Create Detailed Vintage Typography with Illustrator and Photoshop

In this tutorial we will demonstrate how to customize a typeface in Illustrator and then use Photoshop to create a stunning vintage detailed typographic design. Let’s get started!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

Before We Begin

Before we start this tutorial, It’s important to have a bit knowledge and experience in Adobe Illustrator. Why are we using Illustrator? Because it offers great possibilities to customize any typeface, achieving excellent results and obtaining smooth curves, borders and shapes in a high quality vector file. Also, it’s recommened take the advantages of a graphic tablet. It doesn’t have to be a big one, I work with an A6 Wacom Tablet and It works perfectly for every technique described on this tutorial. Let’s go!

Step 1

First, open Adobe Illustrator and create a new document 1000x1000px, RGB, 300ppi.

Step 2

By selecting the Type Tool (T), we will select the font for our text. In this artwork, I used a free typeface called “Creampuff” (you can find a link on the assets description).
This was a tribute artwork to the soul singer Solomon Burke, so I typed “Solomon Burke” on my canvas. For a better view, I wrote my text in small and capital letters to select the most aesthetical for our composition.

Step 3

Once we decided what letters we are going to put together, we proceed to write our text. After that, selecting the text with the Selection Tool (V) we go to the top menu bar: Type > Create Outlines. You will see how a lot of anchor points appear on every letter, so this action will allow us to customize our text letter by letter in illustrator during the process.

Step 4

Now let’s start creating our composition. Place your cursor over the text and make a right-click; on the menu choose the “Isolate Selected Group” option. This action makes easy to select each letter individually. Use again the Selection Tool (V) to move and place each character; by selecting our letter and then the Free Transform Tool (E), we can manipulate our letters easily. You can distort, rotate, or resize. As you can see, we can make any kind of movement with our font. Once we place, resize and compose our text it’s time to customize our typography (if you want to exit from the Isolation Mode, just click ESC).

Step 5

Repeating the first action of our previous step, we proceed to isolate our text again (if we are not on the Isolation Mode, right-click over the type > Isolate Selected Group). I did this to fix some curves and edges from the original font type by type.
After selecting our first letter, we choose the Eraser Tool (Shift + E). By clicking twice on the tool palette where is placed the eraser tool, we can change different options. In this case, I only changed the diameter to manipulate the terminations of the font. I customized the letters M, N, U, K, R and E by erasing some parts. The goal with this step is create smoother curves and corners. You can check the process on the images below.

Step 6

Now we are going to decorate our artwork by drawing some elements and adding some shapes. On this and the following steps it’s recommended you work with a graphic tablet.
Create a new layer and don’t forget to lock the typography layer to avoid any modification over the letters. Is important to select on the color picker (left tool palette) the fill color option and do not to select any color for the stroke. For the drawing, I personally like to use the Pencil Tool (N) to drawing from the scratch in illustrator (freehand drawing), but you can use the Pen Tool (P) as well for this process. Feel free now to draw the ornaments over the typography. In this particular case I did this from scratch with the pencil configuring the tool options, but you can always draw them before on paper or sketch them in Photoshop.
Check the images below for a better understanding; you have signed in red all the keys and steps I did before start drawing the ornaments.

Step 7

As you can see on the images below, I decorated the O and E letters with an elegant shape. To redefine the ornaments, there is an option into the pencil tool named smooth tool. By holding for a while the pencil tool, it will appear the tab option for the smooth tool. By pressing alt, paint with it over the selected shape. You will notice how the path & corners now are more rounded.mFinally, I modified with the Pen Tool (P) the N and K letters to have a more aesthetical appealing (check the outcome below).

Step 8

I added some decorative rhombuses around the artwork. To create them, I started activating the Grid on the top menu bar: View > Show Grid. The grid will help us to create a symmetric triangle with the pen tool. Once we have the triangle done, go to Edit > Copy and then edit/paste in front. Now by selecting the new shape with the selection tool (V), we make a right click over it: Transform > Reflect > Horizontal. Then place the second triangle below the first one to create the rhombus shape.
After that, choose both shapes with the selection tool (V) and group them: right click over the selection/group. I created several copies of the rhombus and place them between the characters, making variations on the sizes. Also I changed the color to some of them to white. Finally, I created some circles with the shape tool around the rhombuses to give a more decorative touch to the whole artwork.

Step 9

We are done with Illustrator! It’s time to export our artwork to make the final retouching in Photoshop. Depending of the quality and the kind of retouching you want to do, you can export the complete artwork into only one transparent layer, PNG, or you can export the artwork into a PSD file, which will save your different paths and layers. Other option is drag the content directly to Photoshop, having an only one Vector Smart Object layer.
In this case, I exported everything to a transparent PNG layer. The reason is basically because it’s not a very detailed illustration with hundred of paths, plus the format requested was for website, but I highly recommend to export in PSD format, especially if the illustration is complex. To export go to File > Export and choose your favorite image format; recommended 300ppi.

