In this article, we are going to look at how you can produce your own neon typographic design using a combination of layer effects, blend modes and a few simple tweaks.
For this album cover example, the first step is to create our lettering element. I’m using a font called LOVELO as it already has a neon sign feel to it due to it having an outlined almost tube-like look.
To do this, first, we need to go over to the Artistic Text Tool [T] and click and drag to indicate what kind of size we want our lettering to be. As it is going to be the main focus in this design I’ve decided to make the lettering quite large at around 150 pt.
The next thing we want to do is select our chosen font from the Context Toolbar at the top of the screen or from the Character Panel on the right-hand side.
Then we need to change the paragraph alignment to Centre Align. Again, this is because we want this lettering to be front and centre in our design, so in this case, we need everything to look evenly spaced and centralised. Lastly, we need to apply a small amount of sheer to the lettering to give it a more dynamic look.
Once we’re happy with our initial type layout, we can begin to create the 3D neon style we’re after. The way we are going to achieve this is by duplicating this initial lettering layer several times and applying various layer effects to each one. We’ll keep this first layer as our top bright white tube layer and rename it ‘Top Tube’.
I want the text on this layer to be quite slim and to have a bigger contrast than my future layers, so by selecting the Top Tube layer and going to the Colour Panel we can then switch our lettering from a fill and turn it into a Stroke outline instead. This can easily be done by pressing the small double arrow icon in the top left corner of the Colour Panel. Now that has been switched around we can go to the Stroke Panel and choose how bold we want our new outlined lettering to be.
Now, let’s start to duplicate the lettering to begin creating our neon look. Firstly we need to go over to Layers Panel, right-click on our layer and select Duplicate (alternatively once the lettering is selected you could go to Edit > Duplicate too). Then we want to essentially ‘offset’ it from our first white Top Tube layer. We can do this by clicking and dragging it into place using the Transform Panel (via the X and Y axis settings), or by simply using the keyboard to nudge it into place. I usually prefer the last method as it allows me to reposition in larger increments when combined with the Shift key and it’s usually slightly quicker too.
Now we have our lower layer in place, let’s increase the stroke width to add some variation. We can then start to add some effects.
For this minimal kind of neon effect, we’re simply going to add an Outer Glow to our image. Let’s start by turning off the Top Tube layer so we can see the layer below. Then let’s add a multi-coloured gradient to it. Most neon signs don’t have this sort of colour divide halfway through the lettering, so bear in mind that you can miss this step if you’re going for more of a realistic look.
To add the gradient simply select the lower layer, go to the Fill Tool [G] and change the Context in the top left corner to Stroke instead of Fill. Then we can simply click and drag and adjust our gradient colours of choice by selecting the individual gradient nodes and by using the Colour Panel too.
Now we have our base layer set up, lets select Layer Effects by clicking the little FX icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel or by going to Layer > Layer Effects. What we now need to do is adjust the Outer Glow settings. This requires a little bit of trial and error to get the desired look and it does vary from design to design, but the settings I have chosen here might be a good place for you to start.
Firstly set your Blend Mode to Screen and ensure the Radius is set to a fairly high level. If this is too low you may not see the effect taking place. By combining this with around a 50% Intensity level you should see the neon effect we’re after begin to take shape.
I then added some Noise to my colour settings for a slightly retro look and to add an additional element of realism to the design.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that with the Outer Glow option you need to select one colour at a time. As we have a multicoloured gradient in our lettering, we now have a very easy way to achieve the effect with multiple colours.
Now we have our pink glow applied, let’s duplicate this layer. Turn off the layer below and this time add a blue glow to match the top part of our gradient. What we can do now is use the Transparency Tool [Y] to allow us to essentially blend to the two layers together.
So, now we have our backing neon section we’re nearly finished. The next thing we need to do is duplicate and adjust our original Top Tube layer to give the impression that it is detached from the neon glow underneath it. Here we will be essentially repeating some of the steps we’ve done previously in our design.
Firstly, let’s go back to our Top Tube layer and make it visible again. Then we need to duplicate it three times. One will be a soft white glow which will give a halo-like effect to the Top Tube layer, one will simply be an extension of the top layer to give it a little extra depth and the last layer will be a darker variant to add a little more separation between the top and bottom sections. This will add a little more depth to the Top Tube layer too.
With all of these new layers, I will also adjust the opacity and blend modes to give the desired effect, but again this is down to personal preference and user experimentation too.
Now we have our finished lettering we can start to add any other elements we may require. In this example, I decided to use the Pen Tool [P] to create some additional lines in the background but you could add your own ideas or simply leave it plain as this kind of lettering design easily stands out on its own.
Product mockups like the album cover shown below can be easily sourced from a variety stock and design template websites and are a great way to display your final design on social media or when showing a client how the finished artwork would look in context.
We hope this tutorial has provided a useful guide on how to produce retro-style neon lettering in Affinity Designer. There are lots of different outcomes and results you can achieve by incorporating some of these methods into your own work, so why not have a go and see what awesome designs you can come up with!