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How to Create Awesome Retro Text Effects in Illustrator

By on May 2, 2016 in Tutorials
How to Create Awesome Retro Text Effects in Illustrator

Today I'm going to show you how you can use Illustrator's Appearance panel to create editable vector text effects made up of Fills, Strokes, and various Illustrator Effects.

The great thing about using the Appearance panel for this is that the effects you create will be completely customizable and won't affect your ability to edit your text. The effects can also be saved as Graphic Styles, enabling you to reuse the effects and apply them to any object with a single click.

Here's a preview of the effect that we're going to be creating today:

finished-effectSave

Getting Started

Let's get started by creating a new document 210 mm X 210 mm in size with the Color Mode CMYK.

new-documentSave

Use the Rectangle Tool to draw a square that covers the entire Artboard and fill it with a nice off-white color (#F8F0E2). Follow this by using the Type Tool to add your text.

As we're going to be adding 3D and Drop Shadow effects later on, you'll need to increase the letter-spacing. You can do this by setting the tracking in the Character panel (Window > Type > Character).

type-toolSave

Set the Text Color

Once you've done that, go to the Tools panel (Window > Tools) and set your text's Fill color to None.

This will essentially make your text invisible, but don't worry, we're going to add a new fill using the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance).

At the bottom of the Appearance panel you should see a row of icons illustrating various options. From left to right we have: Add New Stroke, Add New Fill, Add New Effect, Clear Appearance, Duplicate Selected Item, and Delete Selected Item.

Click Add New Fill. This will once again apply a Fill color to your text, which will also appear as a new item in the Appearance panel.

add-new-fillSave

With the Fill item selected, use the Tools panel to change the color to a nice orange-red (#F05125).

fill-colorSave

Add An Offset Path

Follow this by clicking Add New Effect and selecting Path > Offset Path.

offset-path-1Save

Change the Offset to 1 mm.

offset-path-2Save

Effects that have been applied to items can be viewed by clicking the arrow to the left of the item name. This is important to know if you want to edit the effect later on.

effectsSave

Add a Second Stroke

Next, add a Stroke to your effect by selecting the Stroke item and entering 1.5 into the Stroke Weight field.

add-new-stroke-1Save

Change the color of the Stroke to a slightly lighter orange-red than you used for the Fill (#F68C59).

stroke-colorSave

Make it 3D

Next up, we want to add a 3D effect. Start by making sure no existing items in the Appearance panel are selected (as this will apply the effect directly to that item rather than the type as a whole), then click Add New Effect and select 3D > Extrude & Bevel.

3D-effect-1Save

Edit the settings to match the following:

3D-effect-2Save

As you can see, applying a 3D effect initially makes the text look a little dark. This is because our text is now essentially a 3D object, which means we need to redirect the light towards the front. To do this move the light as close to the center of the sphere as you can.

3D-effect-3Save

Adjust the Lighting

Click New Light to essentially duplicate the light and give yourself an even stronger light source.

3D-effect-4Save

Now that we've corrected the position of the light, we can edit the Shadow Color. Select Custom from the drop-down menu and change the color to a dark red (#791616).

3D-effect-5Save

Add a Drop Shadow

To complete the effect, add a Drop Shadow by clicking Add New Effect and selecting Stylize > Drop Shadow.

drop-shadow-1Save

Set the Color to black (#231F20) and edit the settings to match the following:

drop-shadow-2Save

And there was have it! The finished effect.

finished-effectSave

Create a Graphic Style

This can now be turned into a Graphic Style so that the effect can be applied to any other object with just a single click.

To do this, go the Graphic Style panel (Window > Graphic Styles), click the panel menu icon, and select New Graphic Style.

new-graphic-styleSave

Give your style a name and click OK.

name-graphic-styleSave

Your Graphic Style will then appear, ready to use, in the Graphic Styles panel.

graphic-styles-panelSave

As Graphic Styles remain completely customizable, you can effectively use existing styles as templates for creating new ones. This is particularly handy if you're working on a project in which you need several custom styles.

The Easy Way

If you lack the time to create a set of styles for yourself, check out Retro Textpress, a ready-made Graphic Style library containing 20 unique and customizable text effects.


Sam Jones is the owner of Sivioco, home of some of the bestselling design resources on the web. He also runs a blog where he shares free resources, training, and advice to help designers work better, faster, and smarter.

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22 Comments

  1. creativenauts

    Thanks Sam! I always wanted to learn how to create retro style text effects with illustrator. Maybe one day I will convert my photoshop retro style text effects to illustrator with the help of this tut.

  2. creatifolio
    • Staff

    This is great, @Sam Jones ! Awesome tutorial and very cool effect. The appearance panel is seriously the other layers panel.

  3. mattborchert

    You the man, Sam! (apologies for that haha).

    I've actually been playing around with different variations of this, so it's always cool to see alternative ways of achieving a similar effect.

  4. FilterGrade

    This is fantastic. Not an avid user of Illustrator myself, but this looks like a lot of fun. Will try it some time :)

  5. RetroSupply

    Nice @Sam Jones – Really clear and helpful tutorial. And I can attest your Illustrator pack is a great shortcut for anyone who doesn't have time to learn the tutorial.

  6. prettycripple

    Thanks Sam. I always forget to save styles in the "graphic styles" section for whatever reason. After going through this tutorial step by step, I think I can finally add this action to my memory bank for good.

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