Text effects—they can be subtle, they can be extreme, they can be expressive, and they can be really eye-catching. Regardless of the visual direction, text effects often take the ordinary into the realm of the visually extraordinary.
Join me on this visual exploration of what makes text effects successful. We’ll discuss what makes them tick, and ask some professionals in the field for their thoughts on what makes a text effect work well.
Type That Talks
When I think about text effects, I usually think about really expressive and highly rendered visuals—maybe something stylistic or textured. These tend to be visuals that couldn’t be achieved “out of the box” with our favorite fonts. Instead, there’s a degree of digital manipulation applied to the type—and added artistry.
I’d argue that text effects are a relative, maybe a cousin, of expressive typography—type that is highly visual or even an image in and of itself.
For example, in my classroom, I’d often have students experiment with the idea of expressive typography in the following way: take a word, and then visually make the text depict the meaning of said word. In the below example, notice how the word says “disappear”, but it’s also visually disappearing.
Now, this might not always be practical in a professional situation—but that’s not the point of the exercise. The idea behind this is that text communicates not only with the words themselves, but visually as well.
As designers, we need to be visually sensitive to how things potentially communicate to our audience. Not only that, but we can push and manipulate imagery to improve the delivery of a message, as well.
As an example, let’s take a look at the following font, below: Cherie Bomb.
It’s an awesome font—one that I personally want to experiment with in my own design work! However, how do you think this type visually communicates? What does it “say” outside of the literal words it spells out?
As an example, imagine if this type, above, was used for something like a hospital’s branding. These energetic colors, the informal, hand-drawn strokes, and the varied widths might not visually communicate what a hospital needs to say to its target audience—key words like calm, soothing, relaxing, and healing. It’s a place where we want to feel stability and assurance—not necessarily excitement. That might be better suited to something like a club or a clothing brand.
Note, that’s not to say this couldn’t possibly work—just that these are things to consider, as a visual communicator.
How about this type, above? What does it visually communicate to you? Personally, I find myself thinking about yoga, flowers, maybe a cozy restaurant—the earthy colors and the serifs make me think of something grounded. I would personally be surprised if this was type for something like a rollercoaster for thrill-seekers.
So, when we look at text effects, this idea is pushed even further. We’re taking our type and potentially applying additional visual content to support or deliver a message. Note, this message doesn’t have to be complex—it can be as “simple” as emotions, like excitement. Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s fear or humor. With today’s technology, the sky is truly becoming the limit.
Adaptable and Expandable
But text effects are more than how the appearance of a font and the colors employed communicate. This usually involves a number of Layer Styles, add-ons, and/or other Photoshop “magic” to create a visual that is not only interesting, but adaptable too. Thanks to Photoshop actions, we can often group and replay this process for easy reuse—after we’ve successfully found our way to the visual finish line.
This has an interesting duality, because advanced text effects are often rather complicated, from a technical perspective—but when sharing them, or even selling them, commercially, one typically has to think about the user’s experience employing them.
I asked Gianluca Giacoppo, also known as Giallo, for his thoughts on this—he’s created a number of very impressive text effects and actively shares/distributes them:
There is a big technical difference between drawn text and a customizable text effect template.
What does this mean for the designer? To draw a text effect using a tablet or pencil is completely different than to draw it using only Layer Styles, Blending Options and Smart Objects.
What does this mean for the end-user? Hours or even days of time saved trying to recreate a specific treatment.
Creating text effects for [others to utilize] is not just about making a cool looking drawn text effect: even the less experienced users must be able to recreate [the result].
I enjoy text effects in Adobe Photoshop and creating templates that everyone can use and have fun with: the technical challenge is the most interesting part for me.
In my opinion, Photoshop actions, Smart Objects, and layer effects are kind of the “dream team” when it comes to text effects. We won’t go in depth into how each work, in this article, but if you’d like to know more, here are some resources to help you get started:
If you’re new to Photoshop actions, check out this tutorial—it walks through how to use and install them.
What are Photoshop Actions? Why should you use them and how? This 60-second video will show you why Photoshop Actions should be an important part of your…
Haven’t used Smart Objects before? Check out this free course that’ll help you get started:
Smart Objects are a truly amazing and powerful feature of Adobe Photoshop. In this course you’ll learn how to edit your images with non-destructive…
And here’s an entire series: Intro to Photoshop Layer Styles, featuring a whole host of walkthroughs on Photoshop Layer Styles! Here’s just a sample of the series:
Awesome Text Effects
So we’ve looked at what text effects are and how they’re made—but what makes a great text effect? Is it how flashy or detailed it is? Is it whether or not it’s on trend? Is it how user-friendly it is for other designers to employ or share?
I’d argue that a text effect is as good as its application.
I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in bells and whistles, sometimes—to look so closely at the details that we miss the bigger picture. At the end of the day, in many design situations, our goal is to visually communicate a specific objective to our target audience. That audience might vary, of course—if it’s a personal project, the audience might just be you! If it’s a client, it’s likely a specifically defined audience. Our decisions have to best appeal to that audience in a well-informed way. Therefore, the text effects we use need to visually communicate in a meaningful way.
In simple terms: choose the right effect for the right job—whether you’re experimenting with expressive type, drawing out hand-drawn typography, or applying a stylish text effect. Communication is often key.
That said, I had the opportunity to ask a handful of artists for their thoughts on text effects. Here are their thoughts, as well as a look at the inspiring and impressive text effects they’ve created! Check them out—and consider giving their text effects a try!
