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Create On-Trend Flat Type with a Nautical Theme in Adobe Illustrator

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Nothing beats the beauty of painstakingly crafted hand lettered type but not all of us have the patience or ability to create such lovely letterings. With this tutorial I hope to show you a few techniques you can use to adjust pre-made fonts and break them apart to create your own masterpiece in Adobe Illustrator.

For this tutorial I will be using some fonts that you can find at the following locations:

Tip: Please be aware that you may have to install fonts before you open Illustrator in order for it to show up in your list of fonts.

1. Create a New Document

The size of your document for this project is entirely up to your purpose with the finished product. For me, I only plan to submit this for viewing on the web so I won't need to make it very large. If you plan to print your typography piece you may wish to design a little larger depending on the final print size you wish to achieve. Since this piece will be square let's create a new document at 600 x 600px.

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2. Create Your Background

With our document created let's begin by creating the background of our piece.

Step 1

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on the art board then enter the same dimensions as your art board.

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Step 2

With our newly created square selected navigate to the Align panel (Window > Align) and choose to Align to Artboard then select Vertical Align Centre and also Horizontal Align Centre, these are the second icons in from either side on the top row in the Align panel. This will properly align the square to the art board.

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Step 3

Now let's fill the square with a salmon color as outlined below. These muted grey tinted colors are quite popular in design nowadays and should make for a great base for our artwork.

If you're working with with the default color settings your square may have a border around it. Be sure to remove it at this time before continuing on.

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3. Adjust an Illustrator Default Pattern

Step 1

A flat color is nice but let's go a step further and add a nice pattern to give it a bit of texture. Visit the Pattern libraries (Window > Swatch Libraries > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphic Textures) and then click and drag the pattern labeled "Sand" to the art board. This will copy out the pattern swatch so we can now manipulate it.

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Step 2

If you notice there is square bounding box behind a lot of different dots that make up the pattern. Our objective is to recolor these dots White, rather than the default Black. These dots and bounding box are all grouped so enable the Selection Tool (V) and double click on the group to enter Isolation Mode.

Click and drag a selection over the dots that make up the pattern and you will notice that the Stroke color in the toolbar has question marks in it. This indicates that there are multiple strokes. Since we know that only the dots are black we need to Shift-click on the outermost square surrounding our dots to deselect it.

The bounding box should shrink ever-so-slightly and the Stroke color in the toolbar will change to black. Now change this black color to white then double click on the art board away from any of our shapes to exit Isolation Mode.

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Step 3

Select the grouped pattern swatch once more and go to Edit > Define Pattern… then give it a name and hit OK. You will notice a new swatch appears in the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches). You can now delete the excess pattern swatch from your art board by pressing delete on your keyboard.

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Step 4

Now with our Selection Tool (V) still enabled select the salmon square and in the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) select to add a new fill color using the Add New Fill button at the bottom of the panel and instead of a flat color assign the newly created pattern from the Swatches panel then drop the Opacity to 50%.

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4. Add the Text to the Composition

Step 1

With our background completed let's move on to the meat of the piece. Feel free to use any quote you like, but for the purposes of this tutorial I'll be using a quote from the Frou-Frou song entitled Let Go. So to begin please select the Type Tool (T) then click on the art board and enter three different lines of text. These will need to be separate for later on when we alter the middle line to spruce the piece up a bit.

For the first line I'll put "Beauty" and use the font called "Mission Script" with a size of 72px. The middle line will be "IN THE" in all caps using the font "Twentytwelve Slab" with a size of 48px and set it to bold. Our final line will read "Breakdown" also using "Mission Script" with a size of 72px. All of these will be white.

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Step 2

Now let's align everything correctly. Enable the Selection Tool (V) and Shift-click all three lines of text to selection them all simultaneously. Now navigate to the Align panel and choose to Align to Artboard then select Vertical Align Centre and also Horizontal Align Centre.

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Step 3

Select the "Breakdown" line individually then Right-click on the art board and select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and move it down Vertically 87px.

Then select the the "Beauty" line individually and Right-click on the art board and select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and move it down Vertically -87px. Notice this one is negative so it will move up on the art board.

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5. Create a Text Filled Flag

Step 1

Let's create a flag element to wrap our middle text since it's fairly plain. To begin, select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on the art board and create a rectangle that is 140px long by 50px high and ensure it is centered to the art board using the Align panel and the Vertical Align Centre and Horizontal Align Centre buttons.

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Step 2

Now we'll click again with the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a square that is 50px by 50px. Now select the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and on the left hand side of this square click somewhere near the center. Then enable the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on the Anchor Point we just added and drag it to the very center. of the square. For this next step please ensure Smart Guides is enabled. You can do so in the menu View > Smart Guides (Command + U). This should allow the shapes to snap into place.

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Step 3

With our end shape created we'll need to Copy it then Paste it to the art board. Then Right-click on the newly pasted shape and select Transform > Reflect… and flip it horizontally. Now with both ends created let's drag them and snap them to the end of the rectangle.

