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Create a Rationalized, Geometric Wordmark and Ambigram

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Read Time: 14 min
This post is part of a series called Design Essentials.
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Creating your own graphic identity is never an easy feat. In fact, it might be the hardest thing you've ever done. There is usually no deadline - just a pretentious client with irrational expectations: yourself.

In trying to find the right look, I didn't go digging through popular typefaces and trendy color schemes. Since most of my work is experimental and completely self-made, why shouldn't my own logo be as well?


The first thing you should know is that creating letterforms is not for everyone. For most, using an existing typeface is recommended. In fact, one may ask "if your wordmark is so simple, why bother? Why not just use a font?" I'm sure there are tons of better looking typefaces out there. But neither of them makes me as happy as this one. You see, I made this. If you're a practical man like me, being happy with something means making it meet your requirements. So, what do you want to get out of your logo?

In this tutorial, I'll teach you how to make a logo that fulfills the following needs. First of all, I'm an image maker that predominantly displays work in digital format. That's already an indicator that my font needs to look well on screen. Sans-serif fonts perform well digitally, so that's already a good reason to go in that direction.

Secondly, my work needs a signature, a symbol, something that identifies a particular piece of work as my own. In the digital world, that's called a watermark. Very early on, I decided that symbol would be a monogram. I've always been attracted to old fashioned things, and this could actually be more than a sentimental choice. Monograms occupy little space, can be displayed in both large and small formats, but offer enough information to become recognizable. In a very long process of sketching, I realized my monogram could become an ambigram (reads the same when rotated up-side-down). That's +1 for awesomeness. :)

Good, so I want a simple sans-serif wordmark and related ambigram. Now how to turn that into more than a sketch? There are different ways to create a font. Since I'm such a control freak in my work, I chose to do this through geometric construction. That means that nothing is roughly estimated by sight. Curves are created by aligning a series of proportionately scaled circles. Their radii are determined by precisely angled lines and font weights are metrically specified. Simply put, nothing is left to chance.

Step 1

Before we get into it, I thought I'd show one of my letters in comparison with Futura Std, that way you get a sense of proportion on how large to create your circles. This is also the grid we're about to make.

Step 2

In the following steps I'll leave the letter 'e' in place. This will serve as a guide, again for proportion sake, even though we are recreating it from scratch. This letter bowl we're about to create will later be turned into an 'a', 'e' and a 'c'.

To begin, create your first circle. This will be the bowl corner, so to speak. Throughout this section, be sure to have Illustrator's Smart Guide option turned on (Command + U) and snapping enabled (Option + Command + "). It is not only a time saver in this situation, but also necessary.

Step 3

Create a horizontal line that spans from one side of the circle to the other.

Step 4

Go to Object > Transform > Rotate and rotate the line at a -25 degree angle.

Step 5

Drag the line along its path toward the left side. That way, you have a clear intersection of paths with the circle.

Step 6

The line is now above the circle, since it was created afterward. We want the circle to be on top, since we're trying to add an intersection point to the circle's path. Either change the arrangement by bringing the circle on top, or cut and paste the circle in place (Command + F). Then hover the mouse over the intersection and add a point with the Pen Tool (P).

Step 7

Copy and paste the line in place (Command + F) Go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Flip it via the vertical axis.

Step 8

Repeat the line process (drag the line along the path, bring the circle on top, add an intersection point to the circle).

Step 9

Copy and paste the circle in place, and go to Object > Transform > Scale. Make it 225% larger.

Step 10

Drag the 15 degree angle top point of the large circle directly on top of the smaller one's point. They should snap together in place.

Step 11

Copy and paste the smaller circle. Drag this one just like you did with the first one, except over the lower point of the large circle.

Step 12

This is what your construction should look by now. This completes the outer rim of the letter. Next up is the inner radius border.

Step 13

Copy and paste in place the small circle of the outer radius. Scale it down to 50%.

Step 14

Using the Smart Guides option, add a point with the Pen Tool on the inner radius circle at a 135 degrees (the guide will show up automatically). Basically, this is a 45 degree diagonal.

Step 15

Copy and paste in place the small circle (we'll call this new one medium-sized). Scale it at 130%.

Step 16

Again, create the diameter for the circle like you did before, but at a -15 degree angle this time.

