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Design

How to Create a Letter to Santa Design in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the following steps you will learn how to design a simple letter to Santa illustration in Adobe Illustrator. 

For starters you will learn how to set up a simple grid and how to create the main shapes using basic tools and vector shape-building techniques along with the Live Corners feature (or the Round Any Corner script). 

Taking full advantage of the Appearance panel, you will learn how to create the sheet of paper and how to add a short piece of text or a paragraph. Finally, you will learn how to load an use built-in pattern and how to add subtle shading and highlights using blending modes, linear gradients and basic effects. 

If you're looking to skip the process or if you're looking for a different type of design, you can find a variety of letter to Santa designs on Envato Market.

1. Create a New Document and Set Up a Grid

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, enter 600 in the width and height boxes and then click on the Advanced button. Select RGB, Screen (72ppi) and make sure that the Align New Objects to Pixel Grid box is unchecked before you click OK.

Enable the Grid (View > Show Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). For starters you will need a grid every 5 px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides > Grid, enter 5 in the Gridline every box and 1 in the Subdivisions box. Try not to get discouraged by all that grid—it will make your work easier, and keep in mind that you can easily enable or disable it using the Control-" keyboard shortcut.

You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Do not forget to set the unit of measurement to pixels from Edit > Preferences > Units > General. All these options will significantly increase your work speed.

setup grid

2. Create the Red Shape

Step 1

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and focus on your Toolbar. Remove the color from the stroke then select the fill and set its color at R=211 G=45 B=47. Move to your artboard and simply create a 240 x 250 px rectangle—the grid and the Snap to Grid feature should make your work easier.

Make sure that this red rectangle stays selected, pick the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and use the click button to simply add two anchor points as shown in the following image.

red rectangle

Step 2

Select your red rectangle and focus on the top side. Pick the Direct Selection Tool (-), select the left anchor point and simply drag it 120 px to the right.

Keep focusing on the top side of your red shape, switch to the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and click the right anchor point to easily remove it. In the end your red shape should look like in the second image.

move and remove anchor point

Step 3

Keep focusing on your red shape and make sure that the Direct Selection Tool (A) is active. Select the three anchor points highlighted by the black circles in the following image, move to the options bar and simply enter 10 px in the Corners box.

Get back to your shape and select the two anchor points highlighted by the blue circles in the following image. Return to the options bar and this time enter 20 px in that Corners box.

The Live Corners feature is only available for CC users. The best solution to replace this effect would be the Round Any Corner script that can found in this article: 20 Free and Useful Adobe Illustrator Scripts. Save it to your hard drive, return to Illustrator and make sure that the Direct Selection Tool (A) is active. Select the anchor points as mentioned in the previous steps and go to File > Scripts > Other Script. Open the Round Any Corner Script, enter the values from the Corners boxes and click OK. The end result might look a bit different, so feel free to increase/decrease that Radius value if you feel that it's required. In the end your red shape should look like in the following image.

live corners

3. Create the Yellow Shape

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 240 x 160 px shape, fill it with R=255 G=200 B=0 and place it exactly as shown in the first image.

Make sure that this yellow shape stays selected, focus on the top side, pick the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and add a new anchor point as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the newly added anchor point and simply drag it 90 px down. In the end your yellow shape should look like in the second image.

yellow shape

Step 2

Reselect your red shape and make a copy in front using the Control-C > Control-F keyboard shortcut. Select this copy along with your yellow shape, open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and click the Intersect button.

intersect

4. Add Shading and Highlights to Your Yellow Shape

Step 1

Reselect your red shape and make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Make sure that your yellow shape is selected and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 1 px Offset and then click the OK button. Select this newly created shape along with the copy made in the beginning of the step, and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Make sure that the resulting shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance). Replace the existing fill color with black (R=0 G=0 B=0) and then click that "Opacity" piece of text to open the Transparency fly-out panel. Lower the Opacity to 10% and you should end up with a subtle highlight as shown in the third image.

offset path

Step 2

Reselect your red shape and make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Make sure that your yellow shape is selected and go again to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 3 px Offset and then click the OK button. Select this newly created shape along with the copy made in the beginning of the step and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Make sure that the resulting shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with black and adjust the Opacity percentage to 5%.

offset path

Step 3

For this step you will need a grid every 1 px, so go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 1 in the Gridline every box.

