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Create Colorful, Layered Paper Type in Illustrator

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A few times a each month we revisit some of our reader’s favorite posts from throughout the history of Vectortuts+. This tutorial by Diana Berg was first published on December 16th 2009.

In winter, here in the Ukraine it's rather cold and snowy, I oftentimes find myself creating colorful illustrations that compensate for the cold weather. Today I will show you how to brighten your mood by creating vivid illustrations with layered paper text and ribbons. We'll create custom type and use Illustrator effects extensively to optimize our work.

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Introduction

Today we will create a multi-layered effect of custom type. We'll also learn a few of the easiest ways of making ribbons and folded paper. We'll be using Pathfinder, Illustrator effects and graphic styles extensively - this way we optimize our work and avoid routine with plenty of repeating elements. Also we'll utilize the transparency panel and symbols to add detail, and more importantly, we'll learn how to avoid productivity issues when dealing with multiple effects.


Step 1 - Creating Custom Lettering

Open Illustrator and create a new document 1000 pixels by 600 pixels. Let's create a background first - draw a rectangle (M) covering your canvas, fill it with a vertical, linear grayish-blue gradient that goes from lighter hue (#808A96) to a darker shade (#454C54). We'll cover it with texture later on, but as long as every effect applied reduces the program productivity, we'll leave it for final touches. Lock this layer for now and rename it to "BG."


Step 2

Create new layer, name it "Type." Now turn on the grid by going to View > Show Grid. You won't see the grid with default settings, so you'll have to either uncheck Grids in Back option in Guides & Grid Preferences (Command + K), or turn off the background layer visibility for a minute. I suggest you do the latter, as it might be not easy to get used to grids on top of all objects.

The grid is not essential for this step, but I find it rather helpful for this process. You might want to specify your grid settings in Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid, mine is 100 px with 10 subdivisions. Lastly, you can turn on the Snap to Grid option (View > Snap to Grid) for more precise construction. I chose 90 px for the letter height - so drag two horizontal guides from the rulers (Command + R) that indicate baselines.

When all preparations are made, we can start creating the type. I chose to write "VECTOR" - this word does not only have meaningful sense, but also very nice and simple letter shapes. We'll create letters that font designers usually love to start their career with - bold, simple, type, which is based on geometric shapes. Create a rectangle (M) 90x90 pixels, copy it 3 times - these are our letters "V," "E," "T," and "R." Now draw a circle (L) 90x90 px and make one copy - these are our "C" and "O." Position future letters on the lower guide according to their sequence in the "VECTOR" word, as shown below.


Step 3

Let's modify the letters now. First, choose the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the two bottom points of the first rectangle, now press Command + Alt + J (or right-click and choose Average), select the Vertical option. The letter "V" looks more triangular now.

Now create a rectangle 10 px by 50 px, with any color, and position it over the "V" to form it's shape. To make sure the rectangle and the letter are aligned, select both figures and click the Horizontal center alignment either on your options panel, or in the Align palette (Shift + F7). If you want to keep the position of a particular figure while aligning (for example I did not want the V-shape to move), click inside it after selecting both shapes - now the other figure will be aligned to it. Now open the Pathfinder panel (Shift + Command + F9) and click the subtract button (but don't click Expand button yet).

For the next letter "E," create another small rectangle, this time create it 10px by 60 px. Now make a copy of it and position it exactly 20 px below the original. If Snap to Grid is on, simply Alt + Shift-drag it two gridlines down, or press Enter with the Move Tool chosen (V) and insert 20 px for vertical move and click Copy.

Now select both small shapes and press Command + 8 to make a compound shape - this way we can align figures properly. Position them on the second large rectangle to form an E letter, select both large and compound shapes, now click the big one to assign the alignment object, and align them Vertical center. Again, Subtract in Pathfinder - but don't expand now.

Note: You may want letters to appear more soft, simply replace small rectangles in this and the next step with rounded rectangles that have a small radius and the same measurements.


Step 4

For the "C" letter, create a rectangle 50 px by 30 px (although feel free to use one with a smaller 10 px width if you like). Again, position it over the second circle, select both shapes, click the large circle and align to vertical center. Press the Subtract button in the Pathfinder.

Now we need two shapes to form the "T" letter - I took a rectangle 40 px by 70 px and made one copy. Now position them to hide the large rectangle parts, so that the letter looks proportional - I made both vertical and horizontal strokes in the "T" letter 30 px. I did not use alignment here as the Snap to Grid option helped me position shapes precisely. Finally, again select all three figures and subtract.


Step 5

We have the last two letters left. I was choosing between leaving the "O" letter solid or making a hole in it. Both results look nice, but a solid "O" looks much more harmonious in this particular design, so I decided to keep it intact. Still, if you want to modify it - feel free. Create a square 30 pixels by 30 pixels, position it over the "O" and align them vertically and horizontally. Now, press the Subtract button in the Pathfinder.

