I’ve received a lot of compliments for the titles and logos that I’ve done over the years. You can see several of them in the illustrations for this article about my gaming schedule and the need to juggle campaigns to match player commitments when you have half-a-dozen GMs and a pool of perhaps a dozen players, including those GMs.

I’ve just been generating chapter headings for the Orcs and Elves series and thought that the readers might be interested in seeing exactly what’s involved – and who knows, there might even be a technique or two that you can pick up along the way.

The Tools

I use CorelDRAW and CorelPAINT (aka Corel Photo-Paint), both version 7, because I bought both the software and the license second-hand from a friend who was moving to a non-windows environment. I know there are more recent tools out there that may be more powerful – I even have a few of them – but these suit me. So Photoshop and GIMP users will have to adapt the techniques that I use to their own software environments.

Phase I: The Text

1. Start CorelDRAW. Open one of the previously-completed results. It will consist of text and a ballooned form of the text, overlapping in transparent and semi-transparent layers, looking something like this:

2. Save the file as the new document name. This prevents accidental overwriting of the source.

3. Ungroup and separate the layers into their constituent parts.

4. Put temporary outlines around the components without them. I use a dark orange because it’s handy to me in the RHS color swatch selector.

As you can see, there are 6 layers. They are shown in order from uppermost to the eye in the finished graphic to lowermost. I’m going to create a new one from these elements.

5. Remove all but one of the original letters.

6. Select Each of the layered elements and break them apart into separate curves, then weld these into one big curve. Move them to one side as they are done, until only the text remains in the “page”.

This shows the structure of each element more clearly, so I’ll run through them. Next to each are a pair of swatches: the first shows the fill with transparency turned off, the second shows a monochrome blue fill with the transparency still on.

  • The uppermost layer is individual letters of the text, rendered as curves, with a variation on a shiny gold fill that I created many years ago and still use regularly. No transparency.
  • The text shadow layer is the word in the actual font that I am using – in this case, Bradley Gratis, 294.188 pts (I work big because flaws become invisible when you shrink the image to usable proportions – if you work at a reasonable size, you’re stuck with any problems). Because I have used a hairline around the individual letters (a slightly golden yellow) I also have a hairline in black around these to make the text exactly the same size; normally, when rendering a font, it has no outline, just a fill. The effect makes the shadows look slightly rough around the edges, but it’s less fuss than the alternatives.
  • Shadow Layer 2 is a subtle yellow-grey-to-golden-yellow fill, rendered almost completely transparent but with a slight conical transparency oriented vertically.
  • Shadow Layer 1 is a solid yellow-brown fill, with a more acute conical transparency angled toward the top left at about 45 degrees.
  • Gold Layer 2 is a yellow-to-orange conical custom fill, brightest in the top left, with a conical transparency that is most transparent at the bottom right. Note that the transparencies all have approximately the same centre while the conical fill of this layer is offset slightly down and right.
  • Gold Layer 1 is another variation on the same Gold fill used for the text. The darkest tones have been muted to a paler yellow. There is no transparency.

These layers all have different purposes. The uppermost text layer is the communications. The text shadow is there to make it stand out. The two shadow layers give the ballooned text a sense of solidity, of being a 3D object. The Upper Gold Layer tweaks the colors of the primary layer to match this, while the bottom-most layer imparts a subtle metallic nuance to the ballooned text while connecting the whole thing visually with the uppermost layer, making it all feel like one object. It might seem almost invisible at the bottom of all the other layers, but its absence is very obvious.

7. Change the text layer to whatever I need the new layer to be. Create a duplicate and place it next to the rendered topmost layer. Create a second duplicate and place it next to the first ballooned layer, as shown.

8. Combine the first duplicate with the rendered letter, then break it apart into individual curves. The “D”, “e”, and “o” all contain hollows within, so recombine these to get the original letter-shapes back. Get rid of the original rendered letter (the leftover “C” of Chapter), it’s no longer needed. Group the rendered text.

It already looks good, doesn’t it?

