Well hello, all! It’s been quite a while. The blog is taking a bit of a pivot, and I’ll hopefully be posting more frequently with more illustration, lettering, craft, and other artsy-fartsy things.
I’ve been playing around with an iOS app called “Procreate” lately (yes, I also think the name is vaguely unsettling). It’s fabulous for all sorts of art, and I’ve used it for both cartooning and lettering projects. I’ve been thinking about trying to re-create some of the text effects I can get in Photoshop, and this is the first. Today I’m going to show you how to make text that looks like a neon sign.
First off, I always sketch first, no matter what I’m doing. Often, I’ll do several layers of sketches — draw one out, reduce the opacity of that layer, throw a new layer on top, and refine. Since this is for a tutorial, I stuck with one sketch.
Because neon signs don’t usually overlap tubes, I interrupted the lines where they would cross over. (Tubes do have bends in them, though — we’ll address that in a few steps.)
Fire up a new layer, and draw out your neon tubes in the color of your choice. I use a monospace brush for this; the Rad & Happy Monospace brush was one of the first non-OEM brushes I downloaded, and I still use it regularly.
Now, create a new layer and reduce the size of your brush. Zoom way in, and draw a thinner white line down the middle of your larger color line. (You’re going to be applying some blur to this line, so it doesn’t have to be perfect.) Size-wise, I’d say to do a little larger than 1/3 of the width of the larger color line.
Duplicate that layer, and turn off the visibility on the original. This is going to be a running theme — I’m all about duplicating layers, so that you always have a backup of the original available. Now, do some erasing of the white line where the “tube” creases, so it looks like the tube is on top for one side of the crease, then bends back below on the other side. It’s totally up to you which side of the crease is the “top” and which is the “bottom”.
On another new layer (we’re going to end up with a lot of layers here, friends) put in some shadows where the creases cross over. I looked at my own elbows to figure out how the shadows should look, because they’re kind of elbow-ish. Draw these in black; we’re going to monkey with them in a moment to make them more shadow-y. (Helpful hint: draw them all in, then reduce the opacity of that layer to 50% so you can see the tubes behind them, then clean ’em up.)
Now we’re going to adjust those black creases so they look more natural. What I did here was create a duplicate layer, then I left one layer in “normal” mode and reduced the opacity to 30%, and on the second layer, I changed it to “soft light” mode and reduced the opacity to 60%. These numbers may need to be adjusted for your piece, depending on the color you’re using for your neon base.
Now it’s time to get this sucker glowing!
Make a duplicate of your thinner white text layer. Apply a gaussian blur to it. How much blur? That’s going to depend on the width of your lines, so I can’t give you a hard and firm percentage. Move the slider on this one down until you feel like there’s a wash of white almost entirely covering the color layer underneath.
Duplicate your original white text again, and apply a gaussian blur to this one as well — but not as strong as the first. You want this one to add that really solid glow down the middle of the tubes. As a rough estimate, I’d try half the amount of blur you did on the previous white layer. So if you did 50% on the first, drop it down to 25% for the second.
That’s it for the glowing on the top of the neon tubes! Now let’s move to the glow underneath.
Duplicate your solid pink (or whatever color you’ve chosen) layer, and move it underneath the original. Recolor the text on that layer to black, and apply a gaussian blur just enough so that you see some fuzzy black peeking around the outside of the solid color. This is going to add just a hint of shadow, and it’ll help delineate the “tube” from its glow reflecting off the wall.
Duplicate the solid pink layer again, move it below the black layer you just did, and apply (You guessed it!) some gaussian blur. Again, the amount of blur is going to depend on the size of your lines and the size of your piece. A good starting point is whatever level of blur you applied to your very first white line.
If that isn’t enough glow for you, just duplicate that blurred pink layer. Boom, more pink glow!
Add another layer below all of your neon tubes and blurry glow. On this one, you’re just going to make some black circles at the ends of the neon tubes, to represent the points where the tubes attach to their hardware on the wall. These will be mostly hidden behind the tubes, but the piece will look kind of wonky and incomplete without them.
And now, add the background of your choice! I’ve accumulated quite a few images of walls, from various freebies and image packs. I’ve tried this neon look on brick, stucco, and wood, and it works on all of them. This particular background is a little light, so I’ve changed the very bottom background layer to black, and reduced the opacity of my wall to 80%. Makes it a little darker, but keeps all of the details.
So there you have it, a neon sign look done entirely within the Procreate app. If you don’t have Procreate, you can always do this same thing in Photoshop or GIMP — all of the same tools (layers, gaussian blur, etc.) are available in those programs too.
Now, to think about what Photoshop text effect I want to replicate next!