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 288 x 108 px shape and place it exactly as shown in the first image. Once again, the grid and the Snap to Grid feature will make things easier for you. Make sure that this new shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel.

Be sure that there's no color set for the fill, and then select the stroke. Set its color to R=57 G=181 B=74 and then click that "Stroke" piece of text to open the Stroke fly-out panel. Increase the Weight to 6 px, and don't forget to check the Align Stroke to Outside button.

Focus on the bottom side of the rectangle made in this step and switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select both anchor points and go to Object > Path > Average (or simply hit Alt-Control-J). Check the Both box and then click the OK button. This should turn your rectangle into a simple triangle as shown in the second image.

green outline

Step 4

Make sure that your yellow shape is selected and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Reselect your triangle and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Select the resulting shape along with the copy of your yellow shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Make sure that the resulting shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with black, lower the Opacity to 20% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

intersect

Step 5

Disable the Grid (Control-") and the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-") and then go to Edit > Preferences > General and make sure that the Keyboard Increment is set to 1 px.

Reselect your yellow shape and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1 px down using the down arrow button from your keyboard. 

Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, lower its Opacity to 30% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

shading

Step 6

Reselect your yellow shape, make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F) and move it 1 px down. Make sure that this fresh copy is selected and duplicate it (Control-C > Control-F). Select this new copy and move it 1 px down.

Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with the linear gradient shown in the following image, lower its Opacity to 70%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

Keep in mind that the yellow number from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage, while the blue one stands for Location percentage.

highlight

5. Create the Blue Shape

Step 1

Enable the Grid (Control-") and the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-"). Return to gridline every 5 px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 5 in the Gridline every box.

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 240 x 90 px shape, fill it with R=39 G=170 B=225 and place it exactly as shown in the first image.

Make sure that this blue shape stays selected and focus on the top side. Pick the Direct Selection Tool (-), select the left anchor point and simply drag it 120 px to the right. Keep focusing on the top side of your blue shape, switch to the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and remove the right anchor point. 

Reselect the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select that top anchor point. Move to the options bar and enter 10 px in that Corners box. In the end your blue shape should look like in the third image.

blue shape

Step 2

Reselect your red shape and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy along with your blue shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

rounded corner

6. Add Shading and Highlights to Your Blue Shape

Step 1

Reselect your red shape and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Make sure that your blue shape is selected and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 1 px Offset and then click the OK button. 

Select this newly created shape along with the copy of your red shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, and lower its Opacity to 3%.

offset path

Step 2

Reselect your red shape and make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Make sure that your blue shape is selected and go once again to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a 3 px Offset and then click the OK button. 

Select this newly created shape along with the copy of your red shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with black, and lower its Opacity to 3%.

offset path

Step 3

Disable the Grid (Control-") and the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-").

Make sure that your blue shape is selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1 px down using that same down arrow button. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Fill the resulting shape with white (R=255 G=255 B=255), lower its Opacity to 30% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

highlight

Step 4

Enable the Grid (Control-") and the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-").

Reselect your blue shape and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy and simply drag it 10 px down. Make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel.

Remove the color from the fill and then select the stroke. Set its color to R=0 G=148 B=68 and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Increase the Weight to 6 px and check the Align Stroke to Inside button.

green outline

Step 5

Select your blue shape and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F) and then select the shape with the green outline and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Select the resulting shape along with the copy made in the beginning of the step and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Fill the resulting shape with black, lower its Opacity to 20% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

intersect

7. Create the Piece of Paper and Add Some Text

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 190 x 140 px shape, fill it with R=250 G=250 B=240 and place it exactly as shown in the following image.

Make sure that this new shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the existing fill and go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Enter the attributes shown below and then click the OK button.

paper sheet

Step 2

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using the Add New Fill button.

Select this new fill, change its Blending Mode to Soft Light and replace the existing color with the linear gradient shown below. Remember that the yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage.

second fill

Step 3

Make sure that your rectangle is still selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, and select the existing stroke.

Replace the existing color with the linear gradient shown below, lower its Opacity to 50%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Make sure that the Weight is set to 1 px and then check the Align Stroke to Inside button.

stroke gradient

Step 4

Make sure that your rectangle is still selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, and add a second stroke using the Add New Stroke button.

Select this new stroke, replace the existing color with the linear gradient shown below, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Be sure that the Weight is set to 1 px and then check the Align Stroke to Inside button.

second stroke

Step 5

Make sure that your rectangle is still selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, and add a third stroke using that same Add New Stroke button.

Select this new stroke, set the color to black, lower its Opacity to 2% and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Make sure that the Weight is set to 1 px and then check the Align Stroke to Outside button.

third stroke

Step 6

Make sure that your rectangle is still selected and keep focusing on the Appearance panel.

Simply click that "Path" piece of text from the top of the panel to select your entire path, and then go to Effect > Stylize > Round Corners. Enter a 5 px Radius and then click the OK button.

rounded corners

Step 7

Pick the Type Tool (T) and open the Character panel (Window > Type > Character).

Simply click on your artboard and add the "Dear Santa" piece of text. Set its color to R=38 G=34 B=98 and use the 5 years old font with the size set to 15 px.

text

Step 8

Make sure that the Type Tool (T) is still active, and simply click and drag to create a text box as shown in the following image. Add your paragraph as shown in the second image. Use the same font and color mentioned in the previous step, but decrease the size to 10 px.

paragraph

Step 9

Reselect your two pieces of text along with the rectangles that make up the sheet of paper, and Group them using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

Make sure that this fresh group is selected, and send it to back using the Shift-Control-[ keyboard shortcut. Select your red shape and send it to back using the same keyboard shortcut. In the end things should look like in the third image.

group

8. Create the Background Shape

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 610 px square and fill it with R=255 G=232 B=217. Make sure that it covers your entire artboard, and don't forget to send it to back (Shift-Control-[).

background

Step 2

Make sure that your square stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using that same Add New Fill button.

You'll need a built-in pattern for this new fill, so go to the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches), open the fly-out menu and go to Open Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures. A new window with a set of built-in patterns will open. Make sure that the fill added in the beginning of the tutorial is still selected, change its Blending Mode to Overlay and then simply add the "Sand" pattern from that set.

Feel free to use a different pattern from the built-in sets, or try some patterns from the packs available at Envato Market.

pattern

9. Add Shading and Highlights to Your Red Shape

Step 1

Select your red shape and focus on the Appearance panel. First, select the fill and replace the existing color with R=191 G=25 B=27, and then add a second fill. Select it and simply add the linear gradient shown below.

linear gradient

Step 2

Make sure that your red shape stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and select the existing stroke.

Replace the existing color with white, lower its Opacity to 30%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Increase the Weight to 6 px and check the Align Stroke to Inside button.

white stroke

Step 3

Make sure that your red shape stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, select the existing stroke and duplicate it using the Duplicate Selected Item button.

Select the newly added stroke, increase its Opacity to 50% and decrease the Weight to 1 px.

white stroke

Step 4

Make sure that your red shape stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a third stroke using that same Add New Stroke button.

Select this new stroke, replace the existing color with black, lower its Opacity to 5% and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Make sure that the Weight is set to 1 px and check the Align Stroke to Outside button.

black stroke

Step 5

Make sure that your red shape stays selected and keep focusing on the Appearance panel.

Select that bottom red fill and go to Effects > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the attributes shown in the top left window (in the following image), click the OK button, and then add the other four Drop Shadow effects shown below.

drop shadow

10. Make Some Final Adjustments to Your Blue and Yellow Shapes

Step 1

Select your yellow shape and simply replace that yellow with R=211 G=45 B=47.

change color

Step 2

Select your blue shape and focus on the Appearance panel. First, select the fill and replace the existing color with R=221 G=55 B=57, and then add a second fill. Select this new fill, change its Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then add the linear gradient shown below.

change color

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how it should look. Feel free to enrich your final illustration with a neat stamp or some Christmas decorations from Envato Market. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects.

final
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