sketch to cad

hi guys

does anyone have any tips to quickly get from a footwear sketch to cad / illustrator??

tracing the sketch manually in illustrator using the pen tool is taking up a lot of time… have tried using the live-trace tool set to ‘outline’ but its not giving me a good wireframe outline i can click on and change the color segments / panel colours.

what method do you guys use to go from sketch to illustrator outline…? it seems stupid to have to create the whole shoe again using the pen tool, anchor points etc…



Nope, no shortcuts. Just the pen tool, paths and pathfinder tools. If you practice, you can get pretty quick on it. I can typically do an illustrator lineart from a sketch in about 15min for a relatively complex athletic shoe with lots of parts. Less for a more simple casual shoe.

The key, I find, is to create the parts correctly (overlays as true overlays, etc.) so that doing colorways is a lot simpler.

The only “tricks” I can recommend are-

  1. The “offset path” tool to create a stitch line (used with a dashed stroke)
  2. The “outline stroke” tool for creating things like laces and piping.
  3. clipping masks and swatches for pattern fills like perfs
  4. custom brushes for things like zig zag stitching

Otherwise, practice makes perfect.


When I bring the shoe into illustrator, I’m not just tracing the sketch, I’m improving it, designing it further, exploring options and details. It is a part of the design process.

Ditto Richs response. Practice with the pen tool, you’ll get faster. Other than that, it’s all strategy. You draw differently if you’re going to just do b+w lineart than if you’re going to color it in illustrator, different strategies for each.
Also, if you know you’re going to be redoing in illustrator, don’t spend a lot of time trying to get it perfect by hand, because then you are duplicating your drawing efforts. Sketch it enough for you to know what’s going on and get a general sense of proportions, then get to ai quickly. You’re going to be massaging the lines in ai anyway so don’t sit there with circle templates, french curves, and erasing/redrawing things on your hand sketch trying to make it perfect, then to only have to do the exact same thing in another medium.

good point. very true. the easy thing about illustrator is how quick you can change a pattern part, delete something, add something, check basic colorblocking, etc.

also the illustrator process is also a good time to be able to adjust proportions. flipping the shoe left to right, up/down, and comparing to a photo underlay can help ensure that proportions are spot on.


ok sounds good, v much appreciate the feedback. great advice.

while we’re on the subject, making the paths in illustrator using a wacom is driving me crazy… the tip on the pen never seems to hit the anchor point right, takes 3, 4 clicks to hit the damn thing… tips again? (if you say ‘practice’ i am ok with that)

sometimes using livetrace on outline mode can speed it up a bit, it can give u the majority of yr lines, which u can then go in and correct with the pen etc.

the only other way i know of to speed up the process is to give yr sketches to the office junior to draw up ahem

Wacom+Illustrator=Nightmare for me. The mouse is actually much more precise and efficient IMO. It is awful for adjusting anchor points. Honestly, I’d leave the live trace alone. It seems to create more of a mess than anything else…at least for footwear patterns.

oh yes,it is very tough in the begining,but after a time when your level improved you prefer to take less time sketching,I mean, once you get the idea on paper just put it on Illustrator,easy as that.

depending of what kind of shoe Im designing,it´s like 20-30 minutes.

I use to do a layer with the body and after that paths,using the pathfinder tool,it is really quick.

Don’t use live trace, you want clean lines which means as few points as possible. Also, forget about the pen tool with a wacom, use the mouse, it’s much better for that type of precision work. Just keep practicing, it’ll get faster. I just did an inclass demo of a full product rendering in illustrator in about 30 minutes. Just the linework comes really quickly once you know the key commands and shortcuts. Good luck.

I use a mouse - the wacom made me lose the will to live! :laughing:

Illustrator, Mouse
Photoshop, Wacom

Corel-Illustrator-Photoshop,wacom tablet.

I know sounds stupid to use 2vector programs at the same time,but I use corel at the office and AI for personal projects.

Interesting… I always use wacom for AI and paths in PS, I feel like I can be more precise than with a mouse… in fact I’m so used to it I feel handicapped when I have to sit down at some else’s comp with no wacom…

awesome advice, muchos gracias everyone.

im gonna try combination of mouse and wacom in AI… i still like using the pencil tool and wacom when tracing a sketch in illustrator, you can get really nice ‘flowy’ lines really quickly, then get in there with the scissor tool and rejoin the points with command-j… then correct the shape again with the pencil and wacom.
but i’ll try the mouse for the anchor point correction / fiddly bits.

thanks guys.

still cant believe they havent got a live-trace function that’ll give you decent vector outlines on a footwear sketch, but whatever. maybe CS5…?


I always use my Cintiq for Illustrator too, I just find it quicker, plus my elbows don’t ache after a day!

One of my favourite tricks is using the “blend specified steps” to create parts or features changing due to perspective. I.e draw the two most extreme features and blend between them. Might not really apply to a 2d shoe render though!

This is very interesting. I didn’t know so many people do the mouse w/ illustrator / pen w/ photoshop thing. I absolutely NEVER use a mouse. When I started using a Wacom about 3 years ago, I quit the mouse, cold turkey.

When I started my current job about a year ago, I requested a Cintiq. The short delay between the pen and cursor drove me nuts. I used it for 2 days and sent it back for a regular Wacom tablet. I even travel with a smaller Wacom tablet and a pen. I now feel clumsy with a mouse.

Yeah I use a tablet for illustrator due to someone’s suggestion. I do feel quicker overall with it. I maybe a little inprecise in some areas sometimes, and adjusting anchor points is a little tougher with a pen. And it probably doesnt help that I have not so steady hand.