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Step 4

Now we'll adjust the positioning further to make it look like the ends are wrapped behind the flag itself. To do so, we'll enable the Selection Tool (V) and select the left end and Right-click on the shape then select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and adjust the placement using the dimensions outlined below. We'll also adjust the position of the right end as well using the dimensions below.

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Step 5

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on the art board and create a rectangle that is 130px wide by 40px high and center. it to the artboard. Then, with the Selection Tool (V) enabled please Copy the new, smaller rectangle and Paste in Front (Command + F).

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Step 6

Now Shift-click on one of the small rectangles and one of the ends and in the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) select the second icon in from the left called Minus Front. Repeat this process for the other end.

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Step 7

When you've got the ends finished, Shift-click all three objects and flip the fill color with the stroke color Then adjust the stroke to be Inside and 5px wide. Now Group (Command + G) these three objects together.

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Step 8

If you notice the text isn't exactly aligned correctly so let's correct this. Begin by selecting the text line "IN THE" then visit Object > Expand and after our text becomes a shape we'll visit the Align panel and choose to Align to Artboard then select Vertical Align Center. and also Horizontal Align Center.

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Step 9

Now Group (Command + G) the text shape with the flag shape. Then open your Appearance panel and select the Effects button at the bottom of the Appearance panel and choose Warp > Flag… and enter the information outlined below. Then nudge the flag/text group up 3px by pressing the Up arrow on your keyboard 3 times. And with that our flag is complete.

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6. Adjust the Type to Customize it

At this point you can skip the next few steps if you're already happy with your font choice but there are a few quirks to the font that are eating at me that I wish to adjust. The kerning is spot on, you can tell the font designer really took care in designing these letter forms and their placement but the shape of the "B" and "e" and a few other areas stand out to me I'd like to adjust them to make it my own.

Step 1

Let's select the text lines "Beauty" and "breakdown" then Right-click and select Create Outlines. This will convert our letter forms to editable vector shapes.

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Step 2

Now I'll zoom (Z) in a bit so I can see what I'm doing then double click on the "Beauty" grouping to enter Isolation Mode. There are a few area's in the "B" that I wish to fix as well as on the "e" and "y". A few of the curves aren't quite fluid enough and I want to make them as smooth as possible.

In the upper loop that forms the "B" you'll notice with this font it comes to a point on the inside. Select the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the points that form this sharp point then delete them.

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Step 3

Switch to the Pen Tool (P) and while holding Shift on your keyboard, click on the upper most open path anchor then drag to the right a bit. Then click on the lower open path anchor and Shift drag the handle up until you get a nice smooth curve that suits your needs.

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Step 4

You can repeat these steps until all the little niggles are worked out. For me this includes the very bottom most area of the "B" and the top part of the "e" and the inside loop of the "y". Now that the letter forms are to your liking switch to the Selection Tool (V) and click on the "B" then Shift-click the "e" then Copy it.

Once you're done, double click in an empty area around the letter shapes to exit Isolation Mode.

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Step 5

Rather than edit the same letter forms again let's simply paste in our already edited shapes to the "Breakdown" group. To do so, double-click the "Breakdown" group to enter Isolation Mode then Paste the shapes we copied from earlier onto the art board.

These won't be in proper place so select the pasted letters individually and drag it into place. With Snap enabled this should be a fairly easy task. Once in place be sure to remove the unedited shapes by selecting them and pressing delete on the keyboard.

At this point I'm happy with the other letters so double-click in an empty area around the letter shapes to exit Isolation Mode.

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7. Add Effects to the Text

Step 1

Let's group all of our objects together so we can apply the same effect to everything at once. Shift-click all three text lines and Group (Command + G) them together.

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Step 2

With the group selected navigate to the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) then click the button labeled "fx" at the bottom and choose Stylize > Drop Shadow… then enter the following information.

This won't look like it did much but that's because the drop shadow we added is the same color as our background.

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Step 3

In the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) click on the newly created Drop Shadow layer and drag it to the Duplicate Selected Item button, it looks like a post-it note with then bottom corner dog-eared. Then click the duplicate Drop Shadow layer (the bottom one) and enter the following information.

And with that our text portion is complete. You're welcome to stop here if you like but I'm going for a certain motif so I'm going to embellish the text with some more nautical elements. Feel free to follow along.

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8. Create a Custom Pattern Brush

Step 1

Let's begin by zooming in to our art board some so we can work with our fairly small pattern. Now select the Rounded Rectangle Tool and click on the art board and create a pill shaped object using the following dimensions.

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Step 2

With our shape selected Right-click on the pill shape and choose Transform > Transform Each then enter the following parameters and click Copy, not OK. Clicking OK will simply move the rectangle, but clicking Copy will move and duplicate it. Now Right-click on the new shape and select Transform > Transform Again (Command + D). You should now have 3 pill shapes side by side.

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Step 3

Now select all three shapes simultaneously and Right-click and choose Transform > Shear then enter the following information.

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Step 4

For this next step please ensure Smart Guides is enabled. You can do so in the menu View > Smart Guides (Command + U)). Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and from the far left of the sheared pill shapes click and drag a rectangle so that it intersects with the middle of the far left pill shape. Do the same for the pill shape on the far right as well.

