Using Extreme Typography to Make Vector Art


Morph words into art with this typographically-saturated tutorial. You'll need a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of design to successfully accomplish this end result.

While there are several image-based typography designs out there I felt it was necessary to highlight where the inspiration for this tutorial originated. DilsJ's Mos Def Portrait at Deviant Art was my main inspiration for this piece.

Step 1

Take a picture of an object to use as your subject matter. You need to strike a good balance between something that doesn't have too much detail, yet is not boring to look at. If possible, pick a light colored object so you can get good highlights and shadows. Take a photo of the object ensuring you have a definite shadow...the more dramatic the shadow the better.

Step 2

Isolate your object in Photoshop.

Step 3

To enhance the shadows and highlights we'll adjust the curves. In Photoshop go to Image > Adjust > Curves. Move the highlighted area to the right until the image becomes dramatically shaded.

Step 4

Give the background layer a solid black fill. Notice how the shadows blend perfectly with the black background. To ensure this happens make certain you have a strong light source when you take the photo.

Step 5

Now you're ready to work in Illustrator. Place the shoe on it's own layer and work in a new layer. Pick at least two different fonts to start with. I've chosen Aquiline and grayscale Basic, both of which are free!

Type a series of words and convert them to outlines. Obviously my words have a shoe theme.

Step 6

Pick a dominant aspect of your image and draw a line using the Pen Tool (P) on top of it. It's important that the final image has a strong sense of the original photo, and the definite line we're drawing now will help create the overall shoe image once the illustration is complete.

Step 7

Using the Type on a Path Tool (found under the Text Tool (T)) click on the line you just drew.

Step 8

Type a sentence or a series of words. Observe how this smooth and definitive line begins to illustrate the shoe.

Note: Where you click to create the first point is what end of the line the words will be placed at when you begin to type.

Step 9

Repeat the last three steps for the top edge of the shoe. I'd recommend not drawing long lines of words on too many areas, as overuse will make the image too flat looking. To indicate other areas of the image while maintaining a voluminous look will require a more artistic approach as described throughout the rest of the tutorial.

Step 10

Keep the series of words off to the side of your screen for repeated use. Grab the first word and place it at the center of the tip of the shoe.

Note: Start with the larger areas and work your way down to the smaller areas using smaller scaled words.

Step 11

Using the Warp Tool (Shift + R), warp the word so it appears to wrap around the shoe. Warping an object will of course create some distortion so ensure you rotate the word into the approximate position before you warp it. It's OK if the word becomes a little distorted, as this adds to the overall effect anyhow.

Step 12

Continue using other words and warping them to fit the large areas first. Notice below that I've chosen the words that don't have descenders (areas of letters that jut below the baseline of a word, like lowercase "g's, q's j's etc.") This helps define the edge of the shoe better.

Step 13

Rotate the words in interesting ways and fill up the large areas first.

Step 14

Make the letters work to your advantage. The word "hike" has a natural curve at the top. I've used this to my advantage by placing it near the edge of the curved line of text.

Step 15

Near the edge of the shoe I've used larger words to help balance the layout. It's important not to use words that are all the same size. There needs to be a big difference in size to give the illustration a varied feel.

Step 16

The shoelaces are more of a detailed area. For the shoelaces I compacted the words to fit only on the lace area. Since this area is more detailed it's even more important to the final outcome of the illustration to more closely follow the image. To clarify, try not to have letters extending out of the shoelace.

Step 17

Continue to layer more words in between the existing letters to really create a solid band of text so it looks like the shoelace.

Step 18

Continue to fill in the other shoelaces.

Step 19

On the heel of the shoe I've used a few words arranged in an arc shape.

Step 20

On the areas of the shoe that are completely black you won't need to add any words.

Step 21

Give the letters that fade into the darker areas a white to black gradient using the Gradient Tool (G.) Ensure your black color is made up of 0 R, G and B values so you get the blackest black possible. Otherwise, your black will look more like gray and will not fade completely into the background.

Step 22

Give the other words a gradient where needed too.

Step 23

For areas that have a large number of words that need to fade into black you can select multiple words at once and give them a gradient simultaneously.

Step 24

For the tongue area of the shoe I've used a medium gray color since this area is neither completely in shadow or highlight.

Step 25

Hide the layer with the image of the shoe on it to see what your image looks like. Below you can see the image is coming together nicely. Continue to add in more words until you are pleased with the result. You should repeatedly turn the shoe layer on and off to see which areas need improvement and which areas look good.

Step 26

It should now be obvious that the shoelace area is somewhat difficult to indicate which is why it's important to build up a substantial amount of letters in this area.

Step 27

To add an element of whimsy to the illustration we'll create a line the gives the impression of words flowing into place to create the shoe. Use the Pen Tool and draw a line like we did before.

Step 28

Type your words or sentence.

Step 29

Vary the font to add more visual interest. Scale the size of the entire line of words to be larger by selecting them and changing the size in the Character Palette.

Step 30

Give the line a tapered look by making the first couple words smaller and the last couple words larger.

Step 31

Rotate and vary the size of a few other words and place them at the end of the line to indicate that they are flowing through space randomly.

Step 32

Select the line of text, convert it to outlines and give it a gradient to add some dimension to it.

Step 33

Either duplicate the line of words you just created or draw a new line of words to create the other shoelace.

Step 34

To give a single word a unique feel select it and go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Warp. Select a Style from the list and give it a Bend and Distortion of your choosing.

Step 35

Adjust the Opacity in the Transparency Palette to suit your needs.

Step 36

You can also create a sense of depth by blurring words. To blur a word select it and go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a value that looks good to you.

Step 37

In some instances, it will be difficult to apply a gradient to indicate a shadow. When this is the case simply draw another shape at the location that you want the shadow.

Step 38

Fill the shape with black and in the Transparency Palette set the mode to Multiply.

Step 39

Blur the shape as we did in Step 36. This will create the illusion of a gradient/shadow without individually selecting words and applying a gradient.

Step 40

I've also added a small shadow to the center top area of the shoe as my original picture has some small shading in this area. This technique will save you time when you need to add shading to complex areas of letters.

Step 41

The shading is subtle but it helps define small areas of the shoe.

Final Image

Here's the final image! You've just learned how to use extreme typography as art. Click here for a larger version.

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