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Design

How to Create a Gear Text Effect in Adobe Illustrator

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

In the following steps you will learn how to create a detailed gear text effect in Adobe Illustrator. 

For starters you will learn how to set up a simple grid and how to create the three gear shapes using basic tools and effects. Next, we'll create the string shapes and you'll learn how to take full advantage of the Appearance panel and how to easily save and use graphic styles. 

Moving on you will learn how to add subtle shading and highlights to your gear shapes using basic vector shape building techniques. Finally, you will learn how to easily darken your entire work.

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 box and 700 in the height box, 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). You will need a grid every 1 px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides > Grid, and enter 1 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 Main Gear Shapes

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and focus on your Toolbar. Remove the color from the fill and then select the stroke and set its color to R=155 G=133 B=121. Move to your artboard and simply create a 44 px circle—the Snap to Grid should make this easier.

Make sure that this new shape stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance). Simply click on that "Stroke" piece of text to open the Stroke fly-out panel, increase the Weight to 4 px and check the Align Stroke to Inside button. In the end your shape should look like in the following image.

first circle

Step 2

Using the same tool, create a 14 px circle, place it exactly as shown in the following image, add that same 4 px stroke and don't forget to align it to inside.

second circle

Step 3

Focus on the top side of the larger circle and simply hit Shift-X to easily transfer the existing color from stroke to fill. Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 10 x 8 px shape and place it exactly as shown in the first image. 

Focus on the top side of this fresh rectangle and switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the left anchor point and drag it 3 px to the right, and then select the right anchor point and drag it 3 px to the left. In the end your rectangle should turn into a simple trapezoid as shown in the second image.

first trapezoid

Step 4

Duplicate your trapezoid (Control-C > Control-F), select the copy and place it exactly as shown in the first image. Make sure that this copy stays selected and go to Object > Transform > Reflect. Check the Horizontal box and then click the OK button.

second trapezoid

Step 5

Reselect both trapezoids and turn them into a simple compound path using the Control-8 keyboard shortcut (or go to Object > Compound Path > Make). Make sure that it stays selected and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Set the Angle at 30 degrees, enter 5 in that Copies box and then click the OK button. In the end things should look like in the following image.

multiply trapezoids

Step 6

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create two 4 x 12 px shapes and place them exactly as shown in the following image. Make sure that both rectangles are selected, turn them into a compound path (Control-8) and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Set the Angle at 90 degrees, enter 1 in that Copies box and then click the OK button. In the end things should look like in the following image.

thick rectangles

Step 7

Duplicate all the shapes that make up your first gear (Control-C > Control-F). Select the copies and drag them to the right, roughly as shown in the first image. Focus on these new shapes, select that 14 px circle and move to the Appearance panel. Select the stroke and simply decrease the Weight to 2 px.

second gear

Step 8

Keep focusing on the shapes that make up your second gear. Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create two 2 x 12 px shapes and place them exactly as shown in the following image. Make sure that both rectangles are selected, turn them into a compound path (Control-8) and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform. Set the Angle at 45 degrees, enter 3 in that Copies box and then click the OK button. In the end things should look like in the following image.

thin rectangles

Step 9

Duplicate all the shapes that make up your second gear (Control-C > Control-F). Select the copies and drag them to the right, roughly as shown in the first image. Focus on these new shapes, select that compound path with the two thicker rectangles, and simply remove it using the Delete button from your keyboard.

third gear

Step 10

Reselect all the shapes made so far, go to Object > Expand Appearance and then open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and click the Unite button. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and simply Ungroup it using the Shift-Control-G keyboard shortcut. In the end you should have three simple gear shapes as shown in the third image.

main gear shapes

Step 11

Focus on your first gear shape and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select all the anchor points that make up the outer border of your shape, focus on the top bar and simply enter 1.5 px in that Corners box. In the end things should look like in the second image.

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 grab the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Select the same anchor points and go to File > Scripts > Other Script. Open the Round Any Corner Script, enter a 1.5 px radius and click OK. The end result might look a bit different, so feel free to try a different value for the radius. In some cases you will have to increase/decrease the value mentioned in that Corners box.

rounded corners

Step 12

Focus on the other two gear shapes and simply repeat the technique mentioned in the previous step.

rounded corners

3. Multiply the Gear Icons, Create the Main String Shapes, and Add a Simple Background

Step 1

Now it's time to multiply and spread your gear shapes to build the text. 

First of all make sure that your shapes are perfectly aligned. Second, follow the distances mentioned in the following image: 30 px between the letters, 100 px between the shapes that make up vertical side of a letter or 24 px if you happen to use three shapes to create that side and 50 px between the shapes that make up the horizontal side of a letter.

