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How to Create a Paper Quill Holiday Greeting in Adobe Illustrator

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This post is part of a series called Christmas Illustration Content.
Create a Christmas, Knitted Text Effect in Adobe Illustrator

There's something so elegant about holiday greeting cards with their gilded script fonts, glittery snowmen, and often paper craft designs. One such craft that I long for the time and patience to practice is that of paper quilling (or paper filigree). Not only does the art form allow for intricately designed curves, spirals, and loops, the look of the final product, like most sculpture, can change with the way the piece is lit. Follow along for a tutorial on bringing this art form to your desktop via Adobe Illustrator CC, where we'll play with fonts, brush styles, and faking some studio lighting for a seasonal greeting.


1. Edit the Font

Step 1

I've chosen a freeware font called "Lobster Two". It's less slanted than its predecessor, Lobster, and its regular form isn't as bold or thick. I find it ideal, as it is script-like, but has ample room within its lettering for filigree designs. Ungroup the letters while we make some adjustments to their design.

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Step 2

There are some changes to be made to these letters before we press on to creating some swirls within them. With the Pen Tool (P), complete the "P"'s in "Happy". You can open up the Glyphs panel in order to check out the other two lowercase "P"'s this font has to offer, by the way. This "P" was the default for me, and I like its connecting form. After you've drawn the first red shape seen below (if you chose this glyph), Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the second one and fit it into place.

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Step 3

For the "Y" in "happy", I've used the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B), extended the tail, thickened it, and rounded it off at the end.

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Step 4

For a more uniform end to the tail, draw a small circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) and use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to pull the bottom anchor point downwards, creating a teardrop shape. Rotate this teardrop so it fits on the end of the "Y"'s tail. Scale as needed and adjust the tail's shape so each component (letter, tail, and teardrop) fit together seamlessly.

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Step 5

Since I've stylized the tail of the "Y", I want to do the same to the capital "H"'s ear. To delete the pointed end of the "H"'s curve, select the teardrop shape you've drawn and the "H" itself. Using the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M), select the portion of the letter's ear circled below. Deselect and delete. With the Pen Tool draw a shape that follows the contour of the "H"'s ear and converges seamlessly with the teardrop.

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Step 6

Additional shapes were drawn on the "A"'s and "D" in order to carry over the stylization from the "O" and "S" already in place within the font. At this point we're ready to jump into the quilled style of the tutorial.

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2. Filigree Designs in the "H"

Step 1

Select the components of "happy" and Unite them in Pathfinder. Repeat for "holidays". Change the fill to null and the stroke to a temporary color and 1pt weight. Copy and Paste the words to be saved for later use (hide them in the Layers panel or place them on another layer and away from the artboard).

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Step 2

With the Ellipse Tool draw overlapping circles that intersect the ear of the "H". Select all four shapes in this instance and use the Shape Builder Tool to select each section inside and outside of the "H"'s boundaries. Deselect and delete the shapes that are not contained within the "H".

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Step 3

Continue adding circles, layered teardrops, and various curved lines to the body of the "H". As you draw shapes intersecting the letter, remember to trim out the excess. To keep corners and line segments from pointing outwards (as seen in 5 below), select Round Cap and Round Join in the Stroke panel.

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Step 4

I changed the color of my filigree designs to bright pink for easier viewing. For an easy "S"-shape, use the Line Segment Tool (\) to draw a line overlapping the letter you're decorating. Apply the Twist effect to your liking. The one below is a 49° angle. Once applied, Expand Appearance in Object.

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Step 5

Additional shapes to be layered over the letters include circles, half-circles, teardrops, and twisted teardrops. The idea is to focus on curved shapes of all sorts.

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Step 6

Fill in spaces between rounded objects with lines. Use them sparingly, though, since you want to focus on curves to keep with the quilled paper look. Let's move on to the rest of the letters.

