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Creating Isometric Typography in Affinity Designer

Introduction

Hello folks! Today we are going to scrap the surface of one of my favorite subject matters: isometric typography. It is also one of the most frustrating subject matters either; anything related to pseudo-3D typography is always challenging to understand and master. Affinity Designer comes loaded with some powerful tools that will make your life so much easier when creating isometric graphics in general.

I love isometric typography and tridimensional typography in general because you can create outstanding pieces of graphic design using only a few elements. It takes a lot of patience to get through it, but the results are so amazing that it is worth every minute you spend learning and practicing it.

With no further due, let’s fire up Affinity Designer, and let’s dive into another adventure together!

Free downloadable files

This tutorial includes some goodies we’ll be using at different states in the process, including an Affinity Designer Template, Color Swatches and Vector Assets. You can download them here: Isometric Typography Goodies

Let’s get started

First, create a shiny 4096px x 4096px Affinity Designer file. If you want to skip a few steps ahead, you can use the template provided in the goodies folder: Frankentoon_Summer_Template.afdesign

We gonna use Designer’s isometric grid for a brief moment. So go to the View menu and select Grid and Axis Manager… to prepare our grid.

Select Advanced mode at the top, and then, from the Grid type selector, choose Isometric. Let’s ramp the spacing up to 256px and leave the rest of the options as default.

Open the Isometric Panel from top menu: View > Studio > Isometric.
Go to the Isometric Panel and click on the Enable Planes option.

In this tutorial, we’ll be working on the Top Plane of the isometric grid. If you want to learn more about these handy isometric tools, make sure to check this tutorial we made of Affinity Spotlight a while ago. In case you want to know the basics of isometric illustration, you may be interested in our premium course Advanced Illustration Vol.2 in Affinity Designer without these automatic tools. Okay, enough with the commercials!

To get rid of the scary blank canvas from the very beginning, I’ll add a new background layer, cover it with a rectangle and create a Radial fill using the Gradient Tool.

These are the initial colors I used for my gradient. Spolier alert: They’re are gonna be replaced by the end of the tutorial.

If you’re using our template, you can skip this step. Write down any word you want, try to make it short. Believe me, you want to keep it short! .

You’ll get a group of vector paths as a result. Keep this group selected, go to the Isometric Panel and while selecting the Top plane, click on the Fit to plane option.

Okay, now our isometric grid is barely visible. Let’s fix this in a snap. Open the Grid and Snapping Axis panel again, and at the bottom, you’ll find the color editor for Grid lines and Subdivision lines. I changed mine to black, but you can choose any color you prefer, as long as you’re able to see your guidelines.

Then, let’s convert these characters into editable curves. Select your text, top menu Layer > Convert to Curves. Rename the resulting group to “Summer” or to whatever you want; it’s a free world, ya know? Until the giant electric chickens take it over in 23 years…

Copy-Paste or Duplicate this group. Send it back and change its color to a similar color as the image above. It doesn’t really matter, we’ll get rid of it in a few minutes. We’ll just be using this duplicated layer as a guide.

Finally, let’s shift this duplicate vertically. The distance will depend on how much depth you’ll want for your letters. Just make sure both groups are perfectly aligned.

Here starts the tricky part

Now we’ll begin to add depth to our letters. Pay close attention to the following steps, because this part might seem daunting or tedious at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be manually extruding shapes without even thinking about it.

I promise you, the results will amaze you once you’re done!

Select the Pen Tool and trace a path joining the primary typeface’s key vertical touch points and its duplicate. See the image above. Don’t worry about drawing a perfect path at this point; we’ll fix everything to perfection later. We’ll keep elaborating on this process during the rest of the tutorial.

Fill this path with any color you prefer. It’s looking more tridimensional already, isn’t it?

Let’s fine-tune our path

In the image above, I’ve hidden the path we’ve just created, to make this steps more clear, let’s go one step at a time:

  • Duplicate the bottom shape, in this case the letter “S”
  • Draw a rectangle, touching the edges of both letters (above and below)
  • Select this rectangle and the bottom duplicate
  • From the top context menu, click on the Subtract boolean operation

Whether you’re using the same “Summer” word or not, your result should look similar to the image above. What we’re doing here is extracting the bottom curve of our “S” letter to avoid drawing it by hand. Remember? This will join the sketchy path we outlined a few steps ago.

Using the Node Tool, select the parts we won’t be needing (see image above).

This is how our final shape looks without the extra nodes we just deleted.

I’ll bring back my original path and, now I’m going to select both, the hand-drawn path and the resulting bottom part of the “S” letter. Using Affinity Designer’s Add boolean operation from the top context menu, I will merge both paths into one.

This will be our resulting shape. Now the bottom curve looks perfect! Notice that the top part of our path still looks terrible. Even though it’s being hidden by the top white “S,” we still know that awful curve it’s there. Can you guess how to fix this? We’ll get onto it later.

Did you know? We could have avoided all steps above, drawing our path by hand. However, this would require mad Pen Tool skills to match the precision of the original shape.

Homework: using this method, complete the rest of the letter.

I grouped all these shapes to keep everything neat. This way I’ll be able to move around all individuals letters independently.

Cleaning the top curve

I’m sure you already guessed this one. To clean up the mess at the top, we gonna duplicate our original letter [Fig.A], we gonna keep it selected and, we’ll also select the bottom shape [Fig.B].

With both shapes selected, we’ll apply a Subtract boolean operation. Magnifico!

Tackling tricky shapes

Now, we’ll take a look at a more complex shape and how to go about it. You’ll see the principle is the same for all letters, no matter how intricate they might seem.

