If you're a designer or illustrator who's more comfortable creating glyphs in Adobe Illustrator, this tutorial is right up your alley! We'll plan out our letter set, go over ways to refine the font design, and prepare files for use in a font-making program, all from the comfort of Adobe Illustrator.
This tutorial should easily prepare you to create simple and fun fonts that can be sold as digital assets on Envato Market. Check out the market's font category for inspiration for your personal designs.
This is part one of two tutorials on creating simple and fun fonts in Adobe Illustrator. In the next tutorial, we'll create a custom font with our vector letterforms.
1. Sketch Out Your Letters
Whether you're drawing out letters in a digital art program like Adobe Photoshop, Paint Tool SAI, Krita, or something else, or drawing out your lettering on paper, I like to start with an alphabet quickly drawn in whatever style I want my font to have. Note the differences in the w's seen below. Consider how your letters relate to one another.
An option to keep your drawn letters from being a mess is to use grid lines in a drawing program like Adobe Photoshop. You can create a Grid Layout if you wish, or place grid lines manually. This allows you to keep track of the height and width of each letterform in an informal setting.
You can also scan in drawn or written letterforms and adjust the Threshold (Image > Adjustments > Threshold) so your image is a clean, black and white image, ready for importing into Adobe Illustrator. This is entirely optional, as you can also just draw your font freehand in Adobe Illustrator itself or import your image without adjusting it in Adobe Photoshop.
2. Prepare Your Letters and Illustrator Document
Before we launch into creating vector versions of our letterforms, I like to prepare my imported image file. I'm using lettering I drew in Adobe Photoshop. Open the jpeg in Adobe Illustrator. In the Image Trace panel, consider the following settings (yours may differ):
- Preset: Custom
- View: Tracing Result
- Mode: Black and White
- Threshold: 168
Hit Trace (this happens automatically if you're enabled Preview) and your drawing will instantly be traced as a vector image.
Select your newly traced image and go to Object > Expand. This will expand your traced image into vector objects. Ungroup the objects and use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the white-filled objects. Delete these so you're only left with the black letterforms.
Create a New Document. Mine is sized to my best guess for how big I want the largest of my letterforms to be: 0.55 in by 1.26 in. You can choose the right file size for your needs, of course.
3. Organize Your Letterforms
In your New Document, import or Paste (Control-V) your letterform group. Ungroup them so you have complete control over each object. I added Grid lines over my Artboard to help define the limits of each part in my letterform set. The lines will define the highest and lowest points of uppercase and lowercase letters.
Place your first letter object on your Artboard. You'll want to make sure that if it doesn't have any descenders (like the letters p, g, j, and y have), you'll want to place it at the baseline indicated by your gridline.
Scale and adjust your letterform within your gridlines and Artboard as you see fit.
Some letters are similar in size, shape, and overall design. I tend to use the lowercase b as d's, p's, and q's as well. Also note how your letters compare from lowercase to uppercase. I'll be redrawing everything in the next section of this tutorial, so how your letterforms relate to each other will be entirely up to you. Make notes about changes you'd like to make at this point, before we refine letters.
Each glyph type (lowercase, uppercase, punctuation, and numbers) is placed on the Artboard in turn and then organized into its category's corresponding layer within the Layers panel. As I refine each letter, new objects will be placed into their corresponding layer.
Creating a font can be a big project, so the more organized you are, the easier it will be.
The size and placement of punctuation and special characters are up to you. Numbers will likely be around the size of your uppercase letters, but punctuation needs to fit with both lowercase and uppercase letters. Note the arrows below. I've placed my asterisk at the highest point of my font forms, while for now my plus sign sits closer to the midpoint.
Experimenting with your letter and glyph objects will inform you of your most desirable punctuation placement. Play around with your objects until you find an arrangement you like!
4. Refine Your Letterforms
Let's start with four different ways to refine your letterforms.
- First we have done nothing at all. This is what my s would look like if I left the traced image as my letterform. It's choppy but has its own strange charm.
- This next letterform is what happens after I used the Shape Tool. It's cleaned up and smoother, but not nearly as smooth as the other letterforms below.
- This third one has been traced with the Pencil Tool (N). Set your Fidelity to Smooth and outline your letterforms as you see fit!
- Finally, this is the result of the Blob Brush Tool (Shift-B). You can also get a similar effect with the Brush Tool (B). Both allow for pressure-enabled line work.
If you opt for the Blob Brush Tool, you'll create objects as each letterform. If you opt for the Brush Tool, you'll be creating paths that you can change with various brushes. I'll be using a custom brush, created next, and the Brush Tool.
My custom brush is a Calligraphic Brush with the following options:
- Angle: 40°
- Roundness: 51%
- Size: 6 pt, Pressure Variation: 6 pt
Please note that I'm using a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet. The Pen Tool (P) is likely a better option if you're using a mouse or something other than a stylus for drawing.
Time to redraw and refine your letterforms! On a layer above your letter category (these are lowercase), set each letter as visible, one at a time, and draw over them. My custom brush keeps the look of my letters as though they were drawn with a chiseled marker. Use like characters to influence the look of others. All four of the characters below were drawn from the b that I drew.
Place each letter above the next, hiding those you're not working on at the moment in the Layers panel.
For some letters, I've changed their overall design after working through the alphabet. I've also made sure that descenders hit the same line, below the baseline, and lowercase letters that aren't l, h, t, or k don't go past the top line of the other lowercase letters.
As ever, it's entirely up to you whether or not your letterforms follow these rules. Have fun with your creations, and use the drawing tools you like most within Adobe Illustrator!
Refine special characters and punctuation as well. My pound sign (or hashtag) was a bit too large and lanky for the style of the rest of my characters. As such, I redrew it with the Brush Tool so it's smaller and chubbier overall.
5. Prepare Your Characters for the Font
Let's start with the final versions of all 89 of my characters for this font. At this point I've done the following:
- Made sure each letter fits into the same space and uses the same gridlines for reference.
- Refined every single character I want to be a part of the final typeface.
- Organized all of my characters into easily accessible layers within the Layers panel.
If you're going to export the content to another program, you'll need to save each and every glyph as its own SVG file. I've kept the default settings for saving SVG files and have simply made sure that there are 89 files organized by character name in a folder once I'm done.
For each SVG file, I've also done the following to make sure my file sizes are as small as possible:
- All of my brush paths have been Expanded into Objects.
- Objects and layers that are not visible (anything but the current character) have been deleted from each SVG file.
- Object paths have been United in the Pathfinder panel, Made into a Compound Shape, and then Expanded as their own path or compound path.
These steps, though a bit tedious, took my file size down from 800kb to 1kb or less. From here your files are ready to be imported into your font-making program of choice.
Great Job, You're Done!
Now that you've created all 89, or so, of your typeface characters, you're ready to jump on over to part two of this tutorial: font creation! We'll explore options for in-app font creation with a purchased script, exporting the character set into apps like Font Forge, and more! Share your font character creation below, and join me in the second part of this tutorial.