How to Draw Prismatic Letters

Chuck Davis, founder of Letterhead Fonts, demonstrates how to draw Prismatic letters from scratch.
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1. Convert text to paths

Creating vector prismatic effects from scratch like this isn’t easy. It’s time consuming and can be very tedious. However the end result can also be very rewarding and you’ll have something that can be cut from vinyl. (This is also the method I used to create Convecta, Big Dog, and Quantum.) Start off with a font with wide enough strokes to properly display the prismatic effects, then convert the text to editable paths.

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2. Drawing Continued

Continue adding points as shown. Notice the lines outside the letter are not straight — it doesn’t matter since this area will be cut off later. Finally, connect to the first point you created.

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3. Create inset path

With our “prismatic” shape drawn, select the letter “I” and create an inset path as shown in red. It is important to keep the path close to the edge of the letter.

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4. Removing excess area

Select both the yellow path and the red path and choose the “intersect” command in your program — at least that’s what Illustrator, and CorelDRAW call it. (You may have to play around with the different path operations your particular program offers to find the right one.) Afterward, you should end up with the image shown. Note: In CorelDRAW, uncheck “Leave Original: Source Objects and Target Objects” before performing the intersect operation.

It isn’t a perfect process and undoubtedly you will find extra points that need to be removed.

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5. Filling the objects

Now all that’s left is to fill the two objects and complete the effect. I usually prefer to fill the right side (or prismatic piece) with a slightly darker color than the actual letter. Try various combinations. You’ll find the best results using two similar shades. A darker color on the right gives the illusion of light coming from the upper left.

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6. Adding a black outline

As you can see the finished product can be quite eye-catching. Especially when backed by a bold black outline. “Yeah, but how do I do the other letters?” you might be asking. Well, that’s next, but I wanted to give you an incentive first to help you get through it. You’re going to need it…

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7. Drawing the “S”

First I laid guides out (shown in aqua) along the centers of the letter. I then proceeded to roughly draw the prismatic pieces just as we did for the letter “I” in steps 2a and 2b. The only difference is the curves. I must plan ahead and guess where I’m going to have to curve the pieces later. I’ve given each piece a different color here in order to clarify what’s going on.

It takes some skill and practice to learn where to lay the prismatic pieces and judge where your light source is coming from. My light source is coming from the top left so I lay my pieces out on the bottom and right sides. It might be helpful to sketch your letters out before hand using a pencil and paper.

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8. Making the curves

Now I turn my rough angles into curves where I need them. Point 3 curves up slightly while point 2 curves down. Point 1 is simply a tangent point. Continue doing this around the letter where needed.

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9. Curves complete

You should now have something like this. Of course these curves will vary depending on the font you are using. With a more traditional “S” you would have curves on the bottom right and top left to deal with also. Notice I did not bother to curve any of the portions that fall outside the letter since this area will be cut off later. Compare this image with the image in step 7.

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10. Making the inset path

Select the letter itself and create an inset path (shown in brown) as you did for the letter “I” in step 3. Remember not to set it too far in.

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12. Removing points

Now it’s time to remove unnecessary points that were created with the intersect function.

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13. Filling the pieces
Choose a color combination that will show off the prismatic effect well. My favorite combinations are lime/green and yellow/orange. Use colors that are within the same family for best results. Back with a bold black outline.

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