How to stroke text in Illustrator: A tutorial
Conventional designer wisdom holds that you never stroke text in Adobe Illustrator. It strokes the inside of the letter forms which deforms their shapes. The 'professional' way to add a stroke is to paste a copy of the text behind and add twice the stroke to that. But then you have to edit two layers of text if there's a change. This is dumb, and I know a better way. But first, let me tell you a story.
I was working with a young (and maybe a little arrogant) print designer who was creating a web design in Illustrator. Since his design featured text with an outline (a stroke), I asked him to just stroke the text instead of having two layers of text.
"In illustrator you NEVER simply stroke text," he replied. "The stroke cuts in to the typeface ruining thicks and thins. The professional way is to double the stroke and drop it in behind."
Well, now. I can see I've been schooled by a professional.
I don't use Illustrator unless I'm creating a logo or need good bezier curve control for shapes, or text, but an awful lot of print designers mistakenly do everything in Illustrator. This is because you can scale your illustration to any size without losing sharpness, which you can't really do in Photoshop. But, since everything online is at 72dpi and that won't change any time soon, Photoshop is the web designer's tool of choice. Photoshop lets you choose whether the stroke goes on the inside, center, or outside of the character form, so it's never really been a problem for me. But what about all those helpless print designers who have to type everything twice? Can there be no reprieve from the tedium for them?
Will nobody think of the print designers?
OK, Mr. "NEVER-simply-stroke-text". Stand aside and I'll show you how an amateur does it.
Open Illustrator. If it's already open, slow down, I'll be right with you. Brown-noser. In a new document, type some text that you want to stroke like an amateur. Holy crap, that one's going to bring in some weird Google hits. If your Appearance Palette isn't yet open, open it from the "Window" menu.
Click on the Appearance Palette drop-down menu just beneath the palette's close button in the upper-right hand corner. Curse the Adobe usability expert who put it so close to the close box and re-open the palette. From the drop-down menu (careful!) choose "Add new stroke" and drag that layer behind the fill.
Choose the miter join option which will make your text sexy. There, that ought to bring in the porn-reading design professionals. Here you see the familiar "Stroke" and "Fill" options. Choose a pretty color for the stroke. In the "Stroke" palette, type in a stroke size that is double the actual stroke thickness you want, since Illustrator strokes from the center of the shape.
"But I need two strokes," you say.
Just add a new stroke from the drop-down menu, drag it behind the fill, adjust the stroke thickness and miter join option to taste, and serve.
That's it. Not only is it easier to do, it is easier to edit since there's only one layer of text.
But if any of you reading along use Illustrator to design your web pages, I'll break your legs.
Steph!, Tuesday, December 9 2008, 02:29 PM
BMS, Thursday, March 5 2009, 05:00 PM
Thank YOU! I'm trying to make a brochure here, and that made everything much easier. Still I'm quite shure that the most time-efficient way to it, would be if adobe simply could import the stroke-features in photoshop into illustrator..
Richard, Thursday, March 5 2009, 05:19 PM
Amen! I'd like to choose whether my stroke is centered, outside or inside the line.
Jason, Sunday, April 5 2009, 09:39 PM
Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was just what I needed. I was having quite a difficult time managing text in Illustrator (I generally gravitate towards Photoshop.)
Also, this blog is gorgeously designed.
u r rad
Christian, Down Under, Saturday, May 16 2009, 01:23 AM
No longer do I feel the urge to put my fist through my monitor... you have saved me hours of pain - Thanks mate!
Two Socks, Friday, June 12 2009, 12:23 AM
Thankyou this information was extremely helpful!
Vladimir, Wednesday, September 9 2009, 05:34 AM
I was looking for this...
I appreciate you!
Esben, Tuesday, September 22 2009, 03:38 AM
Great technique! Much easier than the proffessional way :)
i think this is what the designer meant
Mario, Sunday, October 18 2009, 04:12 PM
I think what the designer meant was with cursive fonts, where you want to stroke the outside, not from the center, just like in photoshop, thats a little tougher. he meant that it eats into the words, your technique doesnt do too good there, its almost easier to define the text as an outline, then to stroke it using your technique, but theres not editing the text afterwards, thats what sucks :(
Re: i think this is what the designer meant -
Richard, Sunday, October 18 2009, 06:39 PM
Mario, I think you're exactly right--that's what the designer meant. I'm confused, though, how this technique doesn't address that problem. The stroke is behind the letter form, so it doesn't eat into the words at all. This technique has the exact same effect as outlining the text and then stroking it, only you can still edit the text, including the kerning if you need to. The stroke is outside the original letter forms. Perhaps you weren't dragging your stroke layer behind the fill?
Tana, Tuesday, October 27 2009, 11:45 AM
This helped so much -- thank you!
