This popular style allows you to blend typography and photography together, creating a beautiful and immersive 3D drop cap effect. We’ll look at how you can edit photos and textures in a program like Photoshop (or an alternative, like Pixlr Pro), before creating the drop cap effect with InDesign. This effect looks fantastic when used on posters or brochures, or why not share the result on Pinterest or Instagram?
What You’ll Need to Create Your 3D Drop Cap Effect
As well as access to a creative program, like Photoshop and InDesign, you’ll also need a suitable photo and font to create your effect. This effect tends to work best with portrait photos which have a background (i.e. not white), and Modern serif fonts which have striking uppercase letters, such as Didot or Bodoni.
You may find it helpful to create the 3D drop cap effect pictured here first to pick up the technique, before selecting your own photo from the 123RF library, to create a unique result.
To create the effect pictured here you’ll need to download:
How to Edit Your Photo
Open up your chosen photo in Photoshop. In the Layers panel, duplicate the Background layer, and switch off the visibility of the original layer, preserving an intact copy of the photo. Working on the new Background layer, select the Lasso Tool (L) and zoom into the top of the photo. The aim here is to remove the background from any parts of the image which will fall outside of the drop cap, in this case, this will be on the right side of the model.
Trace around one part of the subject’s outline (here we focus on the top of the head and hair), then loop off a section of the background around it. Click on the Refine Edge button on the top Controls panel. In the window that opens, check Smart Radius and slide the Radius and Shift Edge sliders until you’re happy with the selection.
Click OK to exit the window and hit Delete on your keyboard to remove that section of background.
Select the Blur Tool from the Tools panel.
Stroke your cursor along the edge of the model’s silhouette to soften any hard lines. You can increase the strength of the blue if desired, by increasing the Strength percentage in the top Controls panel.
Use the Lasso Tool (L) to section off another area of background, before using the Refine Edge window, as before, to make the selection more accurate.
As before, delete the selection and use the Blur Tool to soften the edge of the silhouette.
Continue to work your way around the silhouette of the subject, selecting, refining and deleting the background.
When you’ve removed the background from either the whole photo or simply the side which will be emerging out of the drop cap, make sure only the top layer in your Photoshop document is visible.
Then go to File > Save As. Save the image as a Photoshop (PSD) file, naming it ‘Photo_no background.psd’.
How to Create an Elegant Backdrop for Your Text Effect
Open up InDesign and go to File > New > Document.
You can create your text effect to any size, but here I’ve opted for an A3 Landscape page size, and added a 5 mm Bleed, as I’m planning to make the text effect the central feature of a sales brochure.
Click Create to exit the window.
Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers), and double-click on the Layer 1 name. Rename this Background and click OK.
Click on the Create New Layer button at the bottom of the panel, and rename this layer as Type.
Then lock the Type layer, working on Background for now.
Expand the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches), and choose New Color Swatch from the panel’s top-right drop-down menu.
Set the CMYK levels to C=90 M=78 Y=62 K=96, click Add and then OK.
Repeat to create three more CMYK swatches:
C=34 M=30 Y=31 K=9
C=40 M=31 Y=32 K=10
C=4 M=4 Y=4 K=0
Choose New Gradient Swatch from the Swatches panel’s menu.
Name the swatch Background Gradient, set the Type to Linear and choose Swatches from the Stop Color menu.
On the Gradient Ramp, click on the left-hand stop and choose C=40 M=31 Y=32 K=10 for the swatch. Click on the right-hand stop and choose C=4 M=4 Y=4 K=0. Then click Add and OK.
Working on the Background layer, select the Rectangle Tool (M) and drag across the whole page, extending the top and bottom of the rectangle a little past the bleed edge.
From the Swatches panel set the Fill Color of the rectangle to your Background Gradient swatch.
Using the Gradient panel (Window > Color > Gradient) you can adjust the Angle of the gradient so that it runs from darker at the bottom of the page to lighter towards the top.
Use the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) to create an image frame across the whole page.
Go to File > Place, navigate to the paper texture image you downloaded earlier, and Open, allowing it to fill the whole frame.
With the frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency, and bring the Opacity down to 35%. Click OK to exit the window.
How to Create Your 3D Text Effect
Return to the Layers panel and lock the Background layer. Unlock the layer above, Type.
Take the Type Tool (T) and drag onto the page to create a large text frame across the center. Type in the letter ‘C’*, and set the Font to Didot Bold, from either the top Controls panel or the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character).
Make the Font Size generous. Here, I’ve blown it up to 900 pt.
*You can interchange the letter for another of your own choosing, though here we’ll look specifically at how to create artwork for curved letters, such as ‘C’, ‘O’, ‘D’ etc. For letters with straight lines, like ‘V’, ‘L’, ‘H’ etc, you will need to use the Pen Tool (P) instead of the Ellipse Tool (see Step 5, below) to create a containing frame for your top image.
Once you’re happy with the formatting of your letter, select the text frame and head up to Type > Create Outlines.
