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Photoshop CS KAPOW! Tutorial - Holy Old Version, Batman! Photoshop, Illustrator Text Effect Tutorial
With all the news about all the new features in Photoshop CS5, we thought it would be nice to publish a tutorial that could be used with an older version, like four versions back to Photoshop CS1. This tutorial can be used with any version of Photoshop CS, and will show you how to get that neat KAPOW! text effect, and it comes from Doug Cloud. He's a professional graphic artist and you can see his fine work at Doug Draws.
The inspiration for this tut comes from my love of cartoons, typography, and big bold strokes. When I was a kid I loved watching those old Batman movies. You know the ones where Batman and Robin would cuff the bad guys around and those wild action words would pop up on the screen - Whack! Biff! KaPow!
I've found that it's almost an art form in itself developing these types of words. You have to have a certain feel for the aesthetics of the letters and how they appear on the page. Action words also rely on other elements for their effectiveness - like drop shadows, strokes, and gradients. They have to meet a certain criteria, however, as cartoonist Nate Piekos tells us, "Sound effects lack punctuation with the one exception of when you intend to seem cartoony. A noise is not a word, and the emphasis and design aesthetic you impart when designing your sound effects should be enough to give it 'punch'." - Nate Piekos.
When I began using graphic programs to create my artwork I was disappointed to discover that the strokes produced in Photoshop were not crisp enough for this sort of thing. They always turn out somewhat rounded on the edges and slightly pixelated. Imagine my great pleasure when I found that I could accomplish this task quite easily in Illustrator.
So, without further ado....
The first thing you'll want to do is fire up Illustrator (I have version CS but this should work with any version). Create a new document and select "RGB" for the Color Mode. Leave all the other settings at their defaults and click 'OK'.
After creating your new document go to the File menu and select Effect > Document Raster Effects Settings and in this box make sure RGB is selected for Color Model and 72dpi is selected for Resolution. Doing this will insure that our document will be ready for the Web.
The Document Raster Settings will always reflect what you chose when you created your document, but I like to double check this just to be safe. Once your document is created you can go to File > Document Color Mode and select RGB Color from there.
Or if you want to print your artwork you can always return to File > Document Color Mode and pick CMYK.
Next type some text on your artboard. I am using BadaBoom Pro from Blambot Fonts, but you can use whatever font you like. Make it somewhat large - I made mine 100pt.
By default the foreground and background swatches on your toolbar should be white (foreground) and black outline (background). If you want a different color for your text then make sure the foreground swatch is active on the toolbar (you can press the 'X' key on your keyboard to switch between them) then choose a color from your Swatches palette. I chose a dark orange (#F26521).
If you want a color that isn't in your Swatch palette then just click twice on the foreground color square on your toolbar and this will bring up the Color Picker. Now click once on the stroke color on your toolbar to bring it forward (or use your the 'X' key) and then click the little white square with the red line through it. This will turn off the stroke.
The way the text looks right now is kind of boring so we are going to jazz it up a little by moving, resizing, and tilting some of the letters. This will give the word more punch (pun intended). To do this make sure your text is selected and on the File menu go to Type > Create Outlines and then Object > Ungroup.
As you can see this has turned our text into individual letters which we can now manipulate. You can now select each letter and tilt or resize it however you like using the Selection Tool (black arrow). You can see by the image below how I have manipulated my letters. You can do the same or make your own adjustments.
Sometimes there will be portions of a letter you may want to manipulate, but since each letter is one object you will have to select individual parts and then move them with the arrow keys on your keyboard. For example I wanted to move the period at the bottom of the exclamation mark up a little. To do this I chose the Lasso Tool from the toolbar and drew a selection around the period...
...and then used my arrow keys to move it up.
Now that we have our text the way we want it we are going to make three copies of it - one will be the foreground color, the other our inner stroke color, and the third our outline. Having each of these on their own layers will give us greater control over the look of our finished text. Since our text has now been converted to outlines we need to create separate layers for each one.
The quickest method I know for doing this is to first create the layers. In the image below I have created two new layers - one for the inner stroke and one for the outline. I've placed these above and below the KaPow! layer like so...
Now click once on the KaPow! layer to select it. You see that tiny orange square on the right side of the layer? Hold down your Alt key and click on that square and while holding down your mouse button drag it up onto the layer above.
This will copy the entire contents of the KaPow! layer into our new inner stroke layer. Do the same procedure for the layer below.
Now that we have our text on three separate layers we can begin styling it. Click to select the inner stroke layer and make the foreground swatch on your toolbar active. Next press the small square below it with the red line through it. This will turn off the main color. Now hit 'X' and this will make the stroke the active foreground swatch. Select a yellow color from the Swatches palette then go to your Stroke palette and choose a 2 pixel stroke.
You can see in my image that the 'A' overlaps the letter 'K' and the letter 'P', but that's no worry. We will be fixing this shortly. Now select the outline layer at the bottom and make the foreground color and the stroke color black, then change the stroke weight to 6 pixels.
The outline layer will effectively be our "stroke layer" and so I've used a much larger stroke here to give emphasis to our action word. You can of course make it any size you want depending on your own tastes.
Now we need to convert our inner stroke layer to outlines. Select it and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. At this point make sure you lock your other two layers (see image below) so we don't accidentally grab one of them while working on our inner stroke layer.
You'll notice that by converting the inner stroke layer to outlines this turned the exclamation mark into a grouped layer (located at the top of the stack). Don't worry about this, because we will fix it shortly. For right now we need to do a little repair work on a couple of the letters. Grab your Zoom Tool and zoom in on the letter 'K'.
Notice where the arrow is pointing in the image above - the stroke on this corner is flat instead of pointed like the one directly above it. We could fix this by increasing the miter on the stroke, but that would produce a point that is too long. Instead select the outlined stroke with your Direct Selection Tool (white arrow) and then get your Add Anchor Point Tool (the Pen with the plus sign beside it) and click once right in the middle between the two end points.
Now get your Delete Anchor Point Tool (the Pen with the minus sign beside it) and click on the two end points to delete them.
Once you