Lettering: Design a Retro 3D Lettering

Beginner level Adobe Illustrator Adobe Illustrator


In this tutorial, we’re going to learn how to create this retro lettering, an effect influenced by styles like the retro wave, synthwave and vaporwave, and closely related to the eighties culture. Join me and learn to apply a 3D effect to a text without using any 3D filter. Cool, right? Before starting, choose the text and the font you like the most, although you can download the font I used for this tutorial here. Shall we start?


Document Setup

Before starting off a project, it’s very important to be clear about the format it’s intended for. In this case, I’m going to share my image on my portfolio and social media, that’s why I’m going to use RGB mode. The software we’re going to work with is Adobe Illustrator because this is a vector file. Therefore, I won’t be paying too much attention to the resolution right now as I’ll be able to change it later. So, first of all, open up Adobe Illustrator and create a new document using the settings I just mentioned.


Don’t forget to select the style typeface beforehand. You can install any typeface as long as it’s a calligraphic font. Still, as I already said, you can use mine, which you can download from here

The Path

To create a path, we need to convert our type into outlines. If you are already familiar with lettering, you could skip this step and directly turn your text into a path without using the font as a reference. For this course, I have selected a calligraphic font as a base, so that those who don’t know how to face their own lettering projects can learn to do this and even apply it to other projects. 


Step 1

When creating a path in Illustrator, make sure you generate as few nodes as possible. This way, the vector file will be lighter and, most importantly, we’ll get accurate curves.

First, create a text box with the Text tool (T) and type the word or words you want for creating the effect. I’ve chosen the word “Tutpad” and used the font "Tale of Hawks".


Step 2

Now, we’re going to create outlines form type in order to change the type’s appearance and get the desired result. After that, we’ll lock the layer and keep it as a template. This is the layer where we’ll be creating the path afterward. To convert type to outlines, right-click on the text and click on Create Outlines (Shift +Ctrl+O).


Step 3

Once done, lock the layer and rename it as “Template”. Create a new layer and bring it above the old one so that we can start creating the path. 


Step 4

Select the Pen tool (P) and stroke a path. Remember that you can use the Direct Selection tool (A) to modify the strokes. Throughout the process, I’ll try to link as many strokes as possible and, this way, the path will seem to be intertwined after applying the effect.


There is no need to be extremely careful in this step since you’ll be able to adjust it afterward. I’ve also adjusted the spacing between the characters a little bit because I prefer it this way (this sort of spacing is called ‘kerning’). Now, let’s hide the reference layer (called “Template”) and move on to the next step. 

The Gradient

The key to getting this 3D effect is to create a gradient. Therefore, choosing the right colors is decisive to get a 1980s style. In this step, we’ll be working with the Gradient panel and the Blend tool (W). Let’s get the ball rolling! Ready? 

Step 1

First, create a circle. Make sure the circle’s size corresponds to the stroke’s width we want to get. Select the Ellipse Tool (L) and click on the artboard. Then, in the Ellipse properties panel, insert the same value for both width and height.


Step 2

Clone the circle by dragging and holding Alt and Shift in order to move it along the X axis and keep the same height.


Step 3

Go to the Gradient panel and select the black and white gradient to change the colors of the ends. We’re going to replace white with a blue tone (#00DBDE) and black with a purplish tone (#FC00FF). 


Step 4

By double-clicking on the Blend Tool (W) icon, we’ll open the Blend Options panel. Now, select the option Specified Steps from the Spacing pop-up menu and give it a value of 1000. Then, hit OK. 


Step 5

You won’t notice any effect, but don't worry. With the Blend tool selected (make sure the Blend Options panel is closed), click on the first circle and then, in the second one. You’ll get an effect similar to this one.


I’m not really happy with the gradient, that’s why I’m going to change the angle and set it to -60º. This is the result:


Step 6

Before going any further, what we’ll do now is clone the gradient about ten times. Then, we’ll be spending each of these copies on each stroke, but make sure to keep a copy in order to preserve the parameters we’ve configured (and create more copies, if necessary). Clone and copy the first "pill" as we did with the circle in Step 2.

For the remaining clones, just press Ctrl / Cmd + D in order to generate more copies with the same characteristics and at the same distance. 


Having generated some copies, we’re ready to start adding volume to the lettering and creating a 3D-like effect. 

Blending the Gradient and Path

Let’s begin by blending the gradient pills with the strokes we made before. Make the necessary adjustments to get the result you expect.

Step 1

Select the “T” letter’s path and select a pill while holding Shift. 


Step 2

Click on Object → Blend → Replace Spine. 


In this case, I’ve adjusted the stroke of the t's crossbar because its terminal was behind the crossbar. As I said previously, we’ll use the Direct Selection tool (A) for this. 

Step 3

Repeat the same with each stroke. The result should be similar to this. 


The crossbar (the horizontal stroke across the middle of letters like “f”, “H” or “t”) of the second “t” is behind the stem. Something similar happens with the “a” and “d”. We can rearrange its position by bringing it to the front or sending it to the back, depending on what we want to get. You do that by selecting the element, right-click → Arrange → ... (select the option that suits you best).


Step 4

The lettering looks great, although I’m going to reverse the gradient of the "t" crossbar. Make sure the crossbar’s stroke is selected and then, click on the Object menu → Blend → Reverse Spine.


Let’s move on to the “a”.

Step 5

Select the “a” stroke and double-click on the selected object to activate the isolation mode. This mode lets us change the shape of the “a” by bringing forward or sending backward the ends of the stroke. 


Activating the isolation mode is important when selecting a stroke, otherwise, we’d move the whole stroke backward or forward as we did with the crossbar of the “t”. 

After these few tips, you’re ready to adjust the remaining letters! I’ve also modified the “d”, as you can see. Well, it’s just a matter of playing around and adjusting the path with the Direct Selection tool in order to get the result you expect.  


Once you’ve finished adjusting the letters, select all the lettering’s elements and press Ctrl / Cmd + G to group them. 

Finalizing the Design

Our 1980s lettering is ready! But there’s something else we can do: what about adding a background to our lettering? Select a retro image to create an awesome 80s style text effect.

Step 1

In this case, I'm not going to use a background designed by me but I'll use a downloaded background from Freepik that suits my needs.


Step 2

This image below is the background I chose for my lettering, although I think it will look even better after adding some palm trees from another image. You’ll find the two images in the Attachments tab on Tutpad.



Step 3

After generating the background, insert it behind the lettering and adjust it. Now we can say that we’ve finished our project!   


The End!

I hope you enjoyed this fascinating journey back to the eighties and that you could follow the steps easily. As always, leave your comments and doubts on the forum. In fact, I would love you to share your final result with me and the entire Tutpad community so that we all can see how you applied this effect. See you in the next tutorial :)


What do you think of this tutorial?


3 months ago

Great tut! 

Great tut!

5 months ago


Do you love GTA Vice City art style? Have you always dreamed of living in Malibu during the 80's? Are you passionate about everything related to the 1980’s culture? Join me in this tutorial and you’ll learn to create your own lettering giving it a "Stranger Things" style. Are you in?

Tut Details

Beginner level 35m 16,066 views