Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Woodcut effects for type art

It’s easy and quick to produce vector art with a vintage woodcut feel, as Karan Singh shows – and custom brushes are the key

Karan Singh’s latest piece of type art was created for Obsolete, the most recent chapter of work by the Depthcore collective ( According to Karan, the piece, entitled 2012, is a reference to the end of a major cycle in the Mayan calendar next year.

Here Karan focuses on the steps he followed in creating the digit ‘1’ for the piece. The tutorial will give you an appreciation of the versatility and potential of custom brushes, which you can use to achieve effects ranging from shadows and light to textures. You will also learn how to manipulate strokes using Illustrator’s Width tool and create depth with the Blend tool.

This is the second in our series of three tutorials based around artwork from Obsolete. The final instalment will appear in our next issue.

Time to complete

2 hours


Adobe Illustrator

Project files

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here.


Open from the project files. Select the number and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Set the offset to -4mm and select Miter for the joins. Ungroup the new path and the original if necessary (Cmd/Crtl + Shift + G) and make the inner shape white.


We need to make some custom brushes to decorate the shape with. Draw a circle of diameter 20mm, then select the Direct Selection tool (A). Click on the left and right anchor points of the circle and hit the ‘Convert selected anchor points to corner’ button in Illustrator’s control panel. The circle should look like it’s being pinched on both sides.

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Next we’ll squash the pinched circle. Select it with the Selection tool (V) and go to Object > Transform > Scale. In the ensuing dialog box, choose Non-Uniform scaling and set the vertical value to 5% while leaving the horizontal value at 100%. Our goal is to create a thin stroke tapering out at both ends.


Now to create the brush. Open the Brushes panel (F5) and, with your shape selected, choose New Brush from the panel menu, then select the Art Brush button. Choose Tints as the Colorization method.


For our second brush, Alt + drag the shape you used to create the first brush and draw a vertical line with the Line tool (\). Select the line and shape, bring up the Align panel and hit the Horizontal Center Align and Vertical Centre Align buttons. Keeping line and shape selected, go to the Pathfinder panel (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + F9) and hit the Divide button. Ungroup the shape and use one half to create a brush as in Step 4.

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Select the first brush you made and, on a new layer and using the Pen tool (P), sparingly create white highlights on the thick black border (I used a stroke weight of 0.4px). This will give the object a sense of depth and make the border appear to glisten.


To make a wood texture, create a new layer above the white highlights. Using the Brush tool (B), draw freely down the length of the shape in black, mimicking wood grain. It may help to refer to images of wood to get the right look.


We will now create some decorative diamonds. Create a new layer above the wood grain, draw a 16mm square and rotate it 45 degrees. Give it a white fill and a black stroke with a weight of 1.7px. With the shape selected, go to Object > Scale, select Non-Uniform in the dialog box and scale it horizontally by 50%.

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To give the diamond some depth, select it and offset its path by -1mm (Object > Path > Offset Path). Select just the inner diamond and assign its stroke a weight of 0.8px.

Now go to Window > Swatch Library > Patterns > Basic Graphics > Basic Graphics_Textures and fill the inner diamond with what’s charmingly called USGS 8 Sewage Disposal. Group the inner and outer diamonds.


Next, make two duplicates of the original and scale them down. Send the two smaller ones behind the original (Cmd/Crtl + [) and centre-aligned them vertically as shown. Apply this arrangement of diamonds at the top and bottom of the number. You can hide the diamonds for the next few steps.


Now we’ll create the banner that appears to wind around the number. In a new layer at the top of the stack, draw a rough version of the banner with the Pen tool. Refine its shape using the Direct Selection tool to tweak the anchor points individually.

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Once you’re happy with the banner, give its stroke a weight of 2px and then use the Width tool (Shift + W) to vary that width along the path. You do this clicking on the anchor points and dragging the adjacent width points in and out as you see fit. It can be tricky to get the overall look right, so take your time.


In a new layer, use the second brush you made to create a series of densely packed strokes representing shadows on the left edges of the banner. I used a stroke weight of 0.1px. Ensure the pointy end is facing away from the edge as pictured. Also use the first brush sparingly to indicate creases and folds along the banner.


Next we’ll create a shadow effect beneath the banner. Make a new layer under the banner layer and unhide the diamonds if necessary. Draw two vertical lines with the Line Segment tool and the second custom brush loaded, making the one on the left longer. Select both and go to Object > Blend > Make. Now select Object > Blend > Blend Options, set the spacing to Specified Distance and enter a value of 0.5mm.

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In the same layer, use the Pen tool to trace the bottom path of one banner segment. Select this path along with the blended strokes you just made and go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine to adjust the blend’s path. Place the blend under the corresponding piece of banner and repeat the step with the other two pieces.


Finally, we’ll add a bit more depth to the number by giving the solid black base a drop shadow (Effect > Stylize > Drop Shadow). I wanted a front-on kind of shadow and kept the offsets to 0. I used 85% for the opacity and black for the colour.


Karan Singh is an illustrator living in Melbourne, Australia. Primarily self-taught, he has had the pleasure of working with clients ranging from boutique studios to international brands. Karan is also a senior artist in the international Depthcore art collective and, in his ‘spare’ time, a blogger – his blog, entitled Pig Bimpin’, features articles about design and interviews with other artists.


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