Creating a Logo: Sketchpad to Illustrator (Process)

In this tutorial, DesignCrowd logo designer Alan Lee describes how to create a logo in Illustrator after first sketching it out on his sketchpad of choice: a children’s sketchpad. The tutorial documents the process by starting right from the beginning and showcasing how the steps were taken to the final product.

Tools: Sketchpad + Illustrator
Time: Dependent on ideas and the designer
Skills: Beginner to Expert

Part One: The Creative Brief

The first step when you’re taking on a logo design project is to read and ensure you understand the brief. Without it, you can’t convey the subtle meanings the client has in mind.

For this tutorial the example brief I’ll use is for a company called ‘Complete Revamp’, a building and interior renovation company who sought a new logo through a DesignCrowd logo contest.

The client: Complete Revamp

The creative brief they provided follows:

A logo for “Complete Revamp”, a mid size business in the first stage of becoming a company that will carry the message of Professional, reliably, craftsmen, energetic, leading, yet organic, builders with a flare for the specialized and extreme renovations. We also want to communicate that our clients are in safe hands when they take us on. I love the color of Metal, ie Gold Stainless. Fonts should be modern and easily read.

They went on to list their target audiences:

Bar and restaurant owners, shop owners, warehouse conversion investors and owners, mainly based in inner city Melbourne and inner suburbs who are the decision makers. Building designers and architects looking for the right company to build exotic design features.

After reading the brief, the first thing I do is to grab a kid’s drawing pad. I don’t open any computer software – to me, that is a part of the very last stage of the process.

Part Two: The Sketchpad

I use a kid’s drawing pad because the paper used in these tends to be a warmer, earthier color than blazing white A4 printer paper. The brightness and the ‘office’ feel of copier paper doesn’t put me in the right creative state. Artist’s sketch pads are fine, but a kid’s drawing pad will cost you US$1.30 (around $10 in Hong Kong dollars), so I can buy a whole bunch at a time.

As you can already tell from the name, Complete Revamp are specialists in renovations. The logo needs to solid, bold and masculine to convey the right qualities for a construction company – such as the sturdiness of the craftsmanship.

At this point I list all the possible elements of a logo that conveys this meaning, trying to establish the related visual in my head. I experiment by linking up some interesting combination’s between these thoughts.

After some brainstorming, I found the concept of children’s wooden building blocks to be a line to keep playing with given the subject matter. I went to Google for some inspiration, looking for interesting block configurations.

I picked some useful angles to develop further from these images. Personally, I like to print them out and glue them in my sketch pad (better then staring at the screen!) – much like a moodboard.

Eventually I found the arch block quite appropriate to represent the initial “C”, and the square and triangle blocks looked good for the “R”.

With the shapes developed and looking good in the sketch pad, it’s a good bet they’ll look good on the screen as well. My theory is that the more time a designer spends sketching, the better the end result created with a graphics application will look. The idea is king, and the computer is just a tool for finishing the design.

Part Three: The Computer

At this point, I scan and import the sketch into Adobe Illustrator. I then start drawing the shapes over the scan, drawing the square first and using the Pathfinder tool to punch out the arch shape.

I then start smoothing the corners. To do this, go to the menu option Effects > Style > Round Corners and set the radius of the corners to your preference. This makes the logo look less angular.

Choosing the right font to work with is the next part of the project, and one of the most challenging steps. The wrong font can spoil the whole logo, so we need to take the time to pick the perfect one. It’s best to use a font manager such as FontExplorer X for this. Pick a few that seem like good fits, and then activate them so they can be used in Illustrator.

I put the logotype side by side with the logo imagery I’ve developed so that I can easily judge which fonts are good matches and by process of elimination I work down to just one font.

In this case, I ended up picking Avant Garde Gothic Std. The shape of the font is a good start, but it needs to be bolder. I add a stroke line to beef it up and then turn the type into a path using the Create Outline option, which can be accessed by right-clicking the item you’d like to convert.

Generally, when it comes to logo design you’ll find you want to modify the font to seamlessly marry it with the logograph itself. In this case, I feel the “C” is too big and not stylish enough, so I’m going to chop it a little.

I’d like the words to better represent the idea of blocks and geometry, so I tie in the idea of the triangle block with the corner of the capital “R”, simplify the “t” and divide the “m” into three pieces. Now, the logo text works with the block images to lend meaning to the logo with the geometric shapes of construction and building blocks.

The final stage is picking a color palette. Since the beginning I’ve had a good feeling about grey and orange, but it’s good to try variations and see if they work better. The grey color lends a mature and masculine connotation to the logo, with the orange giving it boldness and impact, and acting as a highlight color. I’ve also colored the triangle I added to the letter “R” to match the square in the logo mark, establishing a relationship between mark and type.

Finally, I feel the logo mark is a little dull and lifeless in its current position, and we want to add some excitement – the highlight color can’t carry this burden on its own. I’ve turned by 45 degrees, which I feel gives it better composition. The design is now finish, and I can submit it to the client.

In Conclusion

The logo you’ve created is thoughtful, fits the brief and unique. Fortunately for me, the logo I created below was the winning logo in the Complete Revamp’s logo contest on DesignCrowd.

Need a logo designer?

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Alan Lee is a freelance graphic designer from Hong Kong, listed in DesignCrowd's Freelance Graphic Designers directory. You can contact and hire Alan Lee via his design portfolio or via DesignCrowd's logo design crowdsourcing service.