Tutorial on How to Make a Simple, Elegant Drop Cap

Drop caps are a beautiful example of how typography can extend to even just a letter. While traditionally used in novels to start chapters, they also work well as logos or even just a way to test your skills in Illustrator! Use these steps to create a simple, but elegant drop cap.

1. Open Adobe Illustrator

You could create this in Adobe InDesign as well but for the sake of ease and general preference, I chose to work in Adobe Illustrator.

2. Create a file size of 8.5 inches x 11 inches
8.5x11 workspace
3. In your layers panel, call the current layer “Letter”
4. Type the letter ‘K’ in the font Snell Roundhand, in a point size of 390

I’m using the first letter of my name, so after practicing with the ‘K’ feel free to experiment with other letters to see what designs you can make!

5. Change the letter to have a dark blue fill in the color panel on your right (no outline) — CMYK: 100, 100, 25, 25
k in blue text

The main objective is to work in a monochromatic color palette, and to have a darker color as your base and a lighter color as your accent color, which will be explained later in the tutorial. I chose to use the color blue.

6. Copy and paste the ‘K’
7. In your layers panel, drag the new ‘K’ sublayer above your old one
8. Change the ‘K’ to have no fill and to have a light blue outline in the color panel on your right — CMYK: 100, 0, 0, 0
9. Move the outline of the ‘K’ over to the left, so that the outline overlaps the solid blue ‘K’, with small gaps of white where they do not line up
Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 4.28.08 PM
10. Create a new layer and call it “Details”
11. Using the pen tool, create a curved shape, similar to an upside-down Nike swoosh above the top left part of the ‘K’ — create it in the same color as the solid letter

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 4.31.28 PM

Create this to have the same feel as the font, creating the idea as if it’s naturally supposed to be a part of the original text.

12. Match the steps taken with the letter outline — copy and paste the shape and pull that sublayer above the solid shape and change it to the light blue outline
13. Move the outlined shape to the left a little so they overlap
14. Create five different sized circles in the same solid dark blue
  • 1 circle: 0.0512 inches x 0.0512 inches
  • 1 circle: 0.0743 inches x 0.0743 inches
  • 1 circle: 0.1188 inches x 0.1188 inches
  • 1 circle: 0.1448 inches x 0.1448 inches
  • 1 circle: 0.1708 inches x 0.1708 inches

I chose to use circles for this to match the shapes and feel of the letter. If you pick a different font, different shapes might apply themselves better to the design. Feel free to mix it up as you experiment!

15. Copy and paste the four smallest circles so that there are duplicates of all of them, except for the largest sized circle
16. Position the circles at the curve of the bottom right part of the ‘K’ and have the largest one in the center and have the other circles mirror it on each side
  • start from largest in the center and go out to the smallest on each side to create a half-moon shape
Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 4.34.26 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 4.35.06 PM
17. Group the circle together using the keys “Command” + “g”
18. Copy and paste the circles
19. Repeat the steps earlier to change them into outlines and move them over to the left just a little bit
20. Use the pen tool to create a line down the vertical part of the ‘K’
21. Use “no fill” and the same light blue as earlier
22. Have it follow the shape of the solid letter behind it but have it in the center of the outline of the ‘K’
23. Change the line thickness to 0.5 pt and then adjust the variable width profile to be “Width Profile 1,” the choice underneath where it says “uniform”

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 4.40.18 PM

24. Use the pen tool to create another line on the right side of the top diagonal line of the ‘K’ — using the light blue color with no fill
25. Change the line thickness to 0.5 pt and then adjust the variable width profile to be “Width Profile 1,” the choice underneath where it says “uniform”
26. Create a new layer and drag it down so that it is the bottom layer
27. Use the rectangle tool and create a square that is 5 inches x 5 inches in a pale blue — CMYK: 14, 0, 0, 5
28. Center the square behind the ‘K’ so that there is a little bit of the letter off of the square
29. Save your project and then you’re done!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 4.46.05 PM


Creating Resumes and Avoiding Times New Roman?

An article was recently published that broke the news to everybody that Times New Roman was no longer considered an appropriate font to use on a resume. It was described to being seen as lazy and is the font equivalent of “wearing sweatpants to an interview.” Yikes.

As a college student who feels that she’s constantly reworking her resume and tweaking, this is a pretty relevant article to me. In my own defense, I do not use Times New Roman on my resumes. But it’s interesting to think about what all of this means. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in multiple classes going over what it means to have a good resume. Most of it involves the basics, such as the type of information you’re including and making sure it remains on one page. One of my classes focused on the creative aspect of it, what does it mean to have a creative resume? And, is there such a thing as too creative of a resume? (The answer is yes). It certainly makes sense to see why someone could see Times New Roman as a lazy selection, since it tends to be the default font choice on almost every program, but it still raises some questions.

