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In this tutorial, I will show you how to draw a retro typography design from scratch, then add dimension, tones and gradients and then bring it all to life! I'll be working from a sketch and rendering it in Adobe Illustrator. I'll then finish it off in Adobe Photoshop. Let's get started!
1. Sketch Your Concept
Before you start, it's always a good idea to make a rough pencil sketch of your idea. Even if you don't redraw it exactly in Adobe Illustrator, it can serve as a reference later on.
2. Create a New Document and Set Up the Guides
Create a New Document by going to File > New (Control + N). Use the following document size: Width set to 280mm, Height set to 340mm.
Select the Line Segment Tool (\), and while holding down Shift draw a horizontal line across the width of the document, somewhere in the top fourth of the page.
Set Fill Color (X) to none and Stroke Weight to 1pt.
Using the Rotate Tool (R) rotate it by 10°, then duplicate it downwards with the Selection Tool (V) while holding down Alt + Shift. Press Control + D to duplicate the line again to an equal distance. Let's name our current layer 'Guides' and lock it. Create a new layer and name it 'Typo'.
3. Create the Typo
We will now create our typo using geometrical shapes only: lines, circles, and rectangles with rounded corners. Every single letter is created using these shapes, so there's no big trick here, we basically have to cut up circles of different sizes and position the arcs precisely.
Let's create letter 'o' of 'off' first. Using the Rectangle Tool (M) draw a rectangle which is approximately 18mm wide and 56mm high.
Set Fill Color (X) to none, Stroke Weight to 22pt, Cap to Butt Cap, and Corner to Round Join. Go to Effect > Stylize > Round Corners and enter 9pt.
Let's create the first 'f' of 'off' now. Keeping the same stroke weight draw a vertical line using the Line Segment Tool (\) while holding down Shift. It should be close to 'o' and should reach over the baseline (guide).
Using the Ellipse Tool (L) create a circle with a diameter of 35mm. Using the Scissors Tool (C) cut the circle at 9 o'clock and approximately 12.30, so you're left with an arc that will be the upper curve of 'f'.
Make sure Smart Guides are turned on (View > Smart Guides, it should be checked, or simply hit Control + U), and now using the Selection Tool (V) you can easily place the arc on top of the line, as smart guides will show you where exactly they intersect. Select the two endpoints and Join them (Control + J).
Let's finish 'off' now. We will be using the same tools as before.
Keeping the same stroke weight draw another vertical line using the Line Segment Tool (\) while holding down Shift. It should be close to the first 'f' and should reach down over the baseline again. Create a new arc just like before for the upper arc of the second 'f'. Join the arc and the vertical line.
Make two new arcs and a line segment which is rotated by 10° (just like our guides) to create the crossbar. Again, Join the endpoints, so you're left with one path.
Place the path where it belongs, but don't join to the previously created paths.
Click twice on the Scale Tool (S), and make sure the box in front of Scale Strokes & Effects is unchecked. Click OK. This will prevent the scaling of the stroke weight when scaling paths in the future.
The other two words are done exactly the same way, using the same tools and building up the letters of the same basic shapes. Notice though that some letters (e.g. e, c etc.) end with a round cap. If you turn off the Visibility of the 'Guides' layer, your artwork should look something like this.
It's important to make sure that the paths crossing over and connecting two or more letters (e.g. the path connecting 'o' and 'f' in 'off', and the path connecting 't' and 'h' in 'the') are separate and not joined with anything.
Of course if you prefer, you can alter your letters in order to achieve a unique result.
Once the letters are all drawn and positioned into place, Select everything on the 'Typo' layer (Control + A) and click on Object > Path > Outline Stroke from the menu.
Now we have to take care of the endings of the vertical lines. Unlock the 'Guides' layer. Select all three guides and Duplicate them (Scale Tool > Copy). We will be using the Divide Tool from the Pathfinder panel, but we can only select two paths at a time, otherwise the overlapping areas would be divided as well and we don't want that. So Select the first 'f' and one of the top guides (remember, there are two guides now on top of each other), and click on Divide.
Ungroup the result, and simply Delete the shape on the bottom.
