Create a Realistic LCD Display in Illustrator

I initially meant to keep this tutorial short but I soon found myself on a quest for realism so not only will you learn how to create the realistic LCD display but you’ll also see how to create the interface that accompanies it. Let’s get started.

1. Find the right typeface

To give your display a modern look, you’ll want to choose a typeface from your collection or from the web, that has a high-tech look. I chose the Digital-7 typeface available at dafont.com for the purposes of this tutorial. Practically any typeface from the LCD category at the site can work for this tutorial though. Be sure to install the typeface before moving on to the next steps.

Since installing typefaces is a pretty broad topic, I’m not going to touch on it here. Rather, consult your operating system’s Help system for more info.

1. Create the background display

Create a new document and customize the dimensions to the size of the display you ultimately want to use. For my example, I used the dimension of 650 pixels for width and 250 pixels for height.

lcd_02

Next, disable the stroke color and set the fill color (by double-clicking the fill box in the toolbar) to the following values shown in the RGB fields or enter HEX color value 606649.

Select the Rectangle tool and create a rectangle that matches the dimensions of your document. For precision, click in an empty area of your document with the tool and enter width and height values and click OK; position the rectangle as desired.

If you’ve ever closely observed an LCD display of this type, you may have noticed it has a somewhat grainy texture. To simulate this, select the rectangle and choose the Grain effect (Effect > Texture > Grain) from the menu bar. Use the values shown and click OK.

Name this layer “Background” and lock it.

3. Highlight the display

Create a new layer named “Highlight” above the Background layer. Use the Rectangle tool to create another rectangle with the same dimensions as the one you just created. Position the new rectangle directly over the original; use Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides) to help with alignment.

Apply a gradient fill to the rectangle; I’m using the default black and white gradient.

In the Gradient panel, set the gradient type to Radial and set both colors (by double-clicking them) to white. Lower the opacity of the right color box to 0. Here’s where I’m at so far.

lcd_08

The gradient as it is currently looks needs adjustment so that the highlight looks more natural. Use the Gradient tool to adjust the direction and spread of the gradient. In the image below, I’ve zoomed out so you can see the starting point (in the center of the circle) of the gradient as well as the ending point (toward the lower right of the rectangle).

If the highlight is a little intense, as mine was, lower the opacity of the white color box in the gradient. I dropped the value from 100% to 75%.

Lock this layer before moving on to Step 4.

4. Create the base text

Create a new layer and name it “Shadow”. This layer will hold the text that appears behind non-active LCD elements. I’m creating a clock display, so I’ll set down 4 of the 8 digits with a colon separator between. I’m using the number 8 as it features all of the vertical and horizontal pieces that make up all of the other numbers and letters. This text is set at 150 points (using the Digital-7 typeface) and uses the color values shown below.

In addition to these characters, I’ve added in other elements for additional detailing.

Once you’ve got everything positioned and laid out where you want, select everything and make a copy (Edit > Copy) of it. Open the Transparency panel and set the blending mode to Multiply and drop the Opacity value to 15%.

Lock this layer and move on to Step 5.

5. Setting up the display

Create a new layer above the Shadow layer and name it “Display”. Paste the text (and other elements you may have created) into this layer using Edit > Paste in Front. For my display, I’ve set the time to 2:34.25. Because I eliminated the first number of the larger 4 digits, I had to use the Selection tool to reposition them.

I now need to get rid of all but 1 day of the week and decide whether there’s an alarm set and whether it’s AM or PM. To do this, I’ll select everything and go to Type > Create Outlines. Once you apply this command, your text (at least on this layer) will no longer be editable. Apply the Ungroup command (Object > Ungroup) to make selecting individual letters easier. Next, use the Selection tool to get rid of unwanted letters/details.

This next bit is optional but I feel it adds a little more realism to the display. Select all of your remaining elements and apply an Outer Glow effect (Effect > Stylize > Outer Glow) using the values shown.