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3. Fill out "Happy"

Step 1

Much like the "H"'s ear, the curved bit of the "A" lends itself fantastically to filigree designs. Use the contour of the letters to guide your quilling curves and overall design and keep moving through the word.

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Step 2

Since the "P" is doubled up in this word, I saved some time by Grouping (Control-G) the shapes forming the "P" together, Copying and Pasting it and placing them over the second "P" on the right.

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Step 3

When your filigrees are ready, select the entire word, Group together make sure the stroke color and width is uniform through the whole word.

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3. Fill out "Holidays"

Step 1

I Copied and Pasted the "H" and "A" from "happy" to save some time. You are by no means limited to placing designs over a certain letter once.

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Step 2

For the "O" in "holidays", I've not only drawn similar shapes as before, but allowed some of the curves to overlap multiple portions of the letter.

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Step 3

For the "D" and "Y", part of my focus in adding design work to each letter is to emphasize the shape of the letter itself. I've circled these parts of the letters below, in yellow.

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Step 4

When you've finished with your designs in "holidays", Group the designs and portions of the base letters (whatever is left, since you're been taking it a part with the Shape Builder Tool) together.

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4. Paper Quilling Effect for Lettering

Step 1

As shown below, on the word "happy", change the stroke color to white and the brush to 5pt Calligraphic. I've changed the stroke width to 0.50pt as well. this gives the look of your line work being strips of paper glued on their edges. Repeat with "holidays" and move the words closer together, but not overlapping.

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Step 2

Select both words and in the Appearance panel apply the following five Drop Shadow effects. Now your paper quilled design has some depth.

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Step 3

Copy and Paste the text and Group together. In the Appearance panel, delete the Drop Shadow effects on this new group and change the stroke to null and the fill to the dark green gradient as seen below. In the Gradient panel, adjust the Opacity of the first dark green to 0% and keep the second at 100%.

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Step 4

Go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur and keep it around 2-3 pixels for the radius. Place this blurred gradient group behind the main text in the Layers panel.

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Step 5

A close up of the "H" with the Drop Shadows and the blurred group set behind the main text.

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Step 6

Optionally, reduce the Opacity of the blurred gradient group to 80% in the Transparency panel so the shadows inside the words aren't so stark compared to the white lettering. Group the letters and its components together in order to keep your Layers panel organized

.

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5. Brush Designs Part One

Step 1

Using the Brush Tool (B) with the 5pt Calligraphic brush from the default list (see these in the Brushes panel), set the stroke to 1pt weight in the Stroke panel play with some of the following shapes for the filigree designs around the holiday greeting:

  • Bring curved strokes from the left side of the "H" down to the left near the top of the second "H".
  • Draw half circles and lines that curve around the first couple lines you've made.
  • alternatively, your lines can loop around like a ribbon, zig-zagging back and forth through the negative space between the two "H"'s.

If you're not using a tablet for this design, stick with the Pen Tool, as it will allow you the most control over the shapes you're creating without being jagged, as may happen with using a mouse. I also suggest not expanding the stroke lines into objects, as future sections of this tutorial will be much easier to complete.

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Step 2

Continue layering swirled, looped, and spiraled designs on top of each other. For the berry-like components of the design, use the Ellipse Tool with the same brush setting for the stroke, to draw red circles. Select all of the motif, as see below, and use the Shape Builder Tool to select intersecting components of the design so each intersection becomes its own shape (as though you've cut pieces out of paper to give the illusion of intersecting lines).

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Step 3

Repeat this process (from Steps 1 and 2) around the words. On the right side of "happy", the green lines connect the right side of the "Y" to the top of the "S". The designs around the words are slowly becoming intricate framework.

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Step 4

I've temporarily used a lighter green for some of the designs in order to stand out from the background for this step. I want you to see a quick breakdown of some of the design work and how it fits with the lettering.