This creates a vector copy of the letter. Position the letter centrally on the page, and then go to Edit > Copy, to preserve a copy of the letter on your pasteboard.
Set the Fill of the letter to your dark swatch, C=90 M=78 Y=62 K=96.
With the letter selected go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 75%.
Click on Gradient Feather at the bottom of the window’s left-hand menu. Apply a Linear gradient with a 0 Degree angle. Pull the left-hand stop on the ramp along to the right, allowing the gradient to darken towards the far-right side of the letter.
Then click OK to exit the Effects window.
Edit > Paste in Place, to drop a copy of the letter vector directly on top of the original. From the Swatches panel, set the Fill of this letter to [None].
With this top letter selected, go to File > Place. Navigate to the original copy of your chosen photo (the unedited version which has its background intact), and Open.
Double-click directly into the letter to select the image directly, and scale it (holding Shift) and reposition it so that the subject is partly visible, as shown below. This will be the same as the position of the ‘pop-out’ image, which we’ll add soon, so it’s important that it’s in the right position.
Take the Ellipse Frame Tool (you can find this inside the Rectangle Frame Tool’s pop-out menu in the Tools panel), and drag to create a circle that mimics the dimensions of the bowl of the ‘C’.
Make sure the Fill and Stroke Color of the circle is set to [None].
With the circle selected go to File > Place. Choose your ‘Photo_no background.psd’ image and Open. Scale and position the image to match the version sat below, inside the ‘C’.
With the circle frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Drop Shadow. Click on the colored square to the right of the Mode menu, and choose C=34 M=30 Y=31 K=9 from the list of Swatches. Click OK. Back in the Drop Shadow window, bring the Opacity down to 25%. Set the Distance to 2 mm, Angle to around 180, Size to about 1.7 mm and Noise to 4%. Then click OK to exit the Effects window.
How to Add A Dusty Texture to Your Text Effect
You can add extra texture to your 3D drop cap effect, to make the effect more immersive and ethereal. Here’s how…
First, we’ll need to prepare the dust texture image in Photoshop. So save your InDesign document, and minimize the window for now. Open up the red dust explosion photo in Photoshop. Duplicate the Background layer to preserve a copy of the original image, then switch off the visibility of the original layer, working on the layer above.
From the Adjustment menu at the bottom of the Layers panel, choose Black & White.
In the Properties window that opens, shift the Reds slider to 6, and exit the window.
Then go to File > Save As, and save the image as a Photoshop (.psd) file, naming it ‘Texture_black and white.psd’.
Head back over to your InDesign document and lock the Type layer. Unlock the Background layer. Select the Pen Tool (P) and draw a rough half-circle shape over the top of the letter, letting the base of the shape mimic the curve of the top of the ‘C’.
Then switch to the Smooth Tool and drag your mouse over the line, to smooth out any jagged edges.
From the Swatches panel, make sure the Fill and Stroke Color of the shape are both set to [None].
Right-Click on the shape and choose Content > Graphic, to transform it into an image frame.
With the frame selected, go to File > Place and navigate to your saved ‘Texture_black and white.psd’ file. Click Open, allowing the image to fill the frame as shown below.
With the image frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Choose Multiply from the Mode menu at the top.
Then click on Gradient Feather at the bottom of the panel’s left-hand menu. With the Type set to Linear and Angle to 90 Degrees, move the dark stop on the ramp at the top to about two-thirds of the way along, to increase the strength of the gradient.
Then click on Directional Feather in the left-hand menu. Set the Left and Right Feather Widths to 14 mm, to create a slight gradient on the sides of the image frame.
Then click OK to exit the window.
Select the image frame and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste it, moving it slightly to the left and rotating it slightly, to match the curve of the ‘C’. This will darken and widen the texture effect.
How to Export Your Finished 3D Drop Cap Effect
Your effect is finished, and it’s looking fantastic! You can either export your effect as a stand-alone image, ready for printing or online sharing or why not try incorporating it into a poster or brochure? Check out our quick guide below on how to export your artwork for a press-ready PDF suitable for printing.
Exporting Your Artwork For Print
Go to File > Export. For online-compatible formats, choose either JPEG or PNG from the Format menu, and follow the default settings in the windows that open.
For professional printing, you’ll need to observe a few more steps. First, choose PDF (Print) from the Format menu.
In the Export PDF window that opens, choose Press Quality from the PDF Preset menu at the top.
Click on Marks and Bleeds in the window’s left-hand menu. Check both All Printer’s Marks and Use Document Bleed Settings, before clicking Export at the bottom of the window.
InDesign will generate a press-ready PDF, which you can send straight off to the printers, great work!
Conclusion: Your Finished 3D Drop Cap Effect
In this tutorial, you’ve learned to create a beautiful 3D drop cap effect, which would make a beautiful addition to any design layout. Whether you choose to adapt it to a poster or brochure format for printing or share it on social media, you’ll be sure to turn heads!
You can easily create unique results in your drop cap effects by using a different photo. Check out these dramatic black-and-white portraits over on the 123RF library.