View Full Version : Reliable Highlighted Text in Illustrator

12-03-2010, 04:29 AM
Using Photoshop, I've gotten into the habit of highlighting text labels, usually with a contrasting Outer Glow effect. I've been trying to get into the use of Illustrator for cartography, particularly for labelling since it has more sophisticated character-level effects than Photoshop. It's been hard going. In Illustrator, the Outer Glow effect is very sensitive to background color and frequently fails regardless of glow color, opacity or blend mode used. With that in mind, I've created a cheap hack to create something roughly approximating the effect in Illustrator that seems to be more reliable.

I've detailed this procedure on my blog, here (http://astrographer.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/illustrator-highlighted-text/).

Comments are somewhere between very welcome and begged for. :)

12-03-2010, 04:49 AM
Haven't labelled much in Illustrator, but I think I'd basicly just go for an outline on the text in a relevant color - it a little harder (looking) but a lot easier to do ;) ... but for the more glowing effect this sounds like a simple way to go, however - wouldn't it be enough to just blur the text? (said without actually checking myself) :)

12-03-2010, 05:07 AM
I'm surprised that Illustrator is so poor on outer glow. I had a quick go with Serif Drawplus...(blend mode of the outer glow was set to normal) and this is what I got.
Also tried pasting black text on top of white text (and increasing the line width of the white text to show through)
And tried gaussian blurring the white text behind. I found the gaussian blur gave a much fainter glow.

Ninja'd by tilt: Forgot you could also just use a white outline. Serif allows you to alter the opacity of the fill and outline separately, does .ai have this feature?

Also, serif has a raster outline filter which you might use.

p.s. thanks for mentioning textbrewer which I had not seen before!

12-03-2010, 11:36 AM
The Outer Glow works so well in Photoshop that I was rather astonished(annoyed, aggravated) at the weakness of the effect in Illustrator. Even at 100% opacity, I couldn't get Outer Glow to show up against my land color.

Of course, almost as soon as I posted that, I found a better method over at the Adobe Forums (http://forums.adobe.com/thread/433266). After I wrote my blog, of course. :roll:

1. Select your text(as an object, not as text).

2. In the Appearance window(Window>Appearance) use the pull-down menu in the upper right corner, select Add New Fill. Make sure your new fill is below Characters in the Appearance stack(this is important, otherwise you won't see your text :roll: ).

3. Set the new fill to a color that contrasts with your text. This assures that if, say, you have green text on a green background, at least the glow will be visible.

4. Making sure that the new fill is selected, go to Effect>Path>Offset Path... to widen the fill out beyond the edge of your text. Choose a shape and size that appeals to you. This is art, not science.

5. Now, go to Effect>Stylize>Feather... to soften the edges of the new under-fill.

6. With the Fill still selected, open the Transparency window(Window>Transparency) and set the opacity of the glow to a level you think looks good. This will still vary sensitively with background color. Go figure.

Now you have a text effect that looks about the same as what I did last night for about the same effort and with live updating to changes in label content. So if I go back and decide that Kalthegar is a better name for my capital city or Apple Chancery is a better font for my island/continent labels, ĦĦĦbam!!!, there you are. Easy peasy!

12-03-2010, 11:49 AM
Which is why I prefer to use Xara as my vector app of choice. While it certainly has less capability then Illustrator on many things, in others, like 'outer glow' it is far superior. I use 'outer glow' quite extensively in my labeling and the fact that Xara Xtreme works well using that technique, I don't have to be frustrated by the lack of such. I actually have an older version of Illustrator, that I never use, Xara works fine for me, and costs about half, a third of the price of Illustrator.

Not to discount your use of Illustrator, Su Liam, it is otherwise a perfectly fine proggie. I just didn't want those who don't use vector apps to think that all vector apps are missing such features. Bad 'outer glow' is just a discrepancy of Illustrator and not vector apps in general.


12-03-2010, 12:14 PM
@Gamerprinter: For most purposes, especially vexillography, I use Inkscape quite a lot. Like ArcGIS, Illustrator is strongly supported in professional cartographic practices. Like ArcGIS, Illustrator is an often an expensive PITA.

While I need to get a handle on Illustrator and how to beat it into doing what I want it to, I also need to see what I can do with Inkscape for labeling. So far I have a workflow that uses Wilbur, SagaGIS and ArcGIS on the PC and Photoshop, planetGenesis, and Illustrator on my Mac, what's one more app in the stream?

