TUTORIAL – How To Make Engraving Style Illustrations

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Pinterest is a great database of pictures, but its use is limited because it’s also filled with smart advertisements and dead links to websites. Scrolling through the feeds can be boring and it’s almost impossible to find a digital design gem.

I have been visiting the same antique shop on De Oude Gracht in Utrecht for years. The upper floor is filled floor to ceiling with tea spoons, old cards and little knick-knacks from every historic period imaginable. The old musty vaulted cellar is a claustrophobic treasure room of display cases, tables and cabinets filled to the brim with antiques. Every time I go there, I have to adjust to the sheer number of items on display before I systematically start my search for old printing work from the 19th and 20th century.

I go through a small box with old black-and-white photos and look at the back of one that catches my eye. It’s a portrait photo made in Lyon in 1880. How it found its way here is a mystery to me. The back of the photo is beautiful, the lettering and illustration is so detailed and must have been drawn by a master artist. They really took their time designing this. They considered every little detail as well as every typography trend of the time. It’s one of the few I take with me to the improvised counter, made from an old baking counter, where the woman who runs the shop puts them in an old envelope.


Once I get to the studio, I scan the card in high resolution, then add a bit of contrast to the design in Photoshop and replace the yellow background with a white one. This way, all the details come alive. The illustrations were drawn by hand, with thin pencil strokes. They’re based on etchings and wood cuts, but in this case, I suspect the original art was larger and the design photographically shrunken in order to get all the little details in. The great thing about these engraving style illustrations is that they didn’t use colors to add contrast but instead relied on a technique of crossed hatching to make parts darker or lighter and even scratch away lines to make highlights.

There are only a handful of people who still practice this kind of work these days. They’re the keepers of the craft, so to say. Xavier Casalta, Steve Noble, Michael Halbert and David A. Smith are a few of them.

German designer Peter Voth does an excellent modern take on the engraving style technique, not drawn on paper but in Adobe Illustrator. He uses only single strokes in different sizes to create his design. It’s inspiring.

My own take on this technique is a mix between the old and the new techniques. I use my own custom brushes, which I’ve drawn by hand, and apply modern Illustrator techniques. I’ve created this tutorial to show you how you can make your own engraving style illustrations.


Step 1

Open a photo in Adobe Illustrator and draw the outline on a new layer (lock the photo layer).

Step 2

Lock the outline layer and create a new layer. To fill a part of the cube with lines, draw two parallel lines with the Pen Tool (P) on each side of the part you want to fill (line color, no fill). For the beste result you need to follow the shape of the object.

Step 3

Select the Blend Tool (W) and click on the left line, then on the right line. It now shows different steps (or a blend).

Step 4

Keep both lines selected and double click on the Blend Tool icon. A window now pops up where you can adjust the steps. Hit the preview box to see the result. Pick a number of steps that leaves space between the lines. Hit tab to see the result if you change the number. Chose OK to apply.

Though my version is in Dutch, you can choose the second one wich says Steps.

Step 5.
Choose Window > Brushes Library > Other Library and select our 25 Free Engraving Style Brushes file. Select the blended lines and choose a brush from the panel

Step 6

Deselect everything and draw a closed shape of the part you want to fill ON TOP of the lines.

Step 7.

Select both the lines and the shape with Shift.
Hit Command + 7 (Ctrl + 7 on Windows) or go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make

Your lines are now clipped inside the shape

Step 8

If you want to add shadows or darken areas, you can either change the width of the stroke or duplicate a clipped shape on a new layer (Cmd + Shift + V) and change the width of the lines as well as the shape of the mask by pulling the corners.

Step 9

Select all.

Choose Object > Expand. You can now shape every line the way you want.

Step 10

Remove any highlights with the Eraser Tool (E) and repeat the same process to every other side of the shape.




  • Besides the Pen Tool you can also use the Brush (B) and Pencil Tool (N) to draw the lines.
  • Follow the shape of the object. When you draw a face, make sure to follow the shape of the face.
  • You can blend multiple lines, by selecting all and choose Object > Blend > Make



Hopefully, this will help you add a little vintage to your design.


My name is Viktor Baltus, I’m a the art director and illustrator of Chalkboard.
I help brands build their authentic story through authentic illustrations & lettering.
Feel free to share this tutorial with your friends, company or blog or contact me for custom illustrations.