Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Create vector type with an animal theme

Marcus Reed details how he creates letters with an animal theme in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

Illustrator Marcus Reed says that the idea behind his Animal Alphabet project was to create an engaging and creative way of helping children learn about animals and the alphabet, through the mediums of flash cards and prints.

He used geometric shapes and symmetry for the illustrations, a muted palette and use of space to help give a stylised approach to the concept.

Here he details the approaches he used for one of the letterforms, L is for Lion, from initial sketches to vector design in Illustrator to the final artwork.

You can buy prints of individual animals/letters or the full alphabet from Tictail.


Always do as much preparation as you can, arranging your initial thoughts into a form you can develop from. It gives you a good point of reference if you get a mental block.

I tend to write my ideas down as word, before I start scamping out in a sketchbook.


As I illustrate in a very stylised way, I tend to think more about my linework in terms of shapes and symmetry than the traditional hand-drawing process. I create geometric and angular shapes for a strong, defined look – and this helps guide my choice of animal as this style works very well for a lion.

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I draw one half of the image first. I put in a lot of the detail around the key features of the head, as that will be the focal point of the image.

Once happy with the content on one side, I group and flip, aligning to the central guide. The additional of a non-symmetrical element – in this case the tail – offers a nice bit of contrast, as well as finishing off the letterform.


Once everything is in place, I start blocking out shapes on one half of the lion, working underneath my linework (which sits above the shapes in the Layers panel, with its blending mode set to Multiply).

I started building up the vector shapes, working in sections beginning with the head to get the desired amount of detail in this focal point. Next I added some gradients, to give a subtle hint of form and light source.


When I finished the head, I grouped all of its elements and locked it before moving on to the next part. This helps when working with lots of shapes or layers, as it allows you to concentrate on the area you’re working on without inadvertently clicking on or moving other parts of your artwork.

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I built up the key elements, until I was happy with the colours and level of detail. Again it was important to keep an eye on the relative proportions of everything, tweaking if I felt elements were getting a bit lost or looked wrong.


I grouped everything to create a single half lion, duplicated and flipped it – aligning along the central guide

The final task was to add any last bits of detail – in this case, a tail and rock.


Now that I was happy with the vector illustration, I exported the file as a PSD for a final polish in Photoshop, keeping the illustration and the background on separate layers to allow easy adjustment.

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I opened the PSD in Photoshop to clean it up and add some subtle textures. I applied the textures by placing them above the lion in the layer stack and using Screen or Multiply blending modes to the lion still shows through.

I then need to balance the colours again to bring the image back to its original shades and tones, as the blended textures had altered the image colour quite dramatically.