  • I started this shape with two spiraling swirls: one going from the top to the bottom and the other from left to right. From there, I add in smaller curved shapes that connect the two swirls together as well as fill in some of the negative space.
  • I've continued adding half-circles to either side of the swirls, creating some weight in the design on the bottom of this letter.
  • In keeping with the holiday theme, a holly leaf has been added on the left side of the "H". And as you may have noticed, the frame designs are on a layer beneath the lettering in the Layers panel.
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Step 5

The designs on the bottom of the word "holidays", flow toward the center of the word. Those on the right side move left, and those on the left side move right. Once again, more holly leaves have been drawn in the corners of the frame to keep with the theme.

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Step 6

A look at the overall design so far. Note how the red berries have been added in three places and the right side looks unbalanced compared to the left. Let's add more to the frame before Grouping it all together.

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Step 7

Adding some berries in the bottom right corner and selecting components with the Shape Builder Tool, you can see that some of these shapes are filled objects rather than stroked lines. These were drawn with the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B) and are an option for the designs as well (since you can apply the same brush attributes as the Paintbrush Tool), but the next section is easier to complete if everything is a stroked line.

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Step 8

This brings us to the final frame design. Group your lines together apply the same Drop Shadow effects in the Appearance panel that you used for the text in Section 4, Step 2.

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5. Brush Designs Part Two

Step 1

Refer back to the compound shape text you put aside in Section 2, Step 1. Using the Direct Selection Tool to select the inner shapes of the "A"'s, "P"'s, "O", "D", and "S". Copy and Paste them and apply the same dark green gradient from Section 4, Step 3.

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Step 2

Group these selections together and place the under the text group in the Layers panel. Reduce the Opacity to 40% in the Transparency panel.

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Step 3

Copy and Paste the framework drawn in the previous section. Apply the dark green gradient from Section 4, Step 3. If your lines were strokes, you'll have filled in shapes (seen on the left side, below). If your lines were objects, you'll have line work similar to what's seen on the right side of the piece. In either case, you want most of the design to be filled in. So if you've got gradient-filled line art, you'll have to draw shapes with either the Pen Tool or the Pencil Tool (N) and fill them in with gradient shapes.

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Step 4

Let's break down some of the frame pieces:

  • Note how this curve has created an odd shape. Ungroup the frame pieces to make some edits by picking up the top anchor point with the Pen Tool and redefining this shape (as well as closing it).
  • Note the unfilled holly leaf here. I'll be drawing a shape to fill it in with the Pen Tool. Also notice the berry shapes have all had a dark red gradient applied. This one goes from dark red at 100% opacity to 0% Opacity. Adjust your gradients and their attributes in the Gradient panel.
  • For the holly leaves on this side, I've filled in shapes so each side has a separate gradient. The same goes for each component of the berries and shapes within the swirls.
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Step 5

Group together your gradient shadow shapes and place them above the framework in the Layers panel. Reduce the overall Opacity of the group in the Transparency panel to 40-60%, depending on your preference.

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6. Final Touches

Step 1

For the background, I drew a large green rectangle with the Rectangle Tool (M), covering the artboard. Apply a Radial Gradient with the Gradient Tool (G) going from medium green to a bright green in the center (see below). In the Appearance panel, apply the Film Grain effect under Artistic with the following settings: Grain: 4, Highlight Area: 1, Intensity: 10 This gives the look of having glued the paper quilling to a textured paper.

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Step 2

The lettering looks a bit stark against the green background. Copy and Paste the white lettering and delete the copy's Drop Shadow effects in the Appearance panel. Expand the strokes in Object.

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Step 3

Apply the dark green gradient used for the gradient shadows previously and place the new group over the white words, slightly off to the right and down. Reduce the Opacity of this group to 40% in the transparency panel.

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Happy Holidays From the Vector Team!

You've made it to the end without a single paper cut or spot of spilled glue. Though now that we've reached the end of this paper craft inspired tutorial, you might have an interest in trying out the real thing. Or you'll take digital paper quilling to the next level and bring it into other illustrative or design pieces of your own.

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