The vertical line of the second 'f' and the part of the 'e' in the second line that reaches up need to be joined, so Select them and click Unite from the Pathfinder panel.
Our second guide on top crosses this shape twice, which is no good, so use the Scissors Tool to Cut the guide as shown.
Delete the part which is on the right. Now you can Select the f-e shape and what's left of the top guide, and click on Divide, Ungroup the objects, then Delete the shape on the bottom. The letters on the first line now end with a slant, which is what we wanted.
Use the above method to create a slanted ending and beginning where needed.
Also make sure that the following shapes look similar to what is highlighted in red below: the first 'R' in 'Record' needs to be one shape, but the swash is a separate path. The second 'R' should be one path, and the 'h' in 'the' should be as shown, with the line connecting 't' and 'h' as a separate path.
You can delete the 'Guides' layer now, as it's empty anyway and we won't be needing it anymore.
4. Add Dimension
Select everything (Control + A) and change the Fill Color to 20% Black.
From the menu select Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel, and use the following values.
Don't fret! It does look terrible at this stage.
But we can fix most of the problems by Arranging the objects. Use Object > Arrange > Send to Back to rearrange the elements.
Having rearranged the objects, the artwork is looking a little better, but notice how some of the elements have become mispositioned. Simply reposition these (highlighted by the red circles) manually, and if needed, adjust some bits and pieces to achieve the right look.
Some of the overlapping elements are still problematic, but we will fix those in this next step.
Select all objects, and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Ungroup the objects, and fix these problems manually. For example for 'o' you will need to delete the darker grey shape shown and adjust some of the anchor points to make it perfect.
Do the same for the second 'f', the 't' and the second 'R'. Once you're done, your artwork should look something like this.
5. Add Tones
Create New Layer, name it 'bg' for background, and Reposition it so it's the first layer from the bottom. Create a 100% Black rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M) which is the size of the document. This will allow us to see how the lights and shadows of the typo act against a dark background. Lock the layer.
Now that our letters are three dimensional, they are all made up of a front, a side and a top part, which will need to be shaded accordingly. We need to decide where the main light is coming from, in my case the letters are lit from the right center, so the front sides of the letters will be the lightest.
Generally what we need to really pay attention to is how the letters cast shadows on each other due to our imaginary light source. Areas that are covered by overlaying parts need to be much darker for example. Finding the right balance between shadows and lights is the key.
All front sides consist of one path with multiple fills to create the metallic shine, and 3 additional paths inside a clipping mask to create the edges. Let's see how they are created.
Select everything, and Ungroup the objects. We will start with the second 'f' of 'off' and 'e' of 'the'. Join the front side paths of these letters. (I have hidden some of the other letters, but you don't need to.)
With the front side selected add a New Fill in the Appearance panel.
This new fill will be a Gradient as shown below, with five stops: the first at 0% with 22% Black, the second at 8% with 0% Black, the third at 69% with 0% Black, the fourth at 78% with 100% Black, and the last one at 89% with 0% Black. It should have a rotation of 105°.
In the Transparency panel set the Blending Mode of the gradient to Multiply. The darkest stop of the gradient will be the shadow behind the overlaying crossbar. The Appearance panel will look like this now:
The second fill that we have just applied will vary from letter to letter depending on its position and the shadows cast by other letters. It does take a bit of patience finding all the right gradients, but at the same time it's exciting to see how the artwork evolves from being flat to becoming 3 dimensional.
I've mentioned three paths inside a clipping mask, let's do these now.
Hold down Alt and using the Selection Tool (V) make a Copy of the 'f-e' path. This new (offset) path should be close to the original path, as this will be the edge of the letter.
Using the Scale Tool (S) make a Copy of the original path. Select the copy and the offset path and click on Minus Front in the Pathfinder panel.
Add a second Fill in the Appearance panel to this path, which should be a Gradient as shown, rotated to 105°. This gradient has three sliders, on at 9% with 84% Black, the second at 69% with 10% Black, and the last at 100% with 99% Black. Change the Blending Mode of the gradient to Multiply in the Transparency panel.
Now go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and type in 2 pixels. In the Appearance panel select 'Group' (because your path should still be a group), and change its Blending Mode to Screen.
