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Design

How to Create an Alphabet Blocks Text Effect in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the following steps you will learn how to create an alphabet blocks text effect in Adobe Illustrator. 

For starters, you will learn how to set up a simple grid and how to save a set of symbols. Using the 3D Extrude & Bevel effect along with your saved symbols, you will learn how to create the starting cube shapes.

Moving on, you will learn how to add color, shading and highlights using the Appearance panel, the Stroke panel and basic blending techniques. Finally, you will learn how to add subtle shadows and a simple background.

For more inspiration on how to adjust or improve your final text effect, you can find plenty of resources at Envato Market.

1. Create a New Document & Set Up a Grid

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, enter 850 in the width box and 620 in the height box, and then click 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 5 px, so simply go to Edit > Preferences > Guides > Grid, and enter 5 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 can learn more about Illustrator's grid system and how it can make your work easier in this short tutorial from Andrei Stefan: Understanding Adobe Illustrator's Grid System.

You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Don't 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 and Save a Set of Symbols

Step 1

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and focus on your toolbar. Remove the color from the stroke and then select the fill and set its color to R=63 G=169 B=245. Move to your artboard and simply create a 50 px square—the grid and the Snap to Grid feature should make your work easier.

rectangle

Step 2

Using the same tool, create a 40 px square, fill it with a darker blue, and place it as shown in the following image. Make sure that this new shape stays selected and go to Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners. Enter a 5 px Radius, click the OK button, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance.

rounded corners

Step 3

Reselect both shapes made so far, open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder), and click the Minus Front button. Make sure that the resulting shape is selected and replace the existing fill color with a simple black (R=0 G=0 B=0).

pathfinder panel

Step 4

Pick the Type Tool (T) and open the Character panel (Window > Type > Character). Select the Consolas font, make it Bold, and set the size to 40 px. Then simply click on your artboard.

Add a capital "A" and set its color to black. Make sure that your piece of text is still selected and go to Type > Create Outlines (Shift-Control-O) to turn your piece of text into an editable path.

type tool

Step 5

Using the Selection Tool (V), select the two shapes made so far and open the Align panel (Window > Align). Simply click on the larger shape (which will emphasise it) and then click the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center buttons from the Align panel.

In the end, things should look like in the second image. Make sure that both shapes are still selected and turn them into a compound path using the Control-8 keyboard shortcut.

align panel

Step 6

Duplicate your larger, black shape (Control-C > Control-V), select the copy, and place it roughly as shown in the first image. Using the Type Tool (T), add a "B" and use the same font attributes. Turn this piece of text into an editable path (Shift-Control-O) and then place it in the center of that new black shape. 

Finally, don't forget to turn these two shapes into a new compound path using that same Control-8 keyboard shortcut.

duplicate

Step 7

Repeat the techniques mentioned in the last steps and add the remaining letters from the alphabet.

multiply

Step 8

Select your "A" compound path, open the Symbols panel (Window > Symbols), and simply click the New Symbol button to turn your selected shape into a symbol. Name this new symbol "A" and click OK.

Move to the rest of the shapes and save them as symbols using the same technique. Once you have all your symbols inside the Symbols panel, feel free to remove them from your artboard.

save symbols

3. Create the 3D Blocks

Step 1

Disable the Grid (Control-") and the Snap to Grid (Shift-Control-").

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and simply click on your artboard to open the Rectangle window. Enter 50 px in both boxes and then click the OK button. Make sure that your newly made shape is selected and set the fill color to R=179 G=179 B=179.

rectangle

Step 2

Make sure that your grey square is still selected and go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Click the More Options button and enter all the attributes shown below. Don't forget to check the Draw Hidden Faces box and then click the Map Art button.

Open the Symbols drop-down menu and add your "W" symbol, and then move to the Surface section. Use those arrow buttons to switch from Surface 1 to Surface 5, and add the same symbol, but rotate it -90 degrees. Move to Surface 6, add the same symbol, and then click the OK button. In the end, things should look like in the following image.

3D Extrude Bevel

Step 3

Multiply your 3D shape, spread the copies roughly as shown in the following images, and replace the existing symbols with the ones that you need. You can easily adjust the attributes of an applied 3D Extrude & Bevel effect from the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance).

cubes

Step 4

Add another four cubes as shown below, replace the symbols, and adjust the Angle attributes as indicated in the following image.

angle

4. Adjust and Color a Block

Step 1

Focus on one of your cubes, select it, and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Make sure that the resulting group of shapes is selected and hit the Shift-Control-G keyboard shortcut twice to quickly Ungroup it.

Keep focusing on the resulting set of shapes and go to the Layers panel. Here you should find three clip groups. Select all three groups and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Release (or hit Alt-Control-7) to release the clipping masks.

