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Create a Mosaic, BBC Inspired, Text Art Effect in Adobe Illustrator

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Inspiration can come from many sources. The inspiration for this effect is from a recent BBC One animation for their spring season programming. In the following steps you will learn how to create a colorful text effect in Adobe Illustrator. For starters you will learn how to setup a simple grid and how to create a set of graphic styles using the Appearance panel and some basic effects. Next, using the Ellipse Tool and the Transform effect you will learn how to create the pieces that will help you build the text. For the final touches you will learn how to create a scatter brush and how to use a built-in pattern or a pucker and bloat effect.


1. Create a New Document & Setup a Grid

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Enter 600 in the width box and 360 in the height box then click on the Advanced button. Select RGB, Screen (72ppi) and make sure that the Align New Objects to Pixel Grid box is unchecked before your click OK.

Enable the Grid (View > Show Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). You'll need a grid every 1px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides > Grid, enter 1 in the Gridline every box and 1 in the Subdivisions box. You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Do not forget to set the unit of measurement to pixels from Edit > Preferences > Units > General. All these options will significantly increase your work speed.

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2. Create a Set of Graphic Styles

Step 1

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 6px circles, fill it with R=39, G=170, B=225 and make sure that it has no color set for the stroke. Select this blue shape and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and hit Shift-Control-G twice to Ungroup it.

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Step 2

Focus on your blue circles. Select the left one, open the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance), select the existing fill and go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1.5px Offset and click OK. Keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a second fill for this circles using the Add New Fill button (pointed by the little, blue arrow in the following image). Select this new fill, drag it in the bottom of the Appearance panel and set the color at R=21, G=62, B=110. Make sure that your circles stays selected, open the Graphic Style panel (Window > Graphic Style) and simply click on the New Graphic Style button (pointed by the little, blue arrow in the following image).

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Step 3

Select the next blue circle, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill. Select this new fill, set its color at white and go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -2px Offset, click OK and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that this second circle is still selected, move to the Graphic Style panel and add a new graphic style.

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Step 4

Select the next blue circle, focus on the Appearance panel and simply hit Shift-X. This should transfer the color attributes from the fill to the stroke. Move to the Appearance panel, select the blue stroke, align it to inside and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that this third circle is still selected, move to the Graphic Style panel and add a new graphic style.

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Step 5

Select the next blue circle, focus on the Appearance panel and hit Shift-X. Move to the Appearance panel, select the stroke, make it 1.5pt wide, align it to inside and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that this fourth circle is still selected, move to the Graphic Style panel and add a new graphic style.

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Step 6

Select the next blue circle, focus on the Appearance panel and hit Shift-X. Move to the Appearance panel, select the stroke, set the color at white, align it to inside and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that this fifth circle is still selected, move to the Graphic Style panel and add a new graphic style.

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Step 7

Select the final blue circle, focus on the Appearance panel and hit Shift-X. Move to the Appearance panel, select the stroke, make it 1.5pt wide, set the color at white, align it to inside and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Make sure that this sixth circle is still selected, move to the Graphic Style panel and add a new graphic style.

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Step 8

Keep focusing on those six circles, replace R=39, G=170, B=225 with R=250, G=109, B=143 and R=21, G=62, B=110 with R=147, G=66, B=67. Select these shapes one by one and save the graphic styles as shown in the following image.

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Step 9

Keep focusing on those six circles, replace R=250, G=109, B=143 with R=255, G=205, B=5 and R=147, G=66, B=67 with R=241G =90, B=41. Select these shapes one by one and save the graphic styles as shown in the following image.

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Step 10

Keep focusing on those six circles, replace R=255, G=205, B=5 with R=85, G=185, B=72 and R=0 G =105, B=55. Select these shapes one by one and save the graphic styles as shown in the following image. Select all six circles and simply delete them.

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3. Create the Text Pieces and the Text

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 6px circle and fill it with R=0, G=149, B=66. Move to the Layers panel, double click on this green shape and name it "1circle". Make sure that the Ellipse Tool (L) is still active, create a new 6px circles, fill it with R=247, G=148, B=30 and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Select the resulting group of shapes and turn into a Compound Path (Control-8 or Object > Compound Path > Make). Move to the Layers panel, double click on this orange compound path and name it "2circles".

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Step 2

Make sure that the Ellipse Tool (L) is still active, create a new 6px circles, fill it with R=222, G=26, B=54 and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the following image, click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Select the resulting group of shapes and turn into a Compound Path (Control-8 or Object > Compound Path > Make). Move to the Layers panel, double click on this red compound path and name it "3circles".

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Step 3

Make sure that the Ellipse Tool (L) is still active, create a new 6px circles, fill it with R=39, G=170, B=225 and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the left window (in the following image), click OK and go again to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the right window (in the following image), click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Select the resulting group of shapes and turn into a Compound Path (Control-8 or Object > Compound Path > Make). Move to the Layers panel, double click on this red compound path and name it "4circles".

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Step 4

Make sure that the Ellipse Tool (L) is still active, create a new 6px circles, fill it with R=255, G=221, B=0 and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the left window (in the following image), click OK and go again to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Enter the properties shown in the right window (in the following image), click OK and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Select the resulting group of shapes and turn into a Compound Path (Control-8 or Object > Compound Path > Make). Move to the Layers panel, double click on this red compound path and name it "6circles".

