We’ve been looking forward to writing this how-to for a long time, and we hope it helps. If you have any questions or suggestions, hit us up in the comments, or email us: email@example.com. There’s no right and wrong way of doing this stuff. This is just our take on it, and it’s one of a myriad of different takes out there.
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For this tutorial, we are going to create a fictitious client; Hopscotch Brewing Company. They want a sweet logotype for their beer labels. We’re not going to delve into the client relations / business side of things for this one (we will cover that later on), just creating the logo. We’re going to trot along at a pretty swift pace, as there’s a lot to cover, and we’re assuming a basic knowledge of Photoshop & Illustrator. Let’s get stuck into it.
There’s no right and wrong way of doing this stuff. This is just our take on it, and it’s one of a myriad of different takes out there.
The Sketching Stage
Once you have been briefed, and you and your client are clear on the direction the project should take, it’s time to get pencil on paper and start sketching.
This point in the project is the most creatively uninhibited, and therefore the most scary! If there’s one thing to bear in mind, it’s that sketching out concepts that look like bollocks is a natural part of creating a good design. See some of our initial scribbles below:
…sketching out concepts that look like bollocks is a natural part of creating a good design.
As you can see, these are super rough, but each concept you draw helps you become better friends with the letters in the logo. It’s unlikely you’ll land upon a killer combination in the first couple of doodles. It’s important to keep producing sketches until what you’re seeing feels good.
(At this stage, if you want feedback on your sketches to help move things along, we would love to help. Send your progress to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to look over everyone’s work. It can really help to get another persons’ eye on it.)
After a couple of rounds of sketches (involving submitting to the client for feedback, and refining concepts based on that feedback), you should be narrowing down the field enough that you start to see strong concepts emerging. This is one such concept that emerged for us:
Fig. 03 – Too light and graceful.
We dug it, but decided that it was too graceful, and could totally imagine the voice of a client telling us to beef it up. We decided to press on, and came up with this:
Sharper, more energetic and commanding; it looked like a winner for this project. It sat right, felt good and looked like it had potential to look really nice all vectored up.
It definitely needed work though, before we took it into Illustrator. Bringing a sketch as close as possible to what you envision the final product being helps enormously in reducing your work-load in the vector stage. You’re much better off keeping any guess-work whilst working with the pen tool to a minimum.
Bringing a sketch as close as possible to what you envision the final product being helps enormously in reducing your work-load in the vector stage.
At this point, we’ve been working unplugged – just you, your writing tool of choice and some paper. This is great for keeping it fluid – no pixels or keyboard shortcuts or cursors to choke up your flow. Sometimes the less distance an idea has to travel to become physical, the better. However, there is a time and a place for everything, and it’s time to introduce technology.
We want to set up a makeshift lightbox. If you are fortunate enough to own a legit one already, awesome! If not, grab your iPad (or any tablet) or your laptop (this works best with lighter laptops like the Macbook Air). If using a laptop, just flip it over, so the screen is flat on your desk where the keyboard usually is. Otherwise take your tablet and pump up the brightness. Lay it down, and make sure you’re on a blank screen (i.e. pop a big old white JPG in your Dropbox pull it up so it fills the screen). NOTE: It’s worth enabling Guided Access (if on an iPad) to disable touch input temporarily. Read the linked article, it’s really handy.
Sometimes the less distance an idea has to travel to become physical, the better.
Now lay your favourite sketch down on the surface of the screen and trace over it on another piece of paper, making improvements as you go. This is a great opportunity to get a much cleaner version of your concept, without having to take the time to digitise it. Trace it as many times as you feel is necessary to get it looking really good. Labour over letter joins, shapes, terminals, strokes, line weight, line variation, and – don’t forget – how the logo looks as a whole.
HINT: I had drawn our chosen concept (Fig. 04) quite small; I wanted to work bigger for the details. I simply took a photo with my phone and imported it into Photoshop, zoomed in until it looked to be a good size to work at, laid my paper over the screen and traced over it that way.
Here’s our final sketched concept:
Labour over letter joins, shapes, terminals, strokes, line weight, line variation, and – don’t forget – how the logo looks as a whole.
