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  • How to Make Smooth 3D Lettering in Illustrator

    When I see 3D lettering, I’m always in awe. It not only looks great, but also seems very complicated.

    Computer programs such as 3D Studio Max and Cinema 4D are still alien to me. Even though these are sitting high on my “skills I want to learn” list, I’m sticking with my Adobe standard programs like Illustrator for now.

    Illustrator has a lot to offer—even when it comes to 3D effects.

    I’ll show you how to create smooth 3D lettering with the Blend Tool in no time—and in a way that won’t make your computer crash! 😉

    Illustrator 3D Lettering Tutorial

    We’ll start with pen and paper to sketch out a word or single letter.

    Then we’ll create a new document in Illustrator and insert the sketch, either by taking a photo or scanning it.

    To make the sketch a vector path, we trace the text with the Pen Tool (P) and adjust as needed.

    Tip: It’s helpful to split the word into shorter single pieces. Shorter parts get smoother and are fun to play around with by bringing them either to the front or back. Right click and choose Arrange > Send to Back (or Front).

    Make a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with a Gradient (G).

    We duplicate the circle and place it right next to the first one by holding the Alt+Shift key and dragging the circle to the right.

    With CMD+D, we repeat that action about 20 times.

    Select the row with the circles and double click the Blend Tool in the Tool Side Bar. The Blend Option Menu opens. Go to Specific Steps and enter 20.

    Now go to Object > Blend > Make.

    For the next step, we duplicate the row because we’ll need a backup.

    Hold the Shift key and select one of the two rows + the first path of your artwork. Then go to Object > Blend > Replace Spine.

    This way, the vector line will get replaced with the gradient.

    Repeat this process for every path of your artwork.

    If the outcome looks rippled, no worries—we’ll fix that later! Keeping the steps in the blend setting low won’t slow down the computer.

    As soon as we’ve replaced all the vector lines with the gradient, we want to smooth out the appearance of the artwork.

    Select the entire artwork and go to the Blend Tool in the Tool Bar. Now we’ll increase the Specific Steps to about 200 or higher.

    The 3D lettering already looks smoother now, but there are still some irregularities. We’re going to remove these by doing this simple and last step.

    Select the circles with the Direct Selection Tool (A) from the Tool Bar and delete them.

    We’ll then repeat this process until our 3D lettering is smooth like in the image below:

    Changing the colors of the 3D lettering

    If we’re not happy with the colors at this point, we can change them by repeating the step with the gradient circle.

    Make a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L) and fill it with a new Gradient (G).

    Then, select the the entire artwork with the Selection Tool (V) and click on the Eyedropper Tool (I). An Eyedropper icon will appear. This signals that we can pick the color from the circle with the new color.

    This is an easy way to change the colors of the finished artwork.

    Fixing Details in Photoshop

    In the case of the Sweet artwork, I wanted the cross bar of the t to go through the letter stem.

    To do that, I copy the cross bar separately from the rest of the artwork into Photoshop. That way the cross bar is on a separate layer.

    Select the top layer and go to Add Vector Mask on the bottom of the layer window.

    Now select the mask window and use the Brush Tool (B) to “paint” over the artwork with black.

    Note that the artwork of the cross bar disappears and the background comes through.

    If you masked out too much of your layer, switch the color to white by pressing the X key and go over the artwork with the Brush Tool.

    Pressing the key X makes it easy to switch between the two color swatches on the bottom of the Tool Bar.

    The final 3D lettering made with the Blend Tool

    The final artwork is a simple yet effective 3D lettering example for beginners made with the Blend Tool in Illustrator. Photoshop helps to tweak the 3D effect a bit more.

    Have fun trying out this technique, and let me know if you have any questions!

  • Quote Design for Posters and Postcards

    Recently I started a collaboration with Sabine from ZEN-ZI. ZEN-ZI is an Austrian home decor label selling products handmade from regional materials. I created some of the hand-lettered quote designs for her paper goods, such as postcards and posters.

    Sabine then asked me if I’d be interested in hand lettering some of the quotes that she had chosen for her wooden card holders and poster frames.

    I definitely wanted to be part of the new collection, because I’d been admiring Sabine’s work for a long time. Her designs are sleek and modern and make a beautiful addition to any home.

    The products are available on ZEN-ZI’s online shop.

    Drafting and Decision Making for the Quote Design

    First, I did some very quick sketches of the quotes to get a better feeling of which style reflects ZEN-ZI’s design best.

