Remove Serifs, Add Style

In This Lesson...

  • First add, then subtract
  • Serif considerations
  • Creating sans serif letters from serif style type

Reverse Method

Last week I presented a nifty way to add serifs to sans serif type. Well, this week I'll show a similar process, only we'll be subtracting serifs to create elegant, custom made, sans serif letterforms.

Be Careful!

Before I begin, a quick word of caution. Removing serifs is a trickier game than adding them. Type with serifs has been thoughtfully designed, so simply hacking serifs off without careful consideration is unlikely to end well. Think about the style/mood you're trying to achieve, and choose a typeface carefully. As always, don't be afraid to draw and edit a ton BEFORE moving on to your vector trace!

Chop n' Trim

The steps that follow are nearly identical to last week's lesson, but there are a few key differences to note along the way:


  • I've chosen a typeface called Big Caslon Medium because it's got a nice mix of thick and thin strokes and wide, sweeping serifs that should be somewhat challenging to remove.
  • After you choose a typeface, type a word in Illustrator (or any other graphics software), and set the color to a light/middle gray value.


  • Print out a copy of your word on cheap, 8.5" x 11" paper.
  • If you have a light table and tracing paper, use 'em. If not, you can draw directly on top of your printout, but I'd recommend printing a few extra copies.


  • Now for the fun part. Use the serif typeface you selected as the bones for your hand lettering, and experiment with removing and/or reshaping the serifs.
  • Remember, the type you selected is merely a skeleton at this point. Don't hesitate to redraw entire sections of a letter to fit the style you're trying to achieve.


  • Scan or photograph your new, custom lettering and place it onto a locked layer in Adobe Illustrator.


  • Create a new layer and put your vector skills to work by tracing your sketch.
  • When you finish, you'll have designed custom, sans serif lettering that you can't find anywhere else!

Next Time on Type Builder

The 'InkScribe' tool from Astute Graphics is one of my absolute must have tools. Sure, I could find a way to get along without it, but it'd be a huge blow to my workflow. The reason? Find out next week in Part 1 of a two part series dedicated to one of the most useful tool features in all of Adobe Illustrator.

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.