Geometric lettering gives a unique, handcrafted twist to design projects. Learn how to create your personalized creative type with these simple steps.
Geometric lettering with a handcrafted style is set to be a big typography trend in 2018. While these letters might look like they need hours to create by hand or with a letterpress printer, they actually only take a short while to create digitally in Adobe Illustrator.
Suitable for relative beginners to vector software, we’ll create a “HAPPY NEW YEAR” design, which you can easily adapt to a message of your choice. We’ll bring in a bit of texture using Photoshop and show you how to export your lettering as an Instagram image, ready for sharing with the world.
Ready to start lettering? Awesome, let’s dive in!
What You’ll Need to Create Your Letters
As well as access to Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, you’ll also need to download a paper texture image, like this one, to add the finishing touch to your design. And that’s it! You’re ready to get started.
1. How to Create a Grid and Color Palette for Your Lettering
Color will be the key to bringing your lettering artwork together and giving it personality and mood. Read on to recreate the palette I’ve used for the lettering pictured here, or adapt the color swatches to ones of your choice if you prefer.
Open up Adobe Illustrator. You can set up the document to any size you like. If you’re creating the lettering for a particular purpose in mind, for example a greeting card, poster, or Instagram image (as I’m doing here), it’s wise to set up the artwork to match the size of your final document.
Here, I’m setting the width and height of the artboard to equal lengths (11 in), to create a square canvas that I can easily adapt to an Instagram image later (which is currently 1080 px by 1080 px).
Click OK to create your new document.
With the rulers visible (go to View > Rulers > Show Rulers if not), drag a guide down from the ruler running along the top of the workspace. Drag a second down below it, creating a pair of guides. You can use these to mark out the top and bottom (baseline) of your first line of lettering.
Select both guides, and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste, dragging the copy down below the original, creating an equal second line for the text.
Repeat, creating a third pair to create a third line. Try to keep the spacing between each pair of lines as equal as possible.
Expand the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches), and select New Swatch from the panel’s drop-down menu (at top right).
From here you can create your first color swatch. If you’d like to recreate the lettering design pictured in this tutorial, we’re going to create a palette of Eighties inspired pastels and brights to give the artwork a retro feel. Otherwise you can mix and add colors as you like.
Note that if you’re intending your lettering design for print, choose CMYK from the New Swatch window’s Color Mode menu. If you’re intending to use it online, such as on social media, select RGB for the Color Mode.
I name the first swatch Yellow, and set the RGB levels to R=245 G=192 B=34, before clicking OK.
Click on New Swatch as before to add more swatches to your palette. To recreate the swatches used here, give them the names and values below:
- Pale Pink – R=230 G=167 B=149
- Pink – R=233 G=114 B=159
- Tomato – R=230 G=64 B=41
- Mint – R=142 G=204 B=185
You’ll notice that all the swatches will have been added to the list of swatches in the Swatches panel, ready for you to use them on your design.
2. How to Draw and Embellish Your Lettering
It’s time to start drawing! For this stage, we’ll be using some of Illustrator’s drawing tools, which are in the Tools panel docked to the left side of the workspace.
Start at the beginning of your phrase, so zoom into the top left section of the top pair of guides. Here I’m going to start building the phrase “HAPPY NEW YEAR,” setting each word on a new line. You can either create this phrase alongside me, or adapt the techniques I do here to create your own phrase.
To create the stems of letters, such as the left and right vertical elements of an “H” at the start of “HAPPY,” take the Pen Tool (P) and click onto the page, creating a rectangular block that meets at the top guide and the bottom guide.
To make your lettering look more handcrafted, don’t worry about making the shapes completely perfect—they’ll actually look much better if they aren’t completely symmetrical. You can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select individual anchor points and shift their position, until you’re happy with the look of your shape.
Bring the Stroke Color square forward (at the bottom of the Tools panel) by hitting X on your keyboard and set this to [None] from the Swatches panel. Hit X to switch to the Fill Color, and adjust this to one of your swatches, here Pink.
Use the Pen Tool (P) to create the next stem of the “H,” setting the Fill to contrasting Pale Pink.
Use the Line Segment Tool () to create bridging elements between parts of letters, like the horizontal bar in a capital “H.”
Set the Stroke Color to a contrasting swatch, here Black, and use the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) to vary the Weight, making the line thicker and bolder.
Copy and Paste the line repeatedly, creating a group. This will add to the retro look of the “H.”
Move on to the next letter in the sequence, here “A.” With each letter in the phrase, try to think of how you could represent the letter as simply as possible. An “A,” for example, could be rendered as a couple of simple triangle shapes.
Use the Pen Tool, as before, to create the base shape of the letter, giving it a different color fill, here Mint.
Copy and Paste the triangle shape and scale it down, holding Shift to preserve the proportions, layering it over the top of the original.
You can create polka dot embellishments for your lettering using the Pencil Tool (N). Move over to a blank area of the artboard, and use the Pencil Tool to draw a few rough small circle shapes. Again, don’t worry about making them into perfect circles. You want them to look a little organic in style.
Give the shapes a solid Fill Color, then Copy and Paste the circles repeatedly, building up a pattern of polka dots.
Drag your mouse over all the dots, and move them over to the pasteboard (the area past the edge of the main artboard). From here, you can select groups of dots and Copy and Paste them over to use on your lettering design.
Here I move over a group of polka dots to cover the “A” letter, setting their Fill Color to White.
Right-Click > Arrange to move elements on your letters forwards or backwards as you prefer.
Continue to work across the first line of lettering. Next up, I’m going to create a “P” using the Pen Tool to create the main stem…
…and the Pencil Tool (N) to create the circle of the letter’s bowl. You can use the Smooth Tool (inside the Pencil Tool’s drop-down menu) to smooth out any overly wobbly sections of circular shapes on your design.
A sprinkling of pink polka dots, and that letter’s done.
I Copy and Paste the two main shapes of the “P” to create a second “P” shape.
I then use the Line Tool () to add a few long bars down the height of the circle.
I use the Pen Tool to create a simple chalice-like shape for the “Y” at the end of the word…
…and add a few polka dots to the top to decorate.
Move onto the next word of the phrase, and the next line down, using the guides to judge the height of your drawings.
I use the Pen Tool to create two stems of a capital “N,” setting the Fill Color to Tomato.
A Pink block shape and a sprinkling of polka dots add contrast and quirkiness to the letter.
I use the Pen Tool to create block of solid color to make up the “E” letter.
And the Pen Tool again to create a sequence of three triangle shapes to make a “W” shape.
I use the Line Segment Tool () to add Mint-colored embellishment to the right side of the letter.
Depending on the phrase you have chosen, you may already have enough letters or elements of letters to reuse to create the last word of your design, here “YEAR.”
When you’ve created all your lettering, zoom out and assess how the letters are spaced and whether everything is central.
When you’re happy with the design, you’re ready to start adding a bit of texture to the design. For this stage, we’ll need to move into Photoshop. To create a workable copy of your image, head up to File > Export in Illustrator and save your image as a high-quality JPEG file.
3. How to Add Hand-Crafted Texture to Your Lettering
Make sure to File > Save As your lettering artwork in Illustrator. Then open up Photoshop and go to File > New.
I want my lettering to be suitable for use as an Instagram image so I set the Width and Height of the canvas to 1080 Pixels. Click OK to create the document.
Go to File > Place and navigate to the paper texture image you downloaded earlier.
Click Place, and, holding Shift, scale the image to fit the canvas.
Go to File > Place again, and this time open the JPEG version of your lettering design, centering it on the canvas.
From the Layers panel (Window > Layers), set the Blending Mode of the lettering layer to Multiply.
Click onto the paper texture layer below to select it, and adjust the Opacity of this layer to about 70%.
Your image is now ready to use!
Simply head up to File > Export or File > Save for Web to export your artwork as a JPEG or PNG image.
Hungry for more typography tips? Get inspired by these 25 examples of beautiful hand-lettering, and pick up designer Rob Draper’s tips and tricks for creative lettering.