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Create 3D Letters Without the Use of 3D Tools in Adobe Illustrator

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Follow this new quick tip and learn how to create simple 3D letters without the use of the 3D effects. We will start from a simple font and after a few adjustments we are going to be ready to create the 3D look with the help of the Transform effect and a few shape manipulations. Once completed, you can color the 3D letters as you desire. Let's begin!


1. Start a New Project

Launch Illustrator and go to File > New to open a new blank document. Type a name and set up the dimensions then select Pixels as Units and RGB as Color Mode.

Next, go to Edit > Preferences > Units & Display Performance and set the Units as indicated below. I always work with the Keyboard Increment set to 1px but it's optional in this case. These settings will help you throughout the drawing process.

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2. Prepare the Text

Step 1

Grab the Type Tool (T) and type "VECTOR" using Franklin Gothic Book, size of 130 pt. Also set the Tracking to 100. This font was available in my system but if you don't have it, you can download it of course but also there are plenty of other fonts extremely similar to this.

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Step 2

Do not expand yet. The text is too thin so we will apply an 8 pt Stroke. The color is not important at this moment.

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Step 3

To turn the text into shapes select Expand and Ungroup from the Object menu. At this point you should get the six letters having a black fill and an 8pt Stroke. To turn the strokes into shapes, select all letters then Expand and Ungroup (Shift-Control-G) again. Now, you should have two shapes for each letter. For example, one "V" filled with purple and one "V" filled with black.

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Step 4

Next, select both letters "V" and press Add in the Pathfinder panel. As a result you will get the whole letter "V". Do the same for the other letters.

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3. Create the 3D Letters

Step 1

Select all the letters and from the fly-out menu of the Appearance panel choose Add New Fill. For visual purposes change the fill color then go to Effect > Distort & Transform and apply the Transform effect. After that, select Expand Appearance and Ungroup from the Object menu.

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These are the settings that I've applied:

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Step 2

Now you need to draw the shapes in between the "blue V" and "black V" using the Pen Tool (P). This is easy, we are talking about straight paths here and all you have to do is to click on the corner points. Follow the image below and draw the bottom of the letter "V".

You can turn on the Smart Guides by going to View > Smart Guides. It might be useful for you. I always use them.

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Step 3

The second shape is the outer left side of the letter "V". Again click on the four anchor points as shown in the next image.

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Step 4

The last one for this letter is the inner-right-shape:

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Step 5

Continue with the letter "E". Use as guidelines the "blue E" and the "black E" and draw the four shapes between them. The outer-left-shape and the bottom are already drawn in the image below but you can see me drawing the inner-top-shape and the inner-middle-shape.

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Step 6

The same thing goes for the letters "T" and "R". After you have finished, we will continue with the curved shapes that make up the letters "C", "O" and "R".

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Step 7

Focus on the letter "C". Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F) the "blue C" and "black C" then change the colors for visual purposes. Now, select the orange and green shapes and press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel. As a result you will get a green compound path but go to Object > Compound Path > Release.

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Step 8

Next, grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw two shapes between the "green C" and "black C" by clicking on the corner points indicated (1). Select the orange and green shapes at the bottom and press Add in the Pathfinder panel to obtain a single shape (2). Send the new orange shape behind the "black C" (3).

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Step 9

Things are easier for the letter "O". Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F) the "blue O" and "black O" then change the colors. Now, select the orange and green shapes and press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel. You will get a green compound path but go to Object > Compound Path > Release.

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Step 10

The last letter is "R". Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F) the "blue R" and the "black R" then having these shapes selected, press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel. As a result you will get a compound path but go to Object > Compound Path > Release. Keep only the green inner shape and delete the rest.

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Step 11

At this point the letters are pretty much ready but you could make a few adjustments for the letters "C" and "O". The outer edges are not as smooth as we want therefore we will adjust the curves. For the letter "C", select only the top anchor point of the outer-left-shape with the Direct Selection Tool (A) then move it a little up but not away from the "black C". Also adjust the handles if needed. Repeat the same thing for the anchor point at the bottom as shown in the close-up. The same thing goes for the letter "O". You can see the result in the next image.

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4. Color the 3D Letters

Step 1

You are finished with the letters and now you can color them as you want. I'm gonna show you four color versions starting with vintage pink. Before you start, make sure that all the shape facing to the left have the same fill color (in this case blue), all the shapes facing down have the same fill color (purple) and of course, the front of the letters (black). The curved shapes are separate and will be filled with gradients.

Now, replace the black, blue and purple with the solid colors indicated. The curved shapes are filled with the same linear gradient using the darker shade and the middle shade of pink. At this point all you have to do is to adjust the angles accordingly. For the shapes 1 and 2 set the angle of the gradient to 140 degrees, for the shapes 3, 4 and 5 to -50 degrees and 80 degrees for the shape 6. You can also use the Gradient Tool (G) for this.

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Step 2

The second version is nude. Start by replacing the black, blue and purple with the colors indicated. Continue with the curved shapes and fill them with a linear gradient using the darker and the middle shades. Set the angles for each curved shape as explained at the previous step.

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Step 3

Here is a bluish version:

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Step 4

The last version is minty:

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Step 5

These are my four color options but feel free to try other shades. The possibilities are countless.

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Easy Peasy! You're Done.

This is one of the methods used to create simple 3D letters. Let me know what you think of it and if you find it easier than the 3D effects.

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