SilkyPig, Wednesday, January 20 2010, 11:45 AM
Entertaining and informative, a precarious duo to tackle yet done with finesse. Nice to put know-it-all *****s in their place and to teach folk at the same time?...bravo
Mark, Tuesday, February 2 2010, 05:10 PM
This is OH SO OBVIOUS, and yet I have been doing it the "professional way" for years. Many humble thanks for your perfect tip. I have cursed the Illustrator developers for years over this issue, not to mention that usability issue you mention with the fly-out and close menus. And now, if they would simply allow it to be done as in Ind and PShop without so many clicks through the non-intuitive Appearance palette, which still needs a major revamp, imho... I'll save that for another discussion. Bless you, my designer friend.
Chris, Tuesday, March 23 2010, 01:24 PM
Excellent explanation. Just what I needed. And entertaining too.
I have just switched to Illustrator from using CorelDraw for many years, and was amazed Illustrator couldn't do what Corel has always done -- but now it can. Thanks again.
Dennis, Monday, April 19 2010, 08:47 AM
This was a great help, thanks! One question... is it possible to apply the eyedropper tool to a stroke, and thus match its color to a sample from the surrounding artwork? Can't seem to get that going. Thanks.
Cyrus, Wednesday, April 21 2010, 05:18 AM
Hey WTF? Where's the stroking amateurs?
Apri, Wednesday, April 28 2010, 12:39 AM
I knew there was a better way - thanks! Oh and ^ - lol
GAWD! Finally! :D
Stephenson Price, Monday, May 3 2010, 01:29 PM
People keeping making this seem soooo complicated even though it really is so easy.
Thanks for this.
Franco, Thursday, July 1 2010, 08:41 AM
Haha that was funny!
Good tip! Thank you from Brazil!
You rock. -
Jai, Sunday, July 25 2010, 10:59 PM
I cannot thank you enough. This little nugget of information was exactly what I was looking for. I'm grateful that Google referred me to you and you were willing to share your creative, "amateur" genius. Big hugs to you, friend.
You rule! (no pun intended) -
Ed, Tuesday, July 27 2010, 12:17 PM
So nice I didn't have to wade thru crap to get to this.
Well done.. lol of the day too.
Cyndi, Thursday, August 5 2010, 12:35 PM
Even though I've known this trick (I, too, use Photoshop for everything and only use Illustrator when absolutely necessary), I read this article simply because you made it interesting. LOVE the humor and sarcasm - we've all been there!
Josh, Thursday, November 4 2010, 06:57 AM
This was EXACTLY what I was looking for! Thank you for writing this post, and big points for the great styling too. Cheers!
I think I love you... -
Libbie, Tuesday, November 9 2010, 08:16 AM
Thank you SO much!! I've been trying to do this for so long now... You actually made this interesting to read. A tip of the hat to you sir!
Jennie Z, Tuesday, November 16 2010, 12:57 PM
Why didn't i think of that?
Now thanks to you I can stroke it all day long.
I love your sarcasm
Common, Tuesday, November 30 2010, 08:08 PM
That's it! Keep it up. Finally - no pretense.
Serberuss, Tuesday, January 18 2011, 02:29 AM
Wicked!! I've been working with Illustrator for 5 years, never knew this technique before, Thanks. But just wandering, can the strokes move individually?
Stuff the "Professional"
Shawn Colloton, Tuesday, January 18 2011, 02:48 PM
This is great. I'm a artist for a screenprinting company and for the longest time have been doubling my text, which has always been annoying as it makes life difficult when you want to change the text for multiple uses. This allows me to keep the same style with the text I'm using and change the text at a moments notice, which is usually all I have. Thanks for the great tutorial.
James, Friday, February 4 2011, 01:35 PM
This is a very useful tip I can immediately use.
Next question is how to automate it?
I am working on a map that has text with a white keyline around it, but there are many pieces of text that this trick is helpful for. An Action doesn't work as it won't change the order of the stroke and fill. Ill CS4 doesn't have Object Styles like InDesign does. Having to do 100 bits of text is individually is painful!
Graphic Styles, duh!
james, Friday, February 4 2011, 01:39 PM
More of an InDesign guy than an Illustrator guy as I find Illustrator calls them Graphic Styles not Object Styles.
Christine Marsh, Sunday, May 1 2011, 07:26 PM
Thank You for your post!
It is very clear and informative!
I thoroughly enjoyed your humor.
Have a magnificent day!
Matthew, Wednesday, May 4 2011, 09:48 AM
A beginners mind is full of possibilities, an experts mind has few. -Shunryu Suzuki
animated writing style. Thank you for your help
sweet now can you seperate it.
Kristina, Friday, May 13 2011, 08:31 PM
Im one of those print designers, I really like using your technique, now how can you separate that outline from the text, i am cutting vinyl and need to separate it. I have the text, then an outline, than another outline.
Re: sweet now you can seperate it.
Richard, Saturday, May 14 2011, 10:47 AM
Unfortunately, I don't think there is a way to outline the stroke from the appearance palette. Since you're separating the outline from the text that means the outline won't be editable as text anymore anyway, so it's time for some destructive stroking. There might be other ways to handle it, but I'd select the text, go to Type -> Create Outlines, remove the original stroke from the Appearances panel, go to Object -> Path -> Offset Stroke and enter the actual width of the stroke, then subtract the text outline from the offset stroke.
