Read Time:9 minsLanguages:

So, have you ever wanted to twist type in a way that is a little more advanced than some of the options you have seen with the Warp feature?


How about making type that looks as though it has been wrapped around a face! Think you need a special 3D app or some "hifalutin" plug in?

No, you can do it all within Illustrator v10 (or higher) with the Mesh function. It just needs a bit of planning and few little shortcuts to get it all happening, stay with me and I'll take you through it...

Step 1: Reference Material

Before we begin using any tools in Illustrator we need to source photographic material to base our illustration on (it would be pretty hard to conjure the image up or work on the fly with a project like this), Ideally, it would be best if you could take the source image photograph yourself, then you would avoid any copyright issues.

Step 2: Drawing

Laying tracing paper over a printout of your photograph, try and draw lines that follow certain contours of the face. In my experience, the more rugged or pronounced a face is the better it will look. A thick black marker is good for making strong bold lines. Here are some tips:

  1. Try and leave some areas as solid black like eyebrows, inside of mouth, and parts of the hair, etc. This will help define the image a little better. Also make some of your lines thicker in certain places.
  2. Gaps between the lines of type will help your eyes see the illustration as a face and not just readable text.
  3. Another useful device at this stage is to draw some curves on your sketch lightly in pencil that emulate the contours of the face. This will be helpful when twisting the type to give that wrapped look.

Step 3: Drawing the Linework

Once you're happy with the linework in your sketch, make a scan and place it in your document. A few years back folks would always use a flatbed scanner to get sketches into Illustrator, but these days with digital cameras you could quite easily stand directly above your drawing and take a photo and use that instead (just make sure you are directly above and not at some quirky angle and that you are not throwing any shadows over the image that might make things harder to see once in Illustrator).

Place your scan in an Illustrator document on a separate layer and lock it. Size is not really important as it is vector, but I found a 150 dpi scan at Letter size was fine.

Now using your best Pen Tool skills, lay down some amazingly smooth bezier curves with a 4pt black line.

A way to achieve the thicker linework we spoke of earlier is to copy and paste in front one line on top of another and pull segments of the two paths apart (as above), or draw with a thicker line - I chose 8pt.

Step 4: Say What?

Once your black linework is drawn we are now at a fun stage! We have all these blank white areas mapped out and need words to put in them.

The face of Louis Armstrong was to promote a compilation music CD, so I thought I'd choose some words that reflected the other artists on the CD and choose other words that directly related to Louis. I thought I'd choose a slightly different Color for his type, and a 3rd Color for the Trumpet.

My illustration agent Matt at Drawingbook studios in Sydney, helped do some research on Louis and gave me about 75 relevant words, phrases and facts to play with. I was really grateful for the short ones! As occasionally I only had a tiny space to fit in a word (see end of nose)!

I wrote the words on another sheet of paper and checked for spelling mistakes ( right, Fred Astaire ...hem, hem) and pinned it up on the wall as a quick visually reference when the work got under way.

Step 5: Effective Fonts

One last thing to consider was the choice of font to work with. It needed to be one that was not to blocky with no gaps (otherwise the words would be to hard to read) and also reflect the style and subject matter of the Illustration.

Based on that Mojo font would not work as it had poor legibility and has an early seventies hippy feel which does not reflect Louis Armstrong. In the end I went with a font called Machohouse. It had a bit of a fifties/sixties character and was easily readable.

One other thing, the typeface also had to work with the top and bottom of each character flattened off a little ....more on that next!

Step 6: Working Underneath

To save myself time having to twist all the letters, and making sure the tops and bottoms of each character were smooth in relation to each other, I thought it would work best to have solid smooth lines drawn in Illustrator (as we sketched out earlier). I place my type underneath it. Here is a test patch of text for the right ear:

  1. Shows a line of regular text typed out on a slight curve.
  2. The type is altered with the Mesh function (see next step), as you can see the tops and bottoms of the letters are spiky and jagged.
  3. Type is placed underneath our black linework (I ghosted it red so you can see through).
  4. Here the black lines are turned into white so you can see how smoothly they mask off the irregular edges of the type.

