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Text in AE

Prior to version 6, AE's text capabilities were very limited. Text was an effect (it's still available under the Effects>text menu) and had to be applied to a layer, usually a solid. The text effect was rasterized at the resolution of the layer it was applied to, so scaling it up often resulted in pixelated edges. There were limited typography controls, and complex animation often required you to break up your text into multiple layers. Because of these limitations it was often better to create your text in another application with better type tools, such as Illustrator or Photoshop, and then import it into AE for animation.

All of that changed with AE 6.0 which introduced text layers - arguably the most significant element of the entire upgrade. Text layers provide the full range of typography controls available to you in Adobe's other graphics applications, with the addition of a complete set of tools for animating your text in complex ways. While you can still create text using the old method (effects) I'll be focusing here on type layers because there is little reason to use the old methods anymore.

For clarity I'll split text into two sets of notes - this page will focus on creating and laying out text while the second page will focus on the advanced text animation tools.

Creating Text Layers

As with most things in AE there are a variety of ways to create a new text layer: Once you've created a text layer you can begin typing the text you want into your composition window. When you are done entering it you can press the 'Enter' key on the numeric keypad to get out of text editing mode.

Point vs. Paragraph text

Much like Photoshop, AE has two types of text layers - point and paragraph. Using any of the methods described above will create a point layer in which the text will not automatically wrap to fit your window or any other size. If you keep adding characters they will eventually go off screen. Hitting the 'Return' key will add a hard line break and create a new line.

If you know you want your text to fit into a particular area you will probably want to use paragraph text (this is especially useful if you copy and paste a large chunk of text from another application).

Paragraph text must be created with the text tool. Select the tool, then click-and-drag in your composition window to drag out a box - this box will contain your text. Any text you type or paste into this layer will now wrap within that box. If you resize the box (using the type tool to drag the handles around the outside edge) the text will re-flow to fit the new dimensions of the box.

Text Properties

Before you can change the properties of your text you need to select either the layer itself (if you want to change all the text in the layer at once) or the portion of the text you want to change. To select just a portion, use the type tool to click and drag a selection over the portion of your text you want to change.

Once you've selected the desired text you can make changes using the Character and Paragraph Palettes. These should open up as soon as you create your first text layer, but if they aren't open you can access them using the keyboard shortcut Apple-6 (this opens a window with both palettes in tabs) or from the main menu under Window>Character or Window>Paragraph.

The Character Palette

This should look very familiar to you if you have used Photoshop. Since familiarity with Photoshop is prerequisite for my classes I will just provide a brief overview of what the various controls are:
  1. Font - these are the standard menus for selecting a font and font-variant (bold, italic, etc)
  2. Fill and Stroke Colors - here you can select the main color of the text (the Fill color) and the outline color (the stroke color). You can click on either swatch to choose the color form a standard color picker, use the eyedropper to select a color from anywhere on screen, use the black and white swatchs to choose either black or white, or click the box with a red slash through it to set the color to transparent. Click the curved arrow between the swatches to swap their colors.
  3. Size, Leading, Tracking, Kerning - SIze is the font size in pixels. Leading is the amount of space between each line in your paragraph. Tracking sets the space between characters for the whole line/paragraph, while kerning allows you to change the spacing between any two characters(independent of the rest of the text).
  4. Vertical & Horizontal Scale and Baseline shift - The scale controls let you distort the text by making it wider or skinnier than the default font settings. The baseline shift adds space between the invisible line the text sits on (the baseline) and the text itself - this can be useful especially when working with path text (see below).
  5. Font Styles - Faux Bold makes the text heavier, Faux Italic slants the text to the right - use these when your font doesn't have a true bold or italic variant. All Caps capitalizes all the characters, while Small Caps sets all characters in caps but uses the lower case size for all characters that weren't originally capitalized. Superscript & Subscript make the characters smaller and set the baseline either high or low (used for footnotes, references, trademark symbols, etc).
With these controls you can customize the text to your needs. Remember, you can give different properties to different portions of your text, so you do not need to create different layers for each different block of text.

The Paragraph Palette

This palette lets you set options for the alignment of entire blocks of text.
  1. Alignment/Justification. The first three buttons let you set left, center or right alignment for your paragraphs. The next four allow you to justify text (aligned on both sides) with options for left, center or right alignment or full justification of the last line.
  2. Indentation - These let you set a left or right margin indentation as well as indenting the first line of each paragraph.
  3. Paragraph Spacing. These allow you to set the amount of spacing above or below each paragraph in your text layer.

Text on a Path

In addition to doing standard horizontal or vertical text you can also create a path and have the text follow the curves of the path. The path can also be animated and the text will follow the paths movements - for more on this, see the Animated Masks notes.

Creating a Path

Paths are created with the pen tool, available from the tool palette or with the keyboard shortcut 'G'. With the text layer you want to apply the path to selected, click in your comp window to add points which the path will flow through: Once you have completed the path, switch back to your normal selection tool (keyboard shortcut 'V').

Assigning the path to the text

On your timeline, toggle the arrow down next to the text layer's name to reveal it's properties. In addition to the normal transform properties you will also see masks and text categories. We'll talk about masks at a later date...for now, toggle down the text properties arrow. Toggle down the Path options arrow, and from the Path property drop-down menu select 'Mask 1' (1). Your text should conform to the shape of the path, and 5 new properties should appear in the path options section of your timeline (2).

Path text options

These new properties allow you to change how the text conforms to the path:

Basic Animation

Next Week i'll cover the new advance text animation tools, but even without those we can get started with basic animation of our text.

Transform Properties

Text layers have all the standard transform properties - position, scale, opacity, rotation and anchor point. You can keyframe these just like you would for any nice thing about text layers is that when you scale them up beyond 100% they stay sharp - this is called 'continuous rasterizing' and means you can scale them as large as you want without worrying about pixelization.

Path Property Animation

The new properties which become available when you assign your text to a path can be keyframed just like any other property. One of the most useful is the 'First Margin' property because it basically pushes your text farther along the path. If you change this over time the text will slide along the path, with individual characters shifting to stay aligned to the path.

This should get you started with laying out basic text layers in AE. With the things I've covered here you can create most basic titles, credits, crawling text, etc. Next week I'll get into the advanced text animation tools which let you create sophisticated animation with a minimum of keyframes and layers.