Illustrator Tutorial: Tracing Logo

In this tutorial, you will learn how to trace vectors from photos using the pen tool, and then use curved text and lines to complete a logo design.

1. Download the martin-stadium-cougar-statue.jpg photo if you haven’t already, and save it into your assignment folder. This is a photo taken for use in this tutorial; it should not be used for other purposes.

2. In Illustrator, start a new document by going to File > New. Name your document and choose the “Print” profile.

3. Add the photo to your document by going to File > Place and navigate to the martin-stadium-cougar-statue.jpg image. Click OK, then click on your artboard to add the photo.

4. Hold down Shift while dragging one corner of the photo to make it about the same width as your artboard. (If this is not working correctly, make sure you are using the black arrow tool.)

5. Open your Layers panel, where you should see one existing layer that contains the photo. Click the lock icon to make this layer uneditable. Then, click the “Create New Layer” icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a new layer on top.

Lock the image layer and create a new layer on top.

Photos should not be used in vector graphics and logo design because they are made of pixels and are not scalable. However, they can be useful as a reference for creating vector shapes with the pen tool.

6. Now you will trace the front half of the cougar to use as a silhouette shape.

  • Zoom in so you’re nice and close to the cougar. (Notice that the photo will begin to look pixelated, since it’s made of pixels.)
  • Using the pen tool, click at the point where the cougar’s belly meets the back leg. From here, click to draw a series of points that trace the shape of the cougar.
  • When you get to the rock, follow the shape of the rock until you’re even with your first point, then draw a line straight down and over to the front of the rock. (This part will be trimmed out later.)
  • At some point, the default colors of white fill and black stroke will start making it difficult to see the outline. Click the tiny double arrow by your swatches in the left toolbar to switch colors, then click the “None” swatch (white with red line) to remove the fill color. You should be left with just a white outline, which is much easier to see.
  • Follow the cougar shape all the way around to the highest point of the cougar’s back, then click on your starting point to complete the shape.
  • If the outline needs adjusting in any places, use the white arrow tool to move individual points.
  • A powerful feature of the pen tool is drawing curves along with straight lines. As you are drawing with the pen tool, click and then drag a little to turn a point into a curve. After a shape is completed, you can also select any point with the white arrow tool, then click the “Convert” button in the top toolbar to convert a straight point to a curve.
Use the pen tool with a white stroke to trace all the way around the cougar statue.

7. Draw another shape with the pen tool to outline the space between the cougar’s front legs.

Note the “Convert” option to change points into curves that you can adjust with the white arrow tool.

8. Once the cougar is outlined, change the colors of both shapes to have a solid color fill and no stroke. The fill color will be changed later, so pick a bright color that’s easy to see.

8. In the layers panel, click the eyeball icon next to the photo layer to hide the photo.

9. With both cougar outline shapes selected, go to the Shape Builder tool. Hover over the space-between-legs shape while holding Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) and an arrow with a minus symbol will appear. Click on that shape and it will be subtracted from the larger shape.

10. Zoom out if necessary so you can see the whole cougar shape. With the Ellipse tool, hold down Shift and draw a circle that the front of the cougar will fit into. Change the color of the circle so it’s different from the cougar and go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back so you can adjust the placement.

11. Once the cougar outline is arranged over the circle, select both shapes and then go to the Shape Builder tool. Hold Alt or Option to click and remove all three parts of the cougar shape. Now the silhouette of the cougar is showing in the circle using negative space.

Use the Shape Builder tool to delete the cougar shape and create negative space.

This is only a small taste of what the Shape Builder tool can do. This is a great video that shows other uses of the tool, and here is a quick reference guide from Adobe.

12. Select the three parts of what’s left of the circle, and go to Window > Pathfinder to bring up your Pathfinder tools. Click the Unite button to make the separate shapes act as one.

Use the Unite option in the Pathfinder menu to make your different pieces act as one object.

13. Draw another circle that matches up with your existing circle. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect match when you first draw it.

  • Select both circles and use the Align tools that appear in the top toolbar.
  • Click the “Vertical Align Top” tool so they even up on the top.
  • Use the “Horizontal Align Center” tool so they become centered with each other.
  • Select only the new circle, and hold down Shift while adjusting the size as necessary.

14. Once the new circle matches up, expand it slightly by holding down Shift+Alt (Windows) or Shift+Option (Mac) while dragging a corner of the bounding box around the shape.

15. Make two more copies of this circle to use later, in increasingly larger sizes. To make a copy, go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Place to keep the same placement before you enlarge the circle.

Create three concentric circles centered around your inner silhouette circle.

16. In your left toolbar, find the Type On a Path tool by holding down the Type tool button to view the whole family of tools.

  • Click on smallest of your three outlined circles. The line will disappear, and you can begin typing.
  • Type your own first name and last name. This must be personalized; you will lose credit if your tutorial literally says “Firstname Lastname” like the tutorial example.
  • Highlight the text and choose any font you like (as long as it’s readable). Adjust the font size so your name goes about halfway around the circle.
  • Click on the word “Character” in the top toolbar to bring up the Character panel, and click the All Caps icon (two capital T’s) so your text displays in all capital letters.
    This is not the same as typing in all caps, because it can easily be converted back to regular case if need be.
  • Go to the black arrow tool. There are anchor lines that control where your text begins around the circle. Drag the one at the beginning of your text around so the text becomes centered over the top of the circle. An alternative method is going to Object > Transform > Rotate.
Choose a font for your text and click the “TT” button to convert the text to all caps.

17. Next, you’ll stylize one of the other lines into a graphic element to balance your text.

  • Hold down Shift+Alt (Windows) or Shift+Option (Mac) to resize the next circle so it’s cuts exactly through the center of your text.
  • On the right side of your screen, click the icon for Stroke options. Change the stroke weight from 1 pt to a weight that matches the height of your text (probably 15-30 pt, depending on how your project is sized).
  • If all you see in the Stroke options panel is weight, click the tiny menu in the top right of that box and select “Show Options” to display the rest of the options. You should now see other options such as Cap, Corner, Align Stroke, and Arrowheads.
  • Click the checkbox for Dashed Line. Right below that checkbox, change the first box labeled “dash” to a narrow amount, such as 4-8 pt.
  • In the first box labeled “gap,” type at amount that is slightly smaller than the one you just chose for the dash, such as 2-5 pt. Your line should now look more like radiating sun rays than a plain line.

18. For the circle you just stylized, the top part needs to be deleted so the text will show.

  • With the circle selected, click on the Scissors tool (within the Eraser family of tools).
  • Use the scissors tool to click on the anchor point on the left and right of the circle. This will split the shape at those points so the top and bottom halves of the circle become separate.
  • With the black arrow tool, click on the top semicircle and delete it.
  • Adjust the spacing or rotation of your text if it no longer looks centered.

20. Select the largest circle on your artboard and make the stroke thicker, such as 4-8 points depending on the size of your project.

Lines in Illustrator are NOT scalable by default. They stay the same width even if you shrink or enlarge the graphic, which ruins the scalability.

21. Although the lines look proportional now, they would stay the same thickness if you resize the graphic. This would change the appearance, meaning that another step is needed to make this graphic scalable.

  • Select your dashed semicircle. Go to Object > Expand Appearance. This applies the dashes permanently to the object so they’re no longer just an effect. (If you go to the Stroke panel, you can no longer edit the Dashed Line characteristics. (If you only see the option for Object > Expand, choose that instead.)
  • Select your outer circle, the dashed semicircle, and your text. Go to Object > Expand and keep all the checkboxes checked (Object, Fill, Stroke). This changes all the strokes and text to vector shapes that will stay the same at any scale.

22. Until the point, the colors of your elements was unimportant. Now it’s time to add color.

  • Go to Window > Pathfinder to open the Pathfinder tools if they’re not yet open.
  • Select all the elements of your logo and click the “Unite” button. This will make the entire logo act as one shape for adding color.
  • On the right toolbar, click the gradient panel. Select the “White, Black” gradient from the swatch at the top left of that panel if it doesn’t automatically apply.
  • In the gradient slider below, there are little triangles showing the swatch colors. These can be dragged around to adjust the gradient. Double-click on the white arrow-swatch to bring up other colors options. Choose any color you like.
  • Double-click the black arrow-swatch and choose a color related to the one you just chose, such as a lighter version of the same color or an analogous color.

23. To adjust the gradient so it’s consistent through the whole logo, click on the Gradient tool in the left toolbar. Click at the very bottom of your circle and hold Shift while dragging up to the top of the circle.

24. Finally, it’s time to adjust the artboard so there’s not so much extra space around the logo. Select your logo, then go to Object > Artboards > Fit to Selected Art. The artboard should tighten up to perfectly fit your logo.


25. Save your completed .ai file in your assignment folder.

To reduce file size, it is recommended that you open the Layers panel and delete the layer containing the cougar statue photo.