How to Make a Minimal Vector Portrait in Adobe Illustrator

Create vibrant portraits with simple shapes and bright colors. 

Simple shapes, bright colors, and basic geometry come together to create vibrant portraits. See how illustrator and designer Kendall Plant designs head-turning art with the Curvature and Shape Builder tools in Adobe Illustrator.


Kendall Plant is a designer, content creator, and art director whose unique creations incorporate nature, street photography, and even skulls. She works at Adobe as an associate creative director.

Take a one-minute look at Plant’s technique in this video; the steps are written out below. 

Before You Start 

Use this sample file to practice with if you’d like, or practice with your own.

Step 1: Start with a Reference Image

Plant opened a photo for reference and reduced its opacity. Using control-R (Windows) or command-R (macOS), she revealed rulers, dragged a guide to the center of the model’s face, and locked the image layer.

Next, she selected the Curvature tool and clicked to create anchor points to draw an outline around the left side of the model’s face. The Curvature tool creates geometric curves automatically, so she didn’t need many anchor points. To create corner points and straight lines, she held down the alt (or option) key as she clicked. To finish the shape, she clicked the original anchor point while holding down the alt (or option) key.

Step 2: Reflect, Unite, Fill

With the shape selected, Plant used the Reflect tool (O on her keyboard). She clicked on the center guide to set the reflection point; then she clicked on the shape, held shift-alt (or shift-option) as she dragged a reflected copy of the face shape.

Plant chose the Selection tool (V) and shift-clicked both sides of the face. In the Properties panel, she chose Unite from the Pathfinder options and changed the fill to a warm brown color with no stroke. 

Step 3: Rinse and Repeat

Plant continued to draw facial features, sunglasses, and jewelry with the Curvature tool while using the reference image to check proportions as needed.

As she worked, she reflected shapes across the center guide, united them, and changed the fill colors. She toggled the guide visibility by pressing control-; (semicolon) or command-; on her keyboard. She then hid the photo layer before adding hair in the next step. If the Curvature tool inadvertently interacts with other shapes, locking the paths within the layer can help prevent undesired results.

Step 4: Make Some Waves

To draw the hair, Plant chose the Ellipse tool and held down shift-alt (or shift-option) as she dragged a circle out from the center of the face. Then she filled the shape with dark blue and used shift-control or command-[ (left bracket) to send it behind the face.

With the hair selected, she chose Effect > Distort and Transform > Zig Zag and experimented with the settings before settling on the effect she liked.

Step 5: Color Those Curls   

With the hair selected, Plant chose Object > Expand Appearance to convert the zig zag path to a shape so she could customize the hair with the Shape Builder tool.

To create a layered look, she held down alt or option as she dragged to create overlapping copies of the hair, and then used the Selection tool to select all the copies. Next, Plant selected the Shape Builder tool and held down the alt key as she dragged to remove the additional sections of hair outside of the original shape. Finally, she changed the fill color of the individual sections of hair.

Step 6: Throw Shade

To create a shadow, Plant used the Curvature tool to draw a crescent shape, filled it with black, and reduced the opacity. Then she selected the shadow and the face and used Shape Builder as described in the previous step to trim the shadow that extended off the face. 

Shape It Yourself

Add shapes, trim, and embellish to make your portraits stand out on a solid color background.

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

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