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Scripty Lettering: An Illustrator How-To

Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t draw by hand. I trained in Illustrator, so almost everything I do starts and ends there. I’ve been practicing script lettering, and since I’m having so much fun with it, I thought I’d write about my entirely self-taught, probably unprofessional-as-heck process.

To start, I write the basic letter shapes with the brush tool in Illustrator. It’s messy and looks a bit like this:

Terrible, right? It needs a lot of massaging. I’ll clean up the letter shapes to even out curves and make adjustments for leading/kerning/spacing. Eventually it starts to come together:

I also move the letters and words around until they fit, kind of like puzzle pieces. I’ll add flourishes or swirls to balance the design, until I have the whole phrase done in strokes:

I make a copy of the whole thing and group it (Object -> Group), then move it to one side for future reference:

Then I convert the original strokes to shapes using Object -> Path -> Outline Stroke:

I’ll also use Object -> Path -> Simplify (~65-75% usually gets the job done without warping the strokes too much) to remove extraneous points; fewer points means cleaner curves:

From there, I thicken the letter shapes one by one, focusing on the downstrokes and flourishes. This usually involves deleting points within inner curves and accentuating outer curves by widening them:

…and I spend a lot of time tweaking all the letter shapes until they’re just right. This involves looking at the design through a squint to find any shapes that stick out or catch my eye in the wrong way.

Once I’m satisfied with the overall appearance, I’ll apply a fill color and add flowers or other accents around the design: