Learn how to customize fonts with three simple techniques in Adobe Illustrator.

Every design or composition should be paired with a successful font selection. Fonts communicate specific messages and can contribute more than you think to the tone of a design. Many designers spend endless hours searching for that perfect typeface, and they often customize it further to tailor its appearance to a particular design or logo. By adjusting a typeface’s serifs, terminals, or swashes, you can quickly transform its appearance.

Read on to discover the simple tools and techniques used to customize fonts in Adobe Illustrator.


1. Change Up Serif Styles

A surefire way to transform the look of a font is to manipulate serifs. Serifs are the extra strokes added to letterforms to aid the readability of each letter. Serifs can take the shape of a geometric slab serif, like seen below, or a traditional smooth serif seen in classic fonts.

Serif styles are commonly used for long strings of text on print materials because of their overall legibility, even at minuscule sizes. However, not all serifs are created equal; some are purely decorative and shouldn’t be used at smaller sizes.

What is a serif font

Typefaces without these strokes are called sans serif, meaning “without serifs.” Sans serifs are widely used on web platforms and online designs for captions, headings, and other smaller text settings.

How to manipulate serif fonts

Using Josefin Slab Font. Textures from 50 Free Distressed Textures Pack.  

Activate the Type Tool (T) and use the Character panel to browse through various font styles. Adjust the tracking and kerning as necessary to create a cohesive appearance.

Convert your text to editable vector paths with Object > Expand. You’ll notice each letterform contains anchor points that dictate its overall shape. Before manipulating the anchor points, set up the ruler with Command + R, then click and drag the guides to frame each character. You can easily hide the guides with Command + ;.

Set guides in Adobe Illustrator

Click with the Direct Selection Tool (A) activated, then adjust anchor points by clicking and dragging across or by utilizing the arrows on your keyboard. To select more than one anchor point at a time, hold down the Shift key and select individual points.

Manipulate anchor points to change serifs

Manipulate the serifs by narrowing them at an angle, or by rounding them off with live corners. Experiment with different techniques and hold down the Option key to duplicate the designs and compare variations.


2. Alter the Shapes of Terminals

Another subtle way to revamp a typeface is to modify the shapes of the terminals. In typography, terminals are the curved portions of letterforms that do not end in a serif.

What are terminals

Terminals can taper off, called a finial, and take on a beak or rounded shape. Below, you can see how Abril Fatface takes on a ball terminal with a unique twist.

Font with ball terminals

Using Abril Fatface Font. Background image via Ivan Kurmyshov.

Start off by drawing out a shape for your terminal. In this instance, I created an circular shape with the Ellipse Tool (L) to mimic a ball terminal. Drag your shape on top of the original text and adjust its placement to fit exactly on top of the letterform. I found that adjusting the shape’s color or transparency helps to perfect that alignment.

How to add ball terminals to a font

Select both the original letterform along with the new shape, then head to the Pathfinder panel and click on the Unite command to combine the shapes together. Rinse and repeat the same techniques above for the remaining terminals.


3. Integrate Swashes into Letterforms

Swashes are typographical embellishments or curves applied to terminals or serifs. These swashes make flourishes that add personality to default faces.

What are swashes

Using Banthers Free Font via Agga Swistblnk.

Some traditional serifs contain swashes within the Glyphs palette and can typically be applied to uppercase letterforms. Most fonts don’t have the luxury of specialty swashes available within the Glyphs menu. But it’s just as simple to create your own personal swashes.

Add swashed to a font

Using Eldwin Script Font. Background image via Washdog.

First, find a letterform with swash potential. Letters with curved portions or descenders are ideal. With the Pen Tool (P), draw out a curved path to mimic a swash. Adjust the bezier curves to resemble a continuation of the letterform. Select a single anchor point with the Direct Selection Tool (A), then hold down the Option key to individually manipulate the blue handles.

Adjust the stroke size within the Stroke panel to closely match the weight of the original typeface. If your typeface tapers on the end, you can utilize the Width Tool (Shift + W) to adjust the stroke’s width.

How to change swashes on a font

Convert the path to a shape by heading over to Object > Expand. Manipulate the end point to mimic the style of your typeface; in this case, I rounded out my shape with live corners. Then, unite the shape to the original text with the Pathfinder panel. Your new swash is now fully integrated to a letterform.


Interested in learning about the many typographic functionalities of Illustrator? Check out these resources:

Cover image via De Repente