Some people interviewed in the article sing their praises for Helvetica as the go-to font. Wow, Helvetica? How original. Not that there’s anything wrong with Helvetica, clearly since I used it as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek name for my blog, but it’s hardly worth jumping around over. They even describe it in the article as “safe.” While maybe not a default font on software, Helvetica is THE cliche font to use and I personally would rank it with Times New Roman if we’re concerned about font selection. There is nothing ground-breaking about Helvetica and to me, it’s a lazy choice to pick due to the fact that everybody seems to love using Helvetica.

Let’s say this together: using Helvetica does not make you a good designer. Can we say that a couple more times? Okay now that you’re done with that, let’s carry on.

Helvetica is a great, classic font. But why play it “safe” when applying for a job? In one of my classes we talked about how the average time spent on a resume during the first round is six seconds. The goal is to stand out, make the person notice your resume. In that instance, I would use neither Helvetica or Times New Roman. Or if you’re going to, have an emphasis on the actual design of your resume and not the fonts that you’re using.

Now the concern of type might mainly be something potential designers worry about, and for other types of fields of work this might be something they subconciously notice. It is however another look at how the superficiality of resumes continues to be a part of the process, versus the work put into building the actual content for that resume. Good design is great to include when looking into graphic design jobs, being able to be another outlet to showcase your ability to design. But substance is important as well and it’s more important to worry about what you’re doing to make you qualified than nitpicking over font choice (as long as it’s not Comic Sans).

They did also say no to using Courier for resumes, which is a bummer since that’s a majority of the accent type on my resume. I’m going to be a little risky though and keep it just the way it is.

5 Favorite Adobe Illustrator Tutorials

While not all design work involves actually creating art, it is extremely useful to have a background knowledge in how art and design work together. For that, the most important software to know is Adobe Illustrator. It can be a bit of an intimidating software at first but once you get the hang of it, it’s incredibly easy and a fun program to create in.

Below I’ve gathered five of my favorite Illustrator tutorials and included why I like them and what I think their level of difficulty is. Enjoy and happy creating!

Okay okay, this isn’t a tutorial. But if you’ve never really had any experience in Illustrator or are just getting started, this is a great way to familiarize yourself with the program. It’s like as a writer you want to keep a dictionary by you, so if you’re a beginning designer this is a great tool to keep on hand as you get the hang of everything. This is a great starting point to understanding the lingo used in the following tutorials.

Level of Difficulty: 3/5

With the minimalist style being so popular, this tutorial on flat design icons is a great one to learn. It has a fun element of a space theme and is easy to follow with step by step instructions. It heavily focuses on the use of shapes and using a simple color scheme.

Creating Editable Letterpress Styled Text

Level of Difficulty: 1/5

A fun way to elevate a logo or any type of text, this tutorial breaks down how to easily create letterpress styled text, while still keeping its ability to edit. This is a good technique to learn for any type of text or logo to help give it a little bit of depth (pun somewhat intended).

How To Create a Retro Badge/Emblem Style Logo

Level of Difficulty: 4/5

Retro and vintage style seems to have found a way to stay current, at least as a current trend. This tutorial teaches you how to create a logo that emulates this iconic style, using both Illustrator and Photoshop. It breaks down each of the steps, and uses a variety of techniques to best create a design.

Design a Killer Logo in Illustrator

Level of Difficult: 3/5

Logos are a crucial part of a brand, and it’s extremely important to be able to help design them to the best of your ability. This tutorial talks about the entire process from the initial sketch to working on it in Illustrator. There aren’t too many steps this tutorial which is what makes it a higher difficulty level, but it helps show the different general steps of building and creating a logo, such as initial design, creating it, experimenting with type, and selecting color.

The Importance of Freelance

It’s terrifying to sometimes think about how close to the “real world” I am as student in college, wrapping up my junior year. As of this spring semester, more of my professors have been bringing up the topic of freelance to classes. I had never even considered freelance before this year but now it’s definitely something I’m considering as a possibility. The other day in one of my classes, my professor Ben Hannam talked to my class about one of the most important parts of freelance work — setting up a contract with your client.

There isn’t a point in waiting to have a diploma in hand to get working on freelance work, but because we’re students, it’s even more important to make sure that we stay on top of holding clients to their word. We must be both a creative person and a business person. Sadly, life happens and a designer doesn’t always get paid or gets scammed and isn’t compensated for their work. This is where the contract comes into play.

“Contracts are good for two people, you and the client.”

