Steps to Creating a Typography Portrait

Technical Tutorial Published 9/5/11 Last updated on 5/16/18
This is a PowerPoint that gives students step by step directions to create a typography portrait. There are also several Adobe Illustrator files included that show the various steps and a final example of a typography portrait. This is an exciting and favorite lesson of my students. In this lesson students are taught about the elements of typography and how to create type in Adobe Illustrator. I then give them step by step directions on how to create a typography portrait in Adobe Illustrator. They choose someone they want to do a portrait of and then they interview or research that person to find out words that describe them and a favorite quote they can use in the project. They are engaged in this lesson because they get to choose the person they want to make a portrait out of. They also find creating a portrait with type that describes the person to be very intriguing and challenging. They also learn an amazing amount about typography and creating type in Adobe Illustrator along the way.

To see more project examples go to:

Age Levels
Content Standards
Custom Standards

California State Standards for Visual Arts


— 2.1 Solve a visual arts problem that involves the effective use of the elements of art and the principles of design.

— 2.3 Develop and refine skill in the manipulation of digital imagery (either still or video)


— 1.6 Describe the use of the elements of art to express mood in one or more of their works of art.

— 2.1 Create original works of art of increasing complexity and skill in a variety of media that reflect their feelings and points of view.

— 2.4 Demonstrate in their own works of art a personal style and an advanced proficiency in communicating an idea, theme, or emotion.

— 5.3 Prepare portfolios of their original works of art for a variety of purposes (e.g., review for post secondary application, exhibition, job application, and personal collection).

ISTE Standards
Students: Innovative Designer, Students: Computational Trainer, Students: Knowledge Constructor

 Adobe Illustrator, Step by Step Instructions, Adobe Illustrator Sample Files

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Ken Morgan

Posted on 1/30/19 4:48:12 AM Permalink

A good way for students to develop an interest in the potential of type as an element of design.
Appreciating type as a fundamental part of any design it appears in. This project allows text to be used to be read, as a visual element and allows for choice of typeface to create an emotion or mood.

Angela Wong

Posted on 3/1/17 3:10:14 AM Permalink

​I do a similar project with my students and we look at the book "Men of Letters, People of Substance". I show them the following with type in Illustrator: point type, create outlines, envelope warp: make with mesh, type on a path and area type. I have them use any or all of those tools to create a type portrait that has an area of emphasis, varied opacities and differing type sizes. They have the option to use color if they want to, though it's not mandatory.

Jose Pause Carrero

Posted on 12/11/16 8:12:18 PM Permalink

​I Think this is an interesting approach to get their attention on typography. Tackling this subject head on early will be a great factor in the learning curve up ahead. Thank you for sharing I will show some love and share your credits as the source for my students and clients. As always thank you and stay blessed.

Claire Richards

Posted on 1/16/16 2:29:39 AM Permalink

What I like about this for teaching digital technologies is it uses data in an interesting way, I am thinking of doing this with the lyrics of a songwriter or the words of an author. I would also be interested in making an action to do this.

Tarek Bahaa El Deen

Posted on 3/27/13 9:47:42 PM Permalink

i like your work

but i think it's better in this case to use tint off black or resizing type instead of using color

Grant Craton

Posted on 7/18/12 10:51:24 PM Permalink

This is much more indepth then the typography projects I have been using. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Julie Rivard

Posted on 7/16/12 7:55:27 PM Permalink

What I mean by values is light and dark. You want them to work with the lightest areas first. I usually do one large shape of the whole face with a lighter shade of type. Then I start building sections of shapes on top of that for the different shadows shapes I see in the face. I work up to the darkest areas. When you get to the fine darker details it is too hard to do shapes with type in it I just use single words and repeat them at different sizes. Hope that helps!

John Diaz Jr

Posted on 7/16/12 7:09:28 PM Permalink

Ms. Rivard,

I tried to do this lesson, and somehow I am getting confused at Step 5:

Start looking at the values in your picture.

Start with the lightest values and work up

to the darkest.

What do you mean by "Values" in the picture?

I am sorry, I just really want to perfect this lesson so my kids can be successful and have fun with such a wonderful lesson.

Thank you,

Eli Infante

Posted on 7/9/12 8:24:05 PM Permalink

Thank you for posting this I appreaciate it Julie! You rock! :)

Crisanto Etorma

Posted on 7/5/12 9:42:31 PM Permalink

I'll try to do one!

Kiran Fatima

Posted on 5/26/12 8:39:16 PM Permalink

thanks for sharing tht really nice

Evelyn Mwenye

Posted on 2/14/12 12:59:53 AM Permalink

Wow! sounds really cool. I think one of the problems with the appearance of my example was that I was using the same word over and over again.I can't tell you how grateful I am for all the pointers!!