So, hey, you can stop right here and be on your merry way with a cool looking display or you can move on and see how to make the glossy interface that encloses this LCD beast.

6. Making the frame

Still with me? Awesome. Lock the Display layer and create a new layer, named “Frame” above it. In this layer, use the Rectangle tool to draw out yet another rectangle that matches the dimensions of the others you’ve drawn. Fill this rectangle with black.

lcd_17

With the rectangle still selected, apply the Offset Path command (Object > Path > Offset Path) and use the values shown to create a smaller copy of the rectangle.

Select this smaller rectangle along with the larger rectangle and click the Divide command on the Pathfinder panel.

Most Pathfinder command group results together so use the Ungroup command (Object > Ungroup) to, well, ungroup them. Click in an empty area of your document and then use the Selection tool to click the interior rectangle. Apply a white fill to this.

7. Getting glossy

Set the Stroke color in the toolbar to black and the Fill color to nothing. Select the Pen tool – yes, the scary Pen tool – and create a path similar to what you see below. It’s important that you start and end the path outside of the rectangles.

Now make sure you only have the path selected and then apply the Divide Objects Below command (Object > Path > Divide Objects Below). The path will disappear but you’ll see it’s divided the two rectangles. Click in an empty area of your document and use the Selection tool to delete the bottom portion of the white rectangle.

This will be familiar. Apply a gradient fill to the remaining white shape; the type of gradient is Linear. Both colors in gradient are set to white with the opacity of one color set to 0%. The gradient’s direction should be vertical with the white showing at the bottom of this shape and the transparent portion at the top. Adjust with the Gradient tool if necessary.

The gloss is a little intense so, with the shape/gradient still selected, lower the opacity of the other color box to 25%.

lcd_24

With the “glass” part done, let’s turn our attention to the frame. Use the Selection tool to select the top part of the black frame (highlighted in yellow below). Make a copy of this and paste it directly over the original using Edit > Paste in Front. Apply a gradient fill to this. If you’re lucky, the gradient should be oriented correctly on this piece. If not, make adjustments with the Gradient tool and/or Gradient panel.

8. Adding depth

One final step is to add some depth inside of the frame. Lock the Frame layer and create a new layer below it named “Depth”. Here’s what your Layers panel should look like at this point.

On this layer, create two thin rectangles filled with a dark color; I simply used black. One of the rectangle’s is vertical and spans the interior height of the display. The other is horizontal and spans the length of the display. Use Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides) to position the rectangles as shown below.

Apply a Gaussian Blur effect to the two rectangles using the values shown.

The effect may cause some gaps on the left of the vertical rectangle and on top of the horizontal rectangle. To hide this, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to reposition. If necessary, adjust the length of the rectangles as well to hide any other anomalies. And there you have it!

If you have trouble saving the Digital-7 font in your file, due to licensing restrictions, convert all the characters in your file that uses this font to outlines using Type > Create Outlines.

    •  If you have trouble saving the Digital-7 font in your file, due to licensing restrictions, convert all the characters in your file that uses this font to outlines using Type > Create Outlines.

 

About the author

My name is Mike Hamm. I like robots. I'm a designer, author, teacher and illustrator. I currently work as a Senior Designer at Expedia. I'm co-author of Introduction to Web Design Using Dreamweaver and have contributed articles and artwork to Layers Magazine as well as several Illustrator WOW! books. I've also been teaching and developing Adobe Illustrator courses for Sessions College for Professional Design since 2003. You can view my never complete portfolio website: hammbience.com.

1 Comment

  1. M T (@mattatwork) says:

    Excellent tutorial. It is very easy to follow through the steps and create a detailed graphic very quickly. A friend did point out one oversight in my lcd display. I used 18 seconds and for that 88 should be used for the seconds place also. That way you get the center horizontal hash in the shadow which is left out if you use 00. Thanks again.

    Reply

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