Typography, calligraphy and lettering

How to Vectorize a Lettering Design

Learn to digitize your letters easily using Adobe Illustrator with tips and directions from Daniel Hosoya

Advertising designer Daniel Hosoya (@danielhosoya) specializes in digital lettering and teaches the Domestika courses, Introduction to Lettering in Procreate and Digital Lettering with Illustrator and Photoshop. Here, he tells you how to digitize your lettering designs, an essential step if you want to work on your hand-drawn creations and turn them into more ambitious projects.

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Daniel Hosoya

Daniel Hosoya will teach you how to vectorize letters using only basic Illustrator tools—such as the selection, direct selection, and the pen tools. The vectoring process naturally gives our shapes a perfect finish.

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Adobe Illustrator’s vectoring tools

Before using them to start vectorizing, we need to know how the three tools work.

- The selection tool allows you to select objects and is activated by holding the V key and clicking on the object, creating areas of selection, and moving the object.

- Direct selection tool: it allows you to select nodes. Nodes, or anchor points, help build a shape, deform, and handle it. When you select all nodes, you can also move the shape.

- Pen tool: it allows you to create shapes freehand. You can use it with the direct selection tool to move the anchor points you create. These points are also known as vertices and also rely on tangents, i.e., the edges of each shape.

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Pen, direct selection, and selection tools, and the fill and stroke options.

Some tips for using the Pen tool

- It is activated with the P key.
- By way of clicking on points, you can create a path of line segments all the way back to the starting point. You can fill the shape you created using the pen and change the fill or outline color. When you choose the color of the shape, remember that the full box is the fill option, and the outlined one is the stroke.

Steps to vectorize your lettering design:

Step 1: prepare the document

- Create a new layer.
- Import your lettering drawing into the program. As a rule, the bigger the letter, the easier it will be to vectorize it.
- Lock the drawing layer: by double-clicking on the layer, a new window will appear, where you’ll need to select the template option and a 50% opacity. This step will make it easier to view the original drawing.

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Step 2: Draw reference lines to place anchor points

Draw guidelines or tangents on the edges of each letter to help you use the pen and anchor points when creating your path around the shape.

- Create a new layer and choose a stroke color; double-click on the layer, and, with the color option, it will show what color the anchor points will be.
- Decide where to place the anchor points on the letter. Draw the nodes on the letters’ vertices and lock the guides in Object/Block selection so that the lines are not affected.

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Step 3: Start to draw a letter

Start anywhere using the pen tool. Place the cursor with this tool selected; click and drag the cursor up to the next point. If you hold the Shift key, you will work with vertical and horizontal handles and will be able to stretch and curve the lines.

Tips and commands:

- To adjust the handles, press Cmd+Shift (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift (PC) to move them by 90º or the shape you want to give them.
- To adjust a specific handle, press Alt+Shift.
- Press the selection tool (V key) to start the next line segment. Don’t worry if they are not the exact shape of the letters in your original drawing.
- With the direct selection tool, you can move the anchor points to the best position.

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Step 4: Vectorize all letters

You can vectorize a whole letter in its full shape, but it is advisable to vectorize separate parts. Similarly, try to complete each portion to cover most of the letter, but make sure not to leave any loose points. Correct any line segments at the end to make sure they all look natural and smooth.

Once each of the letters is finalized, and the shape is complete—with no anchor points open—unblock the drawings of the tangents you made earlier, select them and delete them by pressing backspace.

Once your project is complete, Daniel recommends keeping the original design and duplicating it if you want to carry on working on it.

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If you want to learn how to create digital lettering in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator and develop your lettering editing skills, sign up for Daniel Hosoya’s course, 'Digital Lettering with Illustrator and Photoshop.’.

You may be interested in:

- Introduction to Lettering with Procreate, a course by Daniel Hosoya.
- Design of Calligraphy Logos, a course by Joluvian.
- Design of Letters and Alphabets with Digital Techniques, a course by Domingo Betancur.
- Artistic Lettering: Tips to Decorate your Letters, a course by Joluvian.

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