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Adobe Illustrator Tutorial: Creation of a Realistic Vector 3D Calculator

posted by: Sergii Korolko, in Illustrator Tutorials / Icon Design/ Comments: 0




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Hello everybody! Today I will tell you how to create a realistic 3D calculator icon.

But first let’s have a brief lyrical digression. It is well known that in any stock business one of the most popular topics is business, and this applies not only to photos and videos, but also to vector illustration. A business issue is not only negotiating people in business suites, but also different objects as office phones, calculators, charts and so on. On this basis, an idea of creating a realistic illustration of a calculator appeared; this illustration can be not only used as a possible replacement to raster image but also as an icon, i.e. with a strong reduction a calculator should remain a clear shape.

To make the illustration look realistic you should get the reference image of an object. You have two options - either find a ready image or do it yourself. In the first case you can find a suitable image in the internet or on stock websites; this approach has big disadvantages - you either need to deal with author’s rights or with the limited license.  That’s why I recommend using the other way. I used an ordinary financial calculator, a White Box and a camera for making references. The description of the process of taking a photo goes beyond this tutorial, so I will just show the results. Download the reference.jpg file; we will use it in our further work.

The work doesn’t contain difficult gradient transitions, for which it would be required to create the Gradient Mesh; so I suggest we divide our work into several stages: in the stroke mode without fill outline all the contours with the Pen Tool (P); using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M) create some closed areas; color them with solid colors and gradients; and finally add some highlights and shadows where it is necessary. Our plan is easy, so let’s do it!

Step 1

Open Adobe Illustrator and go to the Edit > Preferences > Selection & Anchor Display and set the parameters which are indicated on the figure. It is more convenient to work with these settings of the Pen Tool (P).

Create a new document with the size of 1866x1398 px (that is the size of our photo).

In the created document in the Layers panel add a layer with the name Layer 2; place it underneath Layer 1. Place the reference image into the workspace of the document (File > Place…). Block Layer 2.

Step 2

Now select Layer 1, take the Pen Tool (P) and start outlining contours of the image. As it was mentioned before, the fill should be turned off and the width of the outline should be 1 or 2 px, whatever you think is more convenient. Note, the outline color should contrast the photo. In our case, red contrasts the photo good, so we will use this color.

Start with the biggest details and then proceed slowly to smaller details.

The task is laborious and tiresome, but if you are self-confident in your work with the Pen Tool the task won’t be of any difficulty to you. Moreover, you can significantly speed up your process by using special plug-ins, for example, from Astute Graphics, such as the VectorScribe or the DrawScribe.

Step 3

So, moving on, outline every detail. There are a few tips which I wanted to mention. First, practically all the corners in the illustration should be rounded, and if a rounded corner must be symmetrical you can use either some special plug-ins, but they will cost money, or a free plug-in from Hiroyuki Sato - Round Any Corner. When you need unsymmetrical rounding of a corner, you can use the following technique which I’ll demonstrate you on an example of a button. Instead of a single reference point at the location of a corner, put two points at some distance from one another.

Then select them and convert them into the smooth anchor points.

After that with the Direct Selection Tool (A) attach to the rounding the necessary form.

Step 4

One more nuance, since at this stage we’re working with open and closed forms, you should pay attention to the places of their intersection. Let’s look at it in more details on the example of the same button.

I’ve outlined the contours with different colors for better clarity. So, the border point of the open path should either touch or cross the other path. Otherwise, if you use the Shape Builder Tool, it won’t close or will be closed wrong. Look at the figures.

On the left figure everything is done right, and on the right figure- wrong. Below you can see the "right” and "wrong” behaviors of the Shape Builder Tool.

Step 5

After we’ve outlined all the contours, paying enough attention to the intersections, you should get approximately the following result.

The photo layer is temporary of no need to us, so turn off its visibility in the Layers panel. Now select everything (Cmd / Ctrl + A); select the Shape Builder Tool (Shift +M) and start closing the contours in the places where paths are open. On this stage our goal is to get closed paths for further coloring. We will get rid of the inevitable trash later. Check it out on the example of the shadow on the display.

Step 6

On the figure below you can see the results of our work from our previous step. You won’t see much of a difference if you compare it to what we’ve got in the previous step, but you’re able to see differences more clearly in the Layers panel.

We have a lot of unnecessary objects after work with the Shape Builder Tool, and we should get rid of this trash. Surely, we can fully expand the Layers panel and delete all the unnecessary elements manually, but we will do it the other way. Download an excellent script ExtendedSelect here and unpack it in Adobe Illustrator CSx.x\Presets\en_US\Scripts. By the way, it works well in AI CS6. After we restart Adobe Illustrator the scrip is available in the menu File (File > Scripts > ExtendedSelect)

Start the scrip and in the dialog box select the Unfilled Open Path.

The result of the script work will be selection of all open paths without fill. Your number of open paths can differ from mine. Delete them. Also you can close paths not only by using this technique, with the Shape Builder Tool, but also with the Divide command from the Pathfinder palette. But you should be very careful with the joints, they should clearly be adjusted to one another, otherwise it would be very difficult to get rid of "trash” which will become a part of the Compound path. The work with the forms of calculator is done, we only need to color them and add some highlights and shades.

Step 7

Turn on the visibility of a layer with a photo in the Layers panel and make sure that all the paths that we’ve created are ungrouped. Now adjust the Eyedropper Tool - by double clicking on the proper tool in the Tools panel we got a dialog box with the settings; select the value 3x3 Average.