9. Align the rendered text with the original shadow text, then manually move it up and left until it looks right, and then group them together so that they will stay put:

Phase 2: The Ballooning

10. Now it’s time to work on the ballooning. Take the copy of the shadow text and give it a white fill.

11. Generate a contour around the outside of the text at a radius of 30 pixels. CorelDRAW automatically fills this with black so that it’s hard to see (unless you tell it otherwise). Here I have replaced the black fill with white:

Notice how all the letters except the “o” join together? Sometimes that means that letters need a little bit of manual kerning adjustment instead of the default positioning, but the original “o” looked right. So I’m going to need to manually edit the shape slightly.

12. Extract the original text, leaving only the contoured shape.

13. construct a “patch” over the top of the offending area. Weld the patch to the original. Here’s a pic before and after the weld. The patch is shaded blue:

Although it might not be obvious, I carefully gave the patch curved edges that matched the shape of the letters, as you can see in this close-up:

Sometimes, other edits are needed. j, i, t, and g give me trouble regularly, and I don’t like the regulation capital-I that comes with the font, so I often have other editing to perform at this stage.

14. Make three duplicates of the resulting shape. Note that CorelDRAW positions duplicates on top of the original – being able to see which one is naturally on top is very helpful at this point and is the real reason for the white fill.

15. Just as the original “Chapter” layers are in order, top to bottom, so I want one of these to be placed alongside each of those layers in order from top to bottom. Once they get separated, there’s no visual way to tell which one’s on top, so I make sure I get this right.

16. Combine each with the layered, transparent object beside it.

17. Break each object apart.

18. Get rid of the original “Chapter” text, it’s no longer needed.

19. Recombine curves as necessary to create the layers needed for the new title text.

Here’s the result:

These all look fine except for the bottom one. The original fill has darkened corners, which are sometimes useful and sometimes a problem – this occasion definitely falls into the latter category. So I select the object and open up the fill dialogue box, and edit the fill. Here’s a before-and-after, note the top-left corners:

If the bottom-right had projected down – if the word ended in a backslash ( \ ) for example – that side would have needed a quick tweak as well.

20. Now it’s time to put the whole thing together. I line up each layer roughly correctly with the layer above it, then align the two.

Gold layer 2 plus Gold layer 1:

Plus Shadow layer 1:

Plus Shadow layer 2:

Group them all together and send them to the back – just in case the relative layer order has been sustained but the overall order relative to the parts that are to go on top has gotten mucked up. It happens :(

21. The final step in this phase of the operation is to align the two objects to their respective centers, then tweak as needed until it looks right:

22. Save the file, then export it as a bitmap, 1:1, ready for use by CorelPAINT.


The chapter numbers that I use are actually modifications of the numbers designed to go on the shield graphics at the start of each article. What’s the difference? And how do I convert them?

The differences are four-fold: the uppermost transparency layer is missing, and the fills and transparencies have been slightly tweaked (actually, since I did these first, it’s the other way around); there is no shadow text layer (and that causes more trouble than you might think, as you will see), the colors are much stronger and more vibrant, and they are of a different size. The difference is really stark when you put one of them next to our “Demo”:

Phase 3: Working The Numbers

So far, I have been working in CorelDRAW, but now it’s time to shift gears. CorelDRAW is a vector-based drawing program, meaning that it understands lines defined by complex formulas (that you never see or directly interact with) and fills within those lines. Everything is calculated mathematically. CorelPAINT is a bitmap editing program; it assigns color values to individual pixels, and a “line” is an optical illusion.

The next phase starts by extracting the numbers. Because I created these in batches in CorelDRAW and exported the result to jpgs, they are all lumped together in a single document:

So the first step is to extract the numbers we want.

23. Use a rectangular mask to select an area containing one pair of numbers. On the Edit menu, copy the masked area to a file, named for the number, and saved in the native .cpt format. So what you see to the left would be “30.cpt”.

I will normally process the entire set at once, so I would end up with 30.cpt, 31.cpt, 32.cpt, and so on, all the way through to 39.cpt.

24. When you open that document, the entire masked area is an object*, floating above the document. So merge it with the background with control-down arrow.

