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Create a Tasty Pretzel Text Effect in Adobe Illustrator

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Follow this tutorial and learn how to create a fun pretzel inspired text effect in Adobe Illustrator. We will begin with the text then we’ll add some dimension to it with the help of the Bas Relief effect, a simple trick which allows you to add highlights and shading in one step. After this, we will add some details like a few cracks on the surface of the pretzel and the sprinkles of salt using Art and Scatter Brushes. At the end we will add a touch of shine and the overall shadow. 

1. Start a New Project 

Launch Illustrator and go to File > New in order to open a 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 > General and set the Keyboard Increment to 1px and while there, go to Units & Display Performance and make sure that the Units are as in the following image. I usually work with these settings and they will help you throughout the drawing process. 

New pretzel document

2. Prepare the Text 

Step 1 

Grab the Type Tool (T) and type “Pretzel” on your Artboard using this awesome font Lobster 1.4 created by Pablo Impallari. Use the settings shown below then from the Object menu select Expand and Ungroup (Shift-Control-G)

pretzel text

Step 2 

Now, focus on the second “e”. Grab the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select only the two anchor points indicated then move them a little to the left by pressing the Left Arrow Key on your keyboard about seven times (7px). The purple “e” is the original and the gray “e” is the new one so you can see the difference between them. Also adjust the handles if needed (1). 

Next, take the Pen Tool (P) and draw a shape between the four points indicated. This shape should cover that area of the letter. Having both shapes selected, press Subtract in the Pathfinder panel and you will get the letter “c” (2). 

edit letter e from pretzel 1

Step 3

Also using the Pen Tool (P) draw a wavy path between the two ends of the letter “c” then the other two like in the following image. Increase the Stroke Weight for these three paths at 5 pt (1). 

Still having the three paths selected, go to the Object menu and choose Expand then Ungroup (Shift-Control-G) in order to turn the strokes into fills. Now, select the resulting shapes along with the letter “c” and press Add in the Pathfinder panel. Adjust some of the handles if needed in order to get smoother curves otherwise you are done (2). 

edit letter e from pretzel 2

Step 4

At this point your text should look like below, with the new letter “e” in the shape of a pretzel. Select all the letters and go to Object > Compound Path > Make (Control-8) then fill the resulting compound path with the linear gradient shown at a -90 degrees Angle. Let’s name this “PretzelColor”. 

Pretzel compound path

3. Add Dimension to the Text 

Step 1

Select “PretzelColor” then Copy and Paste in Back (Control-B). Replace the existing gradient with black then go to Effect > Sketch > Bas Relief, apply the settings shown and hit OK. Reduce the Opacity to 50%. At this point you can’t really see the result except for some weird edges but go to the next step.

Bas Relief effect 1

Step 2

Now, select “PretzelColor” which is the shape in front and set the Blending Mode to Color. If Color doesn't work for you, Overlay should give you a pretty similar result. This effect is amazing, right? You have the highlights and shading all in one step. 

Bas Relief effect 2

Step 3

If you zoom in a little you will notice that your text has not-so-sharp edges. This happens because of the Bas Relief effect but we will fix this with a simple mask.  

Select “PretzelColor” then Copy and Paste in Back (Control-B) and remove the existing gradient. Now, select the compound path with the Bas Relief effect applied to it along with the copy made earlier and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7). You can name the resulting group “Bas Relief” and make sure that “PretzelColor” is still in front of everything. 

Bas Relief effect mask

4. Create the Cracks on the Pretzel 

Step 1

Use the Pen Tool (P) or the Pencil Tool (N) to draw three paths on the letters “P”, “e” and “l” as in the following image. Stroke these paths with the Calligraphy 2 Art Brush  that you can find in Brush Libraries Menu > Artistic > Artistic_Ink. Set the Stroke Weight at 0.5 pt for all three. 

Cracks on pretzel 1

Step 2

Focus on the letter “e”. Select the path that you have stroked at the previous step (1) and first increase the Stroke Weight from 0.5 pt to 0.75 pt to make it a little thicker. Make sure that the path stays selected and go to the Appearance panel (2). Select the existing Stroke attribute (green) and press the Duplicate selected item icon at the bottom of the panel in order to get a second stroke above. Select the new Stroke attribute (red) and change the color so you can differentiate them then set the Stroke Weight at 0.15 pt (3). 

Cracks on pretzel 2

Step 3

Having the three paths selected (1), go to the Object menu and choose Expand Appearance then Ungroup (Shift-Control-G) twice. This will turn the strokes into fills. Use the linear gradient shown at a 90 degrees Angle to fill the three bigger shapes (2) then use the color indicated to fill the smaller shape on the letter “e” (3).

Cracks on pretzel 3

Step 4 

Select again the three bigger shapes and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Apply the settings shown and hit OK. At this point the cracks on the surface of the pretzel are ready. 

Cracks on pretzel 4

5. Create the Sprinkles of Salt 

Step 1

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw two random shapes like in the next image. As a reference, the square on the left has the dimensions 22 x 22px therefore the shapes should be pretty small. Select black as the fill color then drag the rhombus-like shape in the Brushes panel and choose New Scatter Brush. In the Scatter Brush Options window, type a name for your brush (mine is Salt Scatter Brush 1) then set the Rotation relative to Path and the Colorization Method to Tints. Leave the rest of the settings as they are and hit OK. Repeat the same thing for the triangle-like shape and save it as Salt Scatter Brush 2

Sprinkles Scatter Brush

Step 2

Grab the Pencil Tool (N) and draw a random path over the text following the shape of each letter. Stroke this path with Salt Scatter Brush 1 then reduce the Stroke Weight to 0.5 pt. Still having the path selected, go to the Appearance panel and double click on the brush stroke applied to open the Stroke Options window. Change the settings as in the image and hit OK. There is no logic behind these settings, they were chosen randomly and adjusted until I got the desired result. 

Apply sprinkles scatter brush

Step 3

Make sure that the path stays selected, go to the Appearance panel and duplicate the existing Stroke attribute (blue) by pressing the Duplicate selected item icon at the bottom. You will get a second Stroke attribute above (pink). Keep the Stroke Weight at 0.5 pt but select the other brush that you have saved, Salt Scatter Brush 2.  Open the Stroke Options window then change the settings and hit OK

Duplicate sprinkles scatter brush

Step 4

Still having the path selected, go to the Object menu and choose Expand Appearance. Before you continue, make sure that you find the remaining path in each group of sprinkles (stroke-none, fill-none) and delete them. You should find two paths, one for each group (two strokes=two groups of sprinkles). 

Now, select the group of blue sprinkles in the Layers panel and fill them with the radial gradient shown. For the other group of sprinkles (pink) use the color indicated to fill them.

Create sprinkles of salt

Step 5

It’s time to mask the extra sprinkles of salt. Select “PretzelColor” then Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F). Remove the existing gradient fill then bring it in front of everything by going to Object > Arrange > Bring to Front (Shift-Control-]). Now, select this copy along with the group of sprinkles and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control-7). You can name the resulting group “Salt”. 

Mask sprinkles of salt

Step 6 

Go to the Layers panel and select the entire group of sprinkles under the mask that you have created at the previous step. Go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow and apply the settings shown below. 

Add shadow to sprinkles

6. Add More Shine 

Grab the Pen Tool (P) or the Pencil Tool (N) and draw two paths over the letters “P” and “t” as in the image (1). Stroke these paths with the much used White Blend Art Brush, size of 100 x 3px from the Set of Multi-Use Blend Brushes that I've created a while ago (2). Increase the Stroke Weight at 2 pt then set both of them to Blending Mode Overlay and 40% Opacity (3). 

Add shine to pretzel

7. Add the Shadow

Step 1 

Select “PretzelColor” then Copy and Paste in Back (Control-B). Replace the existing gradient with black then send it behind everything by going to Object > Arrange > Send to Back (Shift-Control-[). Next, go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow and apply this effect four times using the settings shown in the following image. 

As you can see the black fill of this shape interferes with the appearance of our pretzel text effect. This is because we've set the Opacity for the Bas Relief effect to 50% (semi-transparency) and also because of the Blending Mode Color for “PretzelColor”. But the good news is that we can fix this with an Opacity Mask

Add shadow to pretzel

Step 2

Select the black shape from the previous step (1) then Copy and Paste in Front (Control-F). Remove all existing appearances and just select white as the fill color (2). Now, select the black shape with the Drop Shadow effects applied along with the white copy that you've made in front and from the fly-out menu of the Transparency panel choose Make Opacity Mask. In the Transparency panel make sure that Clip is not checked and Invert Mask is checked (3). As a result the black fill inside the letters is not visible and you can only see the shadow around the letters. 

Opacity mask for shadow

You're Finished!

The tutorial is done and I hope you learned something new out of it. Let me know in the comments if you like this pretzel inspired text effect and pretzels in general :) 

Pretzel text effect
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