    Quite quickly, it was clear that I should write the artwork with my Pentel Fude Brush Pen. The brush is soft, easy to control, and the ink flows cleanly and crisply. It creates the neat effect I was looking for: simple but playful.

    I bought this pen on Amazon: Pentel Fude Brush Pen, Extra Fine (XFL2F) (Image credit: product page on Amazon).

    Product Display

    I’m very happy with the outcome of the collaboration with ZEN-ZI. The quotes get printed on high-quality, thick paper. In combination with oak, the display makes a warm and welcoming statement in any home.

  • My Personal Landing Page Banner

    I wanted to make a landing page banner for my website that communicates what my services are about—services that make your brand shine. I hand lettered my slogan to create a friendly welcome for the page viewers.

    Drafting and Decision Making for My Landing Page Banner

    Every lettering project starts with some layout sketches. When creating these sketches, there are three key questions to answer before diving in. Answering these before you start will help you reach the goal quicker.

    1. What’s the format? Is the design for a poster or a web banner? For packaging or for an Instagram post? It’s very helpful to give yourself some guidelines to make sure the artwork fits the purpose. You see I skipped this step at the very beginning of this project. Even though I had the website banner in mind, I started doodling right away. I could have avoided one step by framing out the artwork area first.

    2. What’s the hierarchy of the words? You can either create a hierarchy by making keywords bigger than others or by using different font styles and weights. For this project, I decided to use different font styles and colors. I wanted to communicate the range of possibilities in how customers can make their brand shine.

    3. What’s the tone of the message? By only looking at the artwork and without reading the copy, you should get already the feeling of what it’s about. Is the message friendly or harsh? Will it be playful or structured? Modern or retro? Loud or quiet? You see? There is a lot to think of…

    Decorative Elements

    At the end of a lettering project, you can decide if you want to add any decorative elements—either to fill in some gaps, to highlight certain words, or to beautify the artwork even more.

    The purpose of this landing page banner is to direct the user to the website content below. Not only the word shine, but also the sunburst elements guide the eyes further down.

    Digitize the Slogan

    When I’m happy with the draft, I scan it and then vectorize it in Illustrator. Having vector artwork makes it easy to mix and match different colors.

    Considering the tone is very important when choosing colors. My banner should be friendly and inviting. Pastel teal not only communicates that, but it’s also one of my favorite colors at the moment.

  • “Good Vibes Only” Poster Design for Your Home

    A friend of mine asked me if I could letter the phrase Good Vibes Only for her. At first, I thought that this phrase was a bit exaggerating—Good Vibes ONLY? On rainy weekend day, I took on the little commission to create the Good Vibes Only poster.

    Drafting the Good Vibes Only Poster

    When I put the good vibes on paper, the flourishes came out so naturally! Even the grey weather couldn’t stop me adding more swirls and colors. I wanted to turn this phrase into a poster to hang in my office as a reminder, just in case.. 😉

    The more time I spent working on this statement, the more I realized that this indeed should be the way of living. Even though it’s not always easy, thinking positively as much as possible is key in life.

    After I finished the artwork, I did some research and found out that this statement is quite big on social media. There is even a hashtag for it: #GVO. I wondered where this came from and landed on a website named BON VITA that used that hashtag to promote their products. Now that I’ve explained the origin of this phrase, I’d love to get sponsored by them… 😉

    Good vibes as much as possible, everyone! 🙂

  • 6 Strategies for “Getting Shit Done” as a Designer

    Working as a freelance graphic designer from a home office has its perks—and disadvantages. Getting shit done can sometimes be a challenge, since you have the freedom to organize your day however you want. But when you end up working until 10 pm because of your bad time management…it’s not so fun anymore.

    And so my search for a solution that would help me avoid these “involuntary night shifts” began. In this article, I’ve gathered what I’ve learned so far and which tips and tricks worked best for me.

     

    #1 – Start the Day with Yesterday

    My day “starts” with the previous evening. Every designer I know has been tripped up by a messy desk at one point or another. During the day, lots of stuff piles up—paper, pens, tools everywhere!

    Before I wind down at the end of the day and leave my workspace, I clean it up. This habit prevents procrastination from sneaking in the next morning. With a clean desk, your brain can’t trick you with the old “I have to clean up first“ excuse.

    Clearing out the mail inbox is a good trick too. Reply, file, delete. It’s very satisfying and gives me a good overview for what I need to get done the next day. A full inbox sits in the back of my mind and makes me feel nervous and overwhelmed. So clean up your desk—and your inbox.

