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Stroke Variance

Creating Dynamic Variable-Width Strokes


Overview: Place sketch and trace with Pen tool; modify strokes with Width tool; save width profile and apply to other strokes.

Ryan Putnam creates many character illustrations for websites, branding projects, and more. Putnam now uses the Width tool to add depth and variance in the strokes of the illustrations. Using the Profile feature in the Stroke panel, he can save his custom stroke modifications to apply to other paths in current and future projects.

  1. Placing a sketch template and tracing with Pen tool. Putnam first created a character sketch in Photoshop, chose File> Place in Illustrator, enabled Template, and clicked OK. Putnam then traced basic paths of the sketch with the Pen tool in the layer above.


    Hand-traced sketch

  2. Adjusting strokes with the Width tool. Putnam wanted his strokes to have some variance compared to the uniform strokes created by the Pen tool. He created two distinct stroke widths to use on the majority of the paths in the illustration. For the first stroke adjustment, Putnam created a stroke with a thicker middle and tapered ends. To do this, he used the Width tool to click in the middle of the desired path and drag a width point to the desired width. For the second custom width, Putnam created a stroke with a thicker end and a tapered end. Again, he used the Width tool, but this time clicked on the far right side of the desired path and dragged a width point to the desired width.

    If you like to be precise with your adjustments, you can double-click a width point to open the Width Point Edit dialog, allowing you to numerically adjust the width of the stroke in the Side 1, Side 2, and Total Width fields.


    Width tool (Shift-W) adjusting end of stroke

  3. Saving stroke profiles and applying to other paths. Instead of adjusting every path in the illustration to match the two custom widths he created with the Width tool, Putnam saved time and ensured consistency by saving his two custom stroke profiles. To save each profile, he selected the modified stroke and clicked the Add to Profiles icon in the Stroke panel. With both of his strokes saved as custom profiles, Putnam could select a uniform stroke, click the saved Variable Width Profile at the bottom of the Stroke panel, and select the saved profile from the drop-down list. These custom profiles will then be available in other new Illustrator files.

    After Putnam applied the custom profile to all the desired paths, he utilized specific keyboard commands with the Width tool to further adjust individual paths. For example, holding down the Option/Alt key when dragging width points creates non-uniform widths, the Delete key deletes selected width points, and holding the Shift key while dragging adjusts multiple width points. Other keyboard modifiers with the Width tool include holding down Option/Alt while dragging a width point to copy the width point, holding down Option-Shift/Alt-Shift while dragging to copy and move all the points along a path, Shift-clicking to select multiple width points, and using the Esc key to deselect a width point.

  4. Applying finishing touches. Putnam added additional elements as needed, including creating simple shapes with the Pen tool, which he then filled with grayscale colors.


    Adjusting a path with Width tool and keyboard commands

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