Creating linework in Illustrator & then finish in Photoshop?

Hi guys,

In the past, I have read some posters on here describing their method of creating a presentation rendering and learned that some do their linework in Illustrator and then drag the linework into Photoshop but I was wondering why it’s done that way??

So far, I have been doing the Scott Robertson method of creating paths in Photoshop and filling those paths with color and using the brush tool for highlights and shadow. I am slowly learning Illustrator and just recently learned of the advantages of vector shapes over raster ones, ex: changing colors easily, resizing without pixelation, etc. But why do the linework in Illustrator and then use Photoshop afterwards instead of just using Illustrator only? I am still new to rendering digitally with both Illustrator and Photoshop so forgive my ignorance.

They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ve never been a big fan of the Robertson method of doing the paths in psd because I feel that you’re losing product for your work. You’re doing the same thing in illustrator except at the end of the day, you have more options having the ai linework to use for presentations. Also, I think that you can get a much better look at the smoothness of your lines in ai and you can use various tricks in ai for getting parallel paths, dashes, etc… and having all of that work easily modifiable. Then it’s a simple cut and paste into psd and you can render robertson style all you want.
I just find that for the same amount of work, you end up with more end product by doing the lines in ai first. And there are lots of productivity shortcuts that you can use in ai to make getting that initial linework go by really fast. That’s the way I’ve done it for the past 7 years and have taught my students the past 2 years. They all pick it up nicely and it works.
You can do surprisingly good renderings just in illustrator but there are definitely areas where it’s easier to just “paint” in psd. There are things psd does much easier than ai, and vice versa. Blur effects for one work much better in psd, in ai they will quickly slow down your system.
I use them interchangeably. I’ll keep them both open while rendering and go back and forth as needed, I’ll use whichever program works best for whatever specific thing I’m doing at the time.

I’ve got three big reasons to do my line work in illustrator before rendering in photo shop.

  1. Trim Divide and Ungroup.
    I pull a hand sketch into illustrator and trace the outside into a closed shape. Then I draw each detail within the ‘master shape’, and with the pathfinder tool divide, and then ungroup. I’ve made an action so I just hit F2 and it trim’s and ungroups at once.
    This means that you’ll have two shapes whose shared edges with be perfect, and you’ll draw half as many lines.

  2. Color blocks.
    It’s much easier to select your shapes and fill with a color or a shade of gray in illustrator. Then I just copy everything and paste it below and do it again. I’ll get 20 color studies in 20 minutes. Below is a good example of turning out a bunch of colors quick before picking one for a final render.

  3. Tightening details
    When I sketch it’s pretty free. When I get into illustrator its time to tighten up my proportions and through in all the little details I skipped while sketching. A lot of those details will go on all my iterations so I’ll just do them once and then drop them on each concepts.

THANKS for the info, guys. I was just curious…So when you do your line work in AI and then paste it into Photoshop, sometimes I get a pop-up window that asks if I want to import it as a Vector shape or Pixels (I believe those are the 2 options?), so which one should I choose? And in AI, do you also not only do the line work, but do you also fill in the colors too, before you transfer it into Photoshop and then use PS to add shadows and highlights?

By the way, so far I have read from both of you that the advantage to doing your line work in AI, is that you have the original line work in AI, so that it can be used in the future again, if need be, for modifications, more renderings, etc? Did I understand that correctly? So do you keep a copy of your original line work made in AI and save it as a separate document BEFORE you transfer it into PS?

Thanks again guys.

I always keep my ai linework files.
As for the popup, the way I was originally taught to render was based on pixels since older psd versions couldn’t import the vectors so that’s the way I’ve done it for a long time, including the rendering tutorial I did here a few years ago.
Now there are definite benefits of bringing it in as vectors the way you can with the new versions of psd. But I still find times where I’ll just bring in parts as pixels since it’s easier to work with. The main time I use pixels is if I’m bringing in stitching for softgoods. Bringing it in as vectors gets rid of the stitches so you end up with a solid line. So I’ll bring those over separately as pixels, leave them on their own layer and then adjust the hue/sat for the layer for colors, add effects if needed, etc…

Bringing it in as vectors has it’s good and bad side (like not being able to use the magic wand) so you’d have to make sure you make your paths in ai knowing what you’re going to do with them (stay in ai or going into psd).
If I know I’ll be rendering in psd, I like to wait and apply all the colors there. The quickest way to get nice linework in ai is to not worry about having closed paths. Then if you have to render in psd, bring it in as pixels and you can use the magic wand tool which is quick. But then you’ll have to use the expand/border/contract tools for a clean rendering.
If you don’t worry about closed paths in ai, going to psd as vectors will give you some issues because you’ll have to close those paths anyway and layer them correctly to make it easier for you to render.

If you know ahead of time that you want to render in psd, bring it in as closed vectors. The pathfinder tools can be used to convert to closed paths very easily in ai. But I like to do that as a last step before psd and keep a version of the “pre-pathfinder” versions available on the side because once you have those lines right on top of each other, it’s a royal pain if you have to make modifications to your linework. It’ll be easier to just go back to the original, change it, then do the pathfinder over again.

Learn the tools well and after you do enough renders, the right tactic will come to you easily.
Here’s a link to the old tutorial. My current tactics have evolved a bit using the benefits of vector imports but the bulk is still based around these:


Thanks for that awesome tutorial! It was extremely helpful. I had to cut and paste one quote from you that I found that answered a lot of my previous questions: Using the pen in ps to outline selection paths is a time waster because in the end all you have is a selection path for coloring. If you do the same amount of work in illustrator (same pen tool, same technique), you have the path for coloring, but you also have the scalable vector lineart which is good for instruction manuals, etc. Doing your lines in photoshop robs you of that.

Thanks again!

I work the same way as Skinny, probably something to do with the time period we learned!

I am curious to know though, knowing what I know now about rendering with both PS and AI, how important it is to know how to render completely in Illustrator, versus rendering more in Photoshop with SOME Illustrator. I know every designer has a different work flow but I am curious if anyone on here renders completely in Illustrator and what are the advantages of doing so, other than say scaling without pixelation and ease of color changing.

I was just curious because I just got done with 2 of Mark Kokavec’s videos, of which one is on rendering in Illustrator ONLY and the other was using mostly PS with Illustrator now and then (for meshes and textures) and I was thrown by how “mechanical” the Illustrator one seemed to me, versus “painting” with pixels as in PS. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated with how difficult it all seemed. :open_mouth: So is it really necessary to be completely proficient in doing a rendering completely in Illustrator?

Thanks again for all your contributions and wisdom so far!!


I’ve never done a completely illustrator rendering, it is just not how I think, but I’ve seen it done well.

Oh really? Ok… I was just thinking that if I chose not to learn to be proficient in doing Illustrator renderings, that I would be missing out on maybe some good job opportunities. :slight_smile: What do you think?

Thanks Yo.

What do you guys think about Autodesk Alias Sketch 2011 then? It takes your drawn lines from a cintiq or a wacom and turns it into vectors, which can be edited later.

WOWWWWW! Thanks for sending that link! Alias Sketch is simply amazing! I love how raster and vector are combined in ONE program! I just wish it were cheaper. It retails 500 bucks.

I think there’s a time and a place. For the first half of the semester, I’d always teach my students ai first. Linework in the beginning and then full renderings just in illustrator. By the time we get to psd, most are so comfortable doing full renderings in ai that they don’t want to use psd. Then I break them down like the evil guy I am and won’t let them do any rendering in ai, just psd. Then by the end of the semester they end up liking both, can fully see the pros/cons of each and have found what type of work flow program/tool combo works best for them.
A lot of times, ai renderings look mechanical because the vectors are TOO precise. Everything is perfect and crystal clear, that’s not realistic. Just like some computer renderings. Psd is more “fuzzy” and not perfectly focused, just like real life. If you want your ai renderings to look more real, you have to ugly them up a bit. Clean ai renderings work best for diagrams and instructions in my opinion.
Here’s a quick demo I did in class showing an ai rendering trying to mimic a photo. The label wasn’t part of the assignment, I didn’t want anyone to focus on fonts, etc…just the form, colors, and general look. Illustrator has some of the same photoshop tools now like gaussian blurs and transparency that you can use to ugly it up a bit so it doesn’t look like a typical “cartoony” ai rendering:

I don’t think you’d miss out on many job ops not doing full ai renderings. I haven’t found too many places very comfortable with it. If the place does interactive design, it may be used for doing buttons, etc… Softgoods will use ai to do linework for sure, then color studies and maybe basic renderings.
But it’s generally easier for most products to do the bulk of the rendering in photoshop. But just like the difference between showing sketches as opposed to computer renderings, there are times that you can crank out a quick ai rendering to get the point across or to show variations and colorblocking before committing to a big photoshop rendering.

Haha…well there is always the other route… :wink: You can try out the 30 day demo, which I believe is out there.

If you’re a student you can get Alias Sketch for free from for Windows and OSX