Step 10

Ok, first stage is completed. We customized our typography and we created some decorative elements around it. Once satisfied with the outcome, it’s time to open Photoshop and have some fun with textures and lightning.
We open a new document: 1500x1500px, 300ppi, RGB color. That’s going to be our canvas and the first thing we are going to do is fill the background with a soft brown color, regarding the vintage looking we have in mind to achieve on this piece. Secondly, we open the grunge background texture image (you can find a link on the assets description). Then retouch the texture a bit before placing it on your canvas. Desaturate (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate). Curves (modify the contrast). New layer on top, soft light mode, opacity: 100%. Apply some black soft brush over the corners to get a vignette effect. Merge all the layers and drag it to our canvas fitting with the dimensions. Then, drag the texture set onto the canvas and set the layer to multiply mode, 100% opacity, but feel free to change it with your own settings.

Step 11

Above of our texture, I created a new adjustment layer to give to the background a little bit of red tone. Go to the menu: Layer > New fill layer > Solid color. I picked a tone between red and brown and changed the layer mode to multiply, Opacity 6%. Below the layers panel you know there is a quick menu to create new fill and adjustment layers. Use the way you feel more comfortable. On the tutorial I will be describing the different process through the top menu bar because I use to work with shortcuts; on that way I think it’s more clear to everyone.

Step 12

I like to have the composition in mind applying some rules and spaces on my canvas. To place my artwork I added some guides around the canvas, marking the workspace. Having them help me to make things in a more controlled way. Now open and drag the customized typography (illustration exported image) into the canvas on top.
First effect we are going to apply is related to the volume of the typography. Duplicate the typo layer and make a right click over the layer/blending options. Apply the following settings on the layer.

Step 13

Once the previous step is done, we are going to apply the first texture directly over the typography. Open the Dollar Bill Texture (you can find a link on the assets description) and invert the image: Image > Adjustments > Invert. Place the texture on top and create a clipping mask over the typo layer where we applied the bevel effect: right click over the layer > Create clipping mask. Once the clipping mask is done, you can modify the texture opacity, apply curves or clone over the texture as much as you want to achieve a good looking.
It is very important to have texture on every letter and shape; I highly recommend apply curves over the texture to increase the whites in this particular texture, It will help us to get a similar “wood” looking.

Step 14

Now we are going to have a good time playing with shadows and highlights. Create a new layer on top and set it on normal mode, opacity 60%. Change the brush settings as is shown on the image below and set the flow option to 40%. Pick white color and select the typo artwork by making Command/Ctrl + click over the layer thumbnail on the layers panel. Here is very important to control the pressure of the brush, a graphic tablet is highly recommended to have total control over the brush pressure. For a better result, I recommend to pick a medium size brush, not bigger than the letters. Paint with patience and if it’s necessary erase with a soft brush some borders to get a better feather.

We are going to apply this painting effect over every letter and shape, mostly trying to achieve some basic highlight, visualizing how the volume is going to look on them. After that, we are going to duplicate the layer and drag it below the first brushing layer. Set the opacity to 40% and go to the blending options: right click over the layer/blending options. We are going to apply some coloring on the color overlay setting by choosing a vivid brown color (normal mode, 100% opacity inside the color overlay option).

Step 15

I made some different painting inside the rhombuses. By selecting them individually with the polygonal tool or your favorite method, make a right click over the selection and pick transform selection; by holding alt + Shift you will conserve the original proportions of the selection and that will help you to get a perfect extract of it. Transform the selection and when you have a smaller selection inside the rhombus, apply the soft brush.
Another good and quick effect I did to get a better appealing of the rhombuses was to create smaller rhombuses inside them. Select one of the small rhombuses on the layer with the bevel applied and duplicate directly by clicking Command/Ctrl + J. You will get a brand new layer with a rhombus and the bevel already applied too. I duplicated the new rhombus several times, changed the color to sepia and I started to put them into the rest of the rhombuses. Later I joined all these new rhombuses on a new group by selecting them and clicking Command/Ctrl + G. This process will help to have the same looking in every rhombus. Every new inner rhombus gives a great overall perception of the typography artwork.

Step 16

It’s time to apply more textures. Take the plastic texture (you can find a link on the assets description) and place it on top. First thing I did with this texture was desaturate the layer (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate). Secondly, I started to play with hue/saturation by clicking Command/Ctrl + U. I got some soft brown tone by playing with the colorize option. Finally apply some curves to increase the contrast. Once you’re satisfied with the result, change the layer mode to overlay / opacity 84%. I erased that blending mark at the left over the B because I wanted the typography clean of that mark, but feel free to keep it if you like the effect.

Step 17

Duplicate the texture and desaturate it again. Now we are going to modify the texture to an almost 100% white layer applying curves. Once you’re done, change the layer mode to Multiply, opacity 100%. This layer will help us to kill a little bit the highlights on the background. We are almost done with this texture, but let’s duplicate this latest white layer again and change the layer mode to Soft Light, opacity 20%. Finally pick the erase tool (E) and clear with a soft brush the texture outside the typography range. It has not to be perfect, just let the center zone of the texture alive.

