As Polish illustrator Karol Gadzala jokingly puts it: “We live in hard times, so we have to learn how to fake our gold and diamonds”. In this tutorial, he reveals how to add bling to typography, while retaining a sense of fun. The ‘off-axis front’ perspective, vector look and repeated elements give it a style that draws on 16-bit computer games.
Gadzala explains how to extrude type in 3D, apply metallic materials to give it a golden sheen, and add gems, sparkles and gleams. The look is totally over the top, but retains an innocence that stops it looking cheesy.
Time to complete
Start by drawing some type by hand in Illustrator using simple straight lines, or have a look in Illustrator’s font library for faces with interesting flat shapes. I prefer to draw my type by hand as this allows me to create something that will extrude neatly and be easy to add adornments to.
If you’re using a pre-made font, convert it to outlines (
Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + 0) and skip to Step 5. If you drew your type by hand, give it a thick stroke, expand it to include your stroke by selecting Object > Expand, then make sure that only Stroke is checked in the Expand dialog.
Line up the letters and ensure there’s enough space between the characters. In the Pathfinder panel (
Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + F9), Unite all the paths. This is very important for the extrusion effect to work properly.
Now it’s time to convert the text to 3D. First, select
Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Adjust the position of the front of the type in 3D to achieve an angle that looks good for your chosen type. As I’ve gone for flat, squared-off type, I can rotate my text to an angle that lets me show quite a lot of the extrusion. I’ve used the Off-Axis Front preset in the Position drop-down menu, then tweaked it to fit the text.
Next, add an extrusion with enough width for you to attach elements to it. Select More Options, then Plastic Shading for the Surface.
Object > Expand Appearance to gain access to the individual sides of your letters. Select all the sides that are on the same plane (such as all the vertical sides) and use the Pathfinder to unite them. This allows you to make adjustments to all of them at once.
Now let’s give it a beautiful gold colour. From the Swatch Libraries menu at the bottom left of the Swatches panel, select
Gradients > Metals. Select all of your type, and apply the Gold Radial swatch. Adjust the gradient on individual surfaces if necessary.
Using the Direct Selection tool, select all of the surfaces. To create the bevel effect, first click on
Object > Path > Offset Path. Use a small negative offset value so the new path sits inside the original shape – how big depends on the size of your work. My artboard is 220 x 250mm, so I’ve used a value of -1mm.
Open the Transparency panel and change the blending mode of the new paths to Multiply. Select
Object > Path > Offset Path again to complete the bevel – these new paths will automatically have a Multiply blending mode. You’ll now start to see your gold look coming together.
Draw simple shapes with the Rectangle, Ellipse and Polygon tools. These will form the basis of the gems. Arrange them in an interesting design.
To convert your gems to 3D, repeat the techniques we demonstrated in Step 4.
As in Steps 5 and 7, use Expand Appearance and Offset Path to add bevels. For the best results, add shadows with 30% opacity by hand.
Working through each shape in turn, add golden gradients. Use a mix of radial and straight gradients, and play with blending modes to give the gems a more detailed look. Leave the shadows grey as they just need to darken your typography.
Add the gems to the sides of the letters, duplicating and combining these into groups to make applying them to multiple letters easier. Duplicate single gems and use these for smaller sides, and rotate them to use on the tops of the letters (or create new gems as I’ve done here).
To aid legibility, we’re going to make the front of the type silver. I’m going to apply some different effects to make the ‘Why’ stand out from the ‘Don’t You?’. You’ll need to apply the two techniques to fit your type.
First, select the innermost path on the front of each letter of ‘Why’ with the Direct Selection tool and add another internal offset path. Change its gradient to White Gold and its blending mode to Normal. Add triangles to dissect this new path, applying a Multiply blending mode and dropping the opacity for a subtle effect.
For the second effect on ‘Don’t You?’, again select the innermost path on the front of each letter with the Direct Selection tool and add another internal offset path. Change its gradient to White Gold and its blending mode to Normal. Create another offset path, this time with a blending mode of Multiply. Repeat, alternating between Normal and Multiply blending modes to create the effect shown.
You can add a final shine to your type by drawing sparkles like those shown, and applying a radial gold gradient. Duplicate, resize and position around the lettering.
Karol Gadzala is YLLV, a graphic designer who’s totally devoted to type illustration. YLLV’s works are a result of his passion for letters and decorative handcraft. He’s always looking for beautifully-blended ideas and eye-catching execution, and has worked for companies including Nike, KDU, BNP Paribas Fortis and Heineken. Contact