Dispelling the confusion
The things that you work with in CorelDRAW are called “CorelDRAW objects”, which are abbreviated to “objects” on the menus and dialogues. The pixels that you work with in CorelPAINT can either be part of the background or can be turned into a “CorelPAINT” object, enabling it to be moved independently around the page, rotated, distorted, resized, etc. These are also abbreviated simply as “objects” in the menus and dialogues – which is understandable because as an discrete ‘object’ you can do more or less the same things to both. Plus some specialized extras in specific programs, like playing around with the transparency of the object and the way it gets “merged” with the background, both of which I’ll be using later. CorelPAINT lets you alter the whole image at once, just an area that has been masked off (like covering the rest with tape when painting part of a car), or one individual “object” at a time. So they aren’t the same, but they are called the same thing – and can have similar things done with them. The big advantage of the native CorelPAINT file format is that it preserves the layers and individual objects as separately-manipulable items. Only when you save as a jpg, bitmap, gif, or png do some or all of these items get lost – producing a smaller image that can be seen in a web browser, but having few other advantages. All clear? I hope so!

25. This next part is a bit tricky: I want to select, with a mask, the inner part of the gold number so that I can turn it into an object, which I can then use to create the missing drop shadow. The key is the black rendered number at the top. I select a rectangular mask that completely covers the black number, then use the magic wand at a setting of 48% to de-select the white areas. I then move that mask over the top of the relevant part of the gold image, using zoom to position it precisely where I need it to be.

26. Object > Create Object from Mask turns the central portion of the rendered image into a separate image, floating on top of the rest. After carefully noting the precise position, I’ll move it out of the way, leaving a hole in the rendered image where it was located. In this case, a “virtual” rectangular coordinate of 51 across and 595 down permits me to position it precisely where it was. So, what I have now is what you can see to the right:

27. Next, I want to deal with the color-correction of the outside layer of the numbers so that they will more-or-less match the text of the word “Demo”. So, rectangular mask around what’s left of the gold number, then magic wand to deselect the parts I don’t care about. I can ignore the part in the middle, where the newly-created object used to be.

28. Image > Adjust > Color Tone to bring up my tone controls. Desaturate 25 to 30%, increase contrast 10%, desaturate 10%, increase contrast 10%, lighter 10%. The result is still brighter than the “Demo” text, but the demo text was getting brighter in that direction, so – allowing for a space between “Demo” and the number – it looks about right. Compare the result to the left with the uncorrected image I showed you earlier.

29. Next, I need to convert this masked area into another object, then move the first object back to where it was. Of course, since the larger object was created first, I will also need to bring it to the front. I then group the two together so that I can work with them as a unit and crop the image to get rid of the black version of the number, as I don’t need it any more. That leaves me with the image shown to the right:

Phase 4: Document Merge

30. I still can’t put the black shadow in – because I know the precise size and position that it needs to be, relative to the FULL size of the number, not this rough approximation. Before I can do that, I need to transform my rendered “Demo” text into an object, and enlarge the paper space enough for the steps to come. Too much white space is a temporary problem, too little can be a nightmare. I’ve put a black border around this one to show how much space I leave:

31. Next, I copy and paste the number object group from its original file into the working file. As you can see, it’s still nowhere near the right size.

If I had created the shadow in the previous stage, It would get resized when I enlarged the object and would have looked horrendous:

Phase 5: Resizing & Positioning

32. So the next step is to get the size right. Where the number has a flat element, like the bottom of the two, I’ll get the bottom of that in line with a flat element from the text – the r in “Chapter” or the m in “Demo”, in this case. Bear in mind that I’m talking about the brighter, inner part of the number. Where it has an angled part, such as the three, i’ll use that relative to the o of “Demo”. If there is a descender – and there are some – I will use the bottom of the “p” in chapter – and if there is no descender in the word (there’s none in “Demo” then I will deliberately include one for this purpose, with the intention of slicing it off afterwards – “p Demo” – if I expect to need it.

33. Once I have thr bottom of the number lined up more or less correctly, I’ll slide it across to the capital letter of the word, holding the CTRL key to constrain the movement:

34. …and then enlarge it. I want the top to be the same height as the capitol or just a little larger:

35. But that moves the bottom of the interior, which is why it wasn’t necessary to be super-accurate in step 32. So I move the numbers back and fine-tune. Then I’ll move the numbers into the final position, estimating the spacing by eye to roughly the same as an ‘e’. I may find that I need even more space beside the “Demo”.

