (e.g. Scott's answer here) but is not working for me.

Question 2 Perhaps I should instead abandon trying to recreate the pencil stroke hatching with an Illustrator brush and use Live Trace? I’ve not done that partly because I want to understand how to do it as a brush, and partly as I would not then have as much flexibility in creating different foreground text and background hatching combinations. Should I swap to Live Trace?

Question 3 Should I give up on vectors and try recreating the artwork in Photoshop? (E.g. as Ryan suggests here.)

(N.B. I've also posted this question to the Adobe Forums here. I hope such cross-posting is OK.)

2 Answers 2


I think part of the problem might be, it looks like you're trying to recreate several effects with just one brush.

Looking at your friend's sketch, there are dark blue scribble lines, turquoise scribble lines (might be a quirk of the colouring pencil used, or might be two different pencils), and a smudge that in some places stops smoothly, in others, stops abruptly. I'd expect you'd need at least 4 objects for that, before starting on the word 'Cambridge'. Try:

  1. a turquoise scribble using pencil tool or blob brush and a pencil-like brush
  2. splashes of a low-opacity darker blue scribble using the same tool/brush combo
  3. a different very low opacity brush with the same turqouise for the background smudge (consider setting the blend mode of the turquoise scribble to 'multiply' so the scribbles never get lost)
  4. white where you want sharp edges (e.g. along the bottom)

The place you're really fighting against Illustrator here is variable opacity. With the blob brush & a pen tablet, you can get pencil scribbles that vary realistically in width, but there's no good way I know of to get these to vary in opacity by pressure. This is why Photoshop might be better suited here.

That said, there are workarounds that can look stylish especially if you want it to be a bit sketchy with minimal variation in the number of shades (which I think you do), here's a slightly crude one I quite like:

  • Draw your scribbles with the blob brush. Set fill and stroke to a turquoise lighter than the one you want, apply sketchy brush
  • Clone it (alt + up-arrow, then down-arrow)
  • Switch the stroke colour of the clone to white, and blend mode to 'multiply'. From a distance, the thicker parts of the strokes will be a notch darker in a stylised sketchy way
  • Adjust stroke widths until it looks right, and, if necessary, repeat with another clone with a thicker stroke if you need more variability
  • Thanks user568458; this is exactly the kind of answer I love: pithy, careful, and informative instructions but also richer information that'll help me understand the problem and the tools better.
    – dumbledad
    Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 12:49
  • PS I've edited the question to explain that straight line where the smudging stops, it's where I cropped the scan.
    – dumbledad
    Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 15:25
  • Actually I meant the ragged but sharp edge along the bottom rather than the right edge but thanks anyway :) Commented Oct 21, 2012 at 15:40

You might also want to take a look at Scriptographer. I can't think of any scripts off-hand but it's a good way to get truly randomized (or extremely varied) results to mimic hand work.

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