Talking about money can be really difficult to talk about, but a contract will keep both you and your client accountable for what exactly is being made and the parameters that are set. This is the place to make sure there isn’t any gray areas, have everything outlined exactly how it will be executed and what it will be used for. Otherwise this is where “project creep” comes in, a term from Hannam that described what happens when clients slowly slip in more work into what you’re doing. A contract will break down the specifics of what is being asked for and what exactly you will get paid for doing. This also helps include your rights as the designer, and gives you the safety net of a “kill fee” in case something happens and the project is terminated. Just because the design wasn’t used in the end should the designer be forced to not be compensated for their time and effort.

I’ve luckily never had a bad experience in terms of the little bits of (very unprofessional) freelance work that I’ve done. However that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to worry, and by learning about contracts this early, I’m setting myself up to not be on the losing side of a problem with a client. My time and work have a value and it’s important for me to protect my work. While it’s still scary to think about, it’s discussions like these that help me feel a little more confident in my future.

If you want to have a sample contract to use to help you get started as you move into freelance, or want to look at template for inspiration for your own, click here and select “Supplemental Material” to look at Ben Hannam’s sample contract that he designed and to see an example of what would work.

3 Ways to Find Inspiration as a Graphic Designer

Since I was really young, I’ve always been a creative person. No matter the medium, I threw myself into whatever I was working on. Sometimes though when you’ve spent your entire life doing creative work, it feels like the steam can run out. Whether it’s tearing up the paper or deleting everything in an Illustrator file, I’ve had my fair share of creative blocks. Even just this past semester I went through a rut of feeling like I couldn’t create anything of value. So if I want to be a graphic designer for my career, how am I supposed to get past these points?

I’ve compiled a list of steps that I take to get past my creative blocks and hopefully these can help you get through them as well!

Take a Break

Taking a break can mean a variety of things and it all comes down to personal preference. Now that spring has arrived, going outside is one of my favorite solutions when I’m struggling. Too often I find myself cooped up and hunched over a computer for hours on end. Not only is that bad for your posture (or so I’ve heard), but it can feel like you’re going crazy.

My university just returned from spring break and I had the opportunity to spend the week at Folly Beach in South Carolina. Though I had to do some web design projects over break, I never felt myself get overwhelmed because I knew that I could walk right from the house and be on the beach. There were some days I spent two hours just wandering the beach by myself, taking the time to think about things but to also not think about things. I’m a part of the population that overthinks everything and being able to clear my head like that was exactly what I needed. Sadly, that was only a temporary solution now that I’m back at school. But the idea remains the same.

Getting outside helps stretch your body and there’s just something about inhaling fresh air. Maybe it’s just getting up and walking outside for a minute, or maybe it’s going to a coffee shop nearby just to break up routine. Or it’s actually putting down the pen or mouse for the day and taking the rest of the day off. Overworking your brain will never lead to quality results, and it can also help you give ideas if you forget about the project and return to it with a fresh mind later.

Sketch and Doodle Ideas 

This one oddly sometimes is the hardest for me, but it does work. Typically after taking a break like I talked about in my first step, I take to sketching. Returning to the roots of my art background always helps me come up with my strongest ideas. Even if all I grab is a bunch of printer paper instead of a sketchbook, it still helps.

Personal tip: use a pen. Not being able to erase anything helps me just get my ideas out because I know I won’t be able to sit and stress over going over one section over and over again.

Even with a tablet, it’s much more freeing to sketch on paper. And the beauty of doodling is that it doesn’t matter what level of skill you’re at, it’s all about just putting lines on a paper. Whatever works best for channeling ideas, whether it’s scribbles and a bunch of notes or detailed drawings, it makes coming up with ideas much easier and allows then for the transfer to the computer to be easier.

The other day I had to turn in 100 thumbnail sketches for one of my classes. Though it was extremely difficult, since I have never made myself sketch that many thumbnails, it did help me just like doodling in high school did. It helped me let go of ideas that I was holding on to and really try to think outside of the box. No, not everything is going to be good quality. But that’s not what’s important in the drafting or doodling phase, it’s all about channeling creativity and generating ideas.

Research Other Work

As a competitive person, sometimes I just need that spark to get me going. I’m a former athlete so I like to challenge myself. For me, my background is in golf. In golf, my success was dependent on the work that I put in; I was in no control of how my competitors would do. That taught me from an early age to look at what others were doing and to see what I had to do to get to their level. Graphic design isn’t a sport, but sometimes I use the same principles to help get me inspired.

Since I began to work in art, photography, and design, I’ve had one main mantra: “If someone made it, that means it’s possible for me to make it too.”

