Thursday, 4 November 2010

Wednesday Surgery (ahem)

With apologies once again for the delay, here's the Illustrator tip I promised.

Acknowledgement is due to Italian letterer Jolly for this post to the Digital Webbing Lettering Forum, which links to this article from the excellent Real World Illustrator blog. The post below derives much of its content from Mordy's excellent hint, albeit in an expanded form here.

This is fairly advanced Adobe Illustrator stuff -- if you're working through the step-by-step guide, this will probably make more sense to you after the section about sound effects, which is coming next week. There's a little bit of overlap with that piece, but this hint is also of value to designers and AI users in general so I thought it was worth separating out into a post of its own.

(If everyone else already knew this, then I apologize, but it was new to me and I had to investigate a bit and then share it.)

When creating SFX, many letterers will convert the text to outlines and then do all the manipulation of the SFX afterwards.

Because my background is in setting type, however, I like to format a lot of my SFX with the typesetting tools. I'd certainly recommend trying it, even if you don't stick to using the technique. For me, it helps to keep the SFX in my mind as a word, as well as a graphic element to be placed on the page.

So… we start with some text, utilizing upper and lower case…
… to give some variety to the letterforms when we change to font to an FX font:

At this point, we could just hit CMD-SHIFT-O and change the whole thing to outlines, or we could set to work on it with the typesetting tools, changing the point size of the characters and nudging them up and down with the baseline shift:

You can highlight an individual character and then reduce the tracking to pull the character which follows back towards the highlighted one -- reduce tracking is CMD-SHIFT-[ (open square bracket key):

With a small amount of practice, you'll very quickly be able to knock up pleasing arrangements of letters in short order.

And here's where we get to the tip. Ordinarily, we would then have to convert to outlines in order to add decent stroke and fill effects, which isn't a problem, except that the text ceases to be editable.

However, if you click on the text with the Selection Tool (black arrow) so that the text is selected as an object, you can then go to the Appearance palette and click on the unassuming little triangle shown:

… You can add a stroke to your text.

Big deal, I hear you say, I can add a stroke to my text from the Stroke palette.

Yes, you can, but read on!

Now, you use the same menu to add a Fill to the text:

I can tell you're still unimpressed, since you can Stroke and Fill your directly from the relevant palettes already.

However, if you look at the Appearance palette, you'll see that by using this method, you have your fill above your stroke and when you change the Fill colour to, say, white:

…The characters appear merged, even though they're still editable text.

It gets better, though, because you can add increase the stroke weight and it will only expand outside the characters -- the Fill masks the part of the stroke that would otherwise appear inside:

I wouldn't recommend adding more than a couple of points of stroke weight using this method (at higher values, the behaviour of the paths can become a bit unpredictable), but the results are quite acceptable at lower values.

You can change the fill to a gradient:

And then edit the gradient fill as you would any other, altering the angle:

And the colours:

SFX created like this can still be masked to create 'cut out' effects so that they appear to be in front of or behind elements of the artwork, but all the while remain completely editable with the text tool:
Whilst this isn't a universal solution -- you'll still need to convert to outlines for a lot of the fancier distortion and perspective effects, if you're doing a first pass through a book for a client who (let's say) frequently asks you to change the spellings of SFX, then this technique could well end up saving a lot of time.


  1. Ooh... Nice find, Jim. Thanks for passing it on!

  2. I found the SFX stuff a bit awkward when I tried it on the 2k Illustrator tutorial thread. I could do it, but it was a bit of a scutter about due to the choice between keeping as text or changing to an object.Being a beginner, I got caught out several times when I was practising.
    I'm going to give this a go, as I'm going to have a go a lettering a story I've just about finished drawing so this could prove useful.