Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Create 3D type with paint drips

Learn how how to create a stylish 3D typographic illustration using only Illustrator and Photoshop.

Making graphics appear 3D doesn’t have to be a laborious process. If you’re on a tight deadline, you don’t have to delve into the real-3D engine found in recent versions of Photoshop, or spend days in a 3D suite such as Maya. Using basic tools within Photoshop and Illustrator, you can add the appearance of light and shadow to type, icons, logos, characters and other graphics in a few simple steps – if you know how.

One great way to do this is to add the appearance of your graphic being made from a shiny liquid such as paint, with the shape of its drips and the appearance of liquid highlights adding to the 3D effect.

Here Logan Brinkley from Welsh digital design agency Carbon Studio shows how to apply such techniques to a type-based illustration with an inverted triangular shape. Why? Because triangles are cool. 

Time to complete

3 hours


Illustrator, Photoshop


First, you’ll need to decide on the wording you want to use. This should also help you decide which direction to take when styling the type. 

Start by drawing a rough template for the layout of your type using a pencil. It doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect, but it’s important that you work out how you want to form your letters, as they will create the base for further refinement as you go through the process.


Scan in the sketch, open it in Illustrator and place it on your Artboard, resizing it to fit. Set the opacity to 60%, then lock the layer. 

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Create a new layer above the sketch, then select the Pen tool and trace round it. Use a 1pt stroke and include as much of your sketch’s fine detail as possible, as this will help capture your type treatment’s originality.


Now that you have your traced type, swap the fill and the stroke (Shift + X) to invert the lettering. Then lock the layer. 


It’s now time to start refining the look of your type. Create a new layer, then select the Pen tool with a fill but no stroke. Start adding drip-like shapes to the letters and edges of your treatment. 

The drips will all need to fall as close to the vertical axis as possible. The key here is to position them so that they look natural. 

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Again using the Pen tool with fill but without a stroke, start adding shapes angled at 45 degrees between the same letters, to create an effect that looks as though the type has been pulled apart. The aim is to make it look conjoined to one fluid shape.


Once you are happy with your refinements, unlock all the layers and select all your paths. Open the Pathfinder panel (Cmd/Ctrl + F9) and select Merge. Then lock the layer and name it ‘Type’. 


It’s now time to add some lighting. This will be key to making your type feel fluid and natural. 

First, create a new layer, select a white colour and click on the Pen tool. Open the Stroke panel (Cmd/Ctrl + F10), and select Show Options from the panel’s flyout menu if necessary. Choose a 1pt stroke and Width Profile 1 from the Profile drop-down menu (it’s the second one, which looks a bit like a pair of closed lips). 

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Use the Pen tool with the settings from Step 8 to start adding your lighting highlights above and below the corners of letters, the edge of drips and the other conjoined shapes you created earlier. This will add depth to your type, creating the 3D effect.

It’s important that you remember to focus the highlights coming from one light source for the most natural look. Once you’re happy, group the highlights (Cmd/Ctrl + G), lock the layer and name it ‘Lighting’.


Now it’s time to add some colour. Unlock the ‘Type’ layer and select it. Select your type, then open the gradient panel and select the colours (C0, M75, Y16, K0), (C5, M58, Y0, K0) from top to bottom at a 90-degree angle. 


Our highlights are a little overpowering and look unrealistic. To fix this, unlock and select the ‘Lighting’ layer. Select it and drop the opacity down to a 20% to give the highlights a subtle, glossy finish.

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It’s time to start adding some additional elements to further enhance the desired 3D effect. On a new layer, create small bubbles between the type, and streaked lines pulled from the edge of your composition. Colour these using the gradient effects you applied in Step 10, and add highlights as in Step 11. 

Create a new layer and, with the Pen tool, create a speech bubble shape. Fill it with a bold cyan (C57, M0, Y29, K0) to contrast with the pink of the main text. 


Save your work and create a new portrait A3-sized CMYK canvas in Photoshop. Fill it with bright pink (C1, M90, Y33, K0). To add a bit more depth to the background, first select a slightly lighter pink (C12, M89, Y33, K0). Click on the Brush tool, select a 2,500px-size soft round brush and place a mark centrally on the canvas.


Go back to Illustrator, select all your type, and copy and paste it into Photoshop. Position it centrally, resizing to fit. Double-click the layer in the Layers panel to open the Layer Style dialog and add a black drop shadow with an opacity of 10%, Angle: 120°, Distance: 27px, Spread: 0 and Size 10px.

Step away from the monitor and see how the colour looks and feels. Adjust if necessary, and you’re finished.

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