Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Create vintage type styles

Bobby Haiqalsyah explains how to create a stunning piece of retro typography in Illustrator

In this Illustrator tutorial, Melbourne-based type artist Bobby Haiqalsyah details how he creates vintage-style pieces through the interesting use of original reference materials, a methodical approach and judicious use of Illustrator’s Blend and Offset Path functions.

First off though, he explains the importance of familiarising yourself with the visual vocabulary of a particular period when creating a treatment based on its style. What sort of typefaces were used, what kind of effects are acceptable, and how did they achieve certain looks?

In this masterclass, Bobby is going for an early 20th-century look, recreating the style he first dreamed up for his piece The Good Old Days.

Time to complete 

5 hours


Illustrator CS4 or later, Photoshop CS4 or later


It’s important to start off with good research, and it’s paramount to be specific in what you’re looking for. A particular technique, artist, style, school or period will help narrow down the search. Get sketching. All those references might spark something new. 

These were some of my sketches for The Good Old Days. It might not make any sense to someone else, but it allowed me to quickly work out what would work and what wouldn’t.


I needed a good capital G, O and D for the original piece. I based mine on these from a free typeface called Emporium Capitals by Paul Lloyd (, which has attributes similar to some of the typefaces that were on my research list. However it didn’t offer the same narrow orientation I needed, so I improvised, using Paul’s typeface as a starting point.

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Once you’ve got your references sorted, it’s time to start designing your type in Illustrator. Begin with two simple ovals overlapping each other and you’ve got the basic shape of an O.

The O is a good starting point when determining the DNA of a typeface and setting the rules you want applied to the other letters. Use the Pathfinder panel to add and subtract shapes.


You should now have a result somewhat similar to your reference, but inspect each letter and how it reads. Cater to the way that people read nowadays. Your interpretation may be spot on, but if the letter isn’t legible, then it’s not doing its job.

In this case, the G looked too similar to the C, and needed the extra internal swirls at the top to differentiate it.


For the lower case letters, I chose to work directly from one of the reference images as a starting point. It’s the cover of an atlas from the turn of the 20th century, so I’m not infringing any copyrights. 

References such as these often have incomplete alphabets, but with practice you can identify the features of the type design and come up with more letters based on it.

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Once you have a full set of the letters, you need to make sure you have a backup of the tracing that’s not merged or expanded – in case you need to go back and fix something. Combine your lowercase and uppercase letters to make your work and modify the scale, kerning and placement of each. Once you’re happy with everything, expand all the lines on the capitals.


Next, use the Pathfinder panel to merge all the elements together on each capital in turn. Convert each one into the default colours (D), so you have a black outline and a white fill. In the Stroke panel, set Align Stroke to the outside, and thicken the stroke width so you can see all the stray points. For each capital, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and create an internal stroke inside it.


Clean up any areas where the internal strokes are too small to look good, such as in the circular terminals. Create another internal stroke in each capital, again cleaning up anything that doesn’t look great.

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For the lowercase letters, give each one the same default fill and stroke (D), and then set the strokes to be aligned outside. Because these letters have sharp points, there are bound to be some issues when you add an internal offset path. The best way to deal with this is to test your offset path using the FX button > Path > Offset Path… in the Appearance panel, then adjust the points of your letter forms so it looks good.

As it’s an effect, it changes based on your points, so you can adjust them and see the results of the offset path straightaway (rather than having to delete the new path and then rerun the Offset Path command). When you’re happy, delete the effect in the Appearance panel and create your Offset Path from the Object menu. We want the real offset path rather than the effect we created before, as we end up with a real path – rather than the appearance of one – that we can adjust the points or shape of later if we wish.

I wanted a blue outline, so I created an offset path effect with a value of 1mm and filled it with a mid blue (it didn’t matter that it filled the whole letter, it’s just a test). This left an incomplete end, so I selected the point at the corner of the letter and adjusted its angle using the internal handle. 

When it came to creating the real offset path, I filled it with the mid-blue and sent it to the back (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + [) to get the effect I wanted, then applied a second offset path on the original path with an offset of -3mm.


For the word ‘This’ on a new layer, I used the Billhead typeface by Letterhead fonts ( I created a sweeping ligature from the ‘T’ to the ‘h’ by converting all the characters to outlines, expanding each and then merging the T and h together.


I positioned the word into the composition, hit D to give it the default appearance. I created an offset path with an offset of -1.5mm, and gave this new path a grey fill and no stroke colours. I hid this work, so I could concentrate on adding shadows to the main two words.

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First, group the innermost offset paths from Great Divide, cut and paste it in front (Cmd/Ctrl + F) onto a different layer. Create a compound path (Cmd/Ctrl + 8) from this by Hold Shift + Alt and click-and-drag to create a copy overlapping that shape as shown. Select both the copy and original compound path, open the Pathfinder panel and click on Minus Front. 

Fill the result in black, copy and paste it back into the original shape, and set the fill to a 50% grey.


Create two horizontal lines as shown and create a Blend between them (Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + B). With the Direct Selection tool, select the top line and reduce the stroke size. Send the blend to the back, select the grey-filled path and use this to mask the blend.


It’s now time to start on the drop shadow. Select all of the outer offset paths of both words, copy and paste it behind (Cmd/Ctrl + B) on another layer behind everything. Create a compound path from it, then hide the rest of the text so you can see what you’re doing. 

Next, hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + M for the Move command and enter a Horizontal distance of 5mm, a Vertical one of 5mm (or whatever works for your type) and click Copy. Create a Blend from those two shapes. Open the Blend options by selecting the Blend tool (W) and Alt-clicking. Set the Spacing to Specified Distance and 0.4mm, and hit OK. Expand the blend (Object > Expand…), Merge them using the Pathfinder panel, and then create a compound path.

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First, unhiding the main text, repeat Step 14 but with a bigger gap (8mm both horizontally and vertically) to create a second shape that will be part of the drop shadow. Place this below what you created in Step 14 in the Layers panel. Hide the main text again.

Using the same blend techniques used in Step 13, create a mesh of horizontal and vertical lines. Use the lower shadow shape to create a compound mask (Cmd/Ctrl + 5).

Use the Move function and its ‘Copy’ output to duplicate the mesh down and to the right 8mm. Delete the vertical lines to lighten it. Select the new element and repeat the Move/Copy. Make this final element a mid-grey to lighten it further.


I repeated Steps 14 and 15 for ‘This’. I then unhid everything. 


Save a copy of this project somewhere in case you need to go back to it. Group everything, then select Effect > Flag. Use the values shown to warp the text.

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As a final touch, add some ornaments. I created a simple star pattern using the Star tool with the settings shown. The result of that is placed behind the word twice. I used some of Illustrator’s floral brushes to create the line-filled ornaments at the back.