Step 18

The artwork starts to look good and the plastic image gave the letters some nice texturing. The next step is something that I use to do a lot on my illustrations.
Select the typography as we did in a previous step (Command/Ctrl + click over the layer thumbnail on layers panel). Once we have the selection, create a new layer above all the layers (on top) and go to the menu: image/apply image. Keep the custom settings on the apply image tab and click ok.
We have now a copy of the typo but with all the textures and painting effects created in only one layer. Feel free to play with this new layer: curves, hue/saturation, color balance or any adjustment layer. In this case I applied some curves (Command/Ctrl + M) to increase the contrast and a little bit of desaturation (Command/Ctrl + U). I modified also some rhombuses. The outcome is not very different, but the goal here was to make a difference between the typo and the background; this retouch over the new layer helped us to achieve a better depth of field and contrast. You can hide the initial typo layers at this point if you want.

Step 19

Let’s apply some curves to give the vintage feeling. Create a layer on top and set the layer mode on Color, opacity 10%. Apply these settings:

Step 20

Now this step is very important to give a special looking to our typography. Make a new layer on top (over the curves layer) and set the layer mode in Overlay, opacity 100%. We can name this layer “Reflections”. Select again the typography through the same method that we applied previously: Command/Ctrl + click over the layer thumbnail on layers panel. Once you have the selection made, go to the menu Select > Modify > Expand. On the expand tab, select a range between 1px and 3px. Now that we have the new selection done, we can hide the selection marks by pressing Command/Ctrl + H. This action will help us to have clearer looking typography and consequently, on the effects we are creating. If you want to be able to view again the selection marks, press again Command/Ctrl + H.
Pick a small soft brush in a range between 25px and 50px, stay with the same brush presets that we applied on the step 14 and choose the white color on the color picker. Start to brush with a lot of patient and taking advantage of the pen pressure. It’s important to follow the light references of our bevel effect and respect in some way the light direction, but is not mandatory on every letter. Try to not exaggerate the shine/bright on the borders. Finally, with the dodge tool we can give some extra bright over the reflections, especially on the biggest letters.

Step 21

Ok, we have the lightning done but we need more depth of field on the artwork. Time for shadows! This is a really easy step to execute, basic tools and brushing, but it can take a while to be satisfied with the outcome. Cast shadows are important to be kind of realistic and smooth. We don’t want to call the attention with an exaggerated shadowing, but improve the artwork in overall with a good blending of them.
Create a new layer behind all the typo layers and name it “Shadows”. Place the layer just above the color fill layer that we created on the Step 10. I set this layer mode in Normal, 80% opacity, but depending on your taste and vision, you can change it for a better looking. With the same brush presets that we are using through the whole tutorial, we are going to brush behind all the typo content with a soft black brush, setting the opacity of the brush at 20%, flow 40%. Light direction is again an important reference, but you will realize that some parts need a different shadow for a better looking, so feel free to play with it. Don’t be afraid using the soft brush and also to erase some parts and get a better feather.

Step 22

Our artwork is almost done, let’s put attention on some details. To make the thin borders on the artwork I used the plastic texture that we used before. Process is simple, just duplicate the layer (the plastic texture or any other texture you want to use) and arrange it on top going to the menu: Layer > Arrange > Bring to front. After that set the layer mode on soft light, opacity 70%. Make a square selection leaving a 4px-5px of margins regarding the overall canvas and press delete.
We have now a white frame. With a very small soft brush or default texture brush, delete carefully inside the borders leaving a 1px-2px line. With a 1px-2px soft brush you can paint also in some parts to emphasize the borders.

Step 23

Time for the last lights and shadows retouching layer. Select all the typography shape and create a new layer on top. Go to Edit > Fill > 50% gray. Set the layer mode on soft light, opacity 40%, fill 50%. With the same brush presets that we used on the tutorial, pick a 75px-90px brush and paint in white inside the letters, in black for the borders. The soft white will improve the volume and the black will help to separate a little bit more the typo with the background. It’s a technique that is used a lot on high end retouching (fashion, beauty, product photography). It helps to redefine parts and increase the volume.
Remember to do not exaggerate the lights and shadows, they have to be applied in a moderated way. You can use also the dodge tool (O) over this gray neutral layer to emphasize even more the reflections.

Step 24

The final layer will be an adjustment layer to increase a bit the contrast of our artwork. Go to the menu: Layer > New adjustment layer > Gradient map. Click ok, and pick a black & white gradient, then change the layer mode to normal, opacity 10%.

Step 25

Artwork is finished. Remember to save your .PSD if you didn’t do it before, go! I also recommend to make a copy of the .PSD to resize the artwork for website resolution. Go to the menu: Image > Duplicate and here you go, you have now a perfect copy of your .PSD; save it with another name and you can now resize the document resolution: Image > Image size uncheck the resample image option and change the resolution to 72dpi. Save again!

Step 26

Finally there are a couple of things that I like to apply to the artwork before sending the client, upload to the Internet or make a cool print. Create a new layer on top and go to Image > Apply image. Over this layer I use to apply. Unsharp mask (Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp mask). Noise (Filters > Noise > Add Noise > Gaussian > Monochromatic. The amount of sharpen and noise depends directly of the artwork’s size.

Final Image

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