The Vector Stage
We are ready to bring our design into Illustrator!
If you haven’t already, snap a photo with your phone and import your final sketch into Photoshop. Desaturate it (⇧⌘U) and bump up the Brightness & Contrast (we are big advocates for adjustment layers – hit the in the Adjustments panel) to get the lines clean – doesn’t have to be perfect. Now either Crop (C) your image or drag the Marquee Tool (M) around it to get a cropped selection.
Hit (⇧⌘C) to Copy Merged, which will dump your image onto the clipboard. NOTE: Copy Merged won’t work if you only have one layer; in this case just use Copy (⌘C).
Head on over to Illustrator, create a nice big canvas (we used 4000 x 3000px, which gives you plenty of zoom-room) and Paste (⌘V) in your sketch. Set its opacity to around 15% in the Transparency panel. Name the current layer “Sketch”, lock it, and create a new one above it called “Guides”.
Now using the Line Segment Tool (\) (useful if your design is on an angle, otherwise use the baked-in guides by dragging from the ruler (⌘R to toggle ruler)), drag out some basic guides, such as the baseline, x-height etc. Whatever you feel is going to help you keep your design neat and balanced. NOTE: Give your lines a stroke colour of #7ef8fc, width of 1-3px and remove the fill colour. This will keep them looking guide-like.
Now for the fun part! It’s time to bust out that Pen Tool (P) and get to work (be sure to create another layer above “Guides” called “Lettering” to keep things organised). The Pen Tool can be pretty scary if you haven’t spent a lot of time with it, but this is why we put so much effort into making our sketch clean and polished, to reduce the need to improvise whilst creating our béziers. There’s really no ‘easy way’ at this stage. It’s just a matter of being careful, patient and methodical with where you lay your lines. Below are a few hints and short videos of our process.
Fig. 08 – Full process (sped up 4000%).
There’s really no ‘easy way’ at this stage. It’s just a matter of being careful, patient and methodical with where you lay your lines.
- Start by outlining the letterforms. Don’t worry about fill colour etc at the beginning.
- Don’t be afraid to concentrate on one letter, even if it spills into the next’s territory. Get that letter looking sweet, then move it out of the road and work on the bones of the next one. Then give the entire word or phrase a once-over, repositioning and tweaking so it feels right as a whole. You can see this happening in Fig. 08 above.
Fig. 09 – Creating the ‘o’ (sped up 200%).
- Use the shape tools (Rectangle Tool (M), Ellipse Tool (L) etc) to assist in building the letters, as seen in Fig. 09 above, where we used the Ellipse Tool to map out a basic circle and worked from there.
- Add strategic anchor points to a line (press ‘+’ whilst using the Pen Tool to select the Add Anchor Point Tool) and delete excess points to change a shape, as the example below illustrates:
Fig. 10.1 – Select the shape you wish to change. In this case we are flattening the top and bottom of the ‘o’.
Fig. 10.2 – Add new points as shown, and delete the point highlighted by the arrow.
Fig. 10.3 – Now delete that straight line, and join up the open end points you’ve just uncovered…
Fig. 10.4 – …and you’re done.
Here’s our logotype so far:
Now that you’ve got your basic outline laid out, it’s time to fill it in. We like to do this with Live Paint. Select the Move Tool (V) and drag a selection around your entire artwork (or simply press (⌘A) to Select All), then make your selection Live Paint ready by pressing (⌥⌘X). Once this is done, press (K) to select the Live Paint Bucket and fill in the areas of your design that are to be solid with black.
Here’s our result:
We are going to give our strokes more thickness, as they are currently too flimsy-looking. Again, Select All (⌘A) and bring up the Stroke panel (⌘F10). Choose a weight that looks good.
Fig. 13 – we also chose rounded caps and corners, in the options below ‘Weight’.
That looks a lot better.
At this stage, go through your design and tweak, nip, tuck and trim until it starts feeling really comfortable to look at. The fill colour and stronger stroke weight will help to make the design look more finished – and weaker areas easier to spot! Once you’re happy with how it’s coming along, quickly drag out a large white box around your design with the Rectangle Tool (M) and send it to the ‘back’ (⇧⌘[) of the other layers (this step is required for some Photoshop business coming up). Now, it’s time to head into Photoshop to give our vectors some warmth.
