The 3 C's Tutorial - Control, Create & Cutout with the Bezier Curve

In design there are 2 ways that we normally store files. One is the bitmap way, where the computer records the colour of pixels and creates a huge grid system. These bitmaps are normally used for photos and realistic images. They need to be at a set resolution otherwise the pixels become noticeable - I'm sure we have all seen and are familiar with this way of storing image data. The other way of course, is the Bezier Curve way. This is stored by mathematical and equations which are calculated between anchor points. The benefits of using this type of image storage is so that an image can be blown up to what ever size and will not become "bitty". The down side is that it is not a great way to store detailed image data and is therefore normally used for simple graphics such as logos.

In this tutorial we will be looking at how we can use these Bezier Curves to create a simple vector illustration. I am going to take you through a simple "cutout" technique in Adobe Illustrator and show you some of the hot keys and tips that I have picked up. We will be working in Adobe illustrator however any vector software package will do. This is really an introduction to using Bezier Curves but I hope there will be odd bits that even advanced users may find interesting. My aim is to introduce this style to newbies, to develop existing skills and to help design a great piece of artwork that could be used for a logo, or piece of artwork at the end of it.

01. Introduction to Bezier curves - Create and Control

Mr Bezier developed a simple equation in the 1970 which enabled graphics to be stored mathematically. We won't go into the technicalities (because to be honest I don't know alot about them ;-) but I will point out a simple fact which is that these shapes are created from anchor points. To get a rough outline head down to Sketchpad. My aim is not to give a lesson on maths but to get you using, creating and controlling these curves. Before we go on to the main tutorial I want you to have a play with the "Pen tool" in illustrator. This is the tool we will be using to create vector graphics and I use this on an everyday basis in the design industry.

Open Adobe Illustrator and start a new document. Hit the "P" key which will bring you straight to the pen tool. Have a play. You will soon find that if you click once or twice a shape will start to form. If you click and hold your mouse button down a curve will be made. At this point I just want to make you aware of how illustrator works.

You will see at the bottom of the tools pallet what looks like 2 squares. If you double click on them you will be able to select a colour. The square on the to left indicates the colour which fills the middle of your shape. See below:

Filled curveThe next one indicates the keyline or stoke of your shape. See below:

outlined curve

If you do not want any colour (we will be using in this in a little later), then you can select the white square with a red line through it as below:

invisible curve

So select a colour and have a play. See how you can "close" a shape by joining up the points. This is one I did earlier:


TIP: If you want to move your shape at any time whilst in the pen tool mode select the option key.

As you get used to using it you will need to develop your skills. See if you can create a circle by hand using the pen tool. You will not get it perfect but even to get it close requires skill. I did this in a few moments but I'm used to using illustrator:


TIP: If you need to move one of your anchor points simply hit the "A" key and move it. Remember to go back to the pen tool to continue.

02. Placing an image

Ok so you've got a taste of Bezier curves. Now we are going to put your knowledge to use. First find an image that you can cut out. It really doesn't matter what it is of as long as it is at a decent resolution and you can clearly see the subject. I have chosen my favorite subject - a picture of me (he he!). See below:

Picture with cut out subject

Now go to Illustrator and select File> Place. Locate your desired image and place it into illustrator.

03. Layers

Go to your layers palette and add a new layer (third icon along the bottom). Double click each layer and rename them as bellow. Then lock the bottom layer where the image is located.


04. Cutout

The image layer is locked so we will not disturb it. Now go and make the shape have no fill or outline colour (see 01). Stokes and fills can get in the way when doing this kind of thing. Zoom into the subject by hitting "V" for the selection tool and then by pressing both "option" and "space" together. To zoom out again I always hit "option" and "0". You have to be in the selection tool to use these hot-keys though. I am always going from the pen tool ("P") and the selection tool ("V") for this purpose.

This is where we put our skills to the test. Start to draw around the subject using the Bezier curves. I always find it best put a curve on its peak and then another one on its lowest part. Make sure that you are always drawing slightly inside your subject, this helps to create a clean cutout. See examples below:

cutout face

cutout trousers

cutout leg

When you come back to the start join up your path. You should end up with something that looks like this:

cutout final

05. Practical Application

Well done - the hard work is over! You can now use your new shape in a number of ways. Although I would normally do compete cutouts in Adobe Photoshop you could unlock the layer below with the image on it, select both image and shape, and press "option" and "7" together. This will create a clipping mask like below. This is great for scamps or quick cut outs.

clipping mask

However you could also delete the original image and fill your vector shape with a colour:

vector colour

This could make a fantastic logo!:


Also have a play around - try duplicating your shape but holding down "alt" whilst in the selection tool ("V"). There are many possibilities once you have mastered vector to go on and do great creative things. Thus ends this very loose but I hope interesting tutorial. Experiment, get familiar and master vector and soon you will be creating some fantastic graphics. The image below took no time at all once I created the cutout shape.


Please leave any comments and let me know how you have found it.


Illustrator definitely is your friend if you know how to take advantage of its tools. Nice writeup. :)

Good article, but I much prefer the vector-centric approach of Fireworks.

Really good, i enjoyed reading and watching the examples...very effective!

Is it spain? Perhaps Mallorca or one of the Canary Islands?

Not a bad try Henrik - South Fuerteventura in Jandia.

really helpful, im a complete novice to illustrator and this helped me understand alot more. cheers

nice tutorial, from now on, i will work more with Illustrator :)