    Before leaving the workplace, it’s good to think about your assignments for the next day. What needs to get done? What has the highest priority? This way I don’t waste time in the morning thinking of what I should be working on.

     

    #2 – Aim for a Quick Win in the Morning

    I discovered a life hack that works very well for me when working from home. After getting up, I hydrate my brain with a big glass of water and make myself a nice cup of black tea. Then, for about one hour, I immediately start working on the biggest item I decided to work on the day before.

    This way I trick my “inner sloth” into getting important things done early in the morning. Depending on the client projects I have, I try to use this most productive time of the day for my own business development. A little progress every day adds up to big results.

    Having breakfast after accomplishing something tastes way better and sets the right tone for the rest of the day. It keeps me motivated to continue being productive.

    By the way, this trick works the best when you get up early. I usually get up at 7 am, then I work on a task for about an hour and reward myself with breakfast. At around 8:30 to 9 am, I start with the daily business—the same time I’d start working at an agency—except that I’ve already got serious sh*t done by that time.

     

    #3 – Write Down Everything in Lists, All the Time

    Everyone who yawns at To Do lists now, please wait a second. Let’s take the good ol’ To Do list to the next level. The trick is to break up big assignments or goals into little, doable chunks. I write everything down at all times—even non-work-related things like watering plants, reading books, or following up with potential clients.

    I collect my “brain dumps” in one place and then categorize them in detail and priority order. Free your mind from distracting thoughts, and you’ll be able to focus on the important things. Make sure you update and clean up your whole list once a week to build trust in your system. A To Do list you don’t keep up to date and can’t trust is worse than not having one in the first place.

    I’m using an app called Things for managing my lists. Things is only available for Mac and costs around $50. It syncs my To Do items between all my Apple devices. That way I can update my list anywhere I go to capture ideas and little notes.

    If you want to use a free service, Trello is the way to go. You can create boards and lists and organize and prioritize them in a very fun and flexible way. This tool is also great for collaborating on projects with other people. I really love it!

    Lists can also help you get through the deep dark places of procrastination. Sometimes I just can’t motivate myself to work on certain projects. When that happens, I go through my lists and sometimes catch a To Do item that I’d rather do than others. Checking off a tiny task feels great—and often helps me regain motivation for bigger assignments. I call this technique “procrastiworking.”

    • Things (MacOS/iOS only) – $49.99

    • Trello (Web/iOS/Android) – Free

    #4 – Track Time and Take Mindful Breaks

    Starting to work freelance from home initially made me feel vaguely unsatisfied. I spent 8+ hours in front of my laptop working, but at the end of the day, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything.

    As a freelancer, you get to wear many different hats—customer acquisition, marketing, sales, and so on. Many times I didn’t “see the results” immediately as I usually do when working on design jobs. This was fairly upsetting. I realized I either had to fight those bad vibes—or go back to a full-time position.

    It was at this time I discovered the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management method that I now use daily. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, separated by short breaks. It’s called Pomodoro Technique because Francesco Cirillo, who developed this method, used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer as a student. I’m Italian, so naturally I love this naming choice.

    What makes the Pomodoro Technique work for me is that I set a specific amount of time for a certain task. This helps me to not bounce around between items, but stay focused on just one instead.

    Usually I set the timer for 45 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break. The traditional flow is 25 minutes’ work followed by a 5-minute break. Depending on what you’re doing, you can experiment and vary the time. I often use shorter 25-minute intervals to respond to emails or smaller tasks. With some experimentation, you’ll quickly figure out what works best for you.

    To support this time-management method, I’m using an application called Timer on my Mac. This is the ultimate time-tracking hack and only costs a few dollars. I set the timer, describe what I’ll work on, and focus on that one task.

    As soon as the timer runs out, this information gets saved directly into my calendar. This is so helpful because I easily can track which projects I’ve been working on. And at the end of the day, what I’ve accomplished is in plain text, and I get to feel good about what I achieved.

    I’d encourage you to take the Pomodoro breaks seriously. Take mindful breaks and don’t rush through assignments without leaving your desk for three hours. Stand up, stretch, and stay hydrated. Your neck and back will thank you for that. You’ll see that those little mindful breaks will do wonders, because you’ll give your mind space for new input and creative thoughts.

    • Timer (macOS) – $2.99

    #5 – Set Ground Rules for When You Check Emails and Social Media

    You are working on a project and now you’re even setting a timer to dedicate yourself to the one task at hand—and then your email pops up. Uh oh. One unread email in your inbox. Of course you have to check it because it might be important, right?

