Design & UX
By Tara Hornor

Create a 3D Typography Poster in Illustrator

By Tara Hornor
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Illustrator CS5 has some amazing tools that help you create stunning effects for a wide variety of design projects. For the web or for print, you can create some really amazing 3D typography using Illustrator’s vast array of tools. Of course, 3D effects are much easier to create in 3D software, but if you only have Illustrator at your disposal, this tutorial is for you!

In this tutorial, I will walk you through how to create these 3D typography effects in Illustrator, and I will also show you how to set up your project so that it is ready for print immediately, if a printed poster is what you would like to create. We will cover some of these topics:


  • 3D effects in Illustrator
  • Using Swatches
  • Creating and modifying symbols
  • Using blurs to create a Bokeh effect
  • Blending modes


If you want to follow along and complete the steps exactly as we do them, you will need a few resources. Download these and save them to a location that you can find later.

Step 1: Getting Started

To begin creating your 3D typography poster, open a new Illustrator document. We will be using an 11 x 17 inch document size, but make sure to set the bleed appropriately. Stretching your background to the appropriate bleed lines will ensure even coverage from edge to edge of your poster.

Step 2: Lettering

Illustrator makes it easy to create 3D type, but getting the most out of the effect takes a bit of tweaking. We will be working with the word “Love,” but feel free to modify it for your own needs. Put the letter “L” on the Artboard. Use the font Arial at 225pt.

Import the polka dot swatches using the Swatch panel (“Window” > “Swatches”). With the foreground color selected, pick a polka dot pattern to apply:

With the letter selected, go to “Effect” > “3D Extrude & Bevel.” One of the more important tools within the 3D Extrude & Bevel tool is the light source feature. Make sure to adjust the light source so that the face of the lettering has more light than the beveled edges. This helps create important contrasts. To adjust the contrast, increase or decrease the “Ambient Light” slider. Use the following settings:

Repeat for the rest of the letters. If you ever need to adjust the settings, simply go to the “Window” > “Appearance” panel with the shape you want to adjust selected. Here, you can tweak any settings.

Make sure to arrange the letters so that the “L” is above the “O”, which is above the “V”, which is above the “E”:

Create a new layer below Layer 1, and lock Layer 1.

Step 3: Bokeh Shapes

For this next section, we are going to reach for the Symbol tools. So open “Window” -> “Symbols.” Hide Layer 1 to make it easier to see what you are doing. Using the Ellipse Tool, draw some circles of different sizes and colors:

Select the circles. In the Symbol palette, click the “New Symbol” button and name it “Bokeh”:

Grab the Symbol Sprayer tool and spray the Bokeh symbol across the Artboard:

To adjust the way the symbols lie across the Artboard, you can use the Symbol tools. Use the Symbol Spinner Tool to break up areas where the Bokeh pattern is a bit too obvious, as an example.

Make a new layer and fill in any gaps that you may want covered, but be sure to put this layer below Layer 2.

With Layer 3 selected, go to “Effect” > “Blur” > “Gaussian Blur” and apply a 25px blur:

With Layer 2 selected, apply a 10px Gaussian Blur:

Add a new layer above Layer 2 and add just a few more Bokeh symbols to the Artboard. Below, Layer 2 and Layer 3 are hidden to show you an approximate idea of how many symbols to spray.

Lock layers 2, 3, and 4 so you don’t accidentally move them and make Illustrator render the blurs again, which can take awhile.

Step 4: Background Colors

Add a new layer and put it on the bottom of your layer list. Using the Rectangle Tool, draw a shape that covers approximately 2/3 of the Artboard. Make sure to go all the way out to the bleed (red) lines. The color of the rectangle does not matter at this point.

Go to “Window” > “Gradient.” With the rectangle selected, apply the gradient and adjust using these settings:

Using the Selector Tool, select the rectangle and go to “Edit” > “Copy,” then “Edit” > “Paste.” Rotate the pasted rectangle and adjust the height to meet the first rectangle and the top bleed line.

Unhide the layers to see what we’ve got so far:

Step 5: Texture

Add a new layer on top of the other layers. Save the above texture in the resources list and place it on your document by going to “File” > “Place.” Rotate it and size it as needed, but make sure you allow it to stay at least out to the bleed lines.

Go to “Window” > “Transparency” and set the Blending Mode to “Overlay.”

At this point, you can adjust the letters to create a greater contrast by going to “Window” > “Appearance” and selecting the “Extrude & Bevel” options.

Here, we adjusted the “Ambient Light” back to 10% to give the lettering a greater contrast.

Repeat for each letter as needed. We also changed the Swatch pattern of the letter “O” to demonstrate that you can still completely edit each letter’s color, shape, size, and even its font.

Final Product

And here’s the final product. Click the image to see the full-size version.

Have any suggestions for how to create a 3D typography poster in Illustrator more efficiently? Feel free to share!

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