Illustrator Tutorial: Create Your Own Typographic Design

April 30, 2013, under: Blog | 8 Comments
  • Research and Theory

Everybody knows typographic designs are awesome. They’re versatile, useful in both web and print, easily adapted to every need and extremely beautiful when done right. And because it’s so great, this article will serve you as guide and tutorial, so you too can achieve that type treatment greatness. It also shows what our trusted partners from DesignTNT have been working on, TypeZilla: Super Premium Typography Set for Only $32 - which is featured exclusively on Inky Deals.

Breaking Down the Message

Typography, in its basic definition is the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible. That means choosing typefaces, leading, line length and kerning in such a way that the message is conveyed in the clearest way possible.

When you illustrate a slogan or saying through typographic means, the message is the building block on which you construct your typographic design. Breaking down this message into its most important parts is the first step you should take before getting to the fun part of choosing the right fonts and decoration.

Finding the keywords you want to highlight in order to stand out more, establishing what conjunction words can be reduced to symbols or incorporated more into the background of the keywords – these are all essential steps in deconstructing the message, so you can illustrate it typographically.

Our example is a holiday cheer: “May your Christmas be bright and merry!”. The important words are (in order of importance): ”Christmas”, ”bright” and ”merry”. These are the words that we want to highlight and make stand out more to the viewer.

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In order to do this we need to treat them differently than the other, less important words, by mixing different typefaces together.

Choosing Your Fonts

Before we can illustrate our message, we need to understand some basic concepts of typography and typefaces. Nowadays  the word „font” has become almost synonymous with „typeface”, meaning a set of characters or glyphs that share the same design characteristics. However, in professional  typography, a typeface represents a family of different fonts or variants such as italic, bold, condensed, etc. For example, Myriad Pro is a typeface (or font family) that encompasses all Myriad  fonts such as Myriad Bold, Myriad Italic, etc.

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That distinction being made, there are thousands of typefaces already in existence and new ones that are being created every day. They are incredibly diverse in style, approach and use, but we can generally break them down into a few basic style categories:

Serifs: The serif is the small line trailing from the ends of the glyphs. Typefaces with these little lines at the end of their symbols are Serif Typefaces. This category diverges further into various styles of serifs, of which the most important for our tutorial is the Slab Serif. The serifs in this case are rectangular in appearance, as are the glyphs in general.

Sans-serifs: These are pretty straightforward – typefaces that lack the little lines are called Sans-Serif Typefaces.

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Other categories include Script, Blackletter and Display.

Mixing Typefaces and Fonts

Mixing typefaces is of key importance in creating typographic designs. The contrast between them will highlight or subdue certain words or parts of the phrase, while making the composition visually appealing. This contrast can be achieved by following a few basic guidelines illustrated below.

Mixing Serifs and Sans-serifs

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Using Different Font Weights and Styles

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The Rule: Hierarchy is very important when designing typographic elements because it’s closely tied to breaking down  the message into important and less important parts in order to attract the viewer’s attention. Use heavy font weights  for important words, italics or condensed fonts also stand out for secondary parts and regular or light variants for blocks of text of less importance like conjunctions, etc.

When to break it: When creating a typographic design, other decorative elements are often used in the composition (ribbons, decorative lines or shapes). These can improve or just alter the hierarchization of the text – if, for example, you place a word on a ribbon within the block of text, it will stand out from the others no matter the weight or style.

Contrasting Display and Neutral Typefaces

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The Rule: Less is more. Try not to use more than two or three typefaces. Of these two or three, one can be a display or decorative typeface, the other a more neutral or subtle typeface. You can still use different weights and styles to create visual diversity, but the limited number will keep the overall look of the composition vaguely uniform.

When to break it: Contrast is a relative concept. If you want a bolder, more striking design, you can always use two or three display fonts if you can establish a hierarchy between them through weight, personality, leading, etc. Though this approach is less about readability and more about aesthetics, it can be useful if done properly.

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  • Illustrator Tutorial: Create Your Own Typographic Design

Difficulty: Beginner

Requirements: Adobe Illustrator CS2 or newer

Estimated Completion Time: 20 minutes

After analyzing our message and breaking it down into keywords, the next step is to explore its concept. Because it’s a holiday slogan, we need to find fonts that have a certain personality, nothing too fancy or tough but expressive enough to make it interesting, just like the elements from our TypeZilla: Super Premium Typography Set for Only $32.

