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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hey gang! This is Deke McClelland. Welcome to Deke's Techniques! This week I'll show you how to create the perfect Command-key character inside of Illustrator, just like the one on the Macintosh keyboard. Now, you may look at this and say, "Yup, looks pretty good, but why in the world would you do this? There are fonts that provide this character. Just press a key and you get the symbol and you're done?" Well, I'm not that big a fan of most symbol fonts. The symbols oftentimes don't match the x height of the surrounding characters, and sometimes the symbols are just plain poorly designed, and it's always a struggle trying to find the symbol you're looking for, whereas you can create this very easily inside of Illustrator.
Get the proportions exactly right and then you can do anything you want with that symbol, including project it into 3D space. Here, let me show you exactly how it works. There is the final Command-key effect we're going for, rendered in 3D here inside Illustrator. We're going to start things off by creating a new document. So I'll go up to the File menu and choose the New command, or press Ctrl+N, Command+N on the Mac, and I'll go ahead and call this guy Command key. And even though I'm working in points, I've actually created a document that measures 6 inches square, and you can type that in regardless of the unit of measure just by entering 6in, for example, and then pressing the Tab key.
It will get converted to points, as in this case. And then once you've established the settings--and you can totally create a document any size you like, by the way-- click OK in order to make that document here inside of Illustrator. I'm going to go ahead and zoom in to about 400%, and then I'll scroll up a little bit toward the top of the document. You can see right about there is the top of the page. I'm a little down from it. And I'm using my scroll wheel to get around. Next, I'll go ahead and grab my Rectangle tool, and I'm going to click right about there, where I want the upper- left loop of that Command-key symbol to start.
And that will bring up the Rectangle dialog box, and I'm going to enter Width and Height dimensions of 36 points apiece. It's really not important exactly how big this square is. It is important that it's a square, so these two values need to match each other. And you want to be able to easily divide it by 2 later. So I chose 36 points. You might say, "You know what, I'd rather choose 40 points if I've got to divide it by 2, because that will be 20." And notice if I just go ahead and click now on the Height value, and now I'll have a square that's 40x 40. Fair enough. Click OK in order to create that shape.
Notice that I've got my bounding box turned off. That's very important for this next step. To turn yours off along with me, go to the View menu and choose what would be the Hide Bounding Box command right there. In any case, with the bounding box turned off, go ahead and switch back to your Black Arrow tool, Selection tool, what have you, and then drag this shape by its corner. I'm going to scoot it over just a little bit, like so, and then drag it by its upper-left corner over to the right, have your Shift and Alt keys down as you do this--that would be the Shift and Option keys on the Mac--and make sure that you snap this new shape--because you have the Alt or Option key down-- you're going to create a copy of the rectangle-- make sure that the upper-left corner of this new shape snaps into alignment with the upper-right corner of the previous one, so that you get this effect here.
Then to create yet another duplicate, press Ctrl+D, or Command+D on the Mac. Now we have three squares aligned with each other. Go ahead and marquee all three of them, at least partially, with your Black Arrow tool, and then working once again from the upper-left point of the left-hand square, go ahead and drag it down like so, press the Shift and Alt keys. The Shift key you have down to constrain the angle of your drag to exactly vertical, the Alt, or Option, key you have down so you're going to create a copy of these shapes. Make sure you snap the upper-left corner of your new shapes to the lower-left corners of your previous ones and then release and then press Ctrl+D, or Command+D on the Mac, to create another row.
We don't need all of these shapes. In fact, we don't need this guy, this guy, this guy, or this one. So you want to click and Shift+Click on all those middle squares and then press the Backspace key, or the Delete key on the Mac, in order to get rid of them. So you may ask, why did I create them in the first place? Because they facilitated the alignment process. Go ahead and press Ctrl+A, or Command+A on the Mac, in order to select all of the squares. Go up here to your fill swatch in the Control panel, click on it, and change the fills to None.