36. Before I go any further, I need to convert the word “Demo” into an object if I haven’t already.

37. I’m finally ready to create the inner shadow. I start by ungrouping the numbers and selecting the top layer. I then create a drop shadow (Object > Drop Shadow) oriented bottom right with the following parameters: 100% Black,0 feather, offset 20 horizontally and 10 vertically, Direction: outside, curved edges. Drop shadows are automatically grouped with their parent object, so I then ungroup the two and combine them into a single object (Object > Combine > Objects Together), or Control-Shift-L.

38. One final tweak of the position, and I’m ready to move on to the next phase.

Phase 6: Final 3-D rendering

39. I combine all the objects into one. It makes following steps easier.

40. We start with another drop shadow: 100% black, offset 20 and 20 to bottom left, feather 50%, outside, curved edges:

41. Ungroup those and select only the text, not the shadow. Now, a third drop shadow: RGB 6,27,111, 75% opacity, 0, 0 offsets, pointed top right, and feather 30.

42. But if you look closely, it doesn’t quite look right. The blue over the top of the black just looks odd. Consider this close-up:

To fix this, I need to ungroup the blue drop shadow, deselect the main lettering. I can tell I’ve done this because of the 75% opacity, which is reflected in the object opacity slider. The pair of objects when both are selected have a total transparency of 100% opaque; only when only the blue shadow is selected will the slider show 75%, and that only because that was the opacity value that I selected in the drop-shadow dialogue that created it.

The key control to fix the problem is the merge-mode drop-down next to the opacity slider. All I have to do is change the blue drop shadow merge mode to “if darker”. Here’s a similar close-up afterwards:

And here’s how the whole image now looks:

Final Processing

The final steps are fairly straightforward.

43. Select all the objects and combine them together into one.

44. Mask > Create Mask from object.

45. Image > Crop > To Mask. This gets rid of any excess white space.

46. If necessary, invert the mask.

47. SAVE THE FILE. That’s the final step at full size – in the case of “Demo 30”, 3549 pixels wide and 1202 tall.

48. Resample the file to the “correct” size for use on the website – 7% of the original. Specifying the same % value instead of a numeric value means that all the results will be at the correct size relative to each other. If I wanted to use this graphic in a work designed for printing, I would keep it at 300dpi and only reduce it to 29% of its original size – that would give the correct image dimensions at full resolution. If I wanted to use it in a high-resolution display, like a map for download, I would only reduce it to 58% of its current size (600dpi) or even enlarge and sharpen it slightly (116% for 1200dpi). But, for use on the web, 72dpi does the job, and that means 7%.

Where did these numbers come from?
The largest single word to be rendered in this way was “Introduction”. I decided what size, in pixels, I wanted it to be, and noted the percentage value that resulted from the resampling.

49. Save the file as either a .jpg or a .png. The first can be reduced in file size by manipulating the quality, the second has a higher inherent quality.

Here’s the finished product:


It sounds like a lot of work – and it is. But by processing the numbers 10 at a time, I can get a batch done to completion in 2 or 3 hours. How many will I need? I’m not entirely sure. The original outline of Orcs & Elves called for about 35 chapters. The current outline requires 72 chapters – but “Dwarfwar III” was just one chapter and now it’s eight. That doesn’t happen often, but even one chapter in ten exploding like that amongst the 52 that aren’t completely finished could potentially run the total up to 107 chapters. Well, I’m both an optimist and a realist – speaking optimistically, I don’t see that happening that often, and speaking realistically, it will happen but I’ll be trying hard to minimize it because it means more work.

I’ve generated chapter numbers through to chapter 89, and can use them to make more if I have to – but I’m hopeful that it will be enough. With Chapter Titles for chapters 1-29 already done, that leaves 50 to go or about 10 hours work. That sounds reasonable to me, given the value that the chapter titles brings to the finished product. And, since there will be at least 20 articles before the Orcs & Elves series is done, the investment – when spread amongst them all – is small.

And, of course, if I’m ever minded to publish the whole thing as an eBook, I still have all those finished titles ready to be resized and dropped into place, so the work is an investment in future productivity. And, as a bonus, I got this article out of it! I hope it helps others.

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