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Step 5

Use "1circle", "2circles", "3circles", "4circles", "6circles" and your imagination to build the letters.

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4. Expand the Text, Use the Graphic Styles and Add Drop Shadow Effects

Step 1

Select all the shapes that make up your text, open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and click on the Divide button. Move to the Layers panel, select the resulting group and hit Shift-Control-G to Ungroup it.

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Step 2

Focus on the circles that make up the letters from the top word and use the green and blue graphic styles as shown in the following image.

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Step 3

Focus on the circles that make up the letters from the bottom word and use the pink and orange graphic styles as shown in the following image.

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Step 4

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a new 6px circles and fill it with blue. Multiply this shape (hold Alt, click on it and simply drag) and spread the copies as shown in the first image. Select these tiny circles one by one and add the blue and green graphic styles.

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Step 5

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a new 6px circles and fill it with pink. Multiply this shape and spread the copies as shown in the first image. Select these tiny circles one by one and add the pink and orange graphic styles.

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Step 6

Select all the circles with the green and blue graphic styles and Group them (Control-G). Select this new group and add the five Drop Shadow effects (Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow) shown in the following image.

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Step 7

Select all the circles with the pink and orange graphic styles and Group them (Control-G). Select this new group and add the five Drop Shadow effects (Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow) shown in the following image.

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5. Add a Patterned Background

Step 1

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create a shape the size of your artboard (600 by 350px), fill it with R=240, G=240, B=240 and send it to back (Shift-Control-[ ). Make sure that this new rectangle stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill. Select this new fill, lower its Opacity to 30% and add the radial gradient shown in the following image.

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The yellow zero from the gradient image stands for Opacity percentage.

Step 2

Make sure that the rectangle made in the previous step is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a third fill. You will need a built-in pattern for this new fill. Go to the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches), open the fly-out menu and go to Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. A new window with a set of built-in patterns should open. Get back to the Appearance panel, make sure that the third fill is still selected, add the "USGS 7 Vineyard" pattern, lower its Opacity to 90% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light. Move to the Layers panel and lock this rectangle to make sure that you won't accidentally select/move it.

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6. Create and Use a Scatter Brush

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 1px circle and fill it with white. Select this new shape, open the Brushes panel and hit the New Brush button (pointed by the little, blue arrow in the following image). Check the Scatter Brush box, enter all the properties shown in the following image and click OK. In the end your new scatter brush should show up in the Brushes panel.

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Step 2

Pick the Selection Tool (V) and focus on the top bar. Remove the color from the fill, set the stroke color at black and the stroke size at 2pt. Focus on the Toolbar, double-click on the Paintbrush Tool, enter the properties shown in the following image and click OK. Disable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid), make sure that the Paintbrush Tool (B) is still active and draw some simple paths around your letters as shown in the following image.

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Step 3

Select all the paths made in the previous step, Group them (Control-G) and replace the black stroke with your white scatter brush. Move to the Layers panel, make sure that this new group is selected, change its Blending Mode to Soft Light and drag it right above the background shape.

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7. Add Tiny Circles Highlights

Step 1

Enable the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 4px circle and place it right next to the circles that make up the letters from your text. Fill this new shape with no color, but add a 1pt stroke, align it to inside and set the color white. Multiply this tiny circle (Control-C > Control-F) and spread the copies around your text as shown in the following images.

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Step 2

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 2px circle and place it relatively close to the 4px circle added in the previous step. Set its fill color at none, but add a 0.5pt, white stroke. Multiply this tiny circle (Control-C > Control-F) and spread the copies around your text as shown in the following images.

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8. Add Tiny Star Highlights

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 2px circle, fill it with white and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat. Drag the slider at -50% and click OK.

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Step 2

Multiply that tiny star shape (Control-C > Control-F) and spread the copies around your text as shown in the following images.

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Step 3

Select one of those star shapes and go to Select > Same > Appearance to select all the shapes with similar Appearance attributes. Group all these star shapes (Control-G), select the group and change its Blending Mode to Soft Light. Move to the Layers panel and simply lock this new group.

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Step 4

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 5px circle, fill it with white and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat. Drag the slider at -50% and click OK. Multiply this new star shape (Control-C > Control-F) and spread the copies around your text as shown in the following images.

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Step 5

Select all those 5px star shapes (Select > Same > Appearance), Group them (Control-G), select the group and change its Blending Mode to Soft Light.

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9. Resize the Entire Text Effect

First of all go to Edit > Preferences > General (Control-K) and make sure that Scale Strokes & Effects box is checked. Next, focus on the Layers panel and unlock the group with the 2px star shapes. Pick the Selection Tool (V), select all the shapes that make up the text and open the Transform panel (Window > Transform). Make sure that the Constrain Width and Height Proportions button is checked then simply enter a higher/lower number in the width/height box to resize your entire text effect.

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Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how it should look. Given that we used only nine colors for the entire text you can easily recolor your entire illustration. Feel free to use your favorite set of colors. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects.

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