How to Create Engraved Type in Illustrator
Beautiful examples of vintage type design are everywhere. Designers are experimenting with highlights, shadows, textures, lines, ornaments, and flourishes to add a bit of fashionable age to their type. One of my favorite vintage effects is the woodcut or engraved look, an old-fashioned illustration technique that involves carving lines from wood to create shading.
There are many great fonts available that come already sporting this pleasingly rustic effect, but sometimes it’s more fun to use a font of your choice, or to have more control over the colors or lines of the actual engraving. Today we’re going to delve into a bit of vector wood carving and learn how to recreate this rugged engraved effect on some lettering of your choice in Illustrator. I’m going to be creating a thank you card that features engraved type on the cover.
We’ll be creating this effect together:
I should warn you now that this will get pretty detailed! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Adobe Illustrator (I’ll be designing in version CS4)
- An intermediate knowledge of Illustrator will help (although those with more basic knowledge are invited to learn along, as well)
- Any chunky font of your choice (the wider, heavier, or bolder, the better)
Thanks for following along!
- Open a new document in Illustrator. I’ve created a 7 x 5 inch document, but for this document I will prefer to work in points, so I’ll change the units to “points” instead of “inches.” Name your document if you like, and hit OK.
- Type in your text, choosing a font in a bold weight. (I’m using a font that I designed heavy enough to be decorated, and I plan to release it soon! Follow me at my shop to get notified when my new products are released.) Convert the type to outlines. (Right click > Create Outlines)
My layer palette looks now like this:
Go ahead and select all the letters.
- Offset the path of each letter by going to Object > Path > Offset Path. Since my text is fairly small, I’m going to offset my letters by only -2 pt. By selecting “Round” under “Joins,” the corners of the new offset paths will be rounded.
Each letter is now offset by another path 2 points smaller. To make the new paths just a bit easier to see, I made them a temporary contrasting color. Each new path should be selected.
- Next, we’re going to offset the new paths 0 points. Basically, we want to make a copy of the new paths, but we want it to stay in the same place in the layer order. Go to Object > Path > Offset Path and type “0” in the offset box, then hit OK. Now, for each letter, we should have the original letter shape and two copies of the offset path.
Just to be organized, I’ll group each letter together. Now, each letter is in its own group with its offset path.
Next, we’re going to draw the woodcut-style lines. Within the group of the first letter, draw a horizontal line with the line tool. The line should be wider than the letter shape, and it should be right above the offset path of the letter. I’m making my line a fairly standard 1 point black line, but I’ll change the color later.
- Using the ALT key, copy and drag the line it right below the offset path. Now you have two lines: one above and one below the offset letter path.
- Select the Blend tool from the tool palette, and click the beginning points of both lines (these are circled in red.)
Select the blend in the layer palette, double click the Blend tool in the tool palette, and choose your options there. Under “Spacing,” I’ll type “15” under Specified Steps. Experiment with the number of steps until you’re satisfied, and click OK.
- Duplicate the same blend for each letter. For continuity, it’s important be precise about where you duplicate the blend. Copy the blend (Edit > Copy) and directly above the next letter shape (not the offset path) use the “Paste in Front” command (Edit > Paste in Front). Reposition the blend with your left and right arrow keys so it covers the next letter.
Repeat for all the letters.
- Select each blend from the layer palette. If you’re satisfied with the spacing of your “engraved” lines, expand the blend by going to Object > Expand. Select only “Object” and click OK. Now each line can be edited individually. This will come in handy a bit later.
- In the first letter’s group, select the group of lines and the offset path right above it. Right click, and choose “Make Clipping Mask.” (Or go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make).
Repeat this step for each letter. Now for each letter you should have a basic letter shape, a clipping mask with your lines inside, and the letter’s second offset path.
- Now, we’ll be creating some dimension inside the letters with an inner shadow. Select each clipping mask group and using the arrow keys, move the groups down and over as desired. I’ll be moving mine 1 point down and 2 points to the right.
- Next, in the layer palette, choose the clipping mask group and the other offset path and create another clipping mask (right click > Make Clipping Mask or Object > Clipping Mask > Make). That’s right: a clipping mask inside of a clipping mask.
Repeat for all of the letters.
- I’ve decided that now would be a fine time to change some colors, so I’m going to expand my groups in the layer palette and change the color to what is now my main clipping mask:
I’ve made my clipping mask a darker brown, which will now be the main color of the letter. Repeat for the rest of the letters. I also want my engraved lines to be a light cream color, but I can do that in the next step.
- Now we’re going to create an art brush to apply to each engraved line. Choose the Ellipse tool from the tool palette and click anywhere on your art board. I want each engraved line to be roughly a 1 point stroke, so I’m going to create a 1×1 point circle.
Since I wanted my engraved lines to be a light cream color, I’ll make this tiny little circle light cream. Next, we’ll bring out the Brushes palette and with the Select tool, drag this little cream circle into the Brushes palette (or select the circle, and in the Brushes palette, click the “New Brush” icon.) We’ll choose “Art Brush” and click OK. All the settings should work. I’m going to name it “Engraved Line.” Finally, click OK.
The new brush should now appear in the Brushes palette as “Engraved Line.”
- Next, we’re going to apply our new brush to our lines within each letter group. In the layer palette, then select the group of lines within each letter group, then click the “Engraved Line” brush you’ve just created in the brush palette.
Your letters are starting to look pretty awesome! You’re doing great.
- Now let’s add a few finishing touches to our fabulous-looking engraved lines. For this, I like to turn on Smart Guides in Illustrator to help line things up precisely (View > Smart Guides) and use the Shift key to keep points on the same plane. Using the Direct Select tool, move points on your engraved lines to better align them with the inner shadows of each letter. Here’s an example of what I’ve done:
I’m going to keep touching up this letter and the rest of the letters.
- After you’re done touching up your engraved lines and everything looks perfect, you may decide that they look a little too perfect, and that they need to rough it up a bit. I agree. So I’m going to select the group of engraved lines and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen to add some age. Here are a couple of the many possibilities:
Once you’re satisfied that your text has aged sufficiently, click OK. You may also choose to vary stroke widths slightly for a more custom, handmade look.
After you’re finished admiring your work, continue to the other letters. To be consistent, remember the settings you used on the first letter and apply the same settings to subsequent letters. You can even create a layer style and use it for all of your lines.
- Now that all of your letters look amazing, let’s add some more depth to each letter with a three-dimensional look. Select the basic letter shape of each letter. (I’m going to change the color of them to the same cream I used earlier and give it a 1 point dark brown stroke- the same as the background of the inner treatment.) Now we’ll duplicate these layers, but keep them in the same groups. Go to Object > Path > Offset Path and type in “0” again. We should have duplicated the basic letter shape, and the new layers should be at the bottom of each group, and each new layer should be selected. I’m going to change the fill color to the same brown as the stroke color. Then, to create a shadow effect, keeping the same layers selected, I’ll move them 1 point down and 2 points to the right, just like I did earlier for the inner shadow effect.
- Now, your lettering would look fantastic if it were left as it is now.
However, just to see what would happen, I used the same concepts I learned above to create some more engraved-style shading around each letter, varying the lines with the direct select tool.
Now we’ve just created some amazing engraved lettering in Illustrator! The extra detail will add the wow factor to your vintage designs. Thanks for going the extra mile with me! I hope you design beautiful things with this amazing effect. I’m going to go and finish my thank you card.
Beth Rufener, the shop owner of Ornaments of Grace, is a wife, mom of two, graphic designer, amateur photographer, aspiring foodie, occasional musician, and avid collector of fonts. She and her family live outside of Rittman, Ohio.