Cool Vector Text Effects Using Illustrator – Instantly!

Illustrator, Tutorials   by Eric Fritz Add comments

Adobe Illustrator’s brushes are a treasure trove of creative possibilities, if you know how to use them wrong. Yep, wrong. Using them as ‘intended’ is fine, but I believe the real power of Illustrator brushes comes from applying them to things you might not consider at first – text for instance. There are literally hundreds of free brushes that come with Illustrator – banners, borders, florals, textures, flourishes etc. When applied to outlined letter shapes, interesting effects instantly take shape.

To view Illustrator’s many brush libraries, go to Window>Brush Libraries. Select one and it will open in a pallete that shows all the individual brushes.

It’s so easy to get started:
1. Type in some text
2. Convert to Outlines – YOU MUST DO THIS!
3. Click on brushes to apply them!

It took just a few clicks to create each of the text effects below. The Illustrator brushes being used are shown next to each sample. I find the libraries named Artistic Paintbrush, Artistic Scroll, Borders Ornate and Circular Decorative pretty useful for this technique. Given the hundreds of brushes available, the design possibilities are wide open.

The first 3 below are made with two copies of the outlined text, stacked on top of each other, using different brushes.

Illustrator brushes vector effect

1. In general, thick fonts work better than thin ones.
2. Change stroke widths for sometimes dramatic changes
3. Stack text objects on top of each other that use different brushes
4. Try turning on and off strokes and fills
5. Keep an original copy of your text handy before converting to outlines
6. Use similar, but different brushes on each letter.

In many cases, these text effects are a good starting place for more distressing to be done using Photoshop’s layer modes with maybe a stock art texture. I like this technique for creating title text without resorting to the latest free font that might be seen in other designs. Yeah… it’s quick… it’s dirty… but sometimes that’s just what you need.

NOTE: Illustrator CS1 was used to create this tutorial/tip. Application menus may be in different places on prior and more recent versions.

20 Responses to “Cool Vector Text Effects Using Illustrator – Instantly!”

  1. Rob Says:

    Applying the brushes to text is a great idea! Why didnt I think of that myself??? Anyway thanks for posting that technique.

  2. Sheryl Says:

    Thanks so much! You actually better results than all of the fancy fonts that you have to hunt for. Genius!

  3. Lisa Says:

    I just found this. Such a fantastic idea.

  4. WebWalk Says:

    Thank you for the nice tip, I tested it and got good results. However I am facing a problem, that is, when i re size my title text (which is now converted to outlines and brush strokes are applied), the pattern of brush stroke does not change proportionally with path. Which is a problem if we want to re size the title text, the pattern becomes big or small with it. How do you handle that?

  5. Stone Says:

    WebWalk: You have two options:

    1. Change the thickness (weight) of the stroke after you resize the outlined text. That leaves you the option of easily changing the brush used, however keeping perfect proportion will be tricky.

    2. Select the title text and choose “Object>Expand Appearance”. That will convert the stroke to outlines and you’ll be able to resize everything with perfect proportion.

    Good question!

  6. cyberus Says:

    whoaaa…thanks for this cool tutorial thingy!

  7. Bruno Says:

    Actually, there is an option in the Preferences panel, which is “scale strokes & effects”. This option allows the user to scale its work assuring that if there’s a stroke or an effect applied, will scale them too.
    BTW, great site. I’ve downloaded lots of stuff, already ;0)

  8. Stone Says:

    Great tip Bruno! That’s actually a better way to scale it all proportionally. Thanks.

  9. Sherry Says:

    Thanks for all the free stuff. I have downloaded some, but I have to learn how to use them first. I have used PS a bit, and Illustrator even less. The stuff you talk about up above sounds neat, but I can’t see the picture and I wish I understood how to do it. I can type text, but I don’t know how to convert it to outline.

  10. Janice Says:

    Hay! thanks!
    I’d never considered apliing brushes to font outlines before. It could be even more fun with your own brushes.
    I particularly like the layering up idea – the top layers could be partially transparent….

  11. Stone Says:

    Sherry, it’s simple to convert text to outlines. First click the text with the selection tool, then choose “Create Outlines” from the Type menu. Happy designing!

  12. Ashli Says:

    Another quick way to turn text into outlines is

    Ctrl + Shift + O (O for Outlines I guess!)

    I love the keyboard shortcuts. If you want to train in Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign or anything else, I highly recommend

    That’s where I learned all my skills from 🙂 Hope that helps someone out. <3

  13. Stone Says:

    Great tip Ashli!

    For Mac users the keyboard shortcut is Command + Shift + O.

  14. sasdaman Says:

    I agree! Today I’ve been experimenting with the text applied to graphic styles. Some of the results look like clip art however some of them can create some nice effects that could take you considerably longer to design yourself!

  15. carlos Says:


  16. Kadub Says:

    Very nice technique. I’m new to Illustrator so this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been looking for. Thanks for a great site and I look forward to more tuts!

  17. Pai Says:

    This is sooooo coooooool and awesome!!! THANKS!!!

  18. Jadedragon Says:

    Love it…great tip I have actually done this before but never thought to use some of the brushes u did.

  19. PsdDude Says:

    i am looking for a text that looks like was written with the pen tool

  20. mike Says:

    i’m still new to illustrator…but how do you stack the brushes on top of each other? i’m having a hard time figuring out how to use multiple brushes for the text.

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