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How to Create Calligraphic Ampersand Symbols in Illustrator

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Read Time: 8 min

An ampersand is the name of the type character "&" used in place of the word "and". In this tutorial we're going to practice our hand in drawing calligraphic versions of ampersands in Adobe Illustrator using the Pen Tool (P) and Width Tools (Shift + W). Further more I'll show you how to save your creations to the Symbols panel for future use in your future projects. So let's get started!

Step 1

First I made a New document in Adobe Illustrator by going to File > New. I made a canvas size of 500 by 800 px and clicked OK.

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Step 2

For me, most of the projects begin with a pencil on paper sketch, which then is scanned into the computer and placed onto canvas by choosing File > Place. I named the layer “Template”, lowered its Opacity to 70% and locked it.

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Step 3

Next I created a New Layer by using a keyboard shortcut of Command + Option + L (Control + Alt + L on PC). This way you can create and name your layer in one step. I named the new layer “Ampersand 1” and clicked OK.

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Step 4

Make sure that your "Ampersand 1" layer is above the "Template" layer, because you want to draw on top of the scanned template.

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Step 5

Next I made sure that my Fill color is set to None and Stroke is set to black. Then I selected the Pen Tool (P) and started to trace the first ampersand. Since the shape of the character is curved, remember to click and drag with your Pen Tool (P) to make smooth Bezier curves.

Hold down the Shift key while dragging with the Pen Tool (P) to make straight vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines.

To reposition the anchor point you're working on, click and hold the Space bar key without releasing your mouse, when repositioned, release the Space bar and continue tracing the shape.

Try pressing Option key (Alt on PC) while creating a curve. This will unhinge the handles and you'll be able to split the curve. If you'd like more help with using the Pen Tool (P), check out the Vectortuts+ Comprehensive Guide to using the Pen Tool.

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Step 6

When done with the first line, click Command + Shift + A (Control + Shift + A) to deselect everything, then trace the remaining spiral line of the ampersand.

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Step 7

This ampersand needed rounded ends so I selected both of the paths with the Selection Tool (V) and changed the stroke caps to Round Caps by opening up the Stroke panel on the top right side (you can also do this in the Appearance panel if you wish).

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Step 8

I noticed some curves on my ampersand that I wasn't quite satisfied with, so I used the Direct Selection Tool (A) and clicked on some of the anchor points to tweak them until I no longer saw sharp or awkward segments. You can turn off the "Template" layer now and modify the shape to your liking. If you can't make the lines perfectly curved, don't worry because we'll use a "little trick" later to ensure that everything is as smooth as it can be.

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Step 9

Now that that's done, I used one of my favorite tools in Illustrator - the Width Tool (Shift + W). The Width Tool lets you add or subtract width from your stroke plus it's fun to use!

Select the Width Tool (Shift + W) and hover over your stroke. You'll see a white dot appear on the stroke, it's called the Width Point. Now click and drag it outward and you'll see how the stroke gets ticker (drag it inward and it will get thinner).

Try not to put the Width Points too close to each other, because each point affects the stroke till the next Width Point. Put them too close to each other and you'll get weird shapes, which aren't what we're looking for in this project.

You can hover over the Width Points, that you've already set and continue to work on them by dragging on its handles.

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Step 10

Here's how I set my Width Points.

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Step 11

The ampersand looks almost right at this point, so now I'm going to Expand its Appearance (make it into a filled shape) by selecting both of my strokes, then going to Object > Expand Appearance.

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Step 12

Now that the ampersand consists of paths not strokes, I have some overlapping parts, so to clean up the ampersand, I used the Pathfinder by going to Window > Pathfinder and with the shape still selected, clicked on Unite.

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Step 13

Even though the shape no longer overlaps itself, it still looks quite messy because of those hundreds of anchor points. So here's the part that I already mentioned in Step 8, let's smooth the shape out by going to Object > Path > Simplify. Turn on the Preview so you can see what you're doing.

For me the Curve Precision of 94% worked well. I also turned on and off the 'Show original' check box a couple of times to see if I'm on the right track. Notice the changing numbers beneath the Angle Threshold slider. It shows how much anchor points (pts) you had and how much you have currently. The lesser points you'll have the smoother your ampersand curves will be. When satisfied, click OK. Your ampersand should look smooth and 'type - like' now.

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Step 14

Now let's make a custom Symbols library for the ampersand type character, so that you can access and use it in your future projects. To do this, open up the Symbols panel by going to Window > Symbols. By default there are some symbols in the panel already, but since I want to make a custom Symbols library, I need to clean the panel up first. Simply Shift-click the first and last of the default symbols and drag them to the trash icon to delete.

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Step 15

Now click on your ampersand with the Selection Tool (V) and drag it into your Symbols panel. A dialog box will appear asking you name your symbol. I named mine "Ampersand 1" and clicked OK.

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Step 16

Now that one ampersand is ready, it's time to make the rest of them as well. Since the technique of drawing them is the same, just go on and follow the steps from Step 5 to Step 13.

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Step 17

When you have the rest of the ampersands ready, select and drag each of them to the Symbols panel where we saved the first ampersand already.

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Step 18

Then click on the Symbols Libraries Menu button and choose Save Symbols. A dialog box will take you to Illustrator's symbols folder where you can store your symbols together with the other libraries. I named my Symbols "Ampersands" and clicked Save.

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Step 19

We have successfully saved the ampersand symbols, but how do we find them in the future? Quite easy actually! Create a New document by going File > New, make the canvas size 600 by 600 px and click OK.

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Step 20

Now locate your Symbols panel, click on the Symbols Libraries Menu button and navigate to the near end of the drop down menu where you will find a tab called User Defined, hover over it and you'll find your "Ampersands". Open them and you'll get your symbols!

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Step 21

Now I'll show you how you can use them.
When you want to use one of your symbols, simply drag it onto the canvas. To find out more about Symbols, check out the following screen cast on Working with Symbols in Adobe Illustrator.

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Step 22

Now let's say that you need a light blue ampersand instead of black, because you want it to match the background, which in this case is 300 by 300 px bondi blue.
Just right-click on the symbol and choose Break Link to Symbol, to release it from the Symbols panel. Now you can change the color, scale and do whatever you like with the shape without changing the symbol itself.

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Step 23

I edited the ampersand shape further by scaling in down a bit and added names Jane, John using "Baskerville" regular typeface.

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Step 24

If you have a piece of work with one symbol that repeats itself, you can color them all at the same time by double-clicking on one of them. You'll get a warning (1.) that says that you are about to edit the Symbol definition. Click OK and that will bring you into the Isolation mode (2.) where you can change the appearance of the symbol, then press the ESC key and you just modified a number of symbols at the same time (3.).

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Below you can see the final image of this tutorial. I finished it up by repeating the last three steps of this tutorial. I think that we have learned a lot here. We practiced with the Pen Tool (P), used the Width Tool (Shift + W), learned what Expand Appearance and Simplify commands does, and of course learned how to save, open and use your own custom symbols. Use these methods in your future projects and practice, practice, practice!
Thanks for reading.

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