Once you're done, check one more time if your shapes are perfectly aligned and then turn them into a single compound path using that same Control-8 keyboard shortcut. Move to the Layers panel, open the existing layer, simply rename the existing compound path "gear" and then lock it.

gear compound path

Step 2

Focus on the gear shapes that make up your "N". First, we'll create the string that connects the top left gear with the bottom right gear. Pick the Pen Tool (P) and create an oblique path exactly as shown in the following image. Once again, the grid and the Snap to Grid feature will come in handy. Add a 1 px black stroke for this path.

oblique path

Step 3

Make sure that your black path stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Open that Stroke fly-out panel, increase the Weight to 14 px and check the Round Cap button.

round cap

Step 4

Reselect your black path and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Make sure that the resulting shape is selected, hit Shift-X to transfer the color attributes from fill to stroke, focus on the Appearance panel, open the Stroke fly-out panel and check the Align Stroke to Outside button.

oblique string

Step 5

Focus on the two gear shapes that make up the top left corner of your "G". Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 14 x 90 px shape and place it exactly as shown in the following image. Add a 1 px black stroke for this rectangle, align it to outside and make sure that there's no color set for the fill.

black stroke rectangle

Step 6

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create the rest of the rectangles that connect your gear shapes and use the same Appearance attributes. Also, add the rectangles that connect your letters and the ones that go outside your artboard as shown in the second image.

black stroke rectangles

Step 7

Reselect all the rectangles with that black stroke and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 7 px Radius and click OK.

rounded corners

Step 8

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a shape that covers your entire artboard, set the fill color to R=65 G=93 B=109 and then send it to back using the Shift-Control-[ keyboard shortcut. Make sure that this new rectangle stays selected, focus on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using the Add New Fill button. 

Select the new fill, make it black, lower its Opacity to 10%, change the Blending Mode to Multiply and then go to Effect > Artistic > Film Grain. Enter the attributes shown in the following image and then click the OK button. Move to the Layers panel, rename the shape made in this step "background" and then simply lock it.

background

4. Create the Back Set of Strings

Step 1

Focus on the Layers panel and simply drag your "gear" compound path in the top of the panel. Focus on one of those rectangles with the black stroke, select it and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the stroke, replace the existing color with R=136 G=160 B=174, align it to outside and increase the Weight to 6 px.

back string first stroke

Step 2

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, select the existing stroke, and duplicate it using the Duplicate Selected Item button. Select the new stroke, replace the existing color with R=65 G=93 B=109 and then open the Stroke fly-out panel. Check that Dashed Line box and then enter 2 px in the first dash box and 1 px in the first gap box.

back string dashed stroke

Step 3

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a third stroke using the Add New Stroke button. Select the new stroke, make sure that the color is set to R=65 G=93 B=109, align it to outside and decrease the Weight to 4 px.

back string third stroke

Step 4

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, and add a fourth stroke using that same Add New Stroke button. Select the new stroke, replace the existing color with R=35 G=63 B=79, align it to outside and decrease the Weight to 2 px.

back string fourth stroke

Step 5

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, reselect that bottom stroke and go to Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow. Enter the attributes shown in the top left window (in the following image), click OK and then add the other three Drop Shadow effects shown below.

back strings drop shadow

Step 6

Make sure that your rectangle is still selected, open the Graphic Styles panel (Window > Graphic Styles) and simply click that New Graphic Style button.

first graphic style

Step 7

Select one of those shapes with the black stroke and go to Select > Same > Stroke Color to select the rest of the shapes that have a black stroke. Now that all these shapes are selected, simply add that graphic style from your Graphic Styles panel. In the end things should look like in the second image. 

Reselect all the shapes that make up your strings and Group them using the Control-G keyboard shortcut. Move to the Layers panel, rename the group made in this step "backStrings" and then drag it between the "gear" compound path and that "background" rectangle.

use graphic style

5. Create the Front Set of Strings

Step 1

Duplicate your "backStrings" group (Control-C > Control-F). Lock the original group and then bring the copy to front using the Shift-Control-] keyboard shortcut. Make sure that this new group of shapes is selected, Ungroup it (Shift-Control-G) and then hit the D button from your keyboard to replace the existing Appearance attributes with the default ones (white fill and black stroke).

front strings

Step 2

Select one of those white rectangles, and focus on the Appearance panel. Remove the color from the fill and then select the stroke. Replace the existing color with R=136 G=160 B=174, increase the Weight to 2 px and check that Align Stroke to Outside button.

