In celebration of national novel writing month, this tutorial will teach you how to recreate the iconic typography of Tony Palladino in the famous novel cover design for Psycho. This “cutting” technique is great for many applications including horror looks, distressed textures and more.

Use this tutorial as practice, then use your imagination and this technique in a way that is original and inspired!

1. Make the cuts

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A nice way to set up your Illustrator file is with the original design to the left of the artboard. This makes it quick and easy to reference as you go.

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Here I’ve found a similar font that I actually adjusted by “squaring” off the edges of some of the letters. While this tutorial is focused on the “cutting” effect, it never hurts to practice your shapes and letterforms!

Pay attention to the kerning and proportions of the characters and how that affects the overall atmosphere of the piece. Here I think I’ve gotten close enough to capture the feel of the cover.

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The important take away from this tutorial is the Knife tool and how it works. With all of the letters selected, the Knife tool can be dragged across the word in a way similar to the cover on the left. This will separate paths on either side of the cut and turn them into isolated shapes. This is helpful for the next step, where we can space out the pieces.

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Using the Direct Select tool, we can now select each isolated piece and space the fragments out in a way similar to the cover to the left. In this step it’s important to think about the “action” of the cut and the atmosphere being created with this effect. These things will affect how the fragments are spaced.

2. Roughen the edges

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To roughen the edges we will be using the Roughen effect (Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen). Unfortunately when using this effect, it applies to all paths of a given shape. In other words we need to find a workaround so that only the “cut” edges of our shapes get roughened.

My idea is to duplicate the entire word onto itself, roughen the top layer, then erase the roughened sections we don’t need. In the screenshot above, the roughen effect is applied to the top duplicate of “PSYCHO”.

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Notice how the Roughen effect applies itself to the entire path of each shape.

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With the top”PSYCHO” layer roughened and selected, the erase tool (Shift + E) is used to erase the section of these forms that are not “cut” edges.

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Perfect! Just a small adjustment to the detail setting of the roughen effect.

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Here the top duplicate is Expanded and Merged to the lower duplicate to make unified shapes. Lastly, some of the roughened edges are further exaggerated using the Direct Select tool to push and pull anchor points even further.

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The final touch in Illustrator is adding the italicized type (just to go the extra mile in this practice).

3. Texturize

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To finish things off, everything is texturized in Photoshop. The textures I use here are plaster textures and definitely give a slightly different look than the cover to the left, however I feel the atmosphere is similar – it’s scary, horrifying and distressed.

Furthermore at this point, everything should be left and this technique should be brought into 100% original design works.


With Illustrator’s Knife tool and Roughen effect, some very convincing “cutting” or “ripping” looks can be achieved. This technique has many applications and the only limit is your own imagination. Have fun!

Thoughts or questions? Comment below!