How to create 3D hand lettered text in Illustrator using the Extrude Tool

In this post I'm going to show you how to take your block lettering styles and add a fun 3D effect to them using the Extrude Tool in Illustrator.

I love this effect because it's a quick way to add a realistic 3D look to your letters yet still keep the hand lettering feel to them. Also, 3D effects are fun but can quickly go awry if you do it on paper. (At least this is my experience.)

Because this is done with hand lettering instead of using a blocky font, you get a softer, squishy feel to the letters that feels fun and personalized.

How to create 3D hand lettered text in Adobe Illustrator - a fun and easy tutorial
How to create 3D hand lettered text in Adobe Illustrator - a fun and easy tutorial

This post uses a lot of similar techniques in previous hand lettering tutorials, so if I gloss over a technique or a step, I will try to point you in the right direction.

Step 1: Draw and Scan In Your Work

Go ahead and draw and ink your work using a black pen on plain white paper. The process is hardly pretty at this stage, and because this is going straight into the computer, you can afford to make several attempts at a letter and worry about arranging it in Photoshop or Illustrator later.

scan in your work
scan in your work

In Photoshop, adjust the levels of your work so it's clean black on white. You can learn more about this process in Step 2 of this tutorial here.

adjust the levels of your scan in Photoshop so it's white and black and strong contrast
adjust the levels of your scan in Photoshop so it's white and black and strong contrast

Then, go ahead and drag individual letters into Illustrator and then arrange your composition.

Step 2: Convert your Drawings to Vector Using Image Trace in Illustrator

Use the Image Trace tool to convert your letterforms into vector shapes (more details in Step 4 of this tutorial).

arrange individual letters in illustrator or tweak your work so it's laid out properly
arrange individual letters in illustrator or tweak your work so it's laid out properly

Expand appearance on the letters, ungroup them, and then delete the extra pieces. For this particular style I recommend saving the "fill" inside the letters because you're later going to unite the "stroke" to the "fill" so it's one piece.

live trace your letters and then ungroup and save the fill
live trace your letters and then ungroup and save the fill

Step 3: Colorize, Unite, and Smooth Your Letters

Next, choose a color palette. I love to go to Design Seeds for this.

choose your colors with a color palette or design seeds
choose your colors with a color palette or design seeds

Drop in your chosen color palette into Illustrator so you can easily grab the color with the eyedropper tool.

To apply the color, choose the letter and its fill with the select tool, then choose the Eyedropper tool (keyboard shortcut I) and click on the color you want to change the color to.

eye dropper your chosen color onto your letters and strokes
eye dropper your chosen color onto your letters and strokes

Keep going until you're finished.

eye dropper your chosen color onto your letters and strokes until finished
eye dropper your chosen color onto your letters and strokes until finished

You may now see that the fill looks slightly separated from the "stroke". We can fix this by combining the two pieces by using the Unite tool in Pathfinder (go to Window → Pathfinder and choose the Unite option in the panel).

unite the strokes and fill using the unite tool in pathfinder
unite the strokes and fill using the unite tool in pathfinder

Now the shapes are united, so you have one letter.

shapes are now united using the unite tool under pathfinder
shapes are now united using the unite tool under pathfinder

Next, you want to smooth out your letters so that there are cleaner lines and less anchor points. You can do this with your mouse or with a Wacom tablet (here are time-saving tips on how to set up your Wacom tablet and Illustrator for this type of work.)

smooth out your letters with a mouse or wacom tablet
smooth out your letters with a mouse or wacom tablet

You'll see why the smooth process is so important in the next step where we go to use the 3D tool.

letter is smoother after using smooth tool in illustrator
letter is smoother after using smooth tool in illustrator

Step 4: Apply the 3D Text Effect in Illustrator

Now's the fun part: playing with the 3D text effect!

Open up the panel in Illustrator by going to Effect → 3D → Extrude & Bevel. Here are the settings I ended up using on this particular piece, but have fun here and make it your own. (Click the More Options button in the bottom of the panel to view all of the options shown below.) You can read more about this panel here.

As you're doing this, make sure to have your letters selected and also have the Preview checkbox checked so you can see the changes being made live.

3d text effect setting panel extrude and bevel
3d text effect setting panel extrude and bevel

Close the panel to see your effect.

3d extrude and bevel text effects now applied
3d extrude and bevel text effects now applied

Then click away to see it applied!

click outside of artwork to see the final 3d text effect
click outside of artwork to see the final 3d text effect

Now you can do whatever you want with the text.

Important note: if you're going to bring this artwork into Photoshop, I recommend sizing it to the correct size in Illustrator and then Exporting it to a PNG (or else you'll get some funky results if you copy and paste directly from Illustrator to Photoshop).

How to create 3D hand lettered text in Adobe Illustrator - a fun and easy tutorial
How to create 3D hand lettered text in Adobe Illustrator - a fun and easy tutorial

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If there are any things you'd like to learn how to do in Photoshop or Illustrator, comment below or email me.

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