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Outlining Type: Right and Wrong

In a recent Photoshop Madness, I rant on web sites that write hasty tutorials just for getting views and clicks on sponsored ads. After some 70 sites I became quite annoyed at how many use poor shortcuts or outright misinformation. Outlining type wrong was one that reoccurred time and time again. (Read my rant!)

Here's a prime example. Now, understand that layer styles in Photoshop were implemented by Adobe first and foremost to sell the product to new users. Layer styles are wonderful, however as famed typography expert Alex White said: "The music is not in the violin." Using the STROKE style in the Layers Styles is like playing the wrong notes on the violin out of tune.

the wrong way
This example illustrates what happens when merely using the layer styles. The type face is distorted and features that are characteristic of the font have mutated because of the stroking.
* Joins in the 'u' and 'n' grow together
* Strokes and legs are more narrow, particularly horizontal ones
* Crotches or joins where two members meet (as in the 'x') are filled and rounded
Some people don't care. But anyone who knows better will spot the mistake immediately.

Outlines should be lines on the outside

outlining typeThere are two ways to outline type: the right way and the wrong way. Let's investigate what's wrong with the "wrong" way, so you'll know what to avoid if you can.

As illustrated above, from a Photoshop tutorial found on the web, some artists use the "stroke" command to add an outline to a letter or graphic. When you simply choose a stroke, you will not get the proper results. Here, we see the typical Black capital "M" in the classic Minion Black family -- but the stroke does several destructive things:
a) The serifs have diminished, or become distorted
b) Points at joins and crotches are now square
c) Strokes and legs have become too narrow

Stroking the object reads the object's path. The width of the stroke (e) is split across the path (d) so that half the stroke width extends to either side of that path. The half of the path extending inside the letter form distorts the actual shape of the letter form. The resulting letter is no longer Minion Black.

Correct outlines

Let's use Illustrator to generate a correct outline, then we'll switch to Photoshop for another method. First we'll see the tried and true method graphic designers have used for 20 years in painting and drawing software. I taught this technique all through the late 1980s and early 1990s.

copy then stroke then paste in front

Type the text, or create the shapes you wish to outline.
Select the type or shape -- even live type, not converted to paths --
Choose Edit > Copy to copy the object. (Cmd/C or Cntrl/C)
Select the color of the outline from the color palette
Open the Stroke Palette and set the thickness of the stroke

At this point, be sure to multipy the desired outline thickness by TWO. For instance, here we wanted a 6 point outline so we set our stroke to 12. Remember, the stroke will be centered on the path of the object.

paste Now choose: Edit > Paste in Front,
or Cmd/F (Cntrl/F)
This puts the original, un-modified letter or shape in front of the outlined duplicate.

In this scenario the result is a 6-point outline. For further work, it would be a good idea now to group the two objects. Notice now that the letter form retains its true, original shape. No filled crotches or thinned letter strokes.

Using the Offset Path Command in Illustrator

Since Illustrator version 4, we've had the Offset Path and Pathfinder functions, two of the more innovative and welcomed additions. The Offset Path command simply analyzes the path of the selected object, and replicates a duplicate set apart from the original, either inside or outside, according to the dimension you input.

use the offset path command
1. Create a graphic or type a letter and select Create Outlines from the Type menu. This converts the vector object to paths with anchor points.

2. Select the object: then choose the menu Object > Path > Offset Path. Make the offset amount the amount you wish the outline to be.

3. Use the Direct Selection Tool (tap A) to select the edge of the new offset path and change the fill color to the color that you want the stroke to be. If you wish, select the path of the original letter, and change its color as well.

Note that the Direct Selection Tool (tap A) selects the individual parts of the letter or shape form, while the Selection Tool (tap V) selects all parts when clicking anywhere.
Also note that the original letterform is perfect! Untouched by the generation of an outline.

Now, lets check out Adobe Photoshop outlines...


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