For the "R" letter, select the last rectangle and add one anchor point in the middle of its right-vertical side with the Pen Tool (P) - the pen cursor will turn to Add points. Now select the new point along with the upper-right corner point with Direct Selection (A) move the points to the left about 30 pixels. Now create a circle (L) 50 px by 50 px and position it to form the "R" shape - the circle should touch the upper-right figure point with its top point. Now you can combine these to shapes in the Pathfinder panel by pressing the Add button.


Step 6

Now it's time to adjust the type. First, the "E" and "R" letters are too wide. Let's correct that. Select the left side of each of them with the Direct Selection (A) and move it to the right, while holding Shift (or simply hit Shift + Right Arrow key). Now, make sure you are satisfied with all the gaps we just made in the compound shapes. If you want to move or transform small rectangles, select it with the Group Selection Tool (white arrow with +) and adjust the position. When letters look good, select each one and click Expand in Pathfinder panel to convert it into single shapes.

Change the letter-spacing now by moving letters closer to each other. We won't implement any strict rules of font design, we'll rather adjust kerning visually until we like the result. Lastly, select all six letters and combine them into a compound path in the Pathfinder panel by pressing the Add button and then Expand. Move the "VECTOR" word to the center of the canvas and change its fill to fuchsia (#ED0072). Turn off the Snap to Grid option now (Shift + Command + '), as it will only disturb us from now on.


Step 7 - Creating a Layered Effect

You can switch the "BG" layer visibility on now (make sure it's locked though). We have two options at this point for creating the layered effect. We could work on one single object we just created, adding multiple fills to it with effects applied. This way, however, all the paper stripes and ribbons that lie between the type layers will have to be partially masked. Or we can create separate objects for every type layer, and then simply position the ribbons between them. I chose the second way, as positioning paper stripes will be easier this way, and we'll have certain flexibility with separate type objects.

Select the type, go to Effects > 3D > Extrude and Bevel. For the rotation options, enter 4 for X-axis rotation, and 0 for Y and Z axes rotation. For extrusion, enter 30 and apply.

Now, with type still selected, go to Effects > Stylize > Shadow, change X-shift to 0 px and Y-shift to 2 px, change the color to K=50%. Leave the blending as Multiply, Opacity as 75%, and blur as 5 px, and apply the effect. You'll see a subtle 3-D effect. With the type selected, open the Graphic styles panel and add a new style, name it "Type" - this way you'll always have a backup of this object (although we may not need it, I still prefer to have it saved).


Step 8

Now, with your type selected, go to Object > Path > Offset Path, enter 5 px for offset and apply. You'll see a parallel shape behind the original lettering, and it will have the same effects if you combined the letters correctly. If you didn't, there is a possibility that this figure will consist of six separate shapes or will have no effects applied. In this case, select all of them (except the original top, compound shape) and again combine them into a single one in the Pathfinder panel by pressing the Add button and then Expand button.

Now click the new graphic style we just created in the Graphic Styles panel - and that's it! The second shape has the same effects applied. Check your layers panel - both shapes must be titled as Compound path. All we need to do is change the fill color of the bottom shape to #FF0051.


Step 9

We need to repeat the previous step six times, every time offsetting the bottom shape 5 px more, enter: 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 pixels. After running the Offset Path command, make sure you select the new bottom shape (as both shapes will be selected by default) and change its fill color. Below you can see eight swatches for this work. Create new swatches folder in the appropriate panel and add these colors to it, as we'll use them again many times later. Apply these colors to each new shape. That is what you'll have for now.


Step 10

If you open your Layers panel, you'll see eight objects on the "Type" layer - this means you did everything properly. You may want to move all the shapes a little bit - adjusting their position. You may also want to change colors at this point, if you aren't happy with how your colors look, as Extrusion effect distorts colors a little. In this case, select every shape separately and change its color, and then create a new swatch to save it for later.

I'd like to give you advice on a productivity issue. Multiple effects may slow down Illustrator - every time you move objects the program will render effects, this may reduce your productivity significantly. To avoid it, I suggest that you use Symbols. Simply drag every shape into the Symbols panel (or select it and press the New button in the Symbols panel) and name them from "1" to "8." Graphic symbols are very compact objects, and they need less memory. If you want to edit the shape - select the symbol instance and press the Break Link icon on the Symbols panel.


Step 11 - Making Paper Stripes

Let's create folded paper stripes. I'll show you the easiest way to make them. You can remain on the same Type layer, as you'll need to position new objects between the shapes from the previous section. But you better lock eight type shapes for now. So, take a Pen Tool (P) and draw a shape consisting of 3-6 points - don't drag the handles, as we don't need smooth points. Make the shape no fill and 0,5 pt stroke, choose a stroke color from our folder - for example, pink. Now go to Effects > 3D > Extrude & Bevel, check Preview, and rotate the preview cube to get the result you like, make the extrusion between 30 and 50, then apply the effect.