The thing is, when taking the color from the raster original the averaging is obligatory, because the brightness of the neighbor pixels can be very different. The averaging size should be chosen depending on the quality and size of original, in our case 3x3 is enough, but if the resource file, for example, has the size 10Mpix, you can choose 5x5. Switch in the Colors panel from the RGB to the HSB.

For an ordinary person the numerical values of Red, Blue and Green don’t mean much, it is more understandable when the colors are represented as the Hue, Saturation and Brightness. I also recommend clearing the Swatches panel; we won’t need the standard colors.

Step 8

On the stage of outlining the contours we started working with big units and then proceeded to small ones, in this case we do vice versa- we start coloring the smallest forms and slowly proceed to the bigger units which lay usually lower.

Now let’s talk about the light. The reference image was made in condition of uniform illumination - it is good for the photo- there are no highlights and reflections of the environmental objects. But for the illustration you don’t need to follow the same principles, everything might turn out not expressive enough. Therefore, we introduce two conventional light sources - one in the upper left corner of the workspace (this light source is obligatory since it imitates the sunlight), second- in the bottom of the workspace in order to add some contrast.

Let’s start with black buttons, the lower part of which have a solid almost black fill on the photo; we will color it with the linear gradient in dark-grey tones to highlight the edge.

We take the main color with the help of the eye-dropper from the photo; it will be placed on the edges of the gradient without changes; the edge should be brightened while changing the Brightness parameter.

Fill the upper part of the button with radial gradient in grey tones.

Fill the space between the buttons with black.

Turn off the contour in all the objects to which we add fill.

Step 9

To all the rest of the buttons we take color from corresponding parts of buttons from the previous step.

We work with the light buttons of the calculator accordingly, but instead of dark-grey we use light-grey.

Exactly the same technique is used for the orange buttons.

Step 10

Let’s proceed to a small but very important group of buttons on the case of our calculator. Whether they look realistic or not, it depends on the correctness of creation of gradients, check it out

Color the second switcher similarly to the first, three planes with linear gradient, and the upper part with solid color. Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) as earlier and the Color panel in the HSB mode.

Now color the space around the switchers

Create a shade made by the lower light source. It is a form filled with black and 5% opacity.

Step 11

I won’t describe the acquisition of light and gradient for every object in the illustration, I will only show you a screenshot after the coloring of the calculator’s display and the area around it. Here mostly the solid fills are used.

that’s how the calculator’s case looks like.

Now you can again hide a layer with our photo, we won’t need it temporary.

Step 12

Let’s work with highlights which come from the upper light source. Create a form as on the figure below; fill it with the linear gradient form light-grey to black, set the Screen blending mode for this object.

Fill the forms which are created on the surface of the buttons with the gradient fills; apply the Screen blending mode to them as well.

Take a look at the whole calculator with the highlights from the upper light source.

In the next steps we will work with the highlights made by the bottom light source.

Step 13

In the free workspace create 2000pt wide and 24pt high ellipse without contour with the black fill.

Double it (Cmd / Ctrl + C; Cmd / Ctrl + F), change the color of the fill to white and the size to 1000pt wide and 1pt high.

Select both ellipses and press the combination of keys (Cmd / Ctrl + Opt / Alt + B), then without removing selection, change the number of blend to 20.

Drag the resulting blend into the Brushes panel and save it as the Art Brush.

Press OK and in the next dialog box agree to the default values. Delete the blend object, which served as a basis of a brush.

Step 14

With the Pen Tool (P) create a path on the case of the calculator; it is highlighted with red on the figure.

Apply to this path the brush which we’ve created before

Apply the Screen blending mode with 80% opacity

Step 15

Now we need to create the same highlights on every button of the calculator as they are on the case of it. Similarly, we create a bush from the blend which consists of two 200pt x 8pt and 100pt x 1pt ellipses.

Then draw a path on each button consisting of two straight and one curved segment.

Apply to every curve a brush and the Screen blending mode with 40% opacity on the orange buttons, 20% on the dark buttons and 60% on light buttons.

Step 16

Any object has a shadow, that’s why our calculator will look more realistic when we draw some shadow. Create a blend consisting of two simple figures with rounded corners.

And place it underneath our calculator.

Step 17

On this stage we can say that we’re done with our work with some abstract calculator which is off. It looks already great, but if we want to get more realistic illustration of our calculator let’s add some inscriptions on the buttons and figures on the display.

If up to this moment you are not tired of the Pen Tool, the best solution will be to outline the button labels, which will look more authentic. I’ve done so as well.

There is also the other solution - to use the Type Tool and the 3D Rotate filter. But keep in mind, our calculator has a perspective location and the Rotate parameter should be set for every button individually; it will be also difficult to set a fond which has all the symbols from a calculator.

Now let’s "turn on” our calculator and type some figures on the screen. To do so, download the DIGIT fond and install it in the OS. With the Type Tool (T) type twelve eights.

Select the text and create outlines (Shift+Ctrl+O), ungroup the group and set 10% opacity.

Next, keep the Shift selected and with the Selection Tool (V) select the blocks, which correspond to any figures, I’ve chosen 1234 and set back the 100% opacity.

Group up all the figures, place this group under the highlight on the screen of the calculator and finally with the Shear Tool add a completed form in perspective.




As we can see the calculator that we’ve created can be used not only as a full-size illustration, but also as an icon. Even with a strong reduction our calculator keeps its contours and remains a clear shape. As for the techniques, which were used to create our illustration in this tutorial, they can be successfully applied to creation of any other vector illustration from any photo or image.

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