It’s SPRING!!! It took a really long time to arrive here in Utah, so we’ve been working on the outside of our home as much as possible now that it’s here. We got new lights for beside our front door (yes, those are the old lights) and I realized how absolutely hideous the porch looks in general. Besides adding flowers and a wreath and painting the door, I wanted to add a Welcome sign on one side. (See that project tutorial here.) The other side has a chair, so this corner looks like it’s just begging for one of those tall, thin signs with a layered, retro font.
Those fonts are a big trend right now and that’s what I wanted to use, but I just couldn’t find just what I was looking for. In fact, I bought a layered font and it ended up being terrible quality. So I’m going to share with you how I took a regular old font and made it extra special. (I’ll share in another post instructions for making the actual sign). Here’s the layered look I created.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I receive a small commission. You pay the same price. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials.
Step 1: Pick out a non-layered font
For creating my layered letters, I used Arial, which comes pre-loaded on most computers. In fact, it should be the default font when you create a text box. The reason this works well is it’s a sans serif, block font that has “legs” that are fairly thick and of a consistent width. This makes the step of putting a pattern in the middle of the layered letters (like my stripes) much easier. Just plain Jane, because we’re going to jazz it up. I recommend you practice with this one first so you learn the steps, then you can play with other fonts if you like.
Step 2: Create a text box
Make a normal text box in a fairly large font size (you can change it later). Type out your phrase.
For my sign, I wanted the text to be vertical. Here’s how we do that–
- You’ll need to be in Text Edit mode (when the green box is around it). If you aren’t, then just double click quickly on the text box.
- Now pull in the blue bar at the right of the box until there’s only 1 letter per line. Depending on what font you’re using, it’s possible that you may need to put in some hard returns to force letters to a new line.
- In the Text Style panel, select Center Justification. Now your letters are lined up along the vertical axis instead of at the left.
- If you need your letters to be closer together or farther apart, you can adjust the Line Spacing. I actually recommend you keep the letters pretty far apart for now. We are going to create several offsets so you’ll need room for all those.
You have the basis for your sign now. This is the part that will end up with that pattern like my stripes.
Step 3: Create layered outlines
The next part of the layered letters is an outline frame. To make this, you’re going to create 3 offsets. It’s helpful to fill these with different colors. When you create offsets they are unfilled and the different colors help you keep them straight. I’m going to switch to showing just 1 letter so you can see more clearly.
- Make the first one as far away from your original text as you want the space between your letter and frame to be. This will be the inside of the frame. Mine is light purple.
- This one should be as far away as you’d like the thickness of your frame to be. This is the outside of the frame. This is the light green one.
- And for this one, make it as far away second offset as you want the space between your frame and your shadow to be. We’ll use this in the next step to create that distance between them. Mine is filled here with dark purple.
I will warn you that on slanted line segments, the Offset tool will square off pointed corners like this.
If that happens and you don’t like it, you can either do some point editing at this point, or try internal offsets instead. The problem with the latter is that then your letters might end up too thin. You just have to play with it to determine what works best for you.
Step 4: Combine offsets to make a frame
We want to make the first and second offsets into a frame. Select them both and then makethem into a compound path with the right click menu, in the Object drop down menu, or in the Modify panel. You can see here mine keeps the light green color, because that piece was bigger. The dark purple is visible between it and the original letter in turquoise because there’s now empty space there.
Step 5: Create layered shadows
The next thing to make is a shadow. There are 2 ways to do this.
Option 1 — The Shadow tool
This is an option in Designer Edition and up. If you don’t have that, you can skip to Option 2. But I will tell you all day, every day, that the cost of Designer Edition is worth what you pay. You can buy it here. Use the code 10OFF at checkout for a 10% discount. This is a digital download so you can use it right away.
So, the Shadow tool. You’ll find this in the Image Effects panel. Select your remaining offset — #3 that’s at the outside, the one that’s dark purple in my example — and choose either Fixed or Dynamic. (Honestly, I haven’t been able to find a difference in these in this software). This puts a shadow slightly below and to the right of that third offset.
You can move that by either changing the amount or by using the Pan Shadow feature to move it freely. Set it wherever you want it, with the understanding that it’s going to end up a bit smaller than it is right now because we’re going to chop some of it to add the space between the frame and shadow. In other words, my dark purple will go away and my shadow piece will be slightly separated from the light green piece.
Once you have it the size you like, click Release Shadow to make it a separate piece. You’ve essentially created a new copy of the letters. By default, this will be filled with gray with 50% transparency. Change that if you like, but it will only matter if you’re printing the project.
Option 2 — An additional text box
If you didn’t read Option 1, glance over that last paragraph. That’s what you’re going to do.
- Select your remaining offset — #3 that’s at the outside, the one that’s dark purple in my example.
- Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD+c to copy and the CTRL/CMD+f to paste in front. That puts your new text box right on top of your old one.
- Move it slightly to either side, depending on where you want your shadow.
- In order to see better, send that piece to the back. Then move it below the letters as well. Set it wherever you want it, with the understanding that it’s going to end up a bit smaller than it is right now. We’re going to chop some of it to add the space between the frame and shadow. In other words, my dark purple will go away and my shadow piece will be slightly separated from the light green piece.
Create the space between the frame and shadow
Select your third offset and your shadow (so my dark purple and gray, respectively). In the Modify panel, use Subtract. That means the offset will cut away the portions of the shadow that are behind it, then disappear. You’re left with a shadow that’s a bit separated from what will be your frame.
Using a Modify option like this will make separate pieces of anything that’s not touching. So as soon as you Subtract, while the pieces are all still selected, make them into a single compound path as describe in Step 4.
Optional step — Alter your shadow slants
Pretend your text is 3-D. Now pretend that you’ve got a flashlight and you shine it on your text box from above and slightly left. The shadow you get would look 3-D. We created shadows that are 2-D in order to make the original text look more 3-D, but it’s not fully looking that way. There’s one more trick you can pull if you like.
With an actual shadow, the edges of it would be slanted. If you want to make your shadow letters look more like this, use a bit of point editing. Some 90° angles you’ll make more like 45°. It’s hard to explain that in words, so here’s what I mean.
Step 6: Create a pattern
Go all the way back to your original text box now — the one that’s in the very middle. Make a copy of it for safekeeping. What we’re doing now will change that text box into a regular image. That means you couldn’t go back later and figure out what font you were using. If it’s easier for you, group the frame and shadow with that text box copy and scoot them out of the way for now.
I used stripes, but you could use any pattern you like. I drew a series of long rectangles to cover my text box, then deleted every other one.
To watch out for
- You want to make sure that you’ll still be able to read your letters once you remove part of them. As with any Modify option, I raise the transparency of my upper pieces (so my rectangles) so I can see through them to what’s behind. On mine, I wanted to have stripes remain that are level with the tops and bottoms of flat top letters and things like the middle bar on the E. It may take some tweaking to get that just right. You could also make stripes of varying widths if you like, starting with thicker ones at the bottom and gradually getting thinner. Or, make the stripes on only the top or bottom half of the letters. A pattern like dots is also a bit easier.
- Be aware that letters with curves at the top and bottom are taller than those with flat tops and bottoms. The curves disappear into nothing, so to our eye it appears that they are shorter than the flat letters. Because of that, font designers make these letters taller at top and bottom so that to our eye they look the same height. That’s called using overshoots. For me, that means I need to make a couple of extra rectangles above and below something like my E.
Now Modify it
Once you have it, make your pattern shapes a single compound path. That makes the next step faster.
Select your pattern shapes and your text box and use a Modify tool.
- Subtract takes away the portions that are behind your pattern.
- Crop does the opposite. It keeps the portions that are behind, as it retains any overlapping areas of separate designs. This is what I used.
And there you go — layered text.
Here are a couple of more examples of different layered font looks you can get with other patterns.
After doing all this work, you could use Font Creator to save your letters as a layered font to use more easily in the future. But that’s a lesson for another day…
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