The second path will be the shadow of this edge. Simply Copy the edge we've just created and set the Blending Mode of the 'Group' in the Appearance panel to Multiply instead of Screen. Modify the Gaussian Blur by clicking on the existing Gaussian Blur in the Appearance panel, from 2 to 6.
The third path is the edge from the other side. Do the same steps as for the first edge, that is: Copy and Move the 'f-e' path, Subtract it from the copy of the original 'f-e' path, Add a New Gradient with a Multiplied Blending Mode and Add Gaussian Blur. Don't forget to set the 'Group's' Blending Mode to Screen. The only difference from the first edge is that the gradient should be as shown below and blur should be 3 pixels instead of 2. You can modify both of these at any time by either clicking twice on 'Contents' in the Appearance panel for the gradient, or clicking once on Gaussian Blur.
We have all three additional paths now, the only problem though is that their edges are not sharp.
To fix that problem let's Copy once again the 'f-e' path, and bring it to the front by clicking Object > Arrange > Bring to Front from the menu. Set the Fill Color to none, and while this path is still selected, Select the three new paths as well.
Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Control + 7), and finally our edges are crisp!
You can do the front sides of all letters now based on the method just described.
Next we will add shadows and tones to the sides and tops of the letters. Most of our letters are curved at the top, and the side and the top don't really separate, so this will allow us to handle them together.
We will be doing almost the same steps as before, but the tones, gradients and blurs will be different.
Select the side of 'e', and add a New Fill (as before). It's no problem that this isn't one path but a group of paths. This time the Gradient should be as follows, and the 'Group's' Blending Mode should be Multiply instead of Screen.
Create the first path as before, with the difference that the offset should be larger. After Subtracting the path, Move the remaining path to the right so that it partially covers the front of the letter. This path is Filled with 60% Black, its Blending Mode is on Multiply and has a Gaussian Blur of 15 pixels.
The second path will be created with a smaller offset, and will also be moved slightly to the right. This path is Filled with 20% Black, its Blending Mode is on Multiply and has a Gaussian Blur of 3 pixels.
The third path is created the same way as the third path was created on the front side. It is Filled with the same gradient as the side of the 'e', but the Opacity is on 50% this time. The Blending Mode of the whole group is on Screen, and has a Gaussian Blur of 3 pixels.
Just as before, we will duplicate the path which is the side of the letter 'e', bring it to the front, and choose Clear Appearance from the Appearance panel. Keep the selection of this path, plus select the three additional paths we've just made, and Create a New Clipping Mask (Control + 7) to get rid of the blurred edges.
With the above methods you should be able to create all tones and shadows of the letters. It does take quite a bit of experimenting and time to get the gradients, colors and blurs right, but once you're done, your artwork should look similar to this.
Notice how the crossbar and the 'o' are not connecting nicely in 'off'. I didn't bother with it, as we will be placing some twinkling lights all over the artwork which will cover up these kind of imperfections.
Create New Layer named 'Sparkles'. It should be the topmost.
With the Pen Tool (P) create the two endpoints of a path, similarly to this (the endpoints are shown in the red circles). The Fill Color should be white for now.
Select the path (both endpoints) and using the Reflect Tool (O) make a Copy of this path (reflection should be around the vertical axis, as shown). Move the reflected path until the top endpoints meet, than select these two endpoints and Join them.
Now make another copy using the Reflect Tool, but this time around the horizontal axis. This way our path will be precisely symmetrical. Join the two paths.
Instead of the white fill add a gradient with the following values. The change in opacity will account for a nice fade to the background.
With the path selected click on Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform from the menu. Set it as shown (90° rotation, 1 copy).
Use the Rotate Tool to make a Copy at 22.5°.
Select Transform from the menu again, and click on Apply New Effect when prompted. Set it as shown (22.5° rotation, 2 copies).
Rescale this second set of rays to 55% using the Scale Tool. Group all the rays.
(You could achieve the same result by using the Rotate Tool only, and group the objects at the end.)
Set the Opacity to 20% and add a Gaussian Blur of 4 pixels.
Create a new circle with size of about 15 x 15mm, with the Gradient shown. Set Opacity to 80%.
