Sometimes calligraphy brushes in Illustrator just don’t cut it. As much as you may try, a brush style in Illustrator just can’t mimic the flowing hand drawn style we crave. In the past, Illustrator was very limiting in creating flourish elements. To get shapes the way you want, you had to rely on your skill with the pen tool and the Bézier curve. With Illustrator CS5 in our hands, we now have the ability to manipulate line weight at different points on a line, making a job that would have been very time consuming, a breeze.
1. To mimic the hand drawn calligraphic style, I’d suggest starting on paper. Erasers are definitely your friends. Grab references of calligraphy styles you enjoy. Play with flourishes at the ends of words and with how words interact with eachother. Draw out your words. Don’t worry about the line weight at this stage, we’ll be adding this in the next steps.
2. Scan in your sketch. Bring it into Photoshop and clean up your drawing. This step makes it easier to trace in Illustrator.
3. Open your clean sketch in illustrator and starting tracing. Using the pen tool, trace over all of your lines. I’d suggest trying to keep the number of points to a minimum, but if your having trouble getting smooth lines, I’d try using the smooth tool.
4. Now we can get crazy with those curves. Press Shift (W) to begin using the width tool. Once you have this selected you can click on any point in your illustration to adjust the width of the line. Just click and drag away from the line to create a thicker stroke or toward the line for a thinner stroke. This will adjust the width of the entire line from that single point. To have more control over the whole stroke, use the direct select tool (white arrow) to select a point on your line. Then press Shift (W) and adjust the point. This will only effect the width of the line from that point until it reaches the next point on the line. This method is great for getting high-contrasting line weights on a single line. A great way to start is by scaling down the width of the line on each end-point of your type. This creates clean beginning and endpoints and helps the lines feel more brush-like.
5. With your reference images in hand, mimic the line weights you see. I’d suggest trying to keep all of your thick strokes a similar weight and thin strokes a similar weight. This way your type has a very consistent and cohesive feeling. Once you have all of the type in the style to your liking, try playing around with embellishments. Add extra flourishes or lines to enhance the design. To finish up my own design, I added a soft gradient halo around my text and a subtle feathered drop shadow to make the text stand out from the background.
Now get out there and start experimenting, you’ll be surprised at what you can make and how easy it can be to get fabulous looking designs!