I’m a graphic designer, based in Portugal. I’ve been working as a freelance graphic designer since 2014. I have a master degree in Philosophy, but I felt my true passion was not that. The passion for graphic arts was always part of my life. The turning point was when I discovered Photoshop and Illustrator by searching in the internet. Then I began studying these programs by following online tutorials. I think it was love at first sight. I’ve never studied graphic design or art, I’m self-taught.
Text Effects take a font much further than Text Type and Text Editing. I’m able to turn any font into a “master piece”. [These effects] and the result [is] what I like the most when I create text effects.
I browse what other people are working on and whenever I see a design style or trend that I really like, I just think for myself: “I’d love to do something like that”. I [will often] gather samples of a particular design style then I experiment and combine key features into my design to achieve similar effects.
My inspiration comes also from everything around me: music helps a lot, so does walking or looking at pictures or just simply get inspiration from other artists. Keep learning and progressing. Don’t give up and remember the real reason you’re doing this is because you enjoy it.
Have a vision in your head of the kind of work you want to eventually be able to produce and then just practice, practice and practice, after a while it all just starts to fall into place. It is as simple as that but you need to be dedicated and love what you do.
Check out more of Nina’s work here:
My name is Carolina Silva, I’m a Graphic Designer based in the great city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. It’s been almost 4 years since I left my former job at a small design company. Since then, I’ve been able to fully dedicate my time into being a full-time author. I love working with vibrant colors, abstract shapes, corrupted and distorted image and text effects. I believe my design style is quite intense and experimental.
Typography usually plays a big role in most design projects. I’m particularly fond of big, expressive typography-oriented design compositions and I believe you can add an extra touch of beauty and personality to it by playing with different colors, text effects and distortions.
I’m always trying to improve my design skills by learning new techniques and software features. I tend to let my creativity flow while I’m trying to come up with something interesting that I hadn’t done before.
Create your own collection of design and ideas that inspire you. Analyse them, try to understand what made them special enough to be a part of your inspiration material. What do you like about them? If you could, what would you change? Which of these projects would you like to have created yourself? Why? I think these are some questions that might help you figure out the styles that appeal to you and understand your aspirations as a designer.
If you’re unfamiliar with the software, you can find a ton of great tutorials over at Envato Tuts+ and at other platforms, like YouTube. I believe challenging yourself constantly is essential if you want to improve your skills and/or expand your abilities as a designer.
You can check out more of Carolina’s work here:
Hi my name is Roberto and I’m a freelance graphic designer from Vicenza, Italy. I’m 31 years old and my career started more than 10 years ago. I started making templates at first just for fun and practice, but then it practically became my full-time job. At first, I made mainly flyer templates, but then expanded the range of products with mockups, WordPress themes, and text effects.
I usually take inspiration from original sources (old books, sign paintings, posters, movie title screens). I keep searching and collecting inspiration materials I find both online and not. My favorite historical periods, in these terms, are the early 1900s, the 1950s and the 1980s. Which in my opinion were also the best moments for typography in the last century.
So usually I’m inspired when making new text effects, but of course, the main problem is that the result is not always what you expected. Same old story. But especially in my case, since I create text effects which are mainly intended to be sold as templates (and so they must stay editable) replicating something is not always possible, due to software limitations. So, the amount of failed attempts is higher than the satisfying results.
But as long as the passion is strong, I’ll keep making them and try to get as close as I can to the style I aim to create. The main challenge for me is to try to recreate a feeling in a digital way.
Create with passion and do your research. Gather information about your inspiration. For example, an 80’s style text is not just a shiny surface placed on a perspective grid at the bottom and a “retro” sun on top. It’s the feeling that all the elements combined give [Understand what you aim to create].
Check out more of Roberto’s lovely work here:
I’m Michael Kruiswijk; [I’m] 39 years old and live near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. [I am] married and have two daughters 4 and 6 years old. I have a full time job as a Graphic Designer/Art Director at a small media company that makes games and apps.
Photoshop is my absolute fav program to work with. I am mostly self taught (more than 20 years ago) and really got addicted to it. I started with Photoshop 5.0 I think, haha. I did all the tutorials out there on the internet and still occasionally I do one when I see a nice effect or new feature. I started to sell items that I made 9 years ago when I found out about Envato. About then I found layer styles in Photoshop and started making text effects.
I love making text effects because you have so many styles you can make with text. In any graphic design, creative beautiful typography stands out. Needless to say, they are the ones that draw the audience’s attention towards their message. This characteristic of typography is very important in flyers, posters, billboards and other advertising platforms. Even a simple drop shadow or 3D layer makes a text more appealing. In Photoshop it’s very easy to create awesome text effects just with Layer Styles.
When I want to make a new text effect or logo I start on the internet (Pinterest, DeviantArt, Envato websites, etc.) for inspiration. Sometimes I walk on the street and see a poster with an awesome text effect, I take a picture of it or a movie title that I like. I’m always aware of text effects and how they are built when I see them. I always have new ideas in my mind but unfortunately not enough time to make them.
Do a lot of tutorials and try to have fun making text effects. Look at what is trending at the moment and get inspired by other designers out there. Learn from the best! See how others create text effects.
Check out more of Michael’s work here:
What Are Some of Your Favorite Text Effects?
Let us know, down below in the comments! Have you tried any of these text effects? We’d love to see your results! And hey, I hope you decided to create some awesome, original text effects of your own, too!
A warm thank you to all of the artists and designers who shared their work and their thoughts in this article—your creations are wonderful! I know I’m going to have a blast trying these out!
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