Hugo, Wednesday, May 18 2011, 05:59 PM
I'm in a digital imaging course at my university and a student asked about the outline. The professor did it the 'amateur' way and out loud I exclaimed "There is no way that's how the pros do it. I'm disappointed." She continued on with the lecture and I came across this blog. I just schooled her in front of the class. I hope I don't fail for pooping on her
R, Monday, June 13 2011, 10:59 AM
Ha ha that's funny and thanks for your help!
Outline of characters (or stroke)
Mel Hobbs, Wednesday, June 22 2011, 08:26 AM
Thanks. I'm old school, and I understand your comments completely.
You've been a great help.
Mel (in London)
Dan, Thursday, July 21 2011, 04:02 PM
Thanks for the article..It really helped me a lot.
you're good -
jack caine, Thursday, October 13 2011, 05:44 AM
this is pretty good advice dude
Stroke stroke stroke!
msLakia, Sunday, November 13 2011, 03:12 AM
Thank you!! is it useful :D
dppc1957, Thursday, January 12 2012, 07:06 PM
Great info, and very funny, too! Thanks!
Naomi, Tuesday, January 17 2012, 03:27 PM
I wish I would have found this article a year ago. As a 'professional graphic designer', I would like to join you in punching Mr. "NEVER-simply-stroke-text" in the face. I'm not a huge Illustrator user, so this has opened a door for me. No longer will I suffer with multiple layers of unnecessary text. All of us 'far less professional designers' (bah) thank you.
Riaan, Monday, February 6 2012, 06:52 AM
Like a BOSS!
Every designers sees himself as an expert...I should know :P
We hate to be schooled ,and the claws come out quickly. That's why I Google these in private, hehehe
Matthew, Wednesday, February 15 2012, 09:25 AM
Every 9 months or so, I forget this, need it, google it and come back to this funny story. Thanks again.
Anonymous, Tuesday, February 28 2012, 08:50 PM
Man you ROCK!! thanks for this, since 2008 till now it still applicable!
Can't select outside stroke
Steve, Saturday, May 19 2012, 03:33 AM
I'm using CS6 and when I do this to live text, I can't get it to stroke the text on the outer borders. It keeps using an inner stroke, which, according to the design noob "cuts into the text".
Where am I failing??
Re: Can't select outside stroke
Richard, Sunday, May 20 2012, 02:36 AM
When you open the 'Appearances' palette you should be able to click on the stroke and drag it down below the fill. If you can't, try deleting the stroke layer and re-creating it. That sometimes helps.
It's an "outline," dangit
Mike, Thursday, June 14 2012, 01:39 PM
I use Adobe suite at work and Corel at home, and while the "usability" pendulum swings back and forth between these two illustration apps on specific tasks, CorelDRAW beats Illustrator hands-down on "stroking text." First of all, "stroke" is a silly word to use: we're talking about "outlines," and that's what CorelDRAW calls them. In CD you can just select text (or any other object) and easily deal with its outline, using... wait for it... the "outline tool!" To get the effect described in this article, you just tell it to put the "outline behind fill," set the width and you're done.
Re: How do you do this on Character Styles
Richard, Friday, June 15 2012, 11:46 AM
You're right, you can't explicitly connect graphic styles to character styles. Adobe should be ashamed of themselves. But you can set up a stroke in the appearance panel as a graphic style and use both. However, I would suggest that if you're that dependent on character styles in Illustrator, you're probably doing page layout and therefore might be using the wrong tool for the job: Illustrator doesn't do that sort of thing very well, but InDesign does.
RE: It's an "outline," dangit: no kidding. It's a long time since medieval monks made strokes with pens.
Anonymous, Sunday, July 15 2012, 02:55 PM
FINALLY! I've been batteling with this for years! Thank you!
Miroslav, Saturday, September 8 2012, 03:27 AM
So simple and yet so hard to find! Thank you for teaching us!!!
Thierry, Tuesday, October 2 2012, 03:00 AM
haha.. pfff.. professionals
Great Tip dude!
Eder, Wednesday, October 3 2012, 05:54 PM
I would always use the offset path to go about making strokes...Thnx a lot!
Awesome and enjoyable
Holley, Wednesday, October 10 2012, 08:46 AM
Not only did I learn something I've been trying to figure out forever, I laughed all the way through. Awesome article!
Annex, Saturday, October 20 2012, 09:33 PM
Thank you for the side jokes and the tutorial.
Nicco90, Tuesday, November 13 2012, 06:31 AM
Thanks heaps!! That might just save me on this job i'm doing at the moment!! And Great Blog you got going here!!!
Jae, Saturday, January 19 2013, 07:15 AM
Nice, it's helpfull.
Jess, Wednesday, January 23 2013, 04:08 PM
Bless you bless you bless you! ^_^ Love your wit, too; nothing worse than reading a bland technical doc. Thanks!
Rebecca, Friday, January 25 2013, 04:14 PM
Added a stroke to my text and it defaulted to center. Wouldn't let me change to outside. This is a nice easy little work around.
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