Bring the rays to the front and position them on top of the circle, so their centers meet. Rotate the rays randomly so the whole spark looks a bit more natural.
Copy and Paste the spark to parts of the artwork where you would like to add highlights. You can also adjust the Gradients, Opacity and Rotation so the spark blends in well.
We will create the reflections next.
Using the Pen Tool (P) draw an object similar to this. Add Gradient as shown.
Duplicate the front sides of 'o', 'f' and 'f-e', Clear their Appearances and Unite them. Press Control + 8, or alternatively go to Object > Compound Path > Make.
Bring this path Forward, Select the newly created gradient and Make a Clipping Path. Arrange it so it goes to the right place: above the front of the letters, but below the edges.
If you repeat these steps for 'the' and 'record', you should be able to create reflections for those as well.
If you think the reflections are too strong, you can reduce the opacity of the paths, I've set the Opacity of my reflections to 90%.
6. Create the Background
Create a new layer below 'Typo', and name it 'Texture'. You can turn off the visibility of 'Typo' and 'Sparkles' while we're working on the background.
With the Rectangle Tool (M) create a rectangle in the top left corner with the following values: Width: 8 mm, Height: 7 mm. Add a Gradient as shown.
With the rectangle selected, go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points, then with the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) delete the 5 points indicated so you're left with an even triangle.
With the triangle selected click on Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform from the menu. Set it as shown (horizontal move: 8 mm, 33 copies).
With the triangle selected click twice on the Rotate Tool, and type in 180°. Click on Copy. You can move the new triangle manually to the right so the new triangles fit right into place. (You could also move them numerically, by 4 mm.)
In the Gradient panel change the rotation of the gradient to 125°.
Select all triangles and Copy them downwards every 7 mm until you fill the page.
7. Assembly in Photoshop
We could assemble everything in Illustrator, but I've found that gradients are much nicer in Photoshop, plus we can adjust colors more easily, so we'll finish the last steps there.
Create a New document which is the same size as our Illustrator document.
Set the Foreground Color to a fairly dark color such as C=73 M=67 Y=67 K=85, and Fill the Background (Alt + Backspace) with it. Make a rectangular marquee with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) as shown.
Now Set the Foreground Color to an even darker color, such as C=80 M=75 Y=75 K=90.
In the menu go to Select > Modify > Feather (Shift +F6), and set the feather radius to 250 pixels. Now Select Inverse (Control + Alt + I), Create a New Layer, name it 'Edges', and Fill this selection with the darker color to make the edges of the artboard darker.
In Illustrator Copy the background texture, and Paste it into the Photoshop document. I usually prefer pasting as Smart Objects to keep the layer editable, but you can also paste as pixels if you'd like. Set the Opacity of the layer to 16%, and Rename the layer 'Texture'.
We will now create a fading. Simply Control-click on the layer named 'Edges' to load its selection (or select Load Selection from the menu, Channel should read 'Edges Transparency', in Operation 'New Selection' should be checked).
With this selection active go to the menu and select Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection.
To make the texture a little darker, Duplicate the layer, Change the Layer Order so this duplicate is underneath the original layer (but above the 'Edges' layer), Delete the Mask, set the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 58%. It should look like this now.
In Illustrator Copy the typo, and Paste it into the Photoshop document. Rename the layer 'Typo'. Add a Drop Shadow.
The problematic part of 'o' wasn't completely covered up by the sparkle, and there's also a little imperfection at the first 'R' in Record, so I Created two New Layers, Named them 'fix o' and 'fix R', and used the Clone Stamp to fix these small problems.
The only thing left is to modify the colors of the type. Control + click on the layer of 'Typo' to load the selection, and create a New Adjustment Layer of Hue/Saturation.
Load selection of typo again, and this time Add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer with values as shown.
Repeat this step again of Loading the Selection of 'Typo' and Adding a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer, but this time with these values: Brightness: -48, Contrast: 100. Set the Opacity of the layer to 71%.
Congratulations! You're Finished!
Yep, it is a bit long and it does take patience, but hey, isn't it worth it? Feel free to experiment with different shapes, gradients and colors, and just simply enjoy creating!