For me, this means that when I see extremely well made work, I try to study and see how I could create something similar. This isn’t about copying or stealing ideas, but learning techniques and design elements. For example, maybe I see a really intricate logo design. I’ll try to break it down, try to figure out where the inspiration came from and what it took to create it. Or maybe it’s a beautiful piece of digital art. I’ll try to understand the techniques used and test them out for myself. By doing all of this, it pushes me to learn about the software that I use and makes me think more about my own designs. Seeing other people’s work can lead to those “ah ha!” moments and unlock a creative brain freeze.



Looking at Brand Identity for Businesses

Brand identity is the use of consistent visuals, colors, and design to create a specific look for a brand or business. This helps establish a recognition of the brand and an association with the image that they are looking to have represent them. While not all brands will necessarily be as recognizable as companies such as Apple or Nike, it is still important to maintain a strong sense of brand identity. This helps elevate the company and give it a more professional look.

It also really helps establish the identity of the brand. What is the demographic that you’re targeting? Young? Older? Male or female? What is the feel of your product? Organic? Modern? Vintage? Each of these aspects play a role in the type of marketing and brand identity. A modern, vegan bar in LA will create a very different identity than a vintage boutique in Seattle, and that plays heavily into the brand identity. Who you are as a business should be reflected in your design choices so as not to have a juxtaposition in who you are and how you present yourself, as consumers will struggle to connect with a brand that is scattered and not unified.

Brand Identity National Park of Greenland

Student Design Sample of Brand Identity for the National Park of Greenland

Even businesses such as restaurants can use brand identity to establish a specific look, one that will help attract customers and take them a step beyond your average restaurant. Places such as Applebee’s and Olive Garden may have particular themes and looks, but nothing exactly stands out. This work from restaurant Five & Dime Eatery showcases how a restaurant’s identity can expand past just the general and be unique, helping give consumers a new look at it. By using such a distinct look, the restaurant is able to create an image that will be only associated with them, as well as a consistent brand for all aspects of their company.

Different Samples of Brand Identity from restaurant Five & Dime Eatery.

Different Samples of Brand Identity from restaurant Five & Dime Eatery.

Brand identity is the best way to encompass good design. People are naturally drawn to strong elements of unity and repetition, which are two aspects of design, and those two elements play a big part in what brand identity is. When we see not only good design, but an overall aesthetic applied to a business, we’re automatically more attracted to it. Our brains connect the dots and we create associations of the brand with that particular image. This is why brand identity is the second step in having good design. Without good design, it’s impossible to create a successful brand identity. Once a good design is chosen, based on the logo/word mark and the feel of the business, it’s important to go from there to pick the colors and other design choices to complete the brand. From there it’s determining what types of brand packaging will be designed and how things like the website, letterheads, and business cards will be designed as well as other merchandise.

Brand Identity ACE Outdoorsmen Company

Samples of Brand Identity from ACE Outdoorsmen Company

Whether or not you’re starting your own business or helping someone else, always keep brand identity in mind and make sure to expand your design beyond just the basics and to think about how to represent the brand as a whole.

Apple Watch Ads Reflect Company’s Minimalist Branding

When you have friends who are computer programers and engineers, the Apple vs. PC debate comes up frequently. Sometimes I find myself throwing my hands up in the air and just exclaiming, “I can’t help that I’m a sucker for Apple’s packaging and branding!”

While this may not the best reasoning to purchase a product, it is a big selling point behind Apple products. Apple’s overall clean and minimalist design aesthetic is something that is associated with them immediately. The consistency of their image stretches from not just their website and packaging, but also in their product design. The Apple Watch, Apple’s newest product expected to be released in April, is no exception. The watch comes in three designs: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition, and is iOS8 compatible.

In their March issue, fashion-magazine Vogue features a 12 page advertisement spread dedicated to the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Advertisement

Example images of Apple’s 12 page spread in Vogue’s March issue.

This type of advertising is both classic Apple and classic jewelry styling. It maintains Apple’s key minimalist image, making it obvious that this is an Apple product, even without its logo on every page. It’s not only clean though, but also evokes the idea of elegance. This is often crucial in marketing jewelry, to make it desirable and make it that people want to wear it, as well showcasing more detail than you normally would see of it. Apple uses extreme closeups on the pieces, giving just hints of the appearance, as well as simple straight-on pictures of some of the watch designs. It’s enough to give a taste of the watch without going overboard.

As an avid Apple customer, I loved seeing the new images released. I think it elevates Apple as a brand, taking them from just purely a technology based company and translating that into a fashion-style spread. Though I don’t foresee myself purchasing the Apple Watch, I applaud Apple’s choices in advertising with the watch and I’ll be excited to see where it goes and how it does with its release in April!

To learn more about the watch, click here to see Apple’s website and pages about it.