Creating Scalable Photoshop Text for After Effects
Vectors in After Effects 5

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

Compositors and editors faced with the prospect of creating text in their compositions often rely on applications like Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand, rather than creating the text directly in programs like Apple Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects. Why? The text tools in NLEs and compositing applications are simply too time-consuming. Plus, creating text in a graphics application is quite simple.

Most compositors also work in Photoshop to create and edit their graphics. But they don't use it for text. Why? The text created in Photoshop isn't scalable. At least it wasn't until After Effects 5 came out.

See, if you create your text in Illustrator, you can import it into After Effects and scale it to your heart's content, never losing any quality whatsoever. This is because Illustrator text is vector-based. True, Photoshop can export vectors and generate EPS files and even paths to Illustrator. But you can't import Photoshop's Illustrator paths into After Effects, and working with Photoshop's EPS files in AE has problems of it's own, namely the difficulty of generating a matte.

Enter PDF.

Adobe's PDF—Portable Document Format—is becoming popular for low-end print work; but you would never think of using it in After Effects. It's just for print, right?


After Effects 5 has the ability to import PDF files, and Photoshop has the ability to generate PDF files. A perfect match for bringing vector data created in Photoshop directly into After Effects. Are there problems with this? Well, maybe one little one. You have to crop your Photoshop file manually to keep layer handles manageable once it's in AE 5. But that's it, at least that I've found. PDF files retain alpha information, and, at least for now, nobody's written any code to prevent After Effects from reading PDFs created in Photoshop.

I don't mean to be cynical. But let's face it; there's only one reason that After Effects hasn't been able to handle Photoshop text correctly to date: Adobe wants you to buy Illustrator. Now, if you're using AE 5, you don't have to. Here's what you do.

1. Create your text at any size, but make sure to crop it manually so that your layer handles in After Effects will be manageable.

2. Select File > Save As...

2. In the Save As dialog, select Photoshop PDF, and check the Layers box.

3. An option window will open up. Make sure you check Save Transparency, Include Vector Data and Use Outlines for Text.

4. Place the PDF file into After Effects just as you would any other graphic file. You can now drop it into your Comp window or timeline and rescale it all you want.

The original PDF file (top) along with the scaled-up version.

5. Make sure in the timeline window that you switch to full resolution and continuous rasterization. (Both of these options are independent of your composition settings.) To do this, just go to your timeline and click the backslash until it becomes a forward slash and click the asterisk until it's filled in, as pictured below.

Resolution and rasterization options should be checked as shown here in
the columns to the right of the layer name.

Now, with all of this said, I can't in good conscience tell you that Photoshop is a perfect replacement for Illustrator in terms of text. Illustrator (or your vector program of choice) is easy to work in when it comes to text, and, in general, the work will go a little quicker. But Photoshop is also fine for smaller blocks of text. So have fun.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.


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