    As soon as you open that email, your mind will be busy with processing the new information. Your thoughts will be quickly cluttered, and it will be difficult to focus on only one thing. In the end, you won’t get as much done as you could have because of the distraction. That’s why it’s better to focus on just one task at a time.

    You are probably familiar with the situation when you just want to briefly check your Instagram feed—and all of a sudden, when you look up again, it’s an hour later. I believe social media is the number one cause for procrastination. But is it really worth it when you have to pull an all-nighter to get the work load done?

    There are many solutions out there. I use the radical SelfControl App on my Mac. You set it up to ban websites like Facebook or Instagram from being viewed on your computer. I’m using the default option of 24 hours whenever I catch myself scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook news feed. Whenever that happens, I just activate the app and I’m “free” for the next 24 hours. Like I said—radical, but it works.

    On my phone, I’m using a more peaceful app called Forest. You can plant a tree by setting the timer. When you leave the app, your tree will die. If this isn’t motivation enough, the rewards you get in the form of points and a high-score list might do the trick.

    Besides using this app, I turn off all notifications on my phone and mute it most of the time. It does wonders for staying focused and remaining present.

    Depending on the project situation, I might check my email only a few times a day. However, this of course doesn’t work when collaborating with other people or if I have to coordinate tasks. Yet it’s important to know how easy it is to get distracted by email. All of a sudden, there are ten other things to do or to reply back to. But not everything needs to be taken care of immediately. Try to only check your email when you’re either waiting for some important information or when you actually have the headroom in your schedule to reply back to them right away.

    #6 – Sometimes You Just Have to Let Sh*t Happen in Order to Get Shit Done

    Some days are just better than others. If all the tips and tricks fail and you get nothing done? Don’t worry if you mess up, and relax—tomorrow will be a better day. It happens to the best of us. Go for a walk, pursue your hobbies, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

    An Example of Successful Procrastiworking

    Well, this artwork definitely got done before the copywriting. So this is called successful procrastiworking, right? 😉

    Get Motivated With This Desktop Background

  • How to Make a DIY Pen Holder with Waste Material

    I made a DIY pen holder with an empty can and decorated it with a hand-lettered motivational quote.

    It is good to have a reminder on my desk at all times … just in case … 😇

    My inspiration for a DIY pen holder

    When I was little, my sister created these awesome pen holders for my grandpa and me. She took some old cans and peeled off the labels. Then she colored them in bright colors, and with a small brush, she personalized the pen holders. My pen holder was red and my sister wrote “for my favorite sister” on it in yellow. Note: I’m her only sibling. Ahh, I love her! 😉

    Over two decades later, I still have this pen holder I got from my sister. I wanted to create one myself since my pen collection is growing constantly.

    How to create a hand-lettered pen holder

    First, open the can and eat some beans (or whatever your gusto is). 😉

    Luckily, I have one of those awesome can openers that doesn’t leave a sharp edge on the can. Otherwise, you’ll need to sand it properly so you don’t cut yourself.

    Learning from my big sister, I peeled off the paper label from the can by soaking it in warm water.

    I loved the natural wavy texture of the aluminum and decided not to cover it with color, leaving it with an industrial and modern look.

    Then I took the measurement of the can and started sketching on paper—using a pencil from the pen holder I got from my sister. Drafting on the can itself didn’t work that well because the pencil marks were barely visible.

    To apply the artwork onto the can, I used the edding 750 paint marker in white. It is ideal for writing on metal, glass, plastic, and wood, and it’s waterproof and heat resistant. (I took the image below directly from the edding home page.)

    The tip of this marker was a bit too big for the wavy can surface though. It looked a bit messy because I wasn’t able to write smoothly on it. That’s why I use a thinner black marker for metal surfaces to outline the artwork. This way, the words were even more visible.

    And this is how I get new pen holders over the years  …

  • A Brush Pen Review for Beginners

    I did a short brush pen review for a friend of mine. She is a hand lettering beginner and was wondering which pens I used to create certain hand lettering styles.

    Living in the countryside makes it difficult to get brush pens in stores. I’m glad there is Amazon to help me out sometimes. My toolbox thus is very basic. But hey, you don’t need much to have fun with hand lettering and to create something beautiful.

    My advice is to Ship, ship, ship! Better to get your project delivered before it never happens due to perfectionism… Overcome your doubts and just do it. In hand lettering, it’s all about practice.

