Some of the most famous logos ever were made of letters or a single word. Learn how to turn your company name or initials into a powerful lettermark logo in this tutorial.
Cover image via ksenia_bravo
Coming up with a custom logo can be as easy as typing the initials of the company name, or the name itself, then using some simple design magic to transform it into a lasting logo.
Many of the most famous logos are letter or word marks, such Nike, Coca-Cola, IBM, and FedEx. You might associate certain shapes, elements, and design features as being unique to those marks, but at the core they are simply a stylized display of the name or acronym of the company.
In this tutorial, we’ll create a custom logo using a company’s initials. You can also apply these techniques to entire words, or multiple words, depending on the situation.
Step 1: Sketch Your Concept
As discussed in the post, 7 Easy Steps to Create a Logo for Your Small Business, we can start thinking by sketching out ideas. Don’t worry about drawing skills.
Sketching or hand-writing will get you to see the letters differently. It will help you think about the letter forms in a way typing can’t – by consciously forming the lines and curves by hand. Then you can find ways to make interesting shapes out of the letters, or possibly turn them into a pictogram that represents the industry of the business at hand. For example, the hidden arrow within the FedEx logo represents the movement of the courier industry.
I made up a company called Lighting Technician Professionals, or LTP. Now I’ll sketch out the letters and try to find a pattern, or a way to connect them to create an interesting style for a logo.
Also keep in mind that a lettermark is pointless if you can’t read it. Legibility and readability should be kept at top of mind. Don’t let that shackle your imagination, but the coolest idea still has to be readable.
The bulk of your ideation and planning should happen at this stage. Many design students are required to complete 100-150 separate and measurable sketches for one logo. It may sound absurd (it did to me at first!) but most people find it is indeed the best approach and maintain that practice well into their careers. It will save time when you create the actual logo, preventing aimless adjustments and experimentation.
Now I have a plan: I’ll make the T a symbol for electricity/lighting and connect and stylize the other letters around it. Let’s go to the computer.
Step 2: Choose a Font
Don’t get bogged down trying to perfectly match a font to your concept, just start with something geometric and easy to manipulate – you can change the letterforms in a design application to fit your vision.
Start with a fresh file in Illustrator. If you want, drag or import your sketch into the file. You can look at it for reference.
I’m choosing Gotham Bold because it’s a basic and clean sans serif font. I’ll type the letters and turn them into shapes, or outlines, so I can edit their form. Convert to outlines by going to Type in the application menu, and select Create Outlines, or hold Command and hit O on the keyboard. Ungroup the shapes by hitting Command + Shift + G.
Step 3: Manipulate the Shape of the Letters
As the letters are now shapes, I can freely manipulate and move them around. I use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to adjust the vector points of the shapes. Select the vector points by clicking on the shape to highlight it, then clicking on a point to move it.
I stylized the “T” by deleting vector points to break it into two shapes. A good way to do this is with the Pen Tool. Hit P on the keyboard to activate it, then with a shape selected, hover over a vector point. A minus sign will appear next to the Pen Tool cursor. Click on a vector point to delete it. Here’s a guide for more Pen Tool techniques.
Now I’ll reference my sketch for further manipulation of the other letters. I’ll push vector points around, change angles, and delete points to roughly get match my original sketch. I’ll also use the Pathfinder window to join shapes. Use this guide for more information on the Pathfinder and its uses.
Tip: when working with custom angles, you can copy a line segment from a previously created shape and paste it to use as a guide for the other shapes.
4. Refine, Refine, and Refine a Bit More
Now it’s time to make small adjustments until the lettermark has a nice balance and everything looks “right.”
Always treat every element as a separate design component. A quality that really separates great work from the visual noise we see every day is attention to detail. Take care to develop and mold each component as if it were the only thing on the page.
To start refining, I’ll look at the spaces between objects. Notice that the space between the L’s ascender and the top bar of the T is the same as that between the leg of the L and lightning bolt shape. I also use the same space for the lightning bolt and the descender of the T.
I’m also going to round out the corners of the letters to create a more modern flow. For a deeper exploration of the Live Corners function in Illustrator, check out this guide.
If you find yourself going crazy, doing tedious little things and trying different tools and effects to no end, step away from the project for a while. When you come back to it, you will see everything fresh. Many times this is enough to instantly find a way out of a dead end.
5. Apply Brand Colors
The final stage is to apply the brand’s colors. This is the value of designing in gray and white: to focus on proportions. We can see how it works in color without worrying about the bones of the design.
If you’re still in brand color development, use this awesome article to find 101 color combinations. I chose a dark blue and watermelon red to complement the design of my logo, but it’s likely you’ll use your own brand colors to fill in the grey.
Now I have a finished lettermark logo! Apply these steps to your design to arrive at your own custom lettermark, ready to use on all of your branded materials.
Continue reading for more tips, tool guides, and general design guidance: