Many designs lend themselves best to either photos or illustrations as their primary design element, but there are times when a design can benefit from a combination of both. Done well, this approach can result in a design that is far more than the sum of its parts.

The Tutorial

We'll go through a specific example that utilizes both, building a snowboard-themed design using vector illustrations and photographs. Starting with an illustration from iStock, we'll blend it with several photographs to create something new. If you'd like to follow along with this specific file, you can find it here. You'll want to open this file in Adobe Illustrator.

1. Our vector graphic gives us a good place to start, but adding in some actual photos of snowboarders will add human interest to the design. But we don't want to just slap some cut-out photos of snowboarders on it. We need to consider where to place them, whether or not we want to add some manner of blending element, and if so, how much to use to balance it.

2. Begin with a photograph, like this one here, or one of your own. Open this raster image up in Photoshop.

3. Next, cut out the snowboarder (or whatever person or object you've selected to place onto the vector art). There are many ways to cut out areas of a photo, and every designer has their own preference. Use the tool that feels right for you.

4. Once you've got your area selected, go to Select>Inverse to select everything but the area we just selected. Press Delete (PC: Backspace) to remove the pixels around the area.

5. Save the file as a .GIF, and make sure Transparency is selected when you save it. Open Illustrator with the illustration and go to File>Place and place the file we just created. Click-and-drag it to move it to an area that looks best.

6. Repeat these steps with a few more photos that fit the look of the design.

The Result

Since our working document is an Illustrator file, it's easy now to add some more shapes with the pen tool. Once we add these, along with our other cut-out photographs, here's the final result using the images I used.

Now that you've got the basics down, have some fun. You can incorporate vector elements into a Photoshop document as Smart Objects, keeping them easily scalable and editable. Try using different vector images as a background and placing various photos on top and blend them using these techniques as one way to combine vector and raster images to create new designs.

Image Credits

Chad Neuman (ctneuman) is an internationally published freelance magazine writer, graphic designer, photographer, and educator from Florida. His website is

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