    I’ll start my brush pen review with the Steadler Pigment Liner because I feel the most confident with this one. I can control the thick downstrokes better by drawing them. The downside of this pen is that the black is not as saturated as the black from the other pens. Also, I found out that this pen is not light resistant. Fellow artist @laermlover gave me the great suggestion to check out the Faber Castel Pitt Pen instead. It’s light and water resistant AND the black is real black. I can’t wait to “go shopping” soon. 😉

    The Pentel Fude Pen is my new secret love. It’s a cartridge-based Japanese brush pen. It takes a bit of practice to control the fine, synthetic hair tip. The thick downstrokes are easier to make than the thin downstrokes. I got this refillable pen on Amazon since, as I mentioned, living in the countryside sometimes makes it hard to get special tools. Thank you, Amazon! Because normal printing paper absorbs a lot of the precious ink, I prefer to use coated paper. But caution: it might take a little while for it to dry!

    The Crayola Pen is an awesome marker for trying out hand lettering. Crayola markers were designed for kids—that’s why they’re very long lasting and cheap! The sturdy, soft felt-tip is ideal for controlled thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes. It’s fun to play around with them and it’s handy that they work on any paper.

  • DIY Ikea Coasters Hack—Don’t Fuck Up The Table

    Are you struggling to come up with yet another idea for your friend’s birthday? Or do you want to make your home a tiny bit cooler? Then learn how to make these cheap DIY coasters!

    1. Buy cork coasters from Ikea

    I like the cork coasters from Ikea. They’re not only cheap, but very handy too. Glasses and mugs don’t slide because of the soft cork and they don’t make any noise when you set them down.

    2. Decide on the message of your DIY coasters

    This depends on who you’re making the coasters for. If it’s for a good friend, the message can be sassy and with a little wink of the eye. If it’s for your mom, you’d better think about the message and choose something more polite and sweet.

    Your DIY coasters don’t necessarily need to have hand lettering on them. If you’re more the pattern making type, then go for it. 🙂

    3. Sketch your artwork out on paper

    Take one coaster and trace it on paper. That way you have the perfect template for your DIY coasters. Have fun with sketching out your artwork!

    4. Bring the artwork onto the coasters

    Drawing onto the cork with a pencil unfortunately doesn’t work that well. Nevertheless, I colored the backside of my sketch with a very soft pencil to trace my artwork. I at least got a rough idea of the dimensions of my artwork.

    To apply the final artwork onto the DIY coasters, I used the edding 750 paint marker in white. It is ideal for writing on metal, glass, plastic, and wood, and it’s waterproof and heat resistant.

    To refine the artwork, I used a thinner black marker that is also waterproof.

    Finished DIY coasters

    Have fun creating your own personalized coasters—either for a friend, a relative, or for yourself.

    I created these for my home. I tell you, it’s always a good conversation starter!

    And these are the coasters I’ll put on the table when my in-laws come for a visit. 😇✌️

  • Dream, Believe, Achieve – Poster Design

    Dream, Believe, Achieve. This is the perfect quote to start the new year. I made this poster for my friend Carina. Carina is a dance coach and a member of the show group NVTLSS. “Dream, Believe, Achieve” is their motto and I love it—it’s a very good one to live by! Check them out—they’re awesome!

    I vectorized the artwork with the Live Tracing Tool in Illustrator. This way, I kept the hand-lettered character and could resize the artwork however I wanted. To visualize something better, it’s always good to create a mockup like in the image below.

  • A Hand Lettered Merry Christmas Card

    Christmas is the time of the year when I get my hands extra dirty, because Christmas Time = Crafting Time.

    My family has had a sort of tradition since forever: My sister and I should not buy any Christmas gifts for the family.

    As kids, we got pocket money from our parents and grandparents. We weren’t supposed to use that money on gifts, but rather craft them ourselves. It totally makes sense, doesn’t it?

    So my sister and I were always challenged to craft gifts and cards up to this day. That’s probably why we both picked creative jobs…

    I’ve always been keen on hand lettering. It’s a handy skill, because you can use it to write beautiful things on everything.

    For this year’s Christmas card, I started fairly early. We went on a trip to Georgia (the country) in early December.

    I used the time on the plane to start doodling for the upcoming seasonal occasion.

    Once I got back home, I was quite happy with the outcome from the plane and started tracing my sketch on the light table. That way, I created “analog” Christmas cards for friends and family.

    Greetings from Georgia!