Illustrator and Typography

Skill Level: Intermediate

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to trace an image as well as turn regular type into a handwritten style. We’ll be using a photo of a buffalo and using the song lyric, “Give me a home where the buffalo roam” to create a typographic image. You’ll gain more experience with the Pen Tool and learn how to use the Envelope Distort effect with a mesh. Here’s your finished product:

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1. To begin your project, you need to create a new workspace. To do this, go to File>New>then select the settings you want for your workspace. For this tutorial, I’ll be using a 11X8.5 workspace.

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2. First, we’re going to change the background of our workspace from white to another color. For this tutorial, I’ll be using a light yellowish color (#F9E7AF). To create your new background, select the Rectangle Tool in the left side panel (or press M) then click inside your workplace. When the dialog box appears, type in the dimensions of our workspace, in this case I typed in 11 and 8.5. Then press OK and center the rectangle you just created to act as your new background. Next, create a new layer from your Layers panel by clicking the Create New Layer icon.

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3.  Next you will trace your buffalo image. Go to Google and search for any image of a buffalo that you like. It should preferably be just a side profile of the animal. For this tutorial, I am using this image. Once you have your desired image, to place it in your workspace go to File>Place>Find your image name and click OK. Then click inside your workspace to add the image.

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4. Next we’re going to trace the image of the buffalo. On the left side panel, select the Pen Tool (or press P). Then start clicking and dragging around the outside of the buffalo to create its shape. When you’re finished, turn your new buffalo shape a solid color. For this tutorial, I’m using a navy blue color (#4A4F6D). Once you’ve filled your shape, delete the image of the buffalo.

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5. Select your buffalo, enlarge it to whatever size you wish by holding Shift and dragging out the corner, then center it your workspace.

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6. Next we’re going to be working with the song lyric and type. You can use any font you want, fonts that look handwritten are going to look the best with this kind of image. For this tutorial, I am using the font Luna. In the left side panel, select the Type Tool (or press T) and type out each individual word from the song lyric.

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6. Before you place the words on your buffalo, change them to the same color as your background. Then select each word one by one and place it on your buffalo. Change the size of your words to fit in the buffalo better and add more interest to your image.

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7. Using your Direct Selection Tool (or press A), select “Give” then go to Object>Envelope Distort>Make with Mesh. In the dialog box, the number of columns that you will use are determined on the number of letters in the word, so with the word “Give” you will use 4 columns. You will always use one row. Set the settings and then press OK. Then drag the anchor points to distort the word and form to the shape of the buffalo. Follow this procedure for each word.

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8. At this point, you can be done with your piece if you like it the way that it is. So sit back, look at what you’ve done and pat yourself on the back. Congrats, you’re awesome at design at following instructions. If you want to add more to your piece, then follow along more with this tutorial. (Also, don’t forget to save your work, File>Save).

9. In this step, we’ll just be adding a few decorative elements to just add a little more interest to the overall piece. In the left side panel, go to your Line Segment Tool (or press \) and hold shift as you draw a straight horizontal line. When your line is drawn, select it, then change its color to the color of your background, then change its shape to the first option (looks like a football) and its design to the third option (looks like a crayon line). Then place your line in the piece in any open area within the buffalo. You can also copy and paste your line to create more of the same line or change the sizes of other lines. For this tutorial, I am placing the lines in the space under the word “Me”.

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10. Your buffalo typography is finished! Isn’t that awesome?! Save it and enjoy! (File>Save)


In this post I referred to a lot of Illustrator shortcuts, if you are interested in learning more shortcuts for Illustrator for both Mac and Windows you should check out this awesome infograph by!


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