Now open the Graphic Styles panel and add a new style, name it "Paper_stripe." OK, you can expand the object now - go to Object > Path > Expand Appearance. Now press Shift + Command + G to ungroup the shape four times, and then press Command + G to group it (this is the way it works, unfortunately, and ungrouping three times does not work). You can easily transform and move the shape now. Find the best position for it. All you have to do now is drag it somewhere between the type shapes - it's easy to do in the Layers panel.


Step 12

Now we'll add a shadow beneath our stripe. This step is optional, so if you like the ribbon as is you may skip it. Still the shadow adds realism, so I recommend you create it. Select the stripe, copy and paste to back (Command + C and Command + B), now press Command + Shift + G to ungroup it and combine it into a single shape pressing Add button in Pathfinder panel.

You can't see the shape below the ribbon, so rotate it slightly. Now change its fill color to K=60% and blur it (Effects > Blur > Gaussian blur) about 15 pixels. Go to the Transparency panel now (Shift + Command + F10) and change the shadow blending to Multiply. Now, again add a new style in the Graphic Styles panel and name it "Shadow."

The shadow looks too harsh, so we'll make it subtle. Now select the shadow, go to the Transparency panel and click the empty place to the right of shadow icon twice, uncheck "Clip." The Mask icon will get a thick black border indicating the opacity mask mode - you can also see changes in the Layers panel.

Create a rectangle that entirely covers a shadow, fill it with a linear white to black gradient. Use the Gradient Tool (G) to change the direction of the white to black transition, so that the white is where the shadow touches the ribbon, and black goes to where you want it to disappear. White shows the object entirely, while black masks it. Changes will be seen on the mask icon of the Transparency panel. When the mask is ready, click the shadow icon on the left of the mask - the border around it will mean you entered normal mode. Now select both the ribbon and its shadow and group it (Command + G), name the group "Stripe-pink" and lock it, which keeps all elements organized.


Step 13

The rest of the paper stripes are created the same way. Draw a path with the Pen Tool that represents a side view of a future stripe, make it no fill and any color, with a 0,5 pt stroke, the apply the "Paper_stripe" graphic style. Now you can rotate the path to get the desired shape, or change the extrude settings by clicking it twice in the Appearance panel (Shift + F6). Change the stroke color to one of our color swatches, expand the appearance, ungroup it four times and group again. That's it, now position the stripe between the type shapes using the Layers panel.

For the shadow - again, select your stripe, copy and paste to back (Command + C and Command + B), ungroup and Alt-click the Add button in the Pathfinder panel, and click the "Shadow" style in the Graphic style panel - the shadow is ready!

You have to position it properly by rotating and moving, and adding a gradient opacity mask. To remind you again - with shadow selected, click on the right of its icon in the Transparency panel, uncheck "Clip," and draw a rectangle with a white to black gradient fill. Adjust the gradient transition and exit mask mode by clicking the shadow icon, group the stripe and its shadow, lock the group and name it appropriately.


Step 14

Add several more stripes - 7-8 will be OK. Use the guidelines above from Steps 11-13 to create them properly. Position them between the type shapes in various directions, and add shadows below every stripe after it. Again, if you feel that effects slow down your program, simply drag every stripe to the Symbols panel to increase productivity. After creating all the paper stripes you'll have this image.


Step 15 - Creating Ribbons

Let's move to the ribbons now. There are a few ways of making them. The first one is obvious - using a wavy line and the extrude effect just like we did for the paper stripes. However, there are some issues in this method - you'll get too many shapes after expanding, not to mention that expand adds too many unnecessary points. Tons of objects you get when expanding a shape is caused by gradients that come from the shading method chosen for Extrusion.

One good method to avoid it is using no shading at all. This way, after the "Expand appearance" command, the amount of shapes will be rather low, which makes it easier for recoloring the ribbon. You can go on and try it: draw the wavy line with smooth points using the Pen Tool (P), give it no fill and 0,5 stroke, the apply the "Paper_stripe" graphic style. Now after adjusting the settings, expand the appearance and look at the shapes amount. Then do the same, but change the Shading method to none - and you can add colors manually.


Step 16

You can use the described Extrude method for ribbons if you like it, but I still want you to try a different approach that results in cleaner shapes and fewer objects. However, you'll need to create them manually without any effects.

Use the Pen Tool to draw a wavy line with four smooth points. The main rule here is that anchor points must lie at the top-most and bottom-most points in relation to the horizontal axis, see the image below. Now take the Scissors Tool (C) and cut the shape at every point.


Step 17

Now select all parts and Alt + Shift-drag them to the right to copy. The distance depends on the width of the future ribbon. Now with the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the two left-most open endpoints and press Command + J to join them (or right-click and select Join). Do the same with the right-most endpoints.

Now with the Selection Tool (V), select the new figure on the left and hit Command + J again, do the same with the right one. The only open parts are in the middle, so select them both and press Shift + Up Arrow key, so that we can see the open points. Now, again, join the two upper endpoints and then select the shape and Join again to close the path. Bring the shape back in place by pressing Shift + Down Arrow key.


Step 18

You can choose one color for all three shapes now from our swatches folder. Now we must add dimension to do it and change the middle color to a darker shade. A good way of doing it is by opening the Color panel (F6), choosing HSB from the flyout menu, and moving the brightness slider to the left. You may also need to arrange parts by bringing them forward (Command + Right Bracket key) or backwards (Command + Left Bracket key).

When the ribbon looks good, group all the parts and rotate or transform them to your liking, and position the ribbon between the type shapes. This method is very good for ribbons, as it produces clean shapes with only a few anchor points compared to the Extrude-Expand method.


Step 19

Now you can add as many ribbons as you want using the method from Steps 16-18, varying line shape, length, and color. The last thing to do with the ribbons is add shadow under each of them, just like we did with the paper stripes using the "Shadow" graphic style and a transparency mask (follow the guides in Step 12). Then just group the ribbon and its shadow and rename it to "Ribbon_color-name," according to its color. Again, you may choose to save the ribbons as a graphic symbol if you like. Lock the "Type" layer, when you are finished with the ribbons.


Step 20 - Making the Final Touches

While the basic composition is ready, let's add another folded piece of paper below our type objects. Make a new layer named "final_touches." Create a rectangle around 270 px by 60 px, choose a the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move its points to get a little irregular shape (or you can draw it with the Pen Tool). Make it no stroke and give it a lime color fill.

Now open the Appearance panel (Shift + F6) and add a new fill to this shape, select a white to black gradient. Modify the gradient adding two more sliders, so that it becomes a black to white to black to white gradient (you can easily duplicate the slider by dragging it with Alt), so that two white and black sliders in the center are at the same point. This way we imitate the paper fold. Now go to the Transparency panel, reduce the gradient opacity to 25% and change the blending to Multiply.


Step 21

I decided to finalize the "Vector" phrase, so type "tutsplus.com" with the Text Tool (T). I've chosen Trebuchet MS bold font face, 44 pt size, and a black color. Position this type over the new paper piece. Now we should make the text transparent, so the background shows through, as if letters were cut in the paper. There are many ways to do it while leaving the text editable. I'll show you three methods:

  1. Select the paper and text, open the Pathfinder panel and click the Subtract button. This creates a compound shape with both objects editable separately - until you expand it.
  2. Select both shapes, go to Transparency panel and choose Make Opacity Mask in the flyout menu (uncheck Clip). The black text will become the opacity mask for the paper piece.
  3. Select the text and reduce it's Opacity to 0% in the Transparency panel. Now select both paper pieces and the invisible text, then group them (Command + G), now check the Knockout group option in the Transparency panel (text knocks paper out).

Step 22

As a final touch, let's add some confetti. They are very easy to make. Create a small circle (L) 10 px by 10 px, with no stroke, and an orange fill. Make another circle 20 px by 20 px with the same orange fill and blur it to about 10-15 px (Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur). Drag both separately to the Symbols panel to save as graphic symbols, name them "Confetti_small" and "Confetti_blurred".

Now, with the Symbol Sprayer Tool (Shift + S) on low density, flow spray some blurred circles around the main composition. Select some color from our swatches folder, now click the selected symbol group with the Symbol Stainer tool - it may take a few clicks for circles to change color. Change other circles to red, pink, yellow, lime, and green colors. You can also resize circles with the Symbol Sizer Tool (click to enlarge, Alt-click to reduce), or move them with the Symbol Shifter. Now spray smaller symbols the same way, then recolor them as well.


Step 23

The only thing left now is a background texture. Go back to the "BG" layer, unlock it and copy the rectangle in front (Command + C and Command + F), fill it with a gray color (K=50%).

Now go to Effects > Texture > Grain and enter parameters you like. Mine were 70 for both Intensity and Contrast, and Clumped for grain type. Then simply change this texture blending mode to Soft light, and you may want to adjust the opacity. That is it, here is the final effect.


Conclusion

We've done a lot today, from custom lettering, to multi-layered effects, to ribbons and folded papers stripes, to confetti. We've implemented plenty of Adobe Illustrator tools, like symbols, graphic styles, effects, transparency, pathfinder and so on, and we also found a way to avoid productivity issues due to extensive effects.

This paper effect is good for many types of design - go on and try it. As usual, here is an example of the same effect in a different context - a simple, but nice image created in 5 minutes. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial!

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