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Utilizing Envelope Distort for Typographical Effects

I’d like to share a method for creating unique typographical effects on the outside of the letters using Adobe Illustrator. See what I mean in the example below. Then read on and find out how to do it yourself!

1. First, start with your typography. You’ll want to do all of your kerning (kerning is the space between individual letters) now because we’ll be converting the text to outlines in the next step.

2. With your typography selected, go to the “Type” menu and select “Create Outlines.” This will convert our text into individual, editable paths. Make sure you keep a copy of the outlines intact throughout the entire process. It’s a good idea to put a copy on its own layer and lock the layer for future use.

3. The paths are grouped together, so we must ungroup them. Go to the “Object” menu and select “Ungroup.”

4. Now create a box and copy and paste one of your letters over the top of the box. Make sure the box is behind the letter.

5. With both the letter and the box selected, click the “Minus Front” button from the Pathfinder palette. It is the second button from the left underneath “Shape Modes.”

6. Now we have our box with the letter subtracted from the shape of the box.

7. Now we draw the shape that will make up the object that exists on the outside of our letter. If you want an intricate and complex shape, here is where you draw it. For this example, I wanted flowing/bubbly shapes. You must make sure that when the shape intersects the letter, that it does not pop out the other side of the letter… notice how the right side of this shape is entirely inside the letter. This is important.

8. With both shapes selected, go back to the Pathfinder palette and select the “Intersect” button. It is the third button from the left underneath “Shape Modes.”

9. Now we are left with our flowing shape that conforms exactly to the contour of our letter.

10. Note how the shape fits perfectly against the letter. Now we can repeat this process as many times we want to achieve whatever effect we want. You could completely encompass the letter, or just choose specific portions.

11. We can use any type of effect or fill we’d like to on this shape to achieve the desired results. Solid colors or gradients would certainly be interesting, but I’m going to focus on the Envelope Distort tool for this guide.

12. First I created a stack of blue/purple rectangles, but you can use whatever shapes you want. Keep one of these “master” shape creations off to the side because you’ll want to use one for each contour shape you created. In this screen shot, I’ve used a contour shape from the bowl of the letter “a.”

13. Make sure your contour shape is on top of the other shapes. Then, with all of them selected, go “Envelope Distort” (located under the “Object” menu) and select “Make with Top Object.”

14. This is the result you’ll get.

15. I repeated the step 4 times and manually placed them along the contours of my letters. Note how the blue/purple shapes don’t follow the contour of the letters exactly; the Envelope Distort function isn’t perfect. So let’s clean it up a little bit.

16. What once were a series of blue/purple rectangles has become what appears to be one solid object. However, we can edit the paths of these individual blue/purple shapes by going to the “Object” menu and selecting “Expand.”

17. The Expand dialog box will appear. You’ll want to make sure all of the available check-boxes are selected. If you were using lines instead of rectangles, they would all have a stroke, and you would want to expand the stroke.

18. Now each of the shapes can be edited individually and we can make them conform to the contour of our letter perfectly. Alternatively you can make them “close enough” and send them behind the text.

19. Below is the final result. I brought the text and the blue/purple shapes into Photoshop separately so I could modify them independently. I applied some very basic effects and this is the result. Click here to download the Illustrator and Photoshop files.

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