Reliable Highlighted Text in Illustrator

Part of world-building, at least for me, is the cartography, and part of cartography is legible text labeling. I’ve been playing with text styles in Illustrator prefatory to mapping. First, I found a set of specs in TypeBrewer that worked for me. I chose Formal B, mostly because I have all the fonts on my system and finding equivalent free fonts on the net can be a hellish ordeal. I looked at the spec sheet created by TypeBrewer and made an equivalent set of character styles in Illustrator. You’re supposed to be able to download an ait template for Illustrator from TypeBrewer, but that appears to be broken.

Now I made a little toy map in Illustrator, just to test my character styles and see how they look on some sort of a map.

All of the text except in the text boxes has Effects>Stylize>Outer Glow applied with a white 3-pixel screen effect at 100% opacity. As you can see, the effect doesn't show up on land at all.

Although it may not be apparent from this toy example, text highlighting can make a huge difference in the legibility of labels when the map is dense with information and there is a lot of hypsometric shading and hillshading going on behind the text.

Given that this is a very useful effect, but not terribly reliable in Illustrator(In my experience this has always worked perfectly in Photoshop, eh…), I decided to try to create a workaround.

First create your text. Once you have the labels you want where you want them you can do the magic. It’s kind of a pain to redo, so make any changes to the labels before you go on to the next step.

Now, select all of the labels you wish to highlight and copy them to the clipboard. After you have done that paste duplicates in back of the existing labels(Edit>Paste in Back or Cmd-B). Now change the color of the duplicate text to something that contrasts with your labels. My text was all in black, so I used white. The effect at this point looks pretty bad, but we’re not done.

Next we go to Effect>SVG Filters and select AI_Dilate_3 then we use the SVG Filter AI_GaussianBlur_4. Looking better already. Then I reduce the opacity of the highlighting objects, in this case to 75%, which may still be a bit excessive. A more subtle effect could be had by reducing opacity still further, perhaps to 50% or less.

I wasn’t entirely happy with some of the labels, so I had to select them individually to stretch them move them, change their opacity or otherwise alter them to improve the overall effect. I found, in this case, that labels over water only needed 50% opacity on the highlighting, objects on land needed 75-80%. Results will vary depending on the color scheme of the map and labels. Hopefully, in practice, most labels will work reasonably well as-is. Otherwise this process could drag on.

This is the way the text looked after the process described in this blog. I'll not be held responsible for the general quality of the map or the text and names. Consider this Lorem Ipsum.

I’m sure there’s also a blog in here about placing text on paths and the like, but I’m not dealing with that tonight.

Thank you for your attention.

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2 Responses to Reliable Highlighted Text in Illustrator

  1. Astrographer says:

    I got a good effect, even easier than that by adding a fairly wide contrasting stroke with gaussian blur and transparency effects on the stroke.
    Make sure the stroke is below the characters.

    The effect is still very sensitive to underlying colors, so some adjustment could still be required.

    This gives you live updating, too, which is a huge benefit.

    When you know as little as I do, the learning process is so very quick .

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