Chris Mizen explains how to save time and improve your custom typography with the Calligraphic Brush tool
- Software Illustrator CS4 or later
- Time needed 3-4 hours
- Set up calligraphic brushes to save time creating custom lettering
- Understand key functions of the Pathfinder menu: Unite/Minus Front
- Use Scissors to break up paths
- Expand single strokes into vector shapes
- Use and edit the Blend tool to make simple patterns
With calligraphic and hand-drawn typography facing a resurgence lately, I will show you how to create your own custom typography quickly and easily in Illustrator. Taking you through from a hand-drawn template to the final image, I will teach you how to set up your own calligraphic brushes to mimic the chiselled nib of a classic calligraphy pen. You will also learn how to use the Scissors tool to divide and separate paths into multiple sections without breaking a line, and the Expand Appearance option to turn single-lined paths into full vector shapes for refinement.
In addition, you will gain knowledge of how to use the Unite and Minus Front functions in the Pathfinder panel to refine any corners and curves. You will then be able to create your own custom titles to add a personal touch to your designs.
01 Start by drawing out a rough template for the layout of your type. It doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect, as it will most likely go through various changes and refinement throughout the process. Just focus on nailing the basic layout of your piece: work out how you want to form your letters and plan any extra ornamentation or swashes that you want to include.
02 Scan in the sketch, open it in Illustrator and place it on your Artboard, resizing it to fit (at this stage any pixelation doesn’t matter – so long as it’s clear enough to actually trace). Lock the layer and create a new layer. On the new layer, select the Pen tool and trace round your sketch.
03 You don’t need to trace around each element exactly as it was drawn, as the sketch was only a guide – you might decide to change or perfect certain parts as you go. It’s a good idea to separate the flourishes and swashes onto different layers to the main text – this will make things easier later on.
04 Now that we have all our letters as single width strokes, it’s time to create the calligraphic brushes. Choose the Direct Selection tool. This will bring up the Brushes panel. Select the drop-down menu, click New Brush and then select New Calligraphic Brush.
05 At this stage, you are able to adjust the angle, roundness and diameter of the brush. I generally leave the diameter at its default setting – we will be adjusting this individually later on via the normal Stroke Widths panel (Width Point Edit panel). Generally, calligraphic pens are held at a 45° angle, but anything between 30° and 60° should give the desired effect. The lower you make the roundness value, the more variation there will be between the thick and thin stroke widths.
06 Create a range of differing brushes so that you can experiment with different styles. I usually separate two glyphs from the main piece (in this case the ‘o’ and ‘y’) to test out the different brushes.
07 Once you have selected the brushes that you want to use, it is time to select your letters and give them your chosen brush strokes. Some of the strokes will overlap each other at the moment, but you can sort that out later on. I have given them all a stroke width of 2pt (5pt for the capitals – this is optional depending on your design). I wanted the flourishes lighter so I used another brush and a width of 0.5pt.