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How to Create a Varsity Lettering Effect in Adobe Illustrator

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Read Time: 5 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Learn how to create a graphic style that you can apply to live type or any vector object. The result is reminiscent of the patches on school sports jackets, and can be achieved with a few simple strokes and effects in Adobe Illustrator.

This is just one of many things you'll learn in my Tuts+ Course, Illustrator Effects In Depth.

1. Set Up the Document

Step 1

Create a new document using the Basic RGB preset. Now create a set of four swatches: a light and dark red, and a light and dark blue. You can of course use any color combination you like, but to make it simpler, I’ll be referring to red and blue throughout the tutorial. Here is the RGB breakdown of the swatches I’ll be using:

set up the color paletteset up the color paletteset up the color palette

Draw out a rectangle the same size as the artboard, and fill it with the dark blue. Lock this rectangle by going to Object > Lock > Selection.

Make sure you have your Appearance panel open, as this will be the command center for this tutorial.

Step 2

I’m using the font “Ballpark Wiener,” which can be found here. Another good retro font is Mascot. Type any word, and scale it to 200 points. As with many script fonts, you may have to kern between certain letter pairs, so the letters connect.

type a wordtype a wordtype a word

Step 3

Keep the text selected and remove the fill from it. This is the same thing as giving it a fill of [None].

remove the fillremove the fillremove the fill
Remove the fill from the type

2. Add Strokes and Effects

Step 1

With the text still selected, go to the Appearance panel and click the Add New Fill icon at the bottom. From the swatches drop-down menu, choose the Medium Blue from your palette.

Add fillAdd fillAdd fill
Add a fill to the text via the Appearance panel

Step 2

Click Add New Fill again, this time using a a linear black-to-white gradient.

add gradient filladd gradient filladd gradient fill
Add a second fill, using a black-to-white gradient

Step 3

Open the Gradient panel and adjust the angle so that it goes from black at the bottom to white at the top.

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Change the angle of the gradient

Step 4

Select the gradient fill in the Appearance panel. Go to the Effect menu and choose Pixelate > Pointilize.  Enter a Cell Size of 4.

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Add a Pointilize effect to the gradient fill

Double-check your Document Raster Effects settings under the Effect menu. They should be set to Medium or High.

Step 5

Click the Opacity of the gradient fill in the Appearance panel and change the Blending Mode to Overlay. Set the Opacity to 30%.

Change the Opacity and Blending Mode of the gradient fill

Step 6

Keep the type selected and click the Add New Stroke icon on the Appearance panel. Set its color to white, and the point size between 20 and 30.

add strokeadd strokeadd stroke

Depending on the letters and font you’re using, you may have to increase the point size further. You want the white to fill in all the spaces between the letters as well as the counters of individual letters.

fill in the gapsfill in the gapsfill in the gaps
Increase the point size so there are no gaps in the white stroke
increase stroke weightincrease stroke weightincrease stroke weight
No gaps

Step 7

Add a new stroke, and set its color to Red. Change the stroke weight to about 8 pts.

Add a new strokeAdd a new strokeAdd a new stroke
Add another stroke and make it red

Step 8

Keep the new red stroke selected in the Appearance panel and go to Effect > Path > Offset Path.

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Set the Offset size so that the red stroke sits just at the edge of the white stroke.

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Use the up Arrow key to increase the Offset

Step 9

We don't want the red strokes overlapping, so to fix this, go back to the Effect menu to Pathfinder >Add. This will apply the Add function as a live effect, which is different than using the Pathfinder panel, which would alter the paths and make them uneditable.

pathfinder effectpathfinder effectpathfinder effect

You should now see both the Offset Path effect and the Add effect in your Appearance panel.

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Both effects are displayed in the Appearance panel

Step 10

Keep the red stroke selected in the Appearance panel and click the Duplicate Selected Item icon at the bottom of the panel.

duplicate selected itemduplicate selected itemduplicate selected item
Duplicate the red stroke

Step 11

Select the new stroke (the one on top) and change its point size to 1 and its color to white.

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Change the new stroke to white and make it 1 point

Step 12

Click to open the Stroke panel inside the Appearance panel. Change the Cap style to rounded, and tick the Dashed Line checkbox. Enter a dash of 2 points and a gap of 2 points. This will make the white stroke look like stitching. You don't have to fill in the rest of the fields, because the dash and gap will repeat.

create a dashed linecreate a dashed linecreate a dashed line
Add a dashed line to the white stroke

Step 13

Duplicate the red stroke by selecting it and clicking the Duplicate Selected Item icon at the bottom of the Appearance panel. Change its color to Dark Red, and change its stroke weight to 3 pts.

duplicate strokeduplicate strokeduplicate stroke
Change the new stroke's color to dark red and its weight to 3 points

Step 14

Click the disclosure triangle of the dark red stroke in the Appearance panel if you don't see the effects applied to it. Click Offset Path to change the settings. Change the offset to 23 pts.

offset dark red pathoffset dark red pathoffset dark red path
Click the word Offset to adjust its settings

Step 15

Click to bring up the Stroke panel of the dark red stroke. Add a dashed line with a dash and gap of 0.5 pt. This will be the stitching that affixes the patch to the jacket.

dashed linedashed linedashed line
Add a dashed line for stitching

Step 16

To add some dimension to the blue fill, select it and go to Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. Set the Blending Mode to Screen, the Opacity to 90% and the Blur to 2 pts. Tick the Edge radio button. 

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Add dimension using an Inner Glow effect

Congratulations, You're Done!

Now you can open the Graphic Styles panel and click the new style icon to create a Graphic Style. You can now use this style on any live type or vector object.

graphic stylegraphic stylegraphic style
Create a Graphic Style to use on any live type or other vector object.
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