How to turn a word into a shape

How to turn a word into a shape

When designing a logo for a customer, we often receive psd files as a basis, but what we need has to be developed in Adobe Illustrator so that – in this case the logo – can be produced in different sizes, say for business cards as well as posters – and this always in perfect quality, sharp and crisp. It was my case as described earlier HERE.
In this exercise the question is: How to turn a word into a shape?

Bianca Image by Bianca Gubalke


For this exercise, I will simply use my name ‘Bianca’ … :)

How to turn a word into a shape

1. Open Photoshop > FILE NEW
2. Image size 800 x 600 px, 72 res, RGB colour, transparent, name it.
3. Type the text – Bianca –  (250px big) , center it and fit to screen. Select SMOOTH Font at the top.
4. Add a layer underneath for a white background.
5. Now you have a white layer background plus a T-layer with the word Bianca.
6. To get these fonts the way we want them to look in Photoshop, we can select between sharp, crisp, smooth etc.  Often we choose SMOOTH. In order to have a bigger contrast, we may rather choose CRISP.  The problem is that if we have received this text as a logo, we need to TRACE it, to make a SHAPE out of it or to extrude it in 3D.

So how do we do that?

7. The first thing to do is to make this image bigger. How? Here’s the way:

Go > Image size > and at the top where we have the pixels I select %. Punch in 400 %. Resample and Constrain Proportions at the bottom should be ticked, and click OK.

8. Blow up the image with your ZOOM TOOL to make it really big so you will see the edges and some of the weaknesses of the font you are using – it may be scales, steps and even holes.

The question now is – esp. if I go for ACTUAL PIXELS : How can I make the font sharper? In fact, it’s pretty similar to photography.

9. First, I will merge these two layers..

Smoothing a Font with a Blur Filter

10. Then I will use a BLUR FILTER in order to get smooth edges choosing > GAUSSIAN BLUR. It will ask you to RASTERIZE the type and you click OK.
Now move the radius so that things look equally smooth, meaning the lines are black and then a uniform gray zone around. Note that the harder we are the less uniformity we have.

11. Imagine that when you trace all this the tracer will follow all these corners and steps and that’s possibly not what you want, so you try to get something smooth and then bring it back and resharpen it with the levels.
Try a radius of  between 3.0 and 3.5. It must really look smooth. Meaning smooth edges. When we blur we have full black colour and then we have zones with the blur where we are drifting down into grayscale. That means that we could work on this with the select tool. Make sure you merge all layers you have!

Levels in Photoshop

12. Here now is the secret that only works if you have a white background that enables you to see the levels at the bottom; also, you won’t see the histogram if you just work on transparent.
From the Adjustment Layers Button ADD A LEVELS LAYER and narrow in the white stop (say to about 170) and narrow in the black stop (say to about 100) and then finetune. See what happens when you move the mid tones. It changes the behaviour of the edges. Now go to ACTUAL PIXELS and narrow the white and black stops further. Make them look sharp… do the finetuning from the center. Play with it and put your glasses on as your eyes might object at some point. The result will be a CRISP FONT. Similar to what we do in photography esp. if we have monochromatic pictures, which looks very nice.

13. You can exaggerate, blow it up a bit. The more space we have between the black stop and the white stop the more it is blurred. Push them closer until we have what we want, and the center tab we can move for hardness or softness. Try it out to get something smooth and sexy.

What is interesting here is the technique: we blur first to get a smooth edge. Then we try to sharpen this by burning black and white. We are moving the white stops and the black stops narrower together – this is like when we are doing a colour selection when you limit the tolerance. We just need to watch that we don’t limit too much and get corners back into our fonts.

14. MERGE the 2 layers and go FIT SCREEN.

15. Now we need to SELECT this – for which we use our MAGIC WAND TOOL. On top, in the Control Panel, untick “contiguous” (this means that everything that is hooked together will be selected).
Click somewhere on the black colour and this should select everything. Check if a letter is not linked to the rest; i.e. that if I select CONTIGUOUS on the MAGIC WAND and I select an unattached “R” for example, it selects only the “R” and I would have to use the SHIFT TOOL to select the other elements. In bigger texts it’s very easy to miss out on an element.

If you untick “CONTIGUOUS” then it will find, on the picture, whatever elements correspond to that selection. In our case black.

Note: We could refine the edges more using the REFINE EDGES tool in the Control Panel; esp. if we have some fuzzy design to trace, but in this exercise it’s not necessary now.

16. So with the blacks all selected we are going to make our PATH. On the layer stack on top we click on PATH and there is a dropdown menu where we select MAKE WORK PATH.

17. A popup comes up that lets us choose the TOLERANCE LEVEL. 2px comes up as default and we use it and give it a name, eg. Tolerance 2px. Click OK.

NOTE: On top on the Control panel we have a Tolerance level that we might want to play with (set to default now). If we get a logo from a customer then we might have to go into much more detail.

18. SAVE it.

19. We will repeat the process to do another tolerance level (MAGIC WAND > CLICK ON BLACK > PATH > MAKE WORK PATH > TOLERANCE LEVEL 1 PX > NAME Tolerance 1px > OK ). So we have two tolerance levels that we can test.

NOTE: The assumption of 1 or 2 px is usually not bad.

20. To see the layer stack we add a WHITE LAYER and compare the word Bianca in ACTUAL PIXEL SIZE to see where the critical issues are and which one is better. Just switch inbetween the two layers. Here tolerance 1 px looks better so I deleted the other version.

21. Now I FIT TO SCREEN and now I will select the PATH (keeping the Path Layer open).

22. In the toolbox underneath the TYPE-TOOL we select the PATH SELECTION TOOL to select the path. We could have stroke colors (on top in the control panel) but you now simply select the elements by clicking into the various fields that are of concern. If you have an O you need to click on the shape, but also in the ‘hole’ where it’s supposed to be white. Make sure everything is selected – to the minidot!

23. So now we have a path designed that we can SAVE AS A CUSTOM SHAPE. So I go EDIT and click DEFINE CUSTOM SHAPE – give it a name, eg. ‘Bianca’ and click OK.

Bianca Gubalke Showcase 2012

24. So if I do a new design I just start from scratch again: FILE > NEW > 800×600 etc > make all FIT TO SCREEN – then I go to my CUSTOM SHAPES > dropdown… and my last custom shape is my ‘Bianca’ that I just designed. I just pull it in. I can give it a gradient or another colour and I can do as many as I want I any shapes and sizes. I just placed a Noordhoek sunset behind it, duplicated the shape and played with it to get somethig interesting. And voila!

25. Now you can SAVE as a PSD or anything else. The PSD can be opened in ADOBE Illustrator to be worked on. Or even here in Photoshop if you need to do a 3D extrusion.

Important: once we have the path, we can manipulate the letters by intervening on those points and changing details on the fonts to adjust them. Even in this well designed font I used I found curves that could be improved – perhaps hardly noticeable without being blown up, but a good font is like architecture: you feel if something is out of synch!

Now it’s your turn – enjoy!