Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Add stylish ornaments to type

Learn the basics of adding ornaments to type using Illustrator techniques such as Live Trace and the Pathfinder panel.

Adding ornaments to type has enjoyed a revival recently, but it's an artform which has been around for many centuries.

Whether you want to create a logo, a graphic for anything from video or animation to packaging, or a headline – this tutorial will show you the basics of adding ornament to type in conjunction with Illustrator techniques such as Live trace and the Pathfinder panel.

Time to complete

4 hours


Adobe Illustrator


Start off with the text ‘nature’.

Choose a typeface which expresses your word. I have chosen a Didone typeface with a nice alternate ligature ‘e’ on the end.

Evenly space the type with some generous tracking so ornament can sit between as well as around the letters.


Print out your work and start sketching round it. Sketching out different ideas by hand can be a lot faster and expressive.

The ornament should add to the text and not detract from it. It is important to for the embellishment to compliment the text, as opposed to overpower it.

In this case, use leaves and vines to visually communicate the text’s message. Experiment with different styles of foliage. I have used a very basic leaf shape to begin with.

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Use slightly varied repeated elements for your decorative elements. A mix of similarity and difference will aid the appeal of your pattern.

Look for breaks in the text for vines to emanate from, and counters in your letters to hose foliage.

Once you are happy with your sketch, make sure the drawing has a good contrast so you can scan it – I traced over my pencil sketch with black pen.


Scan the illustration and place the file into Illustrator (File > Place). Click on the Live Trace button on to Toolbar to begin Illustrator automatically tracing round the drawing.

This will give you a preview of what the default Live Trace settings output – without finalising the live trace action.


Some of the drawing is a little light: the blacks have not quite come through and appear blotchy. We can see this particularly on the vines to the left of the ‘n’.

We can improve this in the Tracing options dialog box in the control window.

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Change the settings to fix any areas – I used a Threshold of 185, a Blur of 0.8px, and a Path Fitting of 2px to smoothen the inconsistencies.

Click on the checkbox next to Ignore White to avoid creating a white vector shape.

Click Trace. Then click on the Expand button on the main Toolbar to execute the trace.


Despite the effectiveness of Live Trace, we will still need to do some post-process tweaking.

Use the Delete Anchor Point tool (-) to delete unnecessary vector points, and the Direct Selection tool (A) to tweak vector points.


We want the vectors to look smooth. Use the Add Anchor Point (+) and Convert Anchor Point (Shift + C) too to add and subtract Bezier handles.

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After you’re happy with the finish of the leaves, copy and paste some of these items to duplicate them around the spread.

Patterns and ornamentation benefit from similarity, so repeating certain elements can help harmonise the piece.

Hold down the Alt key and drag leaves to different parts of your illustration as a quick way to duplicate and place leaves.


We’ve duplicated extra leaves. However your piece almost certainly could do with a couple of extra elements to make the illustration more interesting.

Draw a couple of other images to add more detail.


Find a picture of a butterfly, and use the Pen tool to quickly draw round one half of the butterfly.

Double click on the Reflect tool (O). and with Vertical Axis selected, click on the Copy button. This will create the other side. Move the halves in place to complete your butterfly.

Place it somewhere pleasing on your text.

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Now add flowers into the illustration.

To ensure you maintain a similar aesthetic, duplicate and rotate an existing leaf eight times to give the impression of petals. Here’s how you do that:

Take a vector leaf from the illustration. Draw a line through the leaf with the Pen tool (P) – make sure the line is over twice the height of the leaf.

Group the leaf and the line (Cmd/Ctrl + G).


Double click on the Rotate tool (R), type 45 in the angle, and click copy. Press Cmd/Ctrl + D, six times to complete the flower.

Select all of the line strokes with the Direct Selection tool and delete them.

Select all of the petals. Open the Pathfinder panel, click Unite to simplify the petals into a compound shape.


Duplicate the flowers in spaces around the illustration, maintaining an equidistant space between the flower and the other ornaments.

The negative space between shapes is also an important consideration when creating patterns.

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When you have finished tidying the vectors and curves, simplify the shapes by uniting shapes using the Pathfinder panel as explained in Step 13.

Group the ornament and experiment with different colours or shades to bring out or tone down the type.