How do I create a custom sticker shape?

Follow these steps using other graphic editing software, but we are going to show the steps in Adobe Illustrator for ease of use and to create a vector cut path (custom shape).

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Step-by-Step Guide To Creating An Outline

It’s a fairly simple process. It’s a combination of duplicating layers and adding an offset path in Adobe Illustrator to create the shape around your designs. It may seem intimidating at first for beginners, but by following the steps below you’ll be on your way to adding custom shapes for any raster or vector graphic.

How To Create A Custom Shape For A Sticker

Time needed: 15 minutes

Document Preparation

First, you will need to design and finalize your artwork. You can create your graphic designs in raster or vector format. If designing in Once designs have been finalized proceed to the steps below.

  1. Open a new file in Adobe Illustrator

    Create a new file (CMD+N mac or CTR+N pc) in Adobe Illustrator. We will refer to this active document as the work file for the rest of this tutorial.
    Opening A New File In Adobe Illustrator

  2. Open the document settings

    Open legacy settings by clicking on more settings We find that it is easier to set your document settings in this modal window.
    Legacy Artboard Settings Window

  3. Adjust work file parameters

    A) Input the size for your work file artboard (can be adjusted later if you are uncertain)

    B) Choose units for your artboard. If you are designing to a particular size (in most cases) select inches. If you want to create your file in millimeters or centimeters that is fine we can make the final conversion on our end for print.

    C) Add document bleed. We typically use .25” or .375” of bleed on each side to allow for some breathing room around your graphics.

    D) Select CMYK color mode

    E) Raster effects assigned to High 300 ppi

    All of the above steps can be adjusted after the work file has been created, but these are the main parameters to pay attention to.

    Adobe Illustrator Project Settings for Artboard

  4. Create/Import/Copy/Paste Artwork into the Work File

    Once your file has been created, you will then need to get your finished graphic design into the work file.

    If you are using a vector-based graphic (.ai, .pdf, or .eps), open the artwork in Illustrator. Once opened copy all visible artwork. Then, go to the work file and paste it into this document.

    If you are using a raster-based graphic (.jpg, .jpeg, .png, .tif, .tiff, .psd, .psb, or .gif – an image made of pixels), you will need to “place” or “copy/paste” the raster graphic into the work file.

  5. Expand Appearance and Shapes (if using vector graphics)

    Before starting the process of creating an offset path, you will want to use the Object > Expand Appearance and Object > Expand (stroke) to make sure that nothing is affected when the graphic is scaled to a different size in a later step. If you are using effects such as drop shadows or even object clipping paths, this may make this process a bit trickier, but can be done using some advanced skills.

    Expand Appearance for Vector Shapes
    First Step: Expand Appearance

    Illustrator Expand Object Menu Option
    Second Step: Expand Object Fill/Stroke

    Illustrator Expand Object Stroke Menu
    Third Step: Expand Object Stroke Options

  6. Creating Your Custom Shape

    Next will be to create your offset path which will be the custom shape around your graphics. This will be comprised of 2-3 layers based on whether bleed is needed for artwork color extending to the edge of the sticker. The three layers are:

    1. Cut Layer
    2. Artwork Layer
    3. Bleed Layer (only needed when graphics go to the edge)

    The best way to do this is to start by naming the layer with your graphic design “Artwork” or something similar.

    Renaming a layer in Adobe Illustrator

    Then select the Artwork Layer and duplicate it by dragging and dropping on the “create a new layer” icon on the bottom of the Layers Panel. Alternatively, you can just create a new layer and select the artwork from the Artwork Layer and copy then paste it in front. Then in the Layers Panel drag the artwork to the new layer.

    Drag the newly duplicated layer to the top of the Artwork Layer, and rename it Cut Layer or something similar.

    Select all artwork on that layer and click on Unite in the Pathfinder Panel. Now that it all has been merged into one shape now, remove any color that may be assigned to the fill of that vector shape and then assign a stroke color to that layer. This will resemble the cut path and the artwork should now be visible because the fill on your cut layer has been removed.

    Next, is to add an Offset Path to increase the margin around the graphics. Go to Menu > Effects > Path > Offset Path…

    This will bring up the Offset Path settings. Play with the numbers to see what kind of shape it creates around your graphics. There is not one value that works for all as the graphic design, size, and shape will all factor in. For smaller stickers like a 4″ x 4,” it’s good to start with something in the .125″-.25″ offset range. We also, suggest changing the Joins dropdown option to Round. This gives it a smoother rounded shape rather than jagged lines, but if you are needed sharp jagged corners then you can use the Miter option. You may have to play with the Miter value to make some acute angles come out well.

    After you are satisfied with the overall shape you will need to Expand the shape. This will be the cut path on the Cut Layer

  7. Scale to the size needed for production

    Now you will need to determine what size you want to make your print. Once you know either the width or height of the print, select everything on the Cut Layer and the Art Layer. Go to the Transform Panel and type in the dimension desired. Be careful as to whether the lock aspect ratio is selected or not. You will want that to be locked in most cases. So that, when you type in the width or height, desired it will scale the graphics proportionally and not distort your graphic.


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