front string first stroke

Step 3

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a second stroke using that same Add New Stroke button. Select the new stroke, replace the existing color with R=65 G=93 B=109, align it to outside and decrease the Weight to 1 px.

front string second stroke

Step 4

Make sure that your rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, reselect that bottom stroke and add the four Drop Shadow effects shown in the following image.

front string drop shadow

Step 5

Reselect your rectangle, make sure that the entire path is selected (simply click on that "Path" piece of text from the top of the panel) and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 7 px Radius, click OK and then go to Effect > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -5 px Offset and click OK. While this shape is still selected, move to the Graphic Styles panel and save a new graphic style.

front string rounded corners

Step 6

Select the remaining white shapes and simply add your new graphic style. There's only one think that you'll have to tweak. Select the oblique shape that makes up the "N", focus on the Appearance panel and get rid of the existing Rounded Corners effect. 

Once you're done, reselect all the shapes that make up your front strings and Group them (Control-G). Move to the Layers panel, make sure that your new group is on the top, rename it "frontStrings" and lock it.

second graphic style

6. Add Shading and Highlights for Your Gear Shapes

Step 1

Unlock your "grid" compound path, disable the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-") and then go to Edit > Preferences > General and make sure that the Keyboard Increment is set at 1 px. Select your "grid" compound path 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. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a new compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with a simple black, lower its Opacity to 30% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

gear highlights

Step 2

Select your "grid" compound path and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1 px up using the up arrow button from your keyboard. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a new compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with a simple black and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

gear highlights

Step 3

Make sure that your "grid" compound path is selected and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1 px Offset and click OK. Duplicate the newly made shape (Control-C > Control-F), select the copy and drag it 1 px down using that same down arrow button. Reselect both shapes made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a new compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with white and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

gear highlights

Step 4

Make sure that your "grid" compound path is selected and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1 px Offset and click OK. Duplicate the newly made shape (Control-C > Control-F), select the copy and drag it 1 px up using that same up arrow button. Reselect both shapes made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a new compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with black, lower the Opacity to 50% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

gear highlights

Step 5

Make sure that your "gear" compound path is selected and add the five Drop Shadow effects shown in the following image. Reselect your "gear" compound path along with the other compound paths used to highlight it and Group them (Control-G). Move to the Layers panel, rename this new group "gear" and lock it.

gear shading

7. Create the Tiny Connectors

Step 1

Enable the Snap to Grid (Control-'). Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 14 px circle, make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Remove the color from the fill and then select the stroke. Set the color to R=35 G=63 B=79, increase the Weight to 4 px and check that Align Stroke to Inside button. Make sure that your shape is still selected and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke.

connector main

Step 2

Disable the Snap to Grid (Control-'). Make sure that your 14 px shape is still selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1 px up. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with black, lower the Opacity to 50% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

connector shading

Step 3

Make sure that your 14 px shape is still selected and make two copies in front (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F). Select the top copy and move it 1 px down. Reselect both copies made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with black, lower the Opacity to 30% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

connector shading

Step 4

Make sure that your 14 px shape is still selected and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Enter a -1 px Offset, click the OK button and then duplicate the resulting shape (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy and move it 1 px down. Reselect both shapes made in this step and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. 

Turn the resulting group of shapes into a compound path (Control-8), make sure that it stays selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Replace the existing fill color with white, lower the Opacity to 90% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

connector highlight

Step 5

Make sure that your 14 px shape is still selected and simply add the four Drop Shadow effects shown in the following image.

connector shading

Step 6

Enable the Snap to Grid (Control-'). Reselect your 14 px shape along with the compound paths used to highlight it and Group them (Control-G). Place this new group exactly as shown in the following image and then move to the Layers panel and rename it "connector".

connector group

Step 7

Multiply your "connector" group and spread the copies as shown in the following image.

multiply connector

8. Add Shading and Darken Your Entire Work

Step 1

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 610 x 710 px shape, make sure that it covers your entire artboard, and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the existing fill, lower its Opacity to 50%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and replace the existing color with the radial gradient shown in the following image. That yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage.

radial gradient

Step 2

Make sure that your front rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a second fill using that same Add New Fill button. Select this new fill, make it black, lower its Opacity to 50% and change the Blending Mode to Color.

second fill

Step 3

Make sure that your front rectangle stays selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel and add a third fill. Select this new fill, replace the existing color with R=193 G=150 B=27, lower its Opacity to 30% and change the Blending Mode to Color Burn.

third fill

Congratulations! You're Done!

Here is how it should look. I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques in your future projects.

final product
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