At this stage, go through your design and tweak, nip, tuck and trim until it starts feeling really comfortable to look at.
The Photoshop Stage
What we are creating here is a piece of hand drawn lettering.
However, all this vectoring has beaten our letterforms into bits and bytes! We’re almost getting a kind of uncanny valley effect on our logotype. Let’s give some warmth back by adding some quick texture and other subtle effects. It’s not much, but does help to make the mark feel a little more natural.
Ensure you’ve saved your Illustrator file, and move over to Photoshop. Create a new document, nice and big (we used 6000 x 3000px @ 72dpi). If you’re using Photoshop CC, head over to the File menu and select Place Linked… (for previous Photoshop versions it’s just Place), navigate to your Illustrator file and hit ‘Place’.
Linked Smart Objects are a life-changing update for Photoshop. They save oodles of time! Any change you make to your original Illustrator file will be automatically updated in your current Photoshop document (as long as the Ps document is open, otherwise if there’s been a change you simply need to select ‘Update all Modified Content’ when you next open it).
Linked Smart Objects are a life-changing update for Photoshop. They save oodles of time!
So, now that you have your design nicely positioned in your new Photoshop document, let’s charge on.
First of all we want to make the lines feel more hand drawn and human. To do this make sure your Smart Object is selected in the Layers panel and travel up to Filter > Filter Gallery (this step relies on the white box we placed around our design earlier, so if you ignored that one, go do it now!). Choose Brush Strokes > Spatter from the options and adjust as below (or to taste):
As shown in Fig. 14, the result is a very over-the-top spattery effect, which we’ll calm down with some blur. Commit your changes in the Filter Gallery and once you’re out, visit Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Depending on the size of your canvas, a radius of 6 – 10px should be perfect.
At this point you’d be forgiven for wondering where on earth we’re going with this. Here’s the magic sauce; hit in the Adjustments panel to create a Brightness & Contrast adjustment layer and position it above all other layers. Tick ‘Use Legacy’, set the Contrast to 97, and have a play with the Brightness levels. Pretty neat huh?
At this point you’d be forgiven for wondering where on earth we’re going with this. Here’s the magic sauce…
Fig. 16 – Set the Brightness level wherever feels good for you.
Adding the Finishing Touches
We are nearly finished! For Hopscotch, we decided it needed a lil’ something else to make it kick, so we went back into our Illustrator file and added some thin white strokes to the letterforms. It’s a good idea to walk away for a while, eat some lunch, get outside, come back with fresh eyes and see if there’s anything glaring that you missed. For us, at one point whilst working on Hopscotch, we realised those big swashes off the ‘s’ and the ‘t’ just weren’t working, so we ditched them.
Posting your progress up in front of the Dribbble crowd is super helpful too – if you ask for honest feedback, you will get it.
It’s a good idea to walk away for a while, eat some lunch, get outside, come back with fresh eyes and see if there’s anything glaring that you missed.
To add that last bit of love, in Photoshop we popped our handy General Texture (available as a free download in our Shop – just create an account here!) on top of everything, and threw some Gotham Medium in there for the “Brewing Company” (with the same Spatter/Blur/Contrast effect we described above).
Here’s the final product:
Fig. 17 – All done!
So ends the Australian Graphic Supply Co’s first ever tutorial! There are a heap more to come, we’ve got some crackers planned. We sincerely hope that one helped you out. Again, if you need a hand or want some advice on the above, shoot us some mail to hello@theagsc. We will do our best to help where we can. Subscribe to our email mail-outs using the form in the footer to get the latest on what the AGSC is doing, updates on new content and of course, a heads up on the next tutorial.
Lastly, sometimes the hardest part of learning from home, as a designer, is pushing yourself to start and finish a self-initiated project. Self-motivation ain’t easy. If you want a brief to work on, let us know in the comments or email email@example.com, and we’ll send you a made-up project to work on. Post your results using #theagsc.
All the best,
Laura & Dave.