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Step 5

Select one pill shape and the overlapping rectangle we drew simultaneously then in the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) select the second icon in from the left called Minus Front. Repeat this process for the other end.

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Step 6

Select one of the end shapes and the middle whole pill shape then while holding Shift + Option click and drag to duplicate the selection and line it up with the opposite end of the cut end shape. I'll be dragging mine from the left to the right.

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Step 7

Now select the duplicated whole pill shape you just created and add some points to the path to create a nice frayed end to our rope brush.

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Step 8

With the cut off end and the frayed end we just created selected, Group (Command + G) them together then while holding Shift + Option click and drag to duplicate the selection and line it up with the opposite end. I'll be dragging mine from the right to the left. Then rotate it by clicking one of the corner handles of the bounding box and line it up to the corresponding end of the rope.

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Step 9

Now we need to specify the dimensions of our brush or else when we add the shapes to the brush they won't line up properly. To do so we need to create transparent boxes the exact height of our shapes and the exact width of each. In total we will have 3 boxes that are as high as the highest object and as low as the lowest object of the brush. With Smart Guides enabled this should be easy to achieve.

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and position your mouse so it intersects with the lowest point of one of the objects and click and drag so it intersects with the highest point of the objects. Take in to account that the opposite end of the frayed end will be highest or lowest point. In the screen shot below I've added a border so you can see what I mean. When you create these square shapes please be sure not to have a border set.

After you're done creating the transparent shapes, Group (Command + G) the corresponding transparent shape with the shapes below. You should have 3 individual groups. One for the left end, one for the middle, and one for the right end.

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Step 10

When you have all 3 groups created select just the middle group and visit the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes) then click the New Brush button at the bottom of that window, it looks like a post-it note with the bottom corner dog-eared. Then select Pattern Brush from the window that appears and hit OK.

In the next window give a name to our brush and leave all other settings as they are. This will create a new swatch in the Brushes panel.

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Step 11

Now, while holding down Option on the keyboard click and drag the right frayed end group to the Brushes menu over the new swatch that appeared and release your mouse click once there is a black box outline over the farthest square on the swatch to the right. Then do the same for the left frayed end and drop this in the square to the very left of the swatch we just dropped.

At this point you can delete the shape patters you created to make this brush. Or if you worked on a new layer simply hide it, we won't need them any more.

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Step 12

Enable the Line Segment Tool (\) and draw a line that is completely horizontal and the exact width of our "Breakdown" text. With Smart Guides enabled this should be quite easy. Then in the Align panel and choose to Align to Artboard then select Vertical Align Center. and also Horizontal Align Center.

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Step 13

Now, with the line selected, Right-click and select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and move it down Vertically 148px. Now you can apply our newly created pattern brush to the line segment.

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9. Create a Simple Anchor Icon

Step 1

Let's finish up our design by balancing out our design with an anchor. With the Ellipse Tool (L) selected click on the art board and make a new circle that is 14px by 14px and remove the fill and add an inner stroke that is 4px wide.

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Step 2

Click again and create a new circle that is 57px by 57px and align it so it is exactly over the smaller circle. Change the stroke to the Center. and keep the 4px width.

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Step 3

With the large circle still selected, Right-click and select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and move it down Vertically 8px.

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Step 4

Now grab the corner handle of the bounding box and while holding Shift rotate the object 45º. Now enable the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the top 2 anchor points and delete them. You should be left with a quarter circle below the smaller circle.

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Step 5

Enable the Line Segment Tool (\) and draw a line that is completely horizontal and 18px with a 4px stroke then center. it with the smaller circle.

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Step 6

With the line still selected, Right-click and select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and move it down vertically 12px.

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Step 7

Enable the Line Segment Tool (\) and draw a line that is completely vertical with a 4px stroke and align it with the center. of the shapes we've drawn so far. This new line should be tall enough to span the gap between the bottom of the small circle and the top of the quarter circle. The exact height doesn't matter, just so long as it doesn't leave any gaps.

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Step 8

Select the Rectangle Tool (M) and click on the art board and create a square that is 8px by 8px. Remove the stroke and instead fill it with a solid white color

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Step 9

Now enable the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select the bottom right anchor points and delete it. You should be left with a triangle shape. Go to Path > Join (Command + J) and close the open ended path.

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Step 10

Click and drag the triangle shape so it intersects with the quarter circle shape. Duplicate this triangle, then rotate it and move it to the other end of the quarter circle shape to complete our anchor icon.

Once completed, Group (Command + G) these objects together.

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Step 11

In the Align panel choose to Align to Artboard then select Vertical Align Center. and also Horizontal Align Center.

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Step 12

Now, with the anchor icon selected, Right-click and select Transform > Move… (Shift + Command + M) and move it up vertically -163px.

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Anchors Away! You're Now Finished!

And with that our typography piece is complete! Be sure to name your quote source once you're done with your piece.

I hope I was able to show you a few techniques for creating quick patterns for both brushes, and backgrounds. Sometimes just editing amazing fonts and adding extra embellishments can make all the difference when it comes to creating memorable typography.

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