Step 17

Copy and paste in place one of the large circles. Give it a -15 degree diameter as well.

Step 18

Move the large circle so it corresponds with the medium circle's 15 degree angle point.

Step 19

Copy and paste the two circles (small and medium). Flip them vertically (horizontal reflection) and snap them on the lower 15 degree point of the large circle (if you haven't created one, do it now).

Step 20

Copy and paste another large circle, and snap it to the top point of the medium circle. Do the same for the bottom one.

Step 21

Now create a 37 pt stroke that's larger than the letter. Also, create a thin stroke that you will use as a guide (seen in black). Snap the guide line to the right point of the medium circle.

Step 22

While having the large stroke selected, go to Object > Expand.

Step 23

Create a few guidelines on each side of this thick stroke.

Step 24

Delete the thick stroke, and send the guides you just made to the back of the canvas.

Step 25

where the guides intersect with the large outer and inner circles, add intersection points.

Step 26

Our construction is now complete. Let's start piecing together the outer border. Copy just the outer border elements into a new layer, and hide the previous.

Step 27

Here's how this works. Every circle is only relevant until it touches another circle. So from the large outer top circle (still kept as a white line for reference) all we need is the tiny, top bit. Since we added intersection points to all of them, all we need to do is trim off the extras by deleting unneeded points with the direct selection tool (A - white arrow). Delete all, but the highlighted portion below.

Step 28

From the corner radius, leave just as much to connect the the top and left large circle.

Step 29

Do the same for left large circle, and then the bottom.

Step 30

Right now, this is how your circle should look. Don't mind the top being longer. It's not actually - the 'e' letter is slightly less wide than the 'a' on top.

Step 31

The path may look continuous, but in fact it's split up into the many pieces we created. We now need to join all the intersecting points together. With the direct selection tool (A), drag over the two overlapping points and join the paths together (Command + J). Do this for all the split ends.

Step 32

Your exterior outline is now finished. Be careful not to miss any loose ends.

Step 33

Repeating the process for the interior outline should give you this result. Remember to join the two paths together as well.

Step 34

Remember the two vertical guides we placed? Close off the 'a' bowl with the Rectangle Tool (M).

Step 35

Fill the bowl path with a solid color, remove the outline and group it with the rectangle. And finally we have our first letter!

Step 36

Duplicate it and let's move on to the next letter. Create a 15 degree angled line.

Step 37

Place the bottom endpoint of the line over the corner of the letter.

Step 38

In the same technique of placing endpoints over intersecting paths, trim off the bottom of the bowl.

Step 39

Move the rectangle by snapping the bottom right corner over the letter's bottom endpoint.

Step 40

Shrink the rectangle to a 70% vertical proportion. Remember to do this nonconforming, as to preserve the thickness.

Step 41

Drag the top right corner of the rectangle until it snaps to the bowl path.

Step 42

Trim off the excess of the bowl on the right-hand side of the rectangle, as seen below.

Step 43

Duplicate the rectangle, rotate it at a 90 degree angle and snap it to the corner of the previous rectangle.

Step 44

Duplicate the vertical rectangle and snap it to the middle interior anchor of the bowl.

Step 45

Drag the two endpoints of the horizontal rectangle with the Direct Selection Tool (A) until it snaps to the third rectangle. Delete the latter to reveal the gap.

Step 46

The 'c' is a simple modification over the 'e'. Just trim off the horizontal divider while using a guide from the 'e'. We now have the three most difficult letters to create!

Step 47

We'll now start to create the wording, and create new letters where needed. To begin, we'll need a placement grid. Create two very long horizontal lines and snap them to furthest vertical anchors on the 'a'.

Step 48

Group the two lines (Command + G), cut and paste them on a new layer, copy and paste them in place (Command + F). Scale this new group down to 94% on its vertical axis. Why the double set of guides? Take a quick look at every professional font in your library. You'll notice the counters always reach further than stems. This is because when the counter and stem are at equal levels, one visually perceives the stem as being taller. To compensate this difference in level, one must increase the counter level beyond the x-height.

Step 49

The red lines are now our x-height. We now need an ascender line (marked with white).

