Easy Ways To Improve Your Typography

As a beginning graphic designer you may think that the easiest designs will be text based and that as long as they are funny or interesting you just need to type it out in a cool font and that's it. After all, M&M, Ikea and Coca-Cola have pretty simple typography logos. But as you work more and more and the more you expose yourself to other designs (good and bad) the more you will start noticing that most successful typography designs are not as basic as it might seem. If you are ready to kick your type up a notch here are a few easy things to try.

In the interest of keeping the focus on the typography I am keeping it simple and using plain white backgrounds but use your imagination and think of ways you can use these tips and tricks in your designs.

1. Shadow Only

Some font families come with a shadow only font but you may not be aware of how easy it is to create your own shadow only text. It will work with most fonts and in many graphic applications. For this demo I used the Graphic app on my iPad.

  1. Type in your text.
  2. Duplicate your text to a new layer. 
  3. Move the bottom layer away from under the top layer and place it so it looks like the shadow of the top layer. 
  4. Select both layers and click on the Subtract button on your geometry panel. 
  5. Ta-da! (told you it was easy)

2. Text on a Path

Many vector graphics software allow for you to place your text on a path. Again, I'll be using the Graphic app on my iPad for this demo. The way you combine the text and path can vary from app to app so check the app you are using to see how to do it. My goal is just to show you that it is possible and to open your mind up to new ideas. 

  1. Create your path, this can be with the pen tool, the shape tool or drawing your own complex shape. For this simple demo I used the pen tool to create a curvy line. 
  2. Add text. The way you do this may vary, check your app for directions on how to do it. 
    1. For some apps, such as Affinity Designer you select the Art Text tool and hover over the path until the text icon changes to a letter A with a curvy line and then click on it and start typing. 
    2. On Graphic on iPad you type the text, then select the text layer and the path layer and click on Place Text on Path. 
  3. Adjust the text to be on the part of the path or shape you want it to be. You can also edit the path itself to make the text go in different directions or take different curves. 

  4. Again, Ta-da!

3. Convert Text to Curves

This is an essential tool for all graphic designers and it is available in many graphics programs. Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Photo for iPad and Pixelmator all have this feature. When you convert the text to curves you can move letter around independently and use the node tool to change their shape. I will demonstrate using Graphic for iPad. 

  1. Type your text.
  2. Select your text and convert it to curves (sometimes called Convert Text To Outlines). Depending on the program you are using you may do this by going to menu, panel or right clicking. Look up in your favorite app's Help section how to do it.
  3. Play around with the nodes. You may want to stretch or shrink letters, add tails and swirls or complete change the letters' shapes.

4. Mind Your Scripts

When choosing a script font don't just pick the first one you see. Not all fonts are created equal. With script fonts you need to be extra careful. 

The first thing you want to keep in mind is that is is legible. You must consider not only the shapes of the letters but how large or small they will be, the contrast to its surroundings and the placement in the final design. 

The other thing you want to consider when picking a script font is how the letter connect. Take a good look at the fonts bellow (Graphic made in Pixelmator for Mac). The top one, Mammoth, has letters that are similar to cursive writing buy they don't really connect. If you look at the font I used to for the word Curvy on the Text On A Path demo above you will see the same problem. Now compare Mammoth to the same text in the fonts Lily Mae and Magical. These fonts make it seem as if they were really written in one cursive line as you do in handwriting. I much prefer this style.

5. Use Objects in Place of Letters

The human mind is an amazing thing and it can see information in unexpected ways. Just as in the Shadow Only technique, your eye and brain can work together to complete what's missing and recognize letter. The following examples where made using Affinity Designer.

Here is an example of the word Camp with a tent in the place of the letter A. 

Here is an example from one of my t-shirts where the word "cookies" has actual cookies in the place of "oo."

Give them a try!

I hope these easy ways to improve your text inspire you to do more with typography. Have some fun and I'd love to see your work!


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