Type art is popular at the moment for all sorts of reasons – and it’s a highly versatile skill to have. You can use illustrated lettering in projects ranging from posters to brochures – making it a great technique to add to your creative toolset.

But beware: type art is so popular at the moment that there’s a lot of crud out there. The rules are the same as for any aesthetic style: learn the basics carefully, and then be original.

With type-based art there’s a whole extra dimension, though: legibility. As our feature on type art says, there’s some debate over how legible type-based art needs to be – but you should be able to make the lettering completely clear if you or the client feels the project needs it.

In this tutorial, lettering guru Pomme Chan talks you step-by-step through how she created the cover for Digital Arts March 2010.

Step 1
In Illustrator, open a new file and set up an A4 artwork. Type the words ‘Type Art’ in Helvetica, then create an outline (Type > Create Outline, or Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + O). Make any adjustments to your type using the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow), then use the Pen tool (P) to create swirls where you’d like the line to flow. These don’t need to be precise – you can adjust them later. When you’ve finished, lock this layer so you can’t move it – you’ll only use it as a guide.

Step 2
Now add a new layer and use the Pen tool (P) to create two or three lines – experiment with blending options here.

We’re going to create a shadow inside the typeface, so you need to be clear how you want your type to flow. The trick is that the beginning and end of both lines should be in the same vertical and horizontal axis, and shouldn’t be too far from one another.

In the middle of the line you can create twists and curves, but in the middle of the line you can twist and curve them. Both lines should be quite thin (I use 0.25pt).

Step 3
Next change one line to white, and the other to black. Click on the Blend tool in the toolbar, click on Blend Option > Smooth Color. Click at the beginning or the end of the white path.

Step 4
Now you have a nice blended curve. Repeat this for the rest of your type. If it comes out looking really wrong, this is probably because you’ve made the curve in the middle too complicated.

The trick is to match the number of anchor points in each pair of lines. You don’t have to count everything, just make sure they’re not very different from one another. Be patient – this step takes a couple of hours or more.