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How To Create Custom Type Designs in Adobe Illustrator

Today’s post is all about custom type in Adobe Illustrator. Now I have to admit I’m a bit of a noob when a comes to hand lettering, so in this tutorial I’m going to share some secrets on how you can still create cool looking typography by customising ready-made fonts. Once I’ve brushed up on my hand lettering skills enough to be able to draw out custom type from scratch I’ll make a video on scanning and vectorising your artwork, but today I’ll show you how us mere mortals can make use of the high quality fonts with OpenType features that have been made by the typographic gods.

The tutorial will then continue with some customisation of the type to add shadows, offset accents and highlights to create a bright and colourful typography designs. So begin by opening up Adobe Illustrator and create a new document. I’m using a generic A4 layout but with the document rulers set to pixels. I always like to go to View > Hide Artboards to give myself a large workspace to play with. Since we’re going to use ready-made fonts in this tutorial, we need to find a suitable typeface to work with. Now chances are you’re going to have to spend some money here because the majority of free fonts available on the web just don’t come packed with the OpenType features we’re looking for.

If you’ve ever bought any of the bundles I’ve recommended in my newsletters, chances are you’ll have the font I’m using plus many others in your collection already. Otherwise you can pick up Bonbon, which is the script font I’m using in this video, from the link in the description. What these premium fonts have over the typical free font is a range of OpenType features. These are alternative characters for each letter that often include variations with ligatures or swashes. They allow you to put together unique typographic designs that disguise the fact that it’s made using a font, rather than being a handmade piece.

Type out your chosen wording and set the font with the Type tool and scale it to a suitable size. Open up the OpenType panel to find the settings for these special features and play around with them to see the various styles available. When working on logos or typographic designs, it’s sometimes worth duplicating your text and applying the different settings to each one so you can easily compare the letters. So the first one is plain with no OpenType effects, the second adds Contextual Alternates, the next one is all Swashes and so on. Make another copy of the text that you’ll use as your final design, then pick and choose your favourite letter styles and replicate the settings on each character.

Here I’m using a Stylistic Alternate for the letter H, contextual letters S and T so they flow nicely, then the Tilting Alternate for the letter L adds a nice swoosh that sweeps back and crosses the T, which is an effect you would otherwise only be able to create by hand, or with some serious path editing, so it just goes to show how investing in premium fonts can really up your game in your design work. Once you’ve found a cool looking type layout, move your design into some empty space on the artboard, then right click and select Create Outlines to convert it into a solid shapes. Each letter will be an individual shape, so click the Merge option from the Pathfinder panel to blend them into one continuous outline. Next go to Object > Path > Offset Path and enter 10px. This will be automatically grouped with the original, so right click and select Ungroup.

Ungrouping will accidentally separate any unconnected letters, so be sure to hold shift and select all the portions of the word. Give the originals a white fill to make them visible against the black offset, then hit the Merge button from the Pathfinder panel to combine them again. Select all the pieces of the black offset version and merge them back together too. With the offset version still selected, go to Edit > Copy, followed by Edit > Paste in Back. Hold the Shift key and nudge the duplicate down and to the right. Shift and select both the offset shapes, then head to Object > Blend > Make. Go straight back to Object > Blend > Blend Options and change the setting to Specified Steps. Increase the value to a high number to generate a smooth transition between them. Permanently apply this blend effect by going to Object > Expand, which makes loads of individual shapes. Blend these together with the Pathfinder’s Merge button to simplify it into one outline.

Select the inner white text outline and go to Edit > Copy, followed by Edit > Paste in Back. Nudge this shape about 5 pixels down and to the right, then give it a bright colour fill like #ff2468, which is a vibrant pinky red. Click the original white text again to select it and add a black stroke in the bottom of the toolbar. In the Stroke panel, change the alignment to the Outside, add the Round Cap option and increase the stroke weight to around 8pt. We can further customise the type by adding hand made shapes to accentuate some of the curves and strokes. Zoom in and select the Pen tool.

Set up the appearance with just a black fill, no stroke. Draw a path that extends from the black outline into the shape, following the direction of the outline to create a tapered point. Complete the path back at the start to make an enclosed shape. Continue adding these shapes elsewhere in the design, where a brush stroke would naturally overlap the other letters if the type was drawn by hand. If you need to adjust the shape, switch to the Direct Selection tool to alter the bezier curves. This little trick helps take the overall appearance further away from being made with a ready made font and gives it more of that custom hand lettered appearance. One final embellishment we can add is some highlights. Select the Ellipse tool and hold Shift while drawing a small circle. Give this circle a vibrant fill, such as this cyan colour of #86f8ff. Grab the Direct Selection tool and click and drag each of the two side points outwards which holding the Shift key to stretch the shape out into a tapered brush stroke effect.

With the shape still selected, click the New Brush icon in the Brushes panel, then select New Art Brush. Hit OK on the default settings (or one setting to potentially change is to select Tints for the colourization method, so the colour can be changed in the future). Switch the fill and stroke around in the toolbar, then select the Pen tool. Draw a path that follows the outline of the text, to the right hand side of the first letter’s stroke. Click the newly created brush from the Brushes panel to see the tapering effect applied to the path. Depending on the size of your original circle the scaling need to be adjusted by altering the Stroke weight. Continue adding paths across the type wherever you want highlights to appear. Stick to a basic pattern, like only adding them to one side of each letter, but make sure they follow the outline of the text by dragging those bezier handles until they match.

Once you’ve drawn all your paths, with one still selected, go to Select > Same > Stroke Colour to select them all, then apply the tapered brush effect and change the Stroke weight as appropriate. Select the Rectangle tool and draw a shape over the design, which will still have the same colour fill applied. Right click and go to Arrange > Send to Back to use it as a nice background to your artwork. So I hope these tips help you create some cool typography of your own. It just goes to show that you don’t need to be a hand lettering master to be able to create nice typographic designs if you have the right tools. If you are a whizz at illustrating your own text, the same techniques can be applied to your artwork once it has been traced to give it more impact.

As found on Youtube

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