Artistic Expressions: Illustrative Text

The written word has always been considered to possess great power. There are thousands of different fonts available that can give what you’re saying an additional emotional edge. When you illustrate text, you can give it impact that tells the story without even reading the words.

Take a baby announcement, for instance; would you use an Old English typeface to illustrate it? No! You want something cute. You want something that says “baby” and not “the Knights of the Round Table.” A good suggestion would be little pillows that spell out the word “baby,” or the baby’s name. That’s a great idea, but what if you don’t have a font that looks like pillows? This is what Photoshop is for—making your imagination come to life.

STEP ONE: To start, you need to choose a simple font such as Helvetica Bold. In a new, 72-ppi Photoshop document, select the Type tool (T), choose Helvetica in the Options Bar, and type a message. Note: Make sure to add plenty of spacing or kerning between the letters using the Character panel (Window>Character); the outcome of the text will look best if the letters aren’t so close together. Click on the Commit icon (checkmark) in the Options Bar when finished.

STEP TWO: Choose Edit>Transform>Scale to modify the shape of the text. Click-and-drag the middle bottom handle of the bounding box to scale the text vertically to make it taller, as shown here. Press Return (PC: Enter) when finished.

STEP THREE: Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on the text layer thumbnail in the Layers panel to make it a selection. Choose Select>Save Selection to save it as an alpha channel (just click OK in the Save Selection dialog). At this point, the original text that was entered can be discarded. Click-and-drag the text layer onto the Delete Layer icon (trash can) at the bottom of the Layers panel and press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to deselect.

STEP FOUR: Navigate to the Channels panel (Window>Channels) and click on the Alpha 1 channel. First, choose Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and change the Radius to blur the channel until the text receives rounded edges (6.4 pixels in this example). This becomes the basis for the rounded, pillow-like text. Next, we need to make the text sharp again with a Levels adjustment.

STEP FIVE: Choose Image>Adjustments>Levels. In the Levels dialog, the further you move the black Input Levels slider, the thinner the text will become. The opposite is true by moving the white Input Levels slider; the further the white is moved, the thicker the resulting text. Move the black Input Levels slider to 70 and the white Input Levels slider to 96. Click OK. The result is a rounded-edged typeface.

STEP SIX: Now we’re going to create the little pillows. Click on the RGB channel in the Channels panel to activate it and then go back into the Layers panel and click on the Create a New Layer icon to create a new layer. Then, navigate back to the Channels panel and make the Alpha 1 channel a selection by simply Command-clicking (PC: Ctrl-clicking) on it (or you can go to Select>Load Selection and select Alpha 1 from the Channel drop-down menu).

STEP SEVEN: With the Alpha 1 channel selected, choose Edit>Fill to fill it with color. Select Color from the Use drop-down menu, select a powder blue color (R:122, G:207, B:246) from the Color Picker, and click OK. Click OK again. Don’t deselect just yet; in the next step, we’ll give the little pillows some character by adding trim to the edges.

STEP EIGHT: Back in the Layers panel, create another new layer and click on the Foreground color swatch in the Toolbox to select a trim color. In our example, we chose a bright yellow (R:251, G:246, B:33). Choose Edit>Stroke to open the Stroke dialog, enter 10 px for Width, select Outside for Location, and click OK. Deselect.

Cute, but not the pillows we’re trying to achieve. We need to add dimension to make the text seem like fluffy pillows. Dimension comes with the use of some lighting effects achieved through layer styles.

STEP NINE: Double-click on Layer 1 in the Layers panel to open the Layer Style dialog. Click on the words “Drop Shadow” in the Styles list on the left side of the dialog to make the text appear to be resting on a surface. Play with the Distance and Size sliders until you achieve the exact drop shadow you want. Don’t click OK just yet.

STEP TEN: Click on the words “Bevel and Emboss” in the Styles list to give the text the feeling of being rounded and soft. Increase the Depth to 251% to add more contrast. Adjust the Size to 16 px to give the text a full, rounded effect. Increase the Soften amount to 7 px to soften the edges of the tones. Set the Angle to 120?. Change the Highlight Mode Opacity to 99%, and click on the Shadow Mode color swatch to change the default color to make the pillows seem more baby like; we chose a deep blue (R:46, G:63, B:175). Note: The deep blue goes with the powder blue of the letters being shown in this example; your color choices depend on what you’re illustrating. Click OK to apply the two layer styles. This will make the text look like it has the rounded edging usually found on these types of pillows.

STEP ELEVEN: Double-click on Layer 2 in the Layers panel to open the Layer Style dialog again and click on the words “Bevel and Emboss” to add a slight adjustment to the settings to make the stroke look more natural. Change the Highlight Mode Opacity to 100%, and click on the Shadow Mode color swatch to change the color to brown (R:100, G:58, B:21). Click OK. The end result is big, fluffy letters that tell the story.

A few variations along the way can add some excitement. A suggestion might be the use of a pattern showing various toys to fill the letters rather than a single color. You’re only limited by your imagination. Photoshop provides you with the tools to create whatever you can come up with. Have fun!

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  1. Johnny (Reply) on Wednesday January 26, 2011

    Thanks Bert! Nice Tutorial, This is definitely will be saved in my “Styles”. Thanks for the “Alpha channel” technique ( Blurring and using levels).

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