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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:

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how to make vector snowflakes in adobe illustrator

I posted this guide on how to make vector snowflakes in Adobe Illustrator last year at carolinemoore.net, and thought it would fit well here at Calobee Doodles. You can still download the free snowflakes desktop wallpaper here.

1. Create a new document in Illustrator. If you want your snowflakes to be white, it’s helpful to set a background color so you can see what you’re doing. I usually drag a quick rectangle shape to fit the document, set the fill to my color of choice, and lock it by selecting the rectangle and going to Object -> Lock -> Selection.

Create a colored backdrop using the Rectangle tool.  Fill your rectangle with a color of your choosing.

Lock the background so it doesn't shift around while you're working.

2. Draw the first “leg” of your snowflake by creating an elongated shape or pattern of some kind. I do this mostly using the line and circle tools, but you could experiment with any shape. This is the shape that will be repeated in a circle to make the snowflake.

Create any shape to be used as the pattern for the rest of your snowflake.  Lines and circles work well.  I'm using a 7 pt. Round brush with a white stroke.

One leg down!

3. Once you’re satisfied with your shape, click on the Rotate tool. Hold down the Option key on your keyboard and click on the bottom center of your snowflake’s first leg. This will bring up the Rotate dialog.

Option-click with the Rotate tool in the bottom-middle of your pattern.

4. The angle of rotation should be set to a number that, when repeated, adds up to 360 degrees. I usually go with 30, 40, or 60. The lower the number, the more legs your snowflake will have.

Set the angle of rotation.  A smaller angle means more legs on the snowflake.  Hit the Copy button to rotate and copy the pattern.

5. Once you’ve set the degrees to rotate, hit the Copy button. You’ll see one repetition of your initial pattern appear… if you don’t like what you see, hit Ctrl+Z to undo and repeat steps 3 and 4 to try a different angle. In this case, I initially set it to 40 degrees but decided 60 would look better.

Two legs are better than one...

6. To finish off your snowflake, simply hit Ctrl+D to repeat the pattern until you complete a full circle. Voila, you have a snowflake!

Ctrl+D will repeat the rotation to complete your snowflake

7. You can play around with different angles and shapes to get the look you want. For smaller or more detailed snowflakes, you’ll probably want thinner lines. For larger snowflakes, thicker lines look best. It helps if you group your final snowflake (select all the pieces, right-click or Ctrl-click, and hit Group) so you don’t lose bits and pieces as you create more and move them around the page.

Highlight your snowflake and Ctrl-click or right-click and select "Group"

snowflakes