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Open a new file in Adobe Illustrator and let’s begin. For the most important word, „Christmas”, I chose Homestead, a bold Slab Serif typeface and for the next two, „bright” and “merry”, the typeface Geared Slab. I replaced “and” with an ampersand (this is an ampersand -> &) from the font Haymaker in order to condense the information better and chose two more fonts, Haymaker and Wisdom Script for the rest of the slogan.

Now let’s get some tech stuff involved!

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Notice how mixing different typefaces with different personalities and point-size created a visual hierarchy and composition.

Composition: Adding Effects to the Type

While we already have contrast and hierarchy, our typographic design at this point is nothing more than a selection of typefaces mixed together. It’s time to add a little sparkle to make it more interesting.

Select the word „Christmas” and then go to Effects>Warp>Arc Upper, and apply a 7% vertical bend.

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Now we have a nice dynamic upper bend to our main word. But the line above it has a straight bottom line so with Effects>Warp>Arc let’s arc it so that it molds to the shape below. Use the same value (7%) for the “Bend” setting and hit OK.

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Once again, contrast is essential. If you look at your screen from a distance, we now have two distinct visual areas – the slightly rounded, warped one above and the straight one below separated by the italic script “be” in the center. This creates a nice composition through the contrast I mentioned earlier, both from type and shape.

Adding Decorative Elements

To complete our composition we need to add decorative design elements. Christmas means mistletoe, ribbons and other holiday related elements. Let’s create a ribbon for the top part of our text. We put a basic ribbon shape and arc it just like before to fit with „may your”.

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Adjusting the size and placement and adding some circles to decorate already makes it look interesting. Hold ALT+Shift to preserve the centerline alignment.

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Next, we need to fill up the empty space adjacent to „be”.  I used a candy-cane inspired line element for this purpose. For tips on how to build your own candy cane brush, check out this design tutorial.

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Now our composition seems pretty sturdy but still lacking in context and Christmas cheer so I added top and bottom decorations in the form of zig-zag lines (Effect>Distort & Transform>Zig-Zag) and a small vector mistletoe element at the top for extra Christmas spirit.

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Our Christmas type design is almost finished, but now we can see that „Christmas” doesn’t stand out as much as before so to fix this I’ll add a drop-shadow like effect using the expanded word and a horizontal line pattern with a black stroke. Drag a copy of the word aside, expand it (Object>Expand Appearance) and then load the Basic Lines swatch in Illustrator and fill it with one of the simple horizontal line patterns.

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Align the stroke to the inside of the expanded shape so that the contour of the word remains exactly the same as the non-expanded version in our existing design.

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Next, right-click the shape and click Transform>Scale, make sure to uncheck the Transform Object option and introduce a value of around 20% uniform scaling like in the image below.

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Now drag this shape beneath the original word with a slight vertical offset.

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Our typographic design element is officially finished! You can add color and texture to it, include it in illustrations or websites, posters or other print materials, coffee mugs and many, many more. Or you can just head over and buy TypeZilla: Super Premium Typography Set for Only $32 and never worry about going through all of these steps.

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About the author: Ioana Șopov is an illustrator and graphic designer with over 4 years of experience in her field. She has worked with brands like Vodafone and collaborated with numerous ad agencies like Ogilvy and Cohn&Jansen JWT. Check out her work on Behance and keep in touch on Twitter.

8 comments Comment now

  1. Thanks for reminding me how clumsy and unwieldy Illustrator is! Have you ever tried Freehand? If you’re lucky enough to be working on a Mac it’s heavenly and still more readily functional than Illustrator even if you’re stuck with Microsoft. I’ve been using Illustrator, Freehand & CorelDraw for about 20 years and Free hand remains the program of choice thru all the bell and whistle upgrades.

    The retro look is fun – thanks for sharing!

  2. So fun!! I really enjoyed this tutorial and realized that Illustrator can do some of these things I keep going out to other programs for. Inky…you’re the best!!

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