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Designs dekeConstructed is a new series that breaks down the creation of cool designs so you can build them on your own. This installment is for everyone who needs an online avatar—that tiny image that has to communicate a thousand words about who you are in less than a square inch. Start by taking a photo of yourself facing forward—the traditional passport style. From there Deke McClelland takes you through the steps to transforming your photo into a cartoon avatar with Illustrator: tracing your features, refining and exaggerating the strokes, adding color and shading, and using gradients and patterns to fill in details like hair. Plus, learn some tricks for infusing your drawing with an extra bit of personality and exporting your final image in the best format for social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Alright here's one possible final version of the avatar, just so you have a chance to see it on screen. Now in this movie, I'm going to show you how to setup a tracing template inside of Illustrator. But we're going to start things off inside Photoshop. So I'll go ahead and switch over to Photoshop for a moment and you can see that I have opened this, not really all that flattering picture of me, but it'll do. And notice it's called passport photo 288 PPI. Now that's very important not because it's a passport photo, but because of that resolution value. I'll go up to the image menu, and choose the image size command.
And what you want to do if you're working with just about any photograph of yourself, you want to turn the resample check box off here once again inside Photoshop. And let's say, this resolution value is set up to 600 pixels per inch by default. Well the problem with working at that resolution is that it's going to look a little bit jagged on-screen, inside Illustrator. It might sound odd but what you want is a resolution that is a multiple of 72 pixels per inch. And you want to do that without resampling for the best results here.
And if you go with a resolution value of 72, then the image is going to look best at the 100% view level inside of Illustrator. If you go with the resolution the value of twice that 144, then it's going to look best at 200%. Generally speaking however, you want it to look good at a bunch of zoom ratios. So if you go as high as 288 which is 72 times 4, then it's going to look great at 400% and anything below that as well. So make sure you do that with your image if you're working along with me.
And I want you to notice here that this image is a little bigger than 4 by 4 inches. Alright I'm going to cancel out because I already had this image set up properly in advance, and then I'll switch back over to Illustrator. I'll go up to the file menu and choose the new command and because we're creating this avatar for a screen environment. You want to create an RGB document. So change the profile to Basic RGB. And then you can see that my units are set to points, which is fine, but I want to dial in my document size in inches.
So I'm going to type in 4.5, so a little bigger than the size that we saw inside Photoshop. 4.5 IN and then I'll tab to the next option. Notice that Illustrator automatically converts that measurement to 324 points and so I'll just dial in 324 for the other one. We don't need a bleed. You want to confirm however that align to pixel grid is turned off and then go ahead and click OK in order to create your new document. Now you presumably want bigger layer previews here inside the layers panel. So I'm going to click on the fly out menu icon for that panel, in the upper right corner.
And I'm going to choose panel options way at the bottom of the menu. And then I'm going to select other, and dial in a size of 70 pixels, and click OK and that'll allow us to better see what we're doing. And for now I'm going to go ahead and call this layer tracing although we'll end up renaming it later. And now what you want to do is go up to the file menu and choose the place command and then navigate your way to whatever image file you're using. I'll go ahead and select mine right there and you want to turn on the Link check box.
That's fine and you also want to turn on Template and that way Illustrator will automatically create the tracing template for you. Then click on the Place button and notice you've got a template all ready to go. I'm going to double click on an empty portion of the template layer that is someplace above or below its name. And I'm just going to go ahead and call this layer photo. And I'm going to change its color to green. You don't have to do this, but I'm going to. And then I'm going to turn off the dim images to check box so I can see the image at 100% opacity, which will happen as soon as I click OK.
And now, notice as I zoom in, I'll go ahead and zoom in to 300% and then 400%, you can see that I have a very smooth looking image. And as soon as I zoom beyond 400%, I start to see the pixels inside of that image file. And that friends is how we begin the process by creating a photographic tracing template here inside Illustrator.
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