Vector art is a technique where the art is created in a vector-based software. It consists of paths and points of mathematically built graphics that allows them to keep their quality and proportion whenever resized. This versatility made vector art technique beneficial to a lot of art projects and all kinds of design work including the ones related to brand design, one of them being portrait art. For its intricacy, creating a portrait art is pretty challenging yet rewarding. An adventure worth taking!

I’m going to show you how I create my version of a vector portrait. My artworks are mostly outline vector drawings, which usually are monochromatics, consist of lines only with very minimal shadings. Unlike the typical outline drawing, I usually put out a lot of work to the skin shading. Here I’m going to show you how; I’m using Affinity Designer and a Wacom pen tablet, but you can use a lot of other vector softwares, they will work just as fine.

Step 1

stock image

I always start by looking for some stock images for a reference picture. You can start without one but it is much easier to have a reference picture since you need to know where the lights and shades go on the portrait you’re working on.

Step 2

Brush vector tool

After I choose my reference picture, I begin analyzing where the bold and soft strokes are, and using the brush vector tool (B), start making an outline from the reference picture.

Step 3

Shape opacity shading

After I have the outline I want, I typically start the shading from the eyes. There are tons of vector shading types, but the one I will be using is the shape opacity shading. I’m not sure whether there’s an actual name for this type of shading or not but it is actually very simple and easy. You just need to be a bit patient. If you don’t know how shadings work; basically it’s about adding darker tones to particular areas where shadows cast, just like how shadings work in every other art form e.g. oil painting, watercolor, gouache, pastel, pencil, raster graphics etc. Where in this particular work, you’re replacing the color with variety of shapes that when combined together can achieve the desired effect.

The way this shading works is to put a certain shape with a certain opacity over another to create depth. It might not be as smooth as the other type of shadings but it sure have a unique effect. But still, the more transparent the shape the smoother you’ll get.

Step 4

Minimal shading

Moving on, working on the nose and the lips. These two are quite tricky because the bold lines you see sometimes not the line you want to put more shadings on. For example when analyzing the reference picture, I put some bold lines for the lips and the nose, but in the end I will only put very minimal shading on the edges of the lips because I wanted to create depth. While doing this I usually come back and forth between the artboard and the reference picture to make sure I’m putting the right lights and shades.

Step 5

make the beard

After I’m happy with the nose and lips shading, I continue to work on the face. Just as I said earlier, the more transparent the shapes are, the smoother you’ll get. To achieve the face structure I wanted, I put a lot of shapes over another to, again, create depth. This part may get a little frustrating since it is not easy figuring out where the lighter part and the darker part go. If you have any trouble with it just don’t hesitate to go back to the reference picture and you’ll get the hang of it.

Sometimes I like to add some extra detail like this one. I add tiny little strokes to make the beard. This step makes the portrait look more natural and real.

Step 6

Next is my favorite part: creating the hair. See, working on the hair to a lot of people is tiring and kind of difficult to get done. Truth is, it does take a lot of time and energy to get done, but the result of all those hard work is so worth it. Now in this part going back and forth to your reference picture may and may not be what you want. When working on the hair, sometimes the reference picture help a lot, but at times vice versa. In this particular drawing I don’t use the reference for the hair at all, as I found it not really helping. So I just go with the flow. By that I mean following the outline I made earlier. To create the hair I’m still using the brush vector tool (B) with a consistent stroke width. The more lines you create, the more natural it’ll get.

Hair outline

When the hair is done, I erase the hair outline so that it looks more realistic.

Step 7


After I’m pretty much done with everything I usually zooming in and out at the whole artboard to make sure everything turns out as I expected, probably making some more adjustments until I get the result I want, if necessary. To add some finishing touches, I put some colors on the shirt, and that’s all!


Lastly, working on a vector portrait is an adventure indeed. Keep exploring a lot of styles, do a lot of practices, start more projects, and be a master in no time. Most importantly, have fun!

Here are some amazing vector portrait tutorials to help you improve your skills.

  1. How to Create a Glamorous Portrait Using Adobe Illustrator
  2. How to Create a Beautiful Vector Portrait in Illustrator
  3. Vector Portraits for Beginners: A Free Tuts+ Course