NHS Designs
Graphic Design Typography

Text as Image

Typographic illustration - or shaping text - is essentially lighthearted and fun. It turns straight typography into graphic configurations with a degree of legibility, informing and entertaining the reader in an emotive way, as well as relieving the formality of conventional text.

x-mas trees
Christmas Tree. Two typographic interpretations of Christmas tree shapes, one seemingly random and one carefully controlled. Each captures the festive spirit in its individual way.


Experiment with both symmetrical and asymmetrical text arrangements to give a variety of different meanings. Although you should be primarliy concerned with legibility, you can, through careful selection of justified, centered, ranged-left, or ranged-right setting styles, hint at the mood and echo the content of the text.

T. In this design by TotalDesign, the architectural character and size of the "T" is underlined in the arrangement of the main body of text. A dynamic contrast in the curving line of text adds movement and depth.


You can set text into regular shapes such as squares, triangles, diamonds, and circles, or format more irregular (organic) shapes. The text need not cover the entire surface, for words, or letters, or numbers can be used in a linear fashion - bending and curving to describe the contours of a particular form.

bird shape
Hand-Drawn Letters. This charming design demonstrates the flexibility of hand-drawn letters when used for shaped text.


Text can be shaped or wrapped around images; it can define spaces or provide silhouettes. It can form an image itself.

Seasonal Moods. Diana Wilson captures the moods of spring, summer, fall, and winter in window-like areas of drawn text through color, rhythm and texture.


Controlled changes in font weight within the main text area will create subtle secondary typographic shapes or images. For a more daring approach, shape the text into representational objects associated with the meaning of the words-thereby pulling together text, design, and image into a direct and decorative expression of content. This eye-catching technique requires an inventive touch, and a sense of humor.

The dense texture of printed letters in this typographic illustration by Armando Testa visually parallels the feather pattern of the chicken.


To be used effectively, our Latin alphabet, composed basically of straight lines, circles, and part circles, has to be resourcefully manipulated. Calligraphic scripts such as Arabic, which are flowing and organic, lend themselves much more readily to such graphic decorative techniques.

lady bug
A single line of text traces the flight path of a ladybug in a decoratively informative way. Single lines can be designed into shapes equally as well as areas of text, depending on the degree of legibility required.


The decorative nature of shaped text transforms reading into a visual experience. Advertising uses this technique to give slogans or short pieces of text an embellished form with the visual impact to convey a message. Logotype designs also make use of this device. Text might be composed into the shapes of shoes, wine glasses, bottles, heads, complete bodies, animals, birds, fish, trees, or whole town landscapes. Usually, the particular form in which text is shaped stems from the content.

Written portraits created through the texture and tone of words - where virtual photographic likenesses of the subject, human, or animal, can be achieved through an inordinate amount of dexterity and skill - are feats of decorative typography. digitized portraits or pictures, however, can be far less arduously created on a computer that allows you to experiment freely with typographic shading by changing the weight of relevant parts of the text. Typographic illustrations generated on a computer tend to have a curious, tapestry-like decorative quality to them. Handwritten ones retain the individuality of the designer’s lettering with its more subtle texture.

Convincing typographic portraits can be generated by digitized phototypesetting systems. Facial features can be effectively described by making subtle changes in weight, style and size.

Source: Graphic Design School by David Dabner


Do Assignment 15: Text As Image

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