How to make retro inspired letter design
Open a new file, in this case it depends on what you’re going to use it for (print or digital work). But I’m going to work with 1000 by 1000 pixels, because this work is made in illustrator and therefore easier to scale if the size isn’t correct. Go to File > Document Color Mode > RGB Color, the colors will be brighter in this mode.
Choose a letter you would like to use, in this case I’m going to use the letter K, Bebas as (free) font and scale it up to 700 pt. So when you open the new file press Shortcut T or select the Type Tool in the left sidebar. Click and drag to create a square on the art board, enter the letter, click and select the letter and go the panel above to select the font Bebas and click on the font size to increase it to 700 pt.
Select Shortcut V or select the Selection Tool in the sidebar, click on the bounding box (the letter itself) and click on the fill color in the panel above and select white, click on the stroke color, set it to black and adjust the stroke to 15 pt.
While still selecting the bounding box, go to Object > Expand or press the shortcut Command + Shift + O.
With the object still selected click on Object > Path > Outline stroke, in the pop-up panel make sure that Fill and Stroke are selected and click OK. The letter now exists out of 2 shapes, the outline and the fill.
The letter seems to be a bit too compressed, so we are going to stretch it out. I would like to mention that doing this for your personal work isn’t a problem, but don’t ever stretch letters when you are making something professionally. Select the letter with the Selection Tool, Shortcut V. Make sure that you make the bounding box bigger horizontally by clicking and dragging the right anchor point (right side in the middle).
Draw a box under the letter by using Shortcut M or Rectangle Tool in the sidebar by using the width of the stem and pull it down to your liking. This box is going to function as the drop shadow for the letter so don’t make it too big. Click on the fill color and change it to grey. But of course you, can also create a drop shadow by using the 3D effect. In this case this is more useful for coloring the blocks separately later on.
Click on the Direct Selection Tool in the left panel or use Shortcut A and select only the lower anchor points of the box and drag it about 50 px to the right.
Draw another box but this one needs to be along the length of the stem, up until you reach the corner with the other box we created previously.
Select the two anchor points on the right with the Direct Selection Tool, Shortcut A and drag them down so that you fill the gap. As you can see the block is placed in front of the letter, to send it backwards: Right click > Arrange > Send to Back or Shortcut Command + Shift + [.
Copy and paste the first block you’ve made onto the second ‘leg’ and stretch it out to fit the width (the dark grey blocks). You can copy by pressing Command + C and Command + V to paste or select the block and click and drag while holding Alt, release and you’ve copied the shape. You do the same with the large block and paste it next to the ‘arm’, select the bottom anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool, Shortcut A and drag them into space.
And again we are going to copy the long block and place it against the ‘leg/right side’ and pull the anchor points in to create the shadow. The lower block has to be adjusted because as you have noticed there’s a bit of overlap. Select the bottom anchor points and pull it to the left until the angle is aligned to the last placed block.
Use the Direction Selection Tool, Shortcut A and select the white part within the letter and change the color to grey to make it easier to see if something changes. And select the Pen Tool in the sidebar or use Shortcut P and draw a wavy line across the letter. By clicking and dragging you make new anchor points, in this case I’ve changed the color to red and changed the stroke to 25 pt. Select the line and go to Object > Expand > Ok.
Select all the elements and use the Shape Builder Tool in the left sidebar or use Shortcut Shift + M. Hold Alt and start deleting the red line by clicking on it.
Right click with the Selection Tool on the shape and select Ungroup, right click again but this time on the fill color (dark gray) and on Release Compound Path. Right click again but on the outline (black) and on Release Compound Path.
It’s time to add the real coloring to the letter, this is what gives it a big retro vibe. The used color codes, you can find in the image above. Make sure to have the swatches next to your artwork for easy access or use the colors in the swatches panel. Select the part you would like to fill with the Selection Tool, Shortcut V and use the Eyedropper Tool in the sidebar or use Shortcut I and click on the color you want it to be. Continue with the rest of the pieces.
To give it more depth we are going to use a Drop Shadow effect, hold Shift to select both outlines and go to Effect>Stylize>Drop Shadow. Then you’ll see the panel above, select Multiply, Opacity 60%, X Offset 4px, Y Offset 4px and Blur 10px, click on "Preview" to see how the effect will turn out.
It is looking good but if you want you can add some extra details in the background. Search for pictures of flowers and leaves that you can use. Place a picture in the file by going to, File > Place > Select Picture > Place. Select the Pencil Tool in the sidebar or use Shortcut N and start tracing the leaves and hold Command + J to close the shape (if necessary). Change the fill color to none and outline to white. Select all the lines and make sure that the lines have a Round Cap by clicking on the Stroke panel in the Right Panel and selecting the cap. If you cannot find the Stroke panel, go to Window and select Stroke. Repeat this step with each flower/leaf.
Make sure that after outlining each flower/leaf you group the lines by selecting the whole shape and pressing Command + G. Add a couple of details in the flower itself, I like to use dots by using the Ellipse Tool or Shortcut L and switching the fill color to white and outline to none.
Select the whole letter and group it by Right Click > Group or use Command + G. Then (while the letter is still selected) Right Click > Arrange > Bring to Front.
Make a composition with the flowers behind the letter and you’ll probably notice that some of the shapes will overlap each other. To solve this problem you need to cut the lines that overlap or give a fill color to the overlapping shape. In this case we’re going to cut the lines, by selecting the line you would like to cut with the Direct Selection Tool, Shortcut A and using the Eraser Tool, Shift+E to erase lines that are ‘open’. If the lines are ‘closed’ then you need to delete an anchor point first. To do this you need to select the Direct Selection Tool, click on an anchor point and delete. You can also create anchor points where needed by using the Pen Tool, Shortcut P and clicking on the selected line. With the Eraser Tool, you can erase the lines up to where you would like the line to end.
The last couple of details are some small floating balls, to give it a more of a dreamy vibe. You can make them by using the Ellipse tool, Shortcut L to click and drag while holding Shift to maintain a perfect circle. Change the fill color to white and outline to none.
I’m not such a big fan of the grey shadow of the outline that hits the 3D shadow in orange and yellow. To adjust that select the yellow thick shadow and the light purple/magenta outline with the Direct Selection Tool, Shortcut A and go to Pathfinder > Trim. Select the possible changes that might have occurred and delete, click on the block and send forward by Right Click > Arrange > Bring to Front. Repeat this step with the part above (orange and yellow). And the last step is to bring the blocks on the side to the front as well.
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