Mapping Anchor Points Before You Trace

In This Lesson...

  • Having a plan before you trace
  • Mapping anchor points in your lettering sketches
  • Should you map your anchor points?
  • The all-important extrema

Plan Ahead

Like any successful construction project, building great type takes planning and preparation before the tracing ever takes place. If you jump into vector tracing your lettering sketches without a plan of approach, you're likely to run into headaches (as I often encountered when I was starting out).

Mapping Anchor Points

One practice that lettering artists use to help with planning during the sketching phase is mapping out anchor points. What's this look like?

The idea is that by figuring out where crucial anchor points are before you trace, you're setting yourself up for an easier time working with those "dreaded" bezier curves in Illustrator (they're really not that bad). Naturally, the question becomes, "Is this a useful technique?" Absolutely, it is, but with a few conditions...

  1. Hopefully, you have some sort of basic understanding of how the 'Pen' tool works in Adobe Illustrator. If you don't, that's ok. It's a learned skill, not an innate ability. But, the first few times you map anchor points will probably be useless as far as your trace is concerned. Regardless, give it a try, and learn from your mistakes.
  2. If you're the kind of person that gets super stressed when things don't go according to plan, mapping your anchor points could be a bad idea. Lines and curves that look good on paper have a way of turning wonky tonk during the vector trace. Bottom line, you will have to make adjustments on the fly in Illustrator.
  3. Are you like me? Do you love the design process but sometimes feel bogged down by all the steps? If so, then it's important that you understand that the design process doesn't exist to rule over you, it exists to offer clarity and direction as you find your way from concept to execution. You don't have to map out your anchor points. It's a useful step, but the only way to get better at vector tracing in Illustrator is practice.

The Extrema

If you do decide to map out anchor points in your lettering sketches, there's one concept you'll need to grasp in order to make it a useful practice: the Extrema

Put simply, anchor points should be placed at the highest, lowest, leftmost, and rightmost parts of your letters...the extremes. A quick way to begin understanding the extrema in your lettering is to draw a rectangle around the outermost points of each letter in your sketch:

You can take this technique as far as you'd like, but be warned that it can clutter up your sketch in a hurry:


Next Time on Type Builder...

Check back soon for the next Type Builder, when I'll be discussing the efficiency, power, and simplicity of the 'Rotate' tool.

Micah Bowers

My objective is simple: Make things better. I design for people. People are the heart and soul of a thriving business. When your message is clearer, more creative, and above all, authentic, people will notice. I unite Branding, Custom Type, & Large Format Graphics to help businesses thrive.