Julie Rivard

Posted on 2/12/12 9:32:21 PM Permalink

 I agree. I have my students justify and I tell them to try not to go under 6 point type. Sometimes if they use really small type it looks good on the screen but not printed. The other thing I tell them is to use word phrases with smaller words. This allows for better breaks within the shape. If they repeat just one word sometimes it looks funny because the words will look lined up in the shape. Also, they might want to play with different fonts because they give different looks. One last thing, I have them work pretty large 18" x18" in Illustrator. Then I can get poster prints of the great ones. T

Evelyn Mwenye

Posted on 2/12/12 9:21:05 PM Permalink

Thanks for the tips!Laughing I really want to do this project right, you know how it is when you barrel ahead with something cool, but don't have enough information to help or prevent problems. Will try the Justify on what I have created. Do you map out the lights and darks in containers, layering from light to dark?

Christine Neville

Posted on 2/12/12 6:29:43 PM Permalink

 Evelyn, I found that to get rid of the jagged edges have the students use the justify option under paragraph alignment. Also if the type is too small then illustrator crashed on us. I told the students no smaller than 3 point size.y students loved this and I got some amazing results.

Evelyn Mwenye

Posted on 2/12/12 3:02:34 PM Permalink

I feel silly asking this, I am a newbie to teaching in this arena (have tons of elementary exp! but this is a different ballgame!) Do you have them break the face down into type containers for the different areas? Lightest to darkest I get, I read the lesson plan and looked at the examples, but when I began the project I had difficulty with the edges not being too jagged, and or font size. I understand that that is part of the learning process for the students but I have so little experience with typography I don't want to muck up the lesson which is SO COOL!!! You are an angel for posting it, and your examples are amazing. You must be a real inspiration to your students.

How on earth did those two students get their results to be so realistic? Tiny fonts and a lot of tweaking? I want to work through this myself before presenting obviously so I can help with difficulties students have.

Christine Neville

Posted on 11/16/11 11:46:58 PM Permalink

Great lesson thanks for sharing. Just wondering what you assess students on?

Albert Tucker

Posted on 10/30/11 10:25:35 PM Permalink

Julie - thanks for sharing this. I'm doing this with several grade levels and for students that struggle with the pen tool in Illustrator, I figured out a way to create the clipping mask using the blob brush and eraser. Just lower the opacity after roughing out the initial shapes with the blob brush, then erase out to fine tune the masking shape.

This way my first year students get to work on type formatting skills on this very creative project - thanks for the awesome samples!. I've attached a sample from one of my kids.

Kris Fontes

Posted on 10/30/11 5:37:31 PM Permalink

This is very challenging but the results are amazing. I've done this with stuents using type from magazines but never before digitally.

Judy Durkin

Posted on 10/17/11 3:57:32 AM Permalink

A new approach. Thanks you!

John Diaz Jr

Posted on 10/6/11 3:01:37 AM Permalink

Wow! This looks to be a great lesson! First year teaching illustrator so I am going to give it a shot! Thank you for your creative lesson and for sharing with others who need some inspiration!

Julie Rivard

Posted on 10/4/11 8:41:45 PM Permalink

I have my students map out the light areas first and then build the dark areas on top. I have them first draw the shape of the overall face (without hair or with) and fill it with a light shade of type. Then on top of that they start creating shapes for the darker areas of the face and filling those with darker or larger type. Eventually they work themselves up to the detail of the face which is done with just single repeated words of different sizes and shapes. The can envelope distort the type or mesh the type to fit it into a specific area also. They can also do type on a path to get areas of the portrait that look like lines...for example strands of hair or stripes in a shirt. Hope that helps.

deborah harper

Posted on 10/4/11 7:35:04 PM Permalink

Do you map out the light and dark areas first? Or do you just type and copy the words on top of the photo (make the photo a template and create a new layer for each section?)

Kimberly Madrid

Posted on 10/4/11 6:36:03 PM Permalink

Looks like a great project - had to fix some typos though. Can't wait to try it.

Julie Stocker

Posted on 10/4/11 5:13:16 PM Permalink

I have been doing this project for 2 years now...but love the docs that you have included. I think that I will be using the docs to help improve my lesson! Thanks

Melanie WEST

Posted on 10/4/11 5:12:20 PM Permalink

This is a very creative and well thought out lesson plan. Thank you for taking the time to put it together for the community!

Karen Harrison

Posted on 9/23/11 7:31:59 PM Permalink

Love it! Can't wait to try it with my students!

Ammar Midani

Posted on 9/13/11 10:20:03 AM Permalink

will give it a shot.

thanks for sharing.

Nicole Dalesio

Posted on 9/6/11 6:11:52 PM Permalink

Love this! Now, will definitely try this! Thanks for sharing!

Albert Tucker

Posted on 9/5/11 9:26:11 PM Permalink

Julie - this is a terrific project! Thanks for sharing!