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How to Create a Lego Inspired Text Effect in Adobe Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, we will learn how to create a realistic-looking 3D text effect without utilizing any 3D software. I'll specifically be using Adobe Photoshop but you should be able to do it in your favorite 3D software of choice. We'll start by creating a single block and, through a series of techniques, we will begin to build a word. We’ll finish the word by adding some custom lighting and shadows. Let’s get started! 

1. Build the Block

Step 1

Create a New document with the canvas dimensions of 1000px by 1000px.

Step 2

Go to View > Show > Grid. This will help align our shapes later on.

Step 3

Select the Rectangle Tool and, using the top menu items, change the Fill to gray. Now, draw a rectangle on the canvas. Name this layer "Front".

Step 4

Use the Direct Selection Tool to select the two left-most end points and drag them down to create a parallelogram shape. A prompt may come up asking if you want to convert this to a regular path. Click Yes.

Step 5

The shape appears a little large. As an optional step, continue to use the Direct Selection Tool to adjust the shape.

Step 6

Create a copy of the "Front" layer and use the Direct Selection Tool to select the two right-most points. Drag the points to the left to make the side of our block. Name this layer "Side".

Step 7

With the "Front" layer selected, Control-Drag a copy of this layer toward the back of our block.

Step 8

Do the same with the "Side" layer. We should now have four sides to our block.

Step 9

To clean up our layers, select the two layer copies that make up the back of our block and Merge together (Control-E). Rename this layer "Top" and place at the bottom of our layer stack.

Step 10

Select the "Front" layer and add a Gradient Overlay Layer Style

Step 11

Add a Color Overlay Layer Style to the "Side" layer. Use the color shown below.

Step 12

Lastly, add a Gradient Overlay to the "Top" layer. Use the colors as shown.

2. Create a Peg

Step 1

On a new layer, use the Ellipse Tool to create an ellipse with a light gray fill

Step 2

Press Control-T to enable Transform mode and use the Down Arrow key to nudge the position of the ellipse down 2px. Press Return to commit the transformation.

Step 3

Pressing Control-Alt-Shift-T will now duplicate the layer and repeat the transformation. Keep pressing this until the peg has the right depth.

Step 4

In the Layers panel, select all of the layers we just created except for the top one. Merge (Control-E) them together.

Step 5

Next, move the merged layers underneath the top ellipse. Add a Gradient Overlay Layer Style to mimic lighting coming from the right side of our scene.

Step 6

Right now the peg appears to have hard edges. To make the edges appear rounded, select the top ellipse layer and Transform (Control-T) slightly to reduce the size.

Step 7

Next, use the Blur Tool to blur the two edges that make up the peg.

3. Finish the Pegs

Step 1

The next step is to create the illusion of a subtle reflection from the peg. Start by selecting the two layers that make up the peg and pressing Control-G to Group.

Step 2

Make a copy of the group and press Control-E to Merge the group into a single layer.

Step 3

Move the copy of the peg down so that it is visible underneath the original peg and adjust the Levels (Control-L) to make it appear darker.

Step 4

Next, go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. Set the Radius to 90 degrees and the Distance to 38px.

Step 5

Set the Blend Mode to Hard Light. As an optional step, add a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with a Radius of 4.6px to further soften the reflection.

Step 6

Next, add an Inner Shadow Layer Style to the "Peg" group.

Step 7

Lastly, group all layers that make up the peg. Place four copies of the peg around the top of the block. Resize (Control-T) if necessary.

4. Finish the Block

Step 1

We will now work on softening the edges. Select all layers that make up the block and Merge (Control-E) them together. Right-click the layer and choose Rasterize.

Step 2

With the block layer still selected, click on the Lock Transparent Pixels icon.

Step 3

Using the Blur Tool, set the Strength to 100% and blur the three inside edges of our block.

Step 4

The edge looks softer, but still needs a bit more work. Create a new layer and make it a clipping layer to the "Block" layer. Use the Brush Tool (B) with a light gray color and draw a line over the three inside edges.

Step 5

Apply the Gaussian Blur filter with a Radius of 7.0px. This will add a small amount of highlight around the edges.

Step 6

Next, select the "Block" layer and uncheck the Lock Transparent Pixels icon. Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase the five visible corners of the block to give the appearance of rounded corners.

Step 7

Lastly, select all the layers that make up the block and pegs. Right-click and select Convert to Smart Object.

5. Build a Stack of Blocks

Step 1

At this point, we need to decide what word we want to build. Once a word has been selected, it helps to create a 2D mockup. The image below shows a mockup of the word "create" drawn with only pixels. Each pixel represents one block.

Step 2

To start building the word, create a New document with the dimensions of 3300px by 2550px

Step 3

Go back to our original document and drag the smart object into the new document and resize it using Transform (Control-T).

Step 4

We will now make copies of the block. First, make sure the Move Tool (V) is selected. Zoom into the block, then Alt-Click-Drag to make a copy. 

Position the copy next to the original block.