The method I blogged is weak, because a big part of the reason I'm using Illustrator is the ability to live edit font styles for an entire class of labels without a huge amount of misery.

@tilt & ravells: Yeah, the outline kind of works, but generally I like the look of a glow better :) .

@tilt: Blurring the text, blurs the text. Not so good for legibility ;) . It's kind of what I was doing with the underlying glow objects, though...

12-03-2010, 12:44 PM
I got a good effect, just a little easier by adding a fairly wide contrasting stroke with gaussian blur and transparency effects on the stroke.
Make sure the stroke is below the characters.

When you know as little as I do, the learning process is so quick :P.

Two things are clear to me. This tutorial isn't going to be an award winner :(( , and I need to try this with a real exemplar.

12-06-2010, 04:39 AM
good that you're learning.. and sharing :)
when I said blur the text - I was in my head thinking about the text layer below with the contrast color :)

12-06-2010, 09:00 AM
When I did it last, I used ImageMagick which has great text drawing capabilities. I wrote a script to render some text with a color bloated background on it and then wrote out an alpha channel of blurred white then composited them all together. A bit over the top but with many many names all being put on the map at once, when the script is done then it can do all the names in one go.

Id add some pics but the attachment manager hasnt allowed me to attach any pics for a while now.

12-06-2010, 12:27 PM
A long time ago, on a planet that looks very similar to Sadwillow...

It's really, really shocking how fast you can learn things when you're completely ignorant.

So now, I'm using the blurred outline effect. Next thing I learn, is to apply the effect not to the text objects themselves, but to the layers I put each class of label into(cities, capital cities, mountains, islands, continents, rivers, etc.). I decide to try this out on a more realistic backdrop. So I start from scratch. Well, kinda...

I start by creating a new document with a 2048x1024 artboard. I import my Wilbur map of Kazh(Which used to be Sadwillow, but I've made some changes, heheh). Now I create a set of layers: Hypsometric Raster, Hillshade Raster, Rivers Raster, City Markers, Capital City Labels, City Labels, Ocean Labels, etc. This makes it easier to alter settings later. Say, you decided to do the river labels in black with a thick white feathered glow, then you decide later to go with a simple thin black outline around light blue text. You just alter the effects for the River Labels layer. Then I think you can alter the color of the River Text character style and have it apply to your existing labels. Everything else remains untouched. Noice.

I've also gotten into the habit of putting all of my text onto a path. Just draw a quick line with the pencil tool go to Object>Path>Simplify... set your precision to about zero and then hover the text tool over the line till the text icon gets a line through it, then click down to place your text. You can go back and alter the curve to your heart's content later.

Mostly, this was about seeing how my text looks on a more complex background.

EDIT: Okay this needs a lot of edits since I started on the post last night.
First, I give up on freaking Live Trace. It may have it's place, like digitizing continent outlines from an ocean mask(maybe), but it's a total bust for finding center lines of a set of river traces. I'll have to see if I can find something equivalent to the tool I was using in ArcGIS.

@tilt: Yeah, I kinda figured that was what you meant. With the effects I was using when I started this, that's about what I was doing. If I make any changes to the text, I'd have to completely redo all the effects. By hand, for every text item I changed. That could get ugly.

I think the outline with a feather effect is mostly FTW. Yay!

@Gamerprinter, again: I'd probably never buy Illustrator again, but I have it and at the moment if a replacement isn't free like party-crash beer it isn't an option for me :( .

@Redrobes: I haven't used ImageMagick in ages. My version is probably at least two years old... That's pretty much just a raster app, isn't it? I remember it having much more flexible resampling options than Photoshop and I thought it had some stuff like morphological dilate and erode.

If I'm confident that I have my text content finalized and my character styles the way I want them I could paste all my text into a Photoshop layer as rasterized text. I'm fairly happy with Photoshop's effects(so far). This reminds me that I should update Image Magick on my computer, though. I'll have a look-see.

12-06-2010, 03:50 PM
Well, ImageMagick is just a bitmap editing script like language. It does not have a GUI or anything but you can edit up a text file with lables, rotations, color, positions for it etc and then get it to render out a bitmap with those lables all done in the right place. If you want to change it then edit the text file, run the script again and take the new image with all the lables on. It can composite those in or you can make the image of just the lables and composite it in with some other app which is how I did it.

12-07-2010, 12:52 PM
Rob has helped me fix the attachment issue so I can post pics again... Here is the text, alpha and map I was talking about.