Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop tutorial: Get Started with Type Art

Pomme Chan shows you how to take your first steps in letter-based illustration.

Type art is popular currently for all sorts of reasons – and it’s a highly versatile skill to have. You can use illustrated lettering in projects ranging from posters to brochures – making it a great technique to add to your creative toolset.

But beware: type art is so popular at the moment that there’s a lot of crud out there. The rules are the same as for any aesthetic style: learn the basics carefully, and then be original.

With type-based art there’s a whole extra dimension, though: legibility. As our feature says, there’s some debate over how legible type-based art needs to be – but you should be able to make the lettering completely clear if you or the client feels the project needs it.

In this tutorial, lettering guru Pomme Chan talks you step-by-step through how she created this incredible image.


In Illustrator, open a new file and set up an A4 artwork. Type the words ‘Type Art’ in Helvetica, then create an outline (Type > Create Outline, or Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + O). Make any adjustments to your type using the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow), then use the Pen tool (P) to create swirls where you’d like the line to flow. These don’t need to be precise – you can adjust  them later. When you’ve finished, lock this layer so you can’t move it – you’ll only use it as a guide.


Now add a new layer and use the Pen tool (P) to create two or three lines – experiment with blending options here.

We’re going to create a shadow inside the typeface, so you need to be clear how you want your type to flow. The trick is that the beginning and end of both lines should be in the same vertical and horizontal axis, and shouldn’t be too far from one another.

In the middle of the line you can create twists and curves, but in the middle of the line you can twist and curve them. Both lines should be quite thin (I use 0.25pt).

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Next change one line to white, and the other to black. Click on the Blend tool in the toolbar, click on Blend Option > Smooth Color. Click at the beginning or the end of the white path.


Now you have a nice blended curve. Repeat this for the rest of your type. If it comes out looking really wrong, this is probably because you’ve made the curve in the middle too complicated.

The trick is to match the number of anchor points in each pair of lines. You don’t have to count everything, just make sure they’re not very different from one another. Be patient – this step takes a couple of hours or more.


Once you’ve filled your letters with blended curves, play with the curve layers, making them larger (Cmd/Ctrl + ]) or smaller (Cmd/Ctrl + [) until you’re happy with it. Create some white swirly lines inside the letter, especially around the white areas, using the Pen tool with a 0.1pt black line filled with white. 

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Once you’re happy with everything, it’s time to create those outside swirls. Unlock the Draft layer you created at the beginning. Choose all the lines, then select View > Guides > Make Guides (Cmd/Ctrl + 5).


Now we need to create a brush. We need a stroke that’s thin at the beginning and end: you can open the file from the project files you opened at the start of the tutorial and copy each brush shape to your file – or create a line of your own, then click the Brush symbol and choose New Brush > New Art Brush > Proportional.


Now use the Pen tool to create a path that follows your curve guide. Then choose your brush, set it to a very fine stroke (0.1 to 0.25pt). Now trace over the swirls outside and inside the letters. Play with the opacity – setting it to 50% at the Normal blending mode, or setting the blending mode to Overlay and the opacity to 80% inside the letter.

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Once you’ve got everything in the right place it’s time for the decorative process. You can add circles using the Ellipse tool (L) with a radial colour gradient. Play around with these, making them slightly bigger near the letter and smaller further away, and placing them around the white swirl lines. Unlock your Type Art text letter, and set the letter colour to 50% grey. Then copy the layer.


Open Photoshop, create a new A4 artwork at 300dpi in RGB, then paste each layer from the Illustrator file. Smart Objects is convenient, but I prefer to paste in Pixels so that I can delete or clean up bits in Photoshop.


Open the file, and copy the rose line drawing. Paste it into Photoshop, then rotate, copy and move them around until you’re satisfied.

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Now let’s add some colour. In a new layer at the top of the Layers palette, set the blending mode to Color and then start adding colour using the Brush tool: this way it’s easy to add or delete colours without affecting other areas. When I colour, I set the Brush tool’s opacity to 30% to 40% to keep the colours soft.


When you’re happy with your colours, create a new layer on top of the other layers for background decoration. Using the Elliptical Marquee tool (M) create a circle then, using the Brush tool, paint very light colours around the circles. Sometimes you can make the circle then invert the selection (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I) and fill around it, too.


Delete the black background layer. Click on the white swirly-line layer, then invert them (Cmd/Ctrl + I): this will become a black line. Set the layer’s opacity to 50% and move it so it’s beneath the colours layer – this will give the artwork beautiful soft colours. You can colour the roses now if you haven’t done them already: click on the flower layers, Select > Load Selection, then create another layer, setting it to Multiply. Start filling the roses in that layer with colour.

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Now we need to add the final touches – I want the words to glow; this also makes them easier to read. Click on your original black-and-white layer that you pasted from Illustrator, select Layer Style > Outer Glow, and pick the colour you want. Set the opacity to 20%, the noise to 0, the spread to 14%, the size to 38% and the range to 50%. You can apply these settings to other layers too if you like.


We’re almost finished. I like to have a darker shade in the type – you can set this using Edit > Adjustment > Level. You can also  make the outer lines softer using the Erase brush (set to 50% opacity), erase at the end of each stroke or wherever you think it’s suitable.