Step 50

Create a vertical line that snaps from the ascender line, to the baseline. Don't confuse the base line with the counter line. Remember the stems (what we are creating right now) do not coincide with the counter lines. It might help you to change the color of the base line and x-height to a different one.

Step 51

Add another guide that snaps to the tip of the letter 'a' bowl (as shown below). Then, on the font layer, add 20 degree angled line and snap the top endpoint where the guide intersects with the stem.

Step 52

We now need a component for the 'l' letter. Create a very large circle on the same layer.

Step 53

Snap the left horizontal anchor of the circle to the stem.

Step 54

Add anchors to the paths where they intersect with the guides. One for the counter line, and another for the baseline. Be sure to lock the guide layer, otherwise those anchors will end up on the guides, rather than paths.

Step 55

Trim off the circle until you're left with the small lower left portion. Connect the paths to get a final letter 'l'.

Step 56

Create a long 40 pt (line thickness) vertical line, and rotate it at a 35 degree angle.

Step 57

Duplicate the line and flip it horizontally.

Step 58

Expand it and trim off the excess, once again, using the baseline and x-height as a guide. Once the x is complete, rotate an 'l' by 90 degrees and snap it to the bottom of the counter line. Then duplicate the guides, and snap them to the bottom of the rotated 'l'. We've basically just created guides for a second row with some row spacing identical to font weight. This makes for a very tight layout, but impossible to do with large bodies of type.

You see, I have no descending letters in my first name (ex 'g' - letters that descend beyond the baseline). With such a layout, descenders would overlap with the second row, which would be a problem obviously.

Step 59

Duplicate the 'a' and flip it horizontally on the bottom row.

Step 60

Expand the stem until it reaches the ascender line.

Step 59

Duplicate the 'a' and flip it horizontally on the bottom row.

Step 60

Expand the stem until it reaches the ascender line.

Step 61

The modification we're about to make is one that improves legibility at small sizes. It's the kind of thing one notices after proof printing and on-screen small size tests. Create a circle that yields an approximate result as shown below. Using the technique explained in the first part of the tutorial, trim the bowl.

Step 62

You can see the change below, which improves legibility, especially at small sizes.

Step 63

Our next letter on the list is 't'. Duplicate the 'e', and snap it over a duplicated 'l' as seen below.

Step 64

Trim off everything but what is shown in the screenshot underneath.

Step 65

Add the bar to the 't' while using the proper alignments.

Step 66

Add a -10 degree line and use it as a guide to modify the bar.

Step 67

Preserving the visual unity of a font may mean reusing parts of a letter to create others (like we did with the 'a,' 'e,' 'c') but it can lead to extremes. Turning a 'b' into an 'h' is no way to go. The angle needs to sharper and the transition to the second stem around a tighter radius. You must know the technique by now, so create one using the bottom image as a guide.

Step 68

And finally, a letter 'i' made from a shortened 'l'. Add the dot, but make the dot 105% larger than the font weight (or more if you like).

Step 69

Our final move with the wordmark is on letter spacing, also known as kerning. To begin, we'll metrically space our letters by using an 'l' letter as a template. Snap all the letters to this spacing block to get the same result.

Step 70

What we really want though, is optical spacing. When equally spacing letters, you get undesired gaps due to the distinct form of each letter. The gaps must be evened out by moving each letter left or right. For instance, in the 'tec' section, I moved the 'e' more to the left in order to correct the gap. Don't move the end letters of each word (a, x; b, i). Move the contents around instead.

A crude way of explaining kerning is this. Imagine you were to fill the spaces between each letter with sand. Every space should then be of roughly equal volume.

And here is the wordmark, before and after kerning.

Step 71

Creating the ambigram is rather easy. Copy and paste two 'b' letters on a different layer.

Step 72

Flip the left one both vertically and horizontally.

Step 73

Align the two as seen in the image below.

Step 74

Create a 30 pt stroke and Expand it. Align it to both edges of the stem.

Step 75

Grab the pathfinder and use the Subtract from shape area option to cut out the ambigram.

Step 76

Add a 30 pt circle while leaving enough room inside. Scaling down the symbol will reveal how much space is needed.


And here they are, ambigram and wordmark. I hope this tutorial has taught you a thing or two about typography. I look forward to seeing your own names and personalities expressed through custom faces!

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