Saturday, June 18, 2011

Easy Bevels in Illustrator (Tutorial)

All right, here is the Adobe Illustrator tutorial I said I would make. The goal is to create accurate, shiny, vector bevels on text in Illustrator. I mean nice, enhancing bevels used on a good design, not blotchy, over-beveling done on bad designs. I've thought about the process and it's actually quite simple. Perhaps there already exists another tutorial out there on the exact same thing, but I've reached the conclusion in my own way with little to no help from others.

The final product:

You will need:
Adobe Illustrator (I'm using CS4)
A simplistic, squared font
Basic knowledge of tools

Ready to start the tutorial? Full tutorial after the break.
Setting up the Document

Open Illustrator and make a New Document (Ctrl+N) at any size. For this tutorial, use RGB color because the simplified shine effects only work in this color space and that's what this tutorial will cover. On the blank page, type out a short word or phrase using a simple, square font. I'm using Bitsumishi because it will make this tutorial easier.

Preparing the Characters

When you have the word typed out and you think the kerning is set up how you want it, Expand the text by going to Object > Expand. Hit Enter when the dialog box comes up. The characters are now vector outlines. You can color the letters to some other color in order to see the effects in the next steps. Make sure there is  no stroke at this point.

I am going to make an Inner Bevel and to do that, I start by making an Inner Stroke on a duplicate. Copy the Selection (Ctrl+C) and Paste it on top (Ctrl+F). You won't see a difference, but now swap the fill with the stroke (Shift+X) and the duplicate now has a centered stroke. Change the color of the stroke to black or any other color not used as the fill.

Creating the Bevel

The bevel will be made from this stroke. In the previous screenshot, the stroke is proportionally too small to work with and is centered. In the Stroke settings change the stroke to Align to Inside. That's the second box. Add some weight to the stroke. I set mine to 3 points which is enough for the next step.

Happy with the stroke? Go to Object > Expand Appearance. The stroke is now outlined. Perfect bevels are cut from edge-to-edge. Right now, the outlines are made of a Compound Shape and the scissors tool won't work. It will later though.
Zoom in closely to the top-left corner and grab the Line Tool. Also make sure you have Smart Guides enabled.

When the cursor snaps to the Anchor Point (it will say "anchor"), click and drag to the next anchor point.

For the next step to work, it is very important that the line you just drew has a Fill. By default it doesn't so set any color. With the line selected, go back to the Selection Tool (V) and Shift-click the outline. Open the Pathfinder Panel and select the Trim command. That's the second one in the second row.

The Trim command made a hairline trim to the outline, eliminating the compound shape. Using the Direct Select Tool (A) click off, then click where the line you drew was and push Delete twice.

Now select the Scissors Tool (C). It's grouped with the Eraser Tool. Align the crosshairs over the next anchor point and click.

Click on the next corner to cut there. The segment of the outline is now isolated. However, it's not connected and this will cause problems later.

Having just cut the outline, switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and Shift-click the previous anchor point. In the toolbar, the Join command should become available.

Join the two points (Ctrl+J). Select the segment before and after the line you cut to make sure lines can be seen. If there isn't a line between the two points, it won't work.

This is the procedure you repeat for every segment ahead. To put it simply:
  1. Use the Scissors Tool to cut between two points.
  2. Select and Join the two points you just cut.
  3. Check to see if the segment has no open points.
This is how my sample turned out for the letter "K". Notice the corners.

You don't have to cut every corner if you'd rather do this quickly. You can "cut corners" and skip parts that may be too small.

Round letters are different. Gradients will work just fine on them without being cut up into many segments.

Repeat the process for all the letters. Now you're ready to move on to the final step: coloring.

Adding Highlights
Using the Selection Tool, click on the individual segments you cut out. You can make basic solid bevels by choosing a light direction and using solid colors to highlight one side. But we've come this far, so I'll explain shiny bevels.

Open the Gradient Panel and choose a radial gradient. By default it's black and white. This will work for simple shinies.

Open the Opacity Panel and set the blending mode of the segment to "Screen" for a basic highlight. Shiny, right? Do this for all the edges. Use a combination of Linear and Radial gradients to enhance edges or suggest direction of light.

This is my final product!
I think it looks great. Using this same technique, you can also make an outer bevel or use your own beveling color. The technique, when used properly, can provide a nice, subtle highlight which may improve legibility in stylized designs.

Problems? Suggestions? Please let me know in the comments.


Beata said...

It isn't clear from
"When the cursor snaps to the Anchor Point (it will say "anchor"), click and drag to the next anchor point."

Mega Rock.exe said...

Yeah, sorry about that. Here is another picture depicting the same thing.

Basically, hover over the point until that appears, click, then move over to the next point and wait for the same notice. This makes a line from anchor to anchor.

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