That won't look any different, by the way, especially if you were working from a white fill in the first place, but that will allow us to work inside these shapes a little more easily. I'm going to go ahead and press the Escape key in order to hide that panel, and now I'm going to switch to the White Arrow tool, which you can get by pressing the A key, and I'm going to go ahead and marquee on the inside of each one of these corners, like so, in order to select those points, and then I'm going to press the Backspace key, or the Delete key on the Mac, in order to get rid of everything but the outside corners, like so.
Now marquee these opposing points, as you see me doing here, and you'll want to press Ctrl+J, or Command+J on the Mac, in order to join those points together. Marquee these two points, press Ctrl+J, or Command+J, in order to join them; marquee these two points, press Ctrl+J, or Command+J, in order to join them; and marquee these two points and press Ctrl+J, or Command+J, to join them as well. The next step is to round off the corners, and we'll do that by going up to the Effect menu, choosing Stylize, and then choosing the Round Corners command.
And I'm going to take that value up to half of the overall Width and Height of those squares, which would be 20 points. And if you want to see how well this works, turn on the Preview check box and you'll notice that you get this awesome Command key, just like that. Go ahead and click OK in order to accept that modification. Let's go ahead and take the Stroke value up, so I'll switch back to my Black Arrow tool, click on the path outline in order to select the whole thing. That way I'll see the Stroke Weight value up here in the control panel. I'll go ahead and change that value to something like 10 points, let's say, and I end up with this effect here.
That's great, but let's say you want to do something with that shape. Why then, let's go ahead and zoom out a couple of clicks here, scroll down. I'm going to create a copy of this item, because I want to bust it up, but I want to set the original aside, because maybe I want to come back and modify it later. So I'll go ahead and drag this guy straight down, and I'm pressing the Shift and Alt keys once again-- that would be Shift and Option on the Mac--in order to create a copy directly downward from the original. Let's go ahead and take it down a little farther by pressing Shift+Down Arrow a couple of times.
I'll go ahead and zoom in on this item once again. Now, to convert this into static path outlines, go up to the Object menu, choose Path, and then choose Outline Stroke, and you will now have a filled path outline. Just for fun, I performed the following techniques. I went ahead and changed the color of this path to kind of a medium blue, like so, and then in order to apply that 3D effect, I went up to the Effect menu, chose 3D, and then chose Extrude & Bevel. And I'm going to go ahead and dial in a few values that I came up with in advance.
You can just drag this box around if you want to. Presumably you'd want the Preview check box to be on so you can see what you're doing. But the values I arrived at were 5 for the X value, then -25 for the Y value, and finally 10 for the Z value. I crank the Perspective all the way up, by the way, to 160 degrees, so we get this astounding amount of perspective frankly. I took the Extrusion Depth value down to 30 points, and then I need to adjust the lighting so that we have something a little more dramatic.
I'm going to move this little ball here along the sphere up and to the left. And, by the way, you'll only see these Lighting options if you go ahead and click on the More Options button. So I have in advance, but I'll show you what that looks like. Normally, you see the dialog box like this. Click More Options to extend it, so you can see the Lighting values. I'm going to crank the Ambient Light value down to 0, so that ultimately I don't have any ambient light, so we get some nice rich shadows. I'm going to change the Highlight Intensity to 100% and move this light around just a little bit.
Now I want to create another light to shine on the face of the key, and I'll do that by clicking on this little page icon, which creates a new light, and I'll move this guy over like so. And this looks pretty good. You want to adjust the position of the top lighting to get rid of as much banding as possible, and then click OK in order to accept that 3D Effect. Now, I might as well add a drop shadow I figure, so I'll go up to the Effect menu, choose Stylize, and then choose Drop Shadow. And these are the values I came up with. You can see them right here: Opacity set to 75%, X Offset -7, Y Offset 4 points, Blur 3 points.
Turn on the Preview check box so I can see what that looks like. If you get some lightish sort of white edges between the cloverleaf symbol and its shadow, then click on this color swatch right there and go ahead and dial in a rich black. That is C, M, and Y, you should set all three of those to 50% and then set the K value to 100%, like so. That way you get a nice rich black shadow, click OK. I clicked off the cloverleaf to deselect it. And that is my final perfect Command-key symbol, created and rendered here inside Illustrator.
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