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How to Make 3D Neon Light Typography

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Read Time: 8 min

Neon lights have always been a fascinating spectacle of light, and often difficult to photograph. Well, there is no need for a camera here, since we'll learn how to create 3D neon type from scratch.

Step 1

To create the text, we'll begin in Illustrator. So, open a new AI file and download this font, called Shine On. Using the Type Tool (Command + T), type in your first letter ("N") and choose a light color (#ABDCD6).

Step 2

Now let's add a 3D effect. Go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. When the window pops up, input the settings below. To be able to view the light settings, press the More Options button. Feel free to play around with the position of your letter, however in order to get the same result, use the same settings for the Extrude & Bevel section.

The letter has two colors. One is the font color (#A8E5DC) and the other is the shading color found in the 3D menu. To be able to access it, select Custom under the Shading Color drop-down menu. Choose a lighter cyan (#E1FFF7).

Once you feel that your letter is finished, repeat the process to stylize and position the following three letters. As soon as you are finished, copy (Command + C) the first letter.
Things to keep in mind while positioning the letters:

1. Keep the weight of the font in mind. This is a thin font, so find a layout that creates a readable word. You may choose to make the letters float, as I did, or align them symmetrically in order to make them look like a sign. If so, then type the entire word before creating the 3D effect, or type the rest after applying the effect to one letter.

2. If you are not pleased with the angle you've given it, there is no need to start over. Go to Window > Appearance and double click on the effect found in the list. It's best to do this after creating all the letters.

Step 3

Open a new Photoshop Document, make it 1280 pixels by 768 pixels at 300 ppi. Fill the background color with black and paste (Command + V) the first letter. Once positioned, double-click its layer and create the layers styles shown below. The first one is an Outer Glow. The assigned color is #64FFF2.

Step 4

Now add an Inner Glow with the color #96b2BA.

Step 5

The next one is Satin with another shade of cyan (#65DBD7).

Step 6

For added depth and contrast, add a Gradient Overlay with these two colors: #0E272F and #5993A4. Don't forget to set its Blending Mode to Color Burn.

Step 7

Right-click on the layer, and select Copy Layer Style. Then select the remaining layers, right-click and select Paste Layer Style. All the letters should now have the same effect.

Step 8

Now we'll further the glow effect by painting behind the letters. Choose a very dark cyan (#071617) and paint with a large soft brush.

Step 9

It's time to add the electric cables. Using the Pen Tool (P), trace your cable in Path Mode.

Step 10

Select a round Brush and set its value to 12 pixels. Grab the Pen Tool again, right-click inside the canvas, and select Stroke Path. Press PL, without using a Simulated Pressure.

Step 11

Add a layer style: Satin with this color: #182525.

Step 12

In order to make the end of the neon tube look more realistic, we'll add two ellipses with these colors: #6da0a4 and #40b8b5. Together they give the appearance of a ring.

Step 13

Add some more cables to the rest of the letters. Remember to pair the end of a cable with the end of a neon tube.

Step 14

In order to add some depth, we'll blur the last letter, which was made smaller for this very purpose.

Step 15

It's time to focus some more on the letters, and make them more realistic and old. Begin by creating light variations with a soft brush set on white. Do this inside a Clipping Mask, on top of the letter's layer. To create a Clipping Mask, create a new layer, then while holding Alt, click in between the two layers.

Step 16

Repeat the same process with the rest of the letters.

Step 17

In this part of the tutorial, we'll age the neons by adding stains with this set from Bittbox. Download and install Grunge Ink Splatter Brushes. After selecting this set in Photoshop, start painting with light accents of this color: #EE5FCFB.

Step 18

Add another stain with a darker color. The light and dark stains will make the deterioration look more random.

Step 19

Repeat the process on the rest of the letters.

Step 20

Now that we've added more intensity to the neons, let's increase the overall light. Paint some more with a soft Brush behind the letters using a bright cyan (#31CAC9), but at a very low Opacity (10%).

Step 21

The wall should reflect the same poor state, so add a few stains in a layer above the "background" layer, and play around with the opacity until you find the right balance.

Step 22

Add a few shadows to the cables. To do this, simply duplicate the cable. Next, select the layer underneath and go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, then input a value of 60 pixels.

Step 23

Well, what's a neon tube without some bugs flying around? We'll incorporate a couple of butterflies. Download the photo and cut it out using the magic wand tool.

Step 24

Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue and Saturation. Turn the Saturation and Lightness down to -85.

Step 25

Using the Dodge Tool to (O) lighten the parts that are facing the neon lights.

Step 26

The final adjustment is applying a photo filter. Go to Image > Adjustments > Photo filter and apply a shade of cyan.

Step 27

Apply the same technique to the second one. I made the second butterfly by rotating one of the wings from the previous one and skewing the other into position.

Step 28

I also added my name in the image, but wanted to blend it into the imagery. I used a graffiti font, as it seemed appropriate in the setting. Start by typing it up, then rotate and skew it into position.

Step 29

Get the Eraser Tool (E) and select one of the scratchy ink brushes from bittbox. Erase a little bit of the text; just enough to blend it into the background.

Step 30

Enter Quick Mask Mode (Q) and drag a black to white gradient from one side of the text to the other. Exit Quick Mask Mode (Q). This is the portion we're going to blur out, in order to give a sense of depth.

Step 31

Go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur and use the settings shown below.

Step 32

We're going to make a few more adjustments that will give the image more realism. The first step to doing this is to simulate a shaky hand camera effect. In the event that one would be taking this photo with an unstable camera, smears of light would appear. We'll create something similar to that, but preserve clarity and readability at the same time.
Duplicate one of the letters (in my case the letter "E") and make a new blank layer. Select the blank layer and the letter underneath and merge them (Command + E). We're doing this just to flatten the layer style on the letter. Set this newly merged layer Blending Mode to Overlay.

Step 33

Now go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and input a value of 43 at 0 degrees angle. Reposition the blurred letter.

Step 34

Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue & Saturation and drag the saturation bar down a bit; just enough to take out some of the excessive brightness.

Step 35

Repeat the same process for the remaining letters.

Step 36

Some of the glow effects we've introduced have reduced the color range of the entire image. In order to make it slightly more dynamic I decided to use a Channel Mixer. To do this, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer. Use the setting shown below for the RGB channels.

Step 37

A final step to completion is another realism enhancer. At this level of light, noise is very appropriate. After flattening the image (Command + Shift + E), go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Use the values of 1%, Uniform, and Monochromatic.


Well, that's it! The great thing about this technique is the fact that it is very easy to apply to all sorts of neon lights. You can choose to make 3D typography, as in this tutorial, or stylized neon tubes in abstract compositions. As usual, it's all up to you and what you think would make a best use. Thank you for reading! You can view the final image preview below or view a larger version here.

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