Keep focusing on the Layers panel and simply get rid of the three shapes that used to make up the clipping masks (the three shapes that do not have fill or stroke color). Also, delete the two shapes that make up the back walls of your cube (highlighted in the third image).

expand appearance

Step 2

Select your three compound paths and focus on the Appearance panel. Make sure that the color is set to black and then click that "Opacity" piece of text to open the Transparency fly-out panel. Change the Blending Mode to Overlay and lower the Opacity to 50%.

transparency

Step 3

Select the shape that makes up the top wall of your cube and replace the existing fill color with the linear gradient shown below.

linear gradient

Step 4

Select the shape that makes up the right wall of your cube and replace the existing fill color with the linear gradient shown below.

linear gradient

Step 5

Select the shape that makes up the left wall of your cube and replace the existing fill color with the linear gradient shown below.

linear gradient

Step 6

Enable the Smart Guides (Control-U), pick the Line Segment Tool (\), and focus on the right wall of your cube. Move the cursor around the top right corner of that shape until you get to see the "anchor" smart guide. Click and hold and then drag the cursor around the top left anchor point. Release the mouse cursor once you get to see that "anchor" smart guide again to create your line. Add a 1 px white stroke for this path, and things should look like in the second image.

smart guides

Step 7

With the Smart Guides and the Line Tool still active, add another two white paths as shown in the following image. Don't forget to add that slim white stroke. Also, disable the Smart Guides (Control-U) once you're done.

white paths

Step 8

Reselect your three white paths and focus on the Appearance panel. Lower the Opacity to 70%, change the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and then click that "Stroke" piece of text to open the Stroke fly-out panel. Go to the Profile section and select Width Profile 4 from that drop-down menu.

stroke profile

Step 9

Reselect the three shapes that make up the walls of your cube and add copies in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select only these copies and click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel. Bring the resulting shape below your three compound paths and then focus on the Appearance panel. Select the existing fill, change its Blending Mode to Color, and replace the existing color with R=147 G=39 B=143.

color

Step 10

Make sure that your purple shape is still selected, keep focusing on the Appearance panel, and add a second fill using the Add New Fill button. Select this new fill, make it black, and then lower its Opacity to 20% and change the Blending Mode to Overlay.

add new fill

5. Add a Simple Shadow

Step 1

Focus on the Layers panel, select the shape that makes up the base of your cube, and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Focus on this copy and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Select the top anchor points (highlighted in the first image) and drag them about 20 px to the left, as shown in the second image.

Make sure that your newly added shape remains selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the fill, replace the color with the linear gradient shown below, lower its Opacity to 20%, and then go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Enter a 5 px Radius and then click that OK button. Keep in mind that the yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage while the blue number stands for Location percentage.

gaussian blur

Step 2

Make sure that the shape added in the previous step is still selected and keep focusing on the Appearance panel. Select the existing fill and duplicate it using the Duplicate Selected Item button. Select the newly added fill, lower its Opacity to 15%, and get rid of that Gaussian Blur effect.

shadow

Step 3

Focus on the Layers panel, reselect the shape that makes up the base of your cube, and make a new copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Focus on this copy and pick the Direct Selection Tool (A). Again, select the top anchor points and this time drag them about 10 px to the left as shown in the second image.

Make sure that your newly added shape remains selected and focus on the Appearance panel. Select the fill, replace the color with the linear gradient shown below, and then lower its Opacity to 30%.

shadow

Step 4

Focus on the Layers panel, reselect the shape that makes up the base of your cube, and focus on the Appearance panel. Remove the color from the fill and then select the stroke. Set the color to black, lower its Opacity to 5%, and open the Stroke fly-out panel. Make sure that the Weight is set to 1 px and then check the Round Join and Align Stroke to Outside buttons.

stroke

Step 5

Reselect all the shapes that make up your purple cube and Group them (Control-G).

group

6. Color the Rest of Your Blocks

Step 1

Focus on one of your other cubes, select it, and go to Object > Expand Appearance. Ungroup the resulting group (Shift-Control-G), and don't forget to release the three clipping masks (Alt-Control-7).

Now, keep those three black compound paths and delete the rest of the shapes that make up your cube. In the end, things should look like in the third image. Select the remaining compound paths, click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel, and then turn the resulting shapes into one compound path (Control-8).

compound path

Step 2

Select your purple cube and make a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy along with the black compound path made in the previous step and make sure that the Selection Tool (V) is active. Click on your black compound path and then hit the Vertical Align Bottom and the Horizontal Align Right buttons from the Align panel. This should bring your group copy right behind the black compound path made in the previous step.

align

Step 3

Keep focusing on your newest purple cube and go to the Layers panel. 

First, remove the three black compounds from the group and select the compound path that lies in front of your group. Lower its Opacity to 50%, change the Blending Mode to Overlay, and don't forget to drag it inside the new group, above the rest of the shapes. 

From that same group, select the shape with the purple fill, focus on the Appearance panel, and replace that purple with R=147 G=39 B=143.

recolor

Step 4

Focus on the rest of the cubes with similar rotation angles, and expand and color them using the same techniques mentioned in the last three steps. For the cubes with different rotation angles, you will have to repeat the techniques used for the first cube, the purple one.

color

7. Add Subtle Shading and a Background

Step 1

Enable the Smart Guides (Control-U) and pick the Pen Tool (P). Draw a bunch of black shapes roughly as shown in the following image. Lower the Opacity of these new shapes to 75% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

shadow

Step 2

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create an 870 x 640 px shape and send it to back using the Shift-Control-[ keyboard shortcut. Make sure that this new shape covers your entire artboard and fill it with R=210 G=220 B=240.

background

Step 3

Make sure that your background rectangle is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel, and add a second fill using that same Add New Fill button. Select this new fill and add the radial gradient shown below.

Use the Gradient Tool (G) to stretch your gradient as shown in the following image, and don't forget that the yellow zero from the Gradient image stands for Opacity percentage.

radial gradient

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.

Feel free to adjust the final design and make it your own. You can find some great sources of inspiration at Envato Market with interesting solutions to improve your design.

final product
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