This “M” letter might look like a nightmare to extrude. But if we apply the process we’ve been following from the beginning, we’ll notice that the same vertical touch points are present here too. In the image above, you can see that we don’t need to care about all letter’s legs at first.

Notice what happens when we fill-in our path. It looks almost finished in one step; now, we just need to refine it.

What follows shouldn’t be new to you at this point. I duplicated the bottom “M” letter and my hand-drawn shape and merged both by applying an Add boolean operation. See? No matter how tricky the extrusion might look, the same techniques work like a charm every time!

Mind the gaps!

Now, following with our join-all-verticals technique, let’s fill the remaining gaps. Draw a path touching the points shown above.

Select [Fig.A] and [Fig.B] and, merge them together using the Add boolean function.

Repeat the same steps to fill the other gap. I know, that mess at the top, just feeds my anxiety too… let’s fix it!

Getting Cleaner Shapes

As we did before, duplicate the top “M” shape. Select this duplicate [Fig.A] and the hand-drawn path we just created [Fig.B] and apply a Subtract boolean operation. Now, all looks nice and dandy!

To create the bottom of the legs, draw a rectangle, touching the points shown above. Since this typeface has no straight corners, try to draw this rectangle across the middle point of the rounded corners.

Again, let’s duplicate the top shape, select it [Fig.A] and also select the rectangle we just created [Fig.B]. Apply a Subtract boolean operation to clean the top of our rectangle.

This is the result.

Now, to clean up the bottom part, duplicate the bigger shape [Fig.A] (I colored it yellow just to show this step better), move it above our rectangle [Fig.B] and select both shapes. Finally, apply an Intersect operation.

This would be the result. As you can see cleaning up it’s just a matter of using our existing shapes and combining them with different boolean operations. It’s like solving a little puzzle, sometimes tricky, but always fun.

Repeat this step two more times for the rest of the legs.

One more example

Let’s put our brains work a little more. All of this takes some practice to figure out at the beginning, but with time and a little patience, you’ll be able to solve these tiny puzzles almost on auto-pilot. Trust me.

To create the bottom insets of our “M” letter, we need to draw a rectangle that touches the points shown above. Extend this rectangle vertically, beyond the character’s area. We’ll cut everything out later.

Here’s the rectangle we just crated [Fig.A]. Draw a second one, trying to make its top-right corner touch the yellow point shown above [Fig.B]. Select both and perform a Subtract boolean operation.

The image above may look confusing, so we gonna break it down right now:

  • First, I’ve duplicated the largest “M” shape we made a few steps ago [Fig.A]. I colored it magenta to make it stand from the other shapes.
  • I placed this shape at the top.
  • Below that, we have the resulting shape of the two rectangles we combined on the previous step [Fig.B]

We need to select these two and apply an Intersect operation. I placed the largest shape at the top because this will act as a sort of inverted mask to our combined rectangles [Fig.B]. You can experiment and place them both the other way around to see the result either.

This is the result of the mess I was explaining above. It makes sense now, isn’t it? Looking at the result, makes the previous step more clear in my opinion.

We need to use all of our reverse-engineering skills when working these pseudo 3D extrusions with isometric graphics.

Again, this could have been done by hand too, using the Pen Tool. But since we are aiming fo precision here, we are doing all this shape-shifting stuff with boolean operations.

I think I’ve covered most of the ins and outs you might be facing when working with regular isometric shapes. Try working the entire word you’ve written, relying on the techniques we’ve seen during this tutorial. If you need to re-work anything or go a few steps backward to understand what you’re doing entirely, do it. It is all about training your muscle-memory to work faster each time.

Here comes the fun part!

All we’ve done above was tedious, I know. Now, I enjoy the process, but when I got started with isometric illustration, I was frustrated all the time, trying to figure out how to make those flat shapes come to life. But, despite all the fun and stuff, what comes now is still my favorite part.

With the help of the color palette (Frankentoon_Summer_Colors.afpalette) provided with this tutorial, recolor the characters as you please. You are free to experiment with your own colors, of course. Once you feel happy with a color palette, group each character, to be able to move them around independently.

Now, it’s time to find an interesting composition. Play around with the individual letters and see what works best for the specific word you wrote. Let’s pretend we need to create a piece of graphic design for a client. Having a purpose makes the most trivial exercises more fun to complete and more interesting to look at once you’re done.

Quick shadows

This is a technique to create some quick projected shadows. Once you’re happy with your composition. Duplicate all faces of your characters and group them together. Assign a darker shade to them, based on you background.

Arrange this shadows group to the bottom and move them to the right a little bit. Use the Shift key while moving them, to keep them aligned to the isometric grid.

Another trick to give a more accurate 3D look to your isometric shapes is to add a 2-stop gradient to their darkest side (in this case, all the faces on the left), using the base color of the letter for Color 1 and the color of the projected shadows for Color 2. If you’re interested in how gradients work, you may like to have a look at this Affinity Designer tutorial.

This technique will give your shapes certain ambient occlusion feel to them. Super simple, super effective!

We can keep playing around with our Summer concept. I’ve added a yellow ellipse in the background to give a sunset-ish feel to it. I’ve applied the gradient trick to this ellipse either, to make it look as if it was interacting with the rest of the elements.

Also, you can make use of the free Assets provided on this tutorial: Frankentoon_Summer_Demo.afassets, to spice up the entire scene with some tropical elements. These organic shapes will make a nice contrast against the geometric shapes we’ve created so far.

Just have fund and play around with the elements.

Final result

Finally, I’ve added some curves to make my colors stand out and give a nice contrast to the entire scene. Experiment with other adjustments like Lens Filter, Color Balance, Gradient Map and such, to see if you can add more feeling and interest to your final image.

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