Frankentoon: Mixing vector and raster graphics

Frankentoon combines the Vector and Pixel Persona in Affinity Designer for iPad for perfect graphic harmony in this techniques-based tutorial.

One of the features that causes more confusion among Affinity Designer newcomers is the unique Vector/Pixel Personas combo. If you come from Adobe Illustrator or similar, this concept of an integrated raster editor within a vector app may sound weird at the beginning.

In this tutorial, rather than giving a ‘step by step guide’, I’ll try to break down the ways I usually combine both Personas in Affinity Designer for iPad, and why I choose one over the other, depending on the outcome needed.

For the sake of keeping things simple from the beginning, I’m going to put down a super easy checklist, showing when I use vector graphics and when raster. Then we’ll see examples of both working together.

I use vector graphics:

  • For creating shapes
  • Drawing my final line work
  • Adding main colour fills
  • Creating smooth and clean colour gradients

I use raster graphics:

  • For creating complex shading
  • For planning and sketching my illustration
  • When I need to add photo-realistic textures

Of course, I could spend the whole day listing lots of practical uses for both type of graphics, but this checklist should be enough to give you an idea of how to get started. Now, let’s see some practical examples of what I listed above.

Sketching

If I don’t have any sketch to work with, the first thing I do when I fire up Affinity Designer on my iPad is to switch to Pixel Persona.

Then I pick one of the fantastic default drawing brushes, or one from my own Frankentoon library and start doodling around until I find something I like. Notice that Designer will create a Pixel Layer automatically the moment you start drawing. This can also be done manually tapping the + icon at the top of the Layers Studio.

I try not to be too careful with my line work at this stage. All I need is to put my idea down as quick as possible, and then I improve it as I go, it also depends on the level of detail I need for my final illustration. I tend to use raster brushes to draft my sketches to keep a simpler layer structure and because I don’t need to edit my strokes other than erasing or scaling them.

Creating paths and adding shapes

Now that the main idea is clear in my mind, it’s time to create the main shapes. I switch to Vector Persona, and using the Pen Tool or by reshaping the default shapes, I trace my whole sketch over. Here I can also spot composition mistakes or test last minute ideas and move around all my paths until I find a composition I like.

This step also serves another purpose, which is selecting the primary colours of my illustration. Changing the colour of vector shapes only takes a couple of clicks so you can make colour comps super quick and easy.

Use vectors for a cleaner linework

Although I’m not using lines in this particular illustration, I want to add that creating your linework using vector graphics provides enormous advantages over drawing them using raster-based brushes.

An example of vector line art.

“creating your linework using vector graphics provides enormous advantages over drawing them using raster-based brushes”

First of all, vectors will allow you to create your strokes with 100% accuracy and precision. Second, you’ll be able to manipulate these strokes with total freedom after you’ve drawn them.

Third, Affinity Designer has a feature called Pressure, that will allow you to control the dynamics of your strokes. Affinity Designer’s Pressure Function is located in the Stroke Studio.

Still not sold on this? Vector lines will also allow you to choose between different brushes, to make your strokes look precisely the way you want; if you’re not happy with how a particular brush looks on your stroke, you just need to choose another one, and that’s it.

Shading with gradients and raster brushes

Once I have my composition laid out, I make a ‘shading pass’. To do this, I use one of these two methods or, both in combination:

  1. I rely on vector gradients to add instant volume to my vector shapes.
  2. Or I switch again to Pixel Persona, to manually add values to my shapes using raster brushes.

Notice how both methods of shading lead to entirely different results. Sometimes, I use them together to get more accurate shadows, without losing the nice organic look of texture brushes.

The difference between shading with a gradient and shading with a raster brush.

Clipping raster brushes to vector shapes

To paint inside the confines of a vector shape or path, switch to Pixel Persona, create a new pixel layer and from the Layers Studio, drag this Pixel Layer onto your target Layer to create a Clipping Mask.

If you are in Pixel Persona and have a vector shape already selected, Designer will perform this action automatically, the moment you start using a raster brush on that shape.

Mix vector and photos to add intricate details

Another fascinating technique I use a lot when creating this type of textured flat illustration, is to clip photographic images within my vector shapes to break the cleanliness of my too perfect vector graphics. The trick here is to find interesting patterns that make sense with your illustration.

An example of photographic textures that were then used alongside vector graphics.

I found the images above in my iPad’s photo collection, you can also snap your own shots directly with your iPad’s camera and create really spontaneous experiments. One of the most challenging things when importing images for using as textures is to merge their colours and values with the rest of the composition. Let’s see some techniques to integrate them with your vector shapes.

To import an image from your device or from the Cloud, use the Place Image function located in the Document menu.

For example, check this cool natural design over my tree. I’ve previously cropped this photo so it matches my vector shape perfectly, then I clip the photo to this shape.

By using Blend Modes, I’m able to make smoother transitions between my pixel-based images and vector graphics when used together. I strongly recommend working with greyscale pictures for this purpose, since neutral tones are easier to control over colour hues.

Adding a blend mode to the photographic texture.

Once I’ve selected a blend mode I like, I use a Colour Balance Adjustment on the texture image, to create more coherent and clean colour harmonies. You can also experiment with other Adjustment Layers; since these are non-destructive, so you can play around with them as much as you want without actually affecting your illustration.

Altering the colour balance.

With Affinity Designer you can have the freedom of choosing whatever resource works better for you. It will expand your possibilities in a way you’ve never experienced before on a mobile platform.

An entire world of graphic possibilities.

I hope I was able to help you explore how having two types of graphic environments within a single application can help make your workflow a hundred times more effective. You won’t have to keep switching apps each time you need to work with vector or raster images anymore, and once you get used to this concept of Personas, you’ll find yourself jumping between them back and forth without even thinking about it.

Working this way will always feel more natural since you’ll forget about the tools themselves and will use whichever resource you have at hand to get your idea done precisely the way you want it to be.


For more of Frankentoon’s tutorials on Spotlight check out: Creating a funny video game boss and Creating characters with Frankentoon.

Find out more about Enrique’s creative projects over at Frankentoon and FX Monkey.


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.
Credits & Footnotes

All images © Enrique Figueroa ‘Frankentoon’ and used with permission.