Step 5

Refer back to our 2D mockup and count the number of pixels across the letters. In this example, there are nine pixels. Continue to drag out copies of the block until we have nine blocks in a row.

Step 6

Select all layers and Alt-Click-Drag out a copy of the entire row. Position this new row of blocks directly on top of the original row.

Step 7

Refer back to the 2D mock-up to see how many pixels tall our letters are (in this case, it's 13 pixels high). Continue building up the rows of blocks until you have 13 rows. 

Note: Holding Shift will constrain the movement of the blocks to the Y-axis (vertical line).

Step 8

Move this entire stack to the right side of the canvas to give us room to work toward the left.

6. Copy the Stacks

Step 1

Holding down Control, draw a selection around the stack of blocks. All layers within the selection are now selected.

Step 2

Alt-Click-Drag out a copy of the stack. Position it to the left of the original stack.

Step 3

Continue to create enough copies for each letter of our word. Since the word "create" has six letters, I would normally make six copies of the stacks. However, since the letter "e" appears twice, I will only create five stacks and make a copy of the letter "e" when the time comes.

7. Shape the Letters

Step 1

The next step is to start shaping the letters. Referring back to the 2D mock-up as necessary, start to delete the unnecessary blocks. This can be done by Control-Clicking any block to select it and pressing Delete.

Step 2

To select multiple blocks at a time, Control-Click the first block, then hold down Shift-Control while clicking on additional blocks. 

Step 3

Repeat this step for each letter. Note: As you get to the letter "t" you may notice that it does not have enough blocks. Do not worry; we will fix the "t" later.

8. Finish the Letters

Step 1

To make a copy of the letter "e," hold Control and draw a selection around the letter.

Step 2

Alt-Click-Drag out a copy of the letter and position it as shown. As an optional step, press Control-Shift-[. This will move the selected layers to the bottom of the layer stack so that they are behind the other layers.

Step 3

To finish the letter "t," hold Control and draw a selection around the top of the "t" and its crossbar.

Step 4

Move the selected layers up and out of the way.

Step 5

Next, Control-Click the top three blocks of the remaining "t" while holding Shift to select them

Step 6

Alt-Click-Drag out a copy of the three blocks. Place these on top of the existing blocks

Step 7

Select the blocks that make up the top part of the "t" and place them back on the bottom part.

Step 8

To finish the letters, select each letter one-by-one and space them out to prepare for the next few steps. It may help to draw a temporary line to align the letters.

9. Add More Depth

Step 1

We are going to build our text so it is three layers thick. However, before we copy any layers, we need to find a way to help us identify each row of text. We can do this by assigning colors to each row. 

To start, hold Control and draw a selection around all of the text. In the Layers panel, Right-Click on any layer and assign it a color. The color will now be assigned to all selected layers.

Step 2

Alt-Click-Drag out a copy of the text. Position this new row of text as shown. Do not deselect these layers.

Step 3

With the layers still selected, go to the Layers panel and assign a different color to represent the second row.

Step 4

Repeat this process for the third row of text. Make sure to select a different color for the layers.

Step 5

Once you have three rows of blocks, go through and position each letter to tighten up the spacing.

10. Remove Unnecessary Blocks (Optional)

Step 1

Since we are working with a lot of layers, Photoshop may slow down a bit (this can also depend on your computer). As an optional step, go back through the first two rows to delete all blocks that are 100% hidden from view. 

In order to find which blocks are 100% hidden, we’ll need to select all layers that make up the front row. A quick way to do this is to use the filtering feature in the Layers panel. Go ahead and filter by Color and select the same color as the layers in the front row.

Step 2

Now that all of the front layers are isolated, we can use the Layers panel to select all the layers and press (Control-G) to group.

Step 3

Turn off the filter by pressing the Red Switch in the Layers panel. We can now see the group we just created.

Step 4

Give the group a Fill of 0% and add the default stroke using the layer styles. Click the Lock Icon to lock the group

Step 5

Using the stroke as a guide, Control-Click the blocks in the second row that are completely inside the stroke and press Delete to remove.

Step 6

Do this for the rest of this row.

Step 7

Repeat this step for the back row. When finished, Ungroup all layers.

11. Color the Blocks

Step 1

Now, it is time to add some color to the blocks. Start by using the filter in the Layers panel to isolate the front row.

Step 2

Control-Click any block in the front row and add the following Layer Style.

Step 3

In the Layers panel, locate the Layer Style and Right-Click. Select Copy Layer Style.

Step 4

Use the Layers panel to select all visible layers (which should consist of the entire front row). Right-Click any layer and Paste Layer Style. This should apply the Layer Style to the front row of blocks. As you can see in the image below, all yellow layers now have the FX icon (indicating a layer style is applied).

Step 5

Make sure all layers are deselected (this can be done by Control-Clicking an empty area of the canvas). Now, Control-Click one of the blocks in the center of the first letter and add the following Layer Style.

Step 6

Right-Click the effect and Copy Layer Style. Now, Control-Click the other blocks in the center of the letter to select them and paste the layer style to the blocks. 