Step 7: Twist That Type!

Now that we've made all the decisions about words, fonts, and type areas, it's time to start putting the text to work. Let's take our first word... "Satchelmouth."

Interesting pop fact: Louis Armstrong's cheeks were once described as being like two leather satchels and he became known as Satchelmouth or Satchmo'.

Type out the word within your artwork. I kept all my type on a separate layer underneath the face lines we drew earlier.

All of the words we type out are going to be roughly a rectangle shape initially, and will be changed sometimes into quite radical shapes. If we can help to alter the type a little, by first bringing it closer to the final shape, it will mean less mesh work.

So, the type "Satchelmouth" is going to be placed inside Louis' ear.

  1. Draw a line with a slight curve at the bottom. Use the Type on a Path Text Tool to create our word in the chosen font.
  2. Turn the text into outlines by applying Type > Create Outlines (Cmd + Shift + O).
  3. Then apply Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Mesh (Command + Alt + M).

There is an option to have multiple rows and columns with Mesh, but I find in this instance it's best to keep as close to one row and column each.

Position the mesh type underneath the ear shape roughly in the middle.

What we are going to do now is manipulate each of the four corners of our mesh graphic to twist the type into shape. If we had more rows and columns, we would have lots more tweaking to do, so we are going to keep it simple in the beginning.

  1. Using the Direct Selection Tool, move each of the four corner points out towards the four edges of our empty shape. It will look a bit crazy and not a good fit, but we are just establishing the start and end point of our word.
  2. By moving the mesh points away further (still using the Direct Selection Tool) and adjusting one or both of the two handles on each mesh end point we are able to squeeze the type into the shape.
  3. Most times the type can be manipulated perfectly, but on occasions we get the tops of letters being chopped off too severely.
  4. Also, gaps where the top or bottom of a letter is not going fully underneath our masking line.

Step 8: Push and Pull

At this point we'll use the Mesh Tool (Command + U):

  1. Click along the line of text at places where you think extra points would help.
  2. To check if the type is working, turn your line artwork to white at 90% Opacity.
  3. Another option to check if the type is working is to turn your line artwork to solid white.

Step 9: Extra Mesh Points

When you have shapes that are obviously complicated it pays to break the mesh up using the Mesh Tool to add points, but be warned only add the points as you need them.

  1. The words "Dean Martin" were broken up using the horizontal Mesh points.
  2. This helped when stretching out the "M" and putting in the sharp change in direction between the "A" and "R."
  3. The last letter "N" also had an extra mesh point added to extend the letter vertically down to a point, but mesh points once added run right through the graphic and affect the way the mesh responds.

Ideally The "Dean Martin" word should be pulled into the correct shape first, then the last mesh point is added to pull down the last "N."

Step 10: Follow the Contours

Note the letters running down the nose have a slight curve to them corresponding to the contour lines we drew on the sketch. As I mentioned, it's good to have the sketch pinned up above your computer so you can keep referring to it as you are working.

The lettering below subtly starts off under the eye as a convex curve and changes from the letter "H" into a concave curve as we follow the blown out shape of the cheeks.

Step 11: Small Details

Whilst "Satchmo" is a large word and has a great impact running down Louis Armstrong's face, it's the smaller words that help to make the artwork a more interesting design overall.

Running two lines of type around someone's eyelid may seem like a daunting task, but if you zoom in and work at 1600% magnification, the method of working should be no different to the larger words. It pays to zoom out from time to time to make sure everything is readable though.

Step 12: Color Flipping

After awhile the words become readable as a face! I played around with colors a little in the beginning, but found having lightish tones on a black background with black top lines made the image really jump out.

You can also create softer effects with a white background and top lines!


No matter what Colors you choose though, if your linework is clean and all your text readable, then you've got a winning design on your hands. Good luck!

One subscription.
Unlimited Downloads.
Get unlimited downloads