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Creating Simple Origami Style Typography in Illustrator

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In this tutorial you will learn how to create a simple Origami style piece of Typography. You will create a set of basic shapes to build letters from and see how to refine those into a more realistic look of your type. Gradients and the appearance panel will help us, to create the final completely custom type.


Step 1

We will start with a new document 600x200 mm in size.


Step 2

Before we start creating the type, we will make a background. The letters will be white and so setting a background first, will help us to actually see what we are doing.

Fill a rectangle of the same size as the canvas with brown. To give it more depth we will apply a gradient overlay. Open the Appearance Panel and duplicate the brown fill and replace it with a simple black to white gradient. Change the gradients direction to -90°, set its blend mode to Soft Light, and Opacity to 20%.


Step 3

The first letter we are going to create is the "O." I picked it because of its simple shape, the circle, which can be easily turned into a rectangle that has been folded out of one thin piece of paper.

I will choose a width of 20mm for this paper stripe. But I will not create it by folding a shape in Illustrator, instead I will create a set of shapes, that I can also use for other letters. The letters will not be squares, because that is not very good to read as a font.

To begin, we will create a white 80x100 mm rectangle in the middle of the canvas.


Step 4

Duplicate the rectangle and change its width to 40 mm and any height. The height is not important for what we want to achieve. Now duplicate the shape again, this time changing its height to 60 mm and the width to any number.


Step 5

Select all the white shapes and open the Pathfinder panel. Now use the Divide option to create multiple shapes.


Step 6

You will not need all of the shapes we just created. Ungroup the shapes and delete all shapes that are outside of our base shape and the shape in the middle.


Step 7

Use the Delete Anchor Point Tool to delete all the corners of the shapes in the outer corners of our "O." You will be left with 4 rectangles and 4 triangles.


Step 8

Select one of the rectangles and the triangle next to it, then merge those 2 shapes. Do the same with the rest of the shapes. You will end up with 4 shapes that have a 45° angle at one end. Those will be our basic shapes. They can later be copied and reused for more letters.


Step 9

We are now done creating our basic shapes, with whom we will be able to create most letters of the alphabet. We will continue by adding some depth to the shapes. Select one shape and apply a gradient fill to it. I want it to go from white to a very light gray at an -90° angle. This will be our global gradient/light.


Step 10

We will now apply a gradient that will give the impression of a shadow from the paper above the shape we have selected. I will duplicate the gradient fill in the Appearance panel and change the light gray to a darker shade. Set this gradient fill to multiply.

If you are using Illustrator CS4 or higher, you can set the white gradient slider to 0% Opacity. You won't necessary have to set the fill to multiply them. This is up to how you want it to look.

You could also set the right gradient slider to black, and change the fill's Opacity to what looks best to you. You are welcome to test different settings until you are happy with the result.


Step 11

The shadow doesn't look right yet. To change this, we will move the white parts location of the gradient to 97%. This looks more like a shadow now.


Step 12

With the shape still selected, now open the Graphic Styles panel. Make sure no element in the appearance panel is selected and create a new graphic style. Apply this style to the 3 other shapes we created earlier.


Step 13

Now we have to change the "shadow" gradient's direction on each shape. The top shape will have an angle of -180°, the right shape will be 90°, and the bottom shape 180°. You can do this manually or use the Gradient Tool. Only do this with the second gradient, the first one will stay as it is, as it is our global light.


Step 14

Now we created our first Origami letter: "O." The "O" is a great base for the other letters we will create.


Step 15

I will not explain each letter in detail, but here are 3 examples of how to handle the shadow gradients. The leg of the "R" will need 2 gradient fills with an angle that displays a shadow from the 2 pieces of paper that are above it.

The bar in the middle of the "G" will only have the general gradient, as it is not below another piece of paper. The "A"'s crossbar needs 2 shadow gradients as well, on each side.


Step 16

Here is an overview of how I "folded" the paper stripes.

When you arrange the letters, be aware of the flow the folds take. You will get the best and most 3-dimensional result, by always having the next fold, below the part it follows upon. With the "O" this will even result in a closed circle.

The legs of the "R" and the "M"'s crotch are the most tricky parts. You cannot fold those as simple as the rest. In order to keep the width of the paper the same size, shearing the shapes will not give a good result. It works best to give the shapes a different angle. I marked some of the angles, to give you an impression of how the stripes would fold if folded for real, which will maintain the authenticity of this text effect.


Step 17

If you ever feel unsure of how to fold a letter… do it for real!

Especially, the "M" was giving me trouble, and having it build for real helped me understand how it should be folded. There are other letters you may want to create, such as an "S" or "K." If you try it for real, you will understand better how they should look.


Step 18

Now you have a simple set of Origami styled letters. If you want to work on their appearance further, you can do so easily. Simply turn each letter into a group and edit the groups appearance.

Let's start by changing the color! If you want your letters to be pink, select the group and open the appearance panel. The icon in the bottom of the appearance panel, which let's you create new fills will be grayed out when you select a group. You can add a new fill, by clicking on the arrow in the top-right corner, and choose "Add New Fill." Select the color you want to use on your letters and set its blend mode to Multiply.


Step 19

You could also add a texture to your letters. Therefore, I will use a Photoshop Effect, which is available in Illustrator. Go to Effect > (Photoshop Effects) Texture > Texturizer. I used the settings you can see below. Basically, the effect should not be too heavy, simple and subtle always looks better.


Step 20

You can combine steps 18 and 19 to have both color and texture on your letters. And you can add a drop shadow to it. Since we already created shadows from paper on paper, we can again apply that effect to one group.

Go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow, and change the settings to values that most appeal to you. I always prefer a 90° Shadow from the top. To achieve this, I choose 0 mm for the X Offset. To have a strong and only slightly blurred shadow, I set the Y Offset to a value that's the double amount of the Blur.


Step 21

If you would like to have a more abstract look to your letters, you can apply an Offset to the path. To do so, you will have to ungroup a letter and delete the graphic styles from each shape. Apply a simple white fill to the shapes. Now go to "Effect > Path > Offset Path" and edit the settings.


Final Image

You can play around with effects and their settings to create completely custom type. Move the letters around and change their sizes. There is so much you can do, based on these simple letter designs.

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