It's worth noting that holding Shift will allow multiple blocks to be selected.

Step 7

Continue selecting blocks and pasting the Layer Style for the rest of the letters

12. Adjust the Scene

Step 1

Select the Crop Tool and adjust the handles to crop the scene.

Step 2

Before moving on to the shadows, we can add some color to the last row of blocks. Using the filter in the Layers panel, isolate the back row by showing only the red-colored layers. Select all layers.

Step 3

Uncheck the filter to shown all layers. With just the red-colored layers selected, press Control-G to group them.

Step 4

Add the following Layer Style to the group.

13. Add Base Shadows

Step 1

Create a new layer and place it at the bottom of the layer stack. Using the Gradient Tool, click on the Gradient Editor in the top menu bar. Set the first color to light gray and change the Preset to Foreground to Transparent.

Step 2

Add in some gradients at the top and bottom of the scene.

Step 3

Next, use the Polygonal Lasso Tool and manually select the base of each letter. Holding Shift will allow you to make multiple selections

Step 4

Create a new layer and Fill the selections with black.

Step 5

Give the base shadows a small Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur).

Step 6

Make a copy of this layer (Control-J) and add a Motion Blur (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur). Make sure the angle matches the direction of the letters.

Step 7

The previous step made the shadows a little harsh at the corners. Apply the Gaussian Blur filter one more time to soften these shadows.

Step 8

Make a copy of this layer and add a Gaussian Blur filter with a much higher radius. This creates an ambient shadow in the scene.

14. Add Direct Shadows

Step 1

The next step is to create a shadow on the ground that is casted by our text. To do this, use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the front face of our text.

Step 2

On a new layer, Fill the selection with black.

Step 3

Using Transform (Control-T), skew the text until it is upright. This essentially resets the position so that we will have better control over it when we transform it into the cast shadow.

Step 4

Convert this layer into a smart object. Press Control-T and transform the shape to appear as if it is a shadow cast from the text object.

Step 5

Since our shadow was a 2D image and our text is 3D, we will need to do some extra work to make it appear thicker. Start by making a copy of the smart object and press Control-T to transform the shape again. 

Since we are using a smart object, the transformation handles will be easy to adjust. Go ahead and make a small adjustment to the second shadow.

Step 6

Fill in the areas of the shadow that were offset to make them appear as if they are from one object.

Step 7

Merge both shadows together (Control-E).

Step 8

Add a Motion Blur filter with and Angle of -12 degrees and a Distance of 17 pixels.

Step 9

Add a Gaussian Blur filter with a Radius of 1.2px.

Step 10

Add a Layer Mask and, using a larger, soft brush with the Opacity set to 30%, paint over the top of the shadow to fade it out a little.

Step 11

Reduce the Opacity to 46% and set the Blend Mode to Multiply.

15. Finish the Direct Shadows

Step 1

The next step is to add shadows to the letters themselves. Looking at our scene, it should be obvious that the light source is up and to the right of our scene. Using that information, we will add shadows to the left side of our letter objects. 

Step 2

To start, select all layers that make up out text object and Group (Control-G) them together. Rename the group "'Create' Text".

Step 3

Create a new layer as a clipping layer to the "'Create' Text" group and set the Opacity to 77%. This will help us see through the shadow as we add them to the scene. Use the Polygonal Selection Tool to make selections of where the shadows might fall.

Step 4

Create a new layer and Fill with blue (this is a temporary color that will help us visualize the shadows better

Step 5

As an optional step, use the Eraser Tool (set to a small size) and erase over the pegs that shouldn't have shadows.

Step 6

Continue this for every letter.

Step 7

When all the shadows have been added, change its color to black, set the Blend Mode to Multiply, and adjust the Opacity to 70%.

Step 8

The shadows still appear flat. In the real world, a shadow appears darker the closer it gets to another surface. We will emulate this effect. Start by making a copy of the shadow layer and reducing the Opacity to 52%. Make this layer a clipping layer to the "'Create' Text" group as well.

Step 9

Add a layer mask by Alt-Clicking the Add Layer Mask icon in the Layers panel. This will automatically mask out the entire layer.

Step 10

With the Layer Mask active, use a soft, white brush to paint over the inside corners or areas of close proximity to reveal a darker shadow. Refer to the images below to see the before and after.

16. Add a Reflection

Step 1

To finish the scene, we will add the reflection in the face of our text object. Start by creating a new layer called "Reflection" and place it just above the "'Create' Text" layer as a clipping layer.

Step 2

Using a large, soft brush, draw a line across the bottom half of the text object.

Step 3

Reduce the layer’s Opacity as needed.

Congratulations, You’re Done!

In this tutorial, I showed you how to create a Lego-inspired text effect using a single Lego block as a base. I then showed you how to duplicate that Lego block to create a 3-dimensional word. Finally, how to add lighting and shadow to it. I hope that you learned something from this tutorial and can use these techniques to create something amazing of your own.

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