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Quick Tip: How to Create Typographic Snowflakes

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Read Time: 5 mins

In this tutorial you will learn how to create a series of different snowflakes from letters. To achieve this effect you will use the Transform Effect on a single letter. You will easily be able to create a series of individual snowflakes, taking advantage of editable type and the variety of letters in the alphabet.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Step 1

Open a new document and create a blue rectangular shape the same size as your canvas. I used 8 × 6 inch in RGB mode with 72dpi for the new document and a R:0 G:173 B:238 as background color.

Using the type tool click anywhere in the document and type a letter, I chose T. Since we want to create snowflakes the letter should be colored white. I set the font size to 80 pt. The font I'm using is "Sanchez Regular" by Latinotype, a Geometric Slab Serif font.

Step 2

With the T selected go to Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform. In the Transform window the first thing you should do is click "Preview" at the bottom right.

In order to get the typical snowflake effect, we will create copies of our original T and move them upwards as well as make them smaller.

We will start by creating 5 copies of the letter. Not much will happen at this point.

Then we scale the letter both horizontally and vertically to the same amount, 80% in this case. You will see the same letter multiple times now. Las thing we have to do for this step is to move the letter vertically to the top. Therefore we enter 0,5 in in the vertical distance.

Step 3

Now we will have to go to Effects > Distort & Transform > Transform again.

Because you already applied this effect before, you will get a warning window. Select "Apply New Effect". This will add a second Transform effect to the letter, instead of editing the one you set before.

Step 4

In this step we will rotate the letter and its copies to form a full circle snowflake.

We want to have a snowflake in a star shape with 6 tips. After a little math, this means that we need 5 copies of our letter (the original plus 5 additional instances). This also means that we have to divide a circle of 360° by 6 resulting in 60° for our angle.

Step 5

Now comes the fun part: Playing around with the Transform Effect's settings!

Open the Appearance Panel. If you look at it you will see the Transform Effect twice.
You can edit the effect by double clicking it and the Transform Effect settings window will show up again. By changing the variables of the Transform Effect, you will change the snowflake's appearance.

In the picture above you can see how the snowflake changes, if you change the number of copies in the Transform Effect.

This example shows how changing the Scale results in different snowflakes.

Changing the Reference Point of the Transform Effect gives you a variety of results as well.

Step 6

As every letter gives a different end result, your decision which letter to use can make the difference, too.

A symmetrical letter will make a better snowflake-like results than any other letter. Such letters are: A H M O T U V W X Y. Of course this also depends on the font you choose to use.

Step 7

The choice of font will give completely different results as well. From my testing I found that using a Geometric and Slab Serif font will work best. The very strong and often simple serifs of those fonts give edges to the snowflake similar to real ones. A Geometric font helps, achieving a proper symmetry in your snowflake.

Below you can see a variety of snowflakes based on the "Sanchez Regular" font. Each snowflake has its own settings to the Transform Effect, just as in real life every snowflake is unique.

Step 8

In the next example I changed the font to the ever so famous Helvetica. You can immediately see how different the snowflakes look.

A Sans Serif font like Helvetica has less structure and the snowflake appears more artificial and clean.

Step 9

For the next set of snowflakes I used Times, a classic Serif font. The snowflakes look lighter and more sophisticated.

Step 10

Now that you have a basic understanding of the principle, you can create an artwork based on these snowflakes. If you decide to do so and want to change the size of your snowflakes you can do so in 2 ways.

You go to Illustrator > Preferences > General and check the box "Scale Strokes & Effects". If you do so you can scale the letters/snowflakes using the transform tool and automatically scale the Transform Effects. If you leave this box unchecked you will have to adjust the Transform Effect manually again.

Another way would be to create your snowflakes and then turn them into Symbols. Therefore you only have to open the Symbol Window and drag and drop a single snowflake into it. Since the snowflake is white, as is the background of the Symbol Window, I recommend naming the symbol properly to find it easier later.

Step 11

In order to put my snowflakes into a layout, I decided to make a simple composition with 3 in the front and some smaller ones in the background. I chose to turn the single snowflakes into symbols and spread them around the canvas, sizing them down proportionally. I applied a Gaussian Blur effect as well as lowering the opacity to achieve the appearance of depth.


What you make out of this effect is entirely up to you! The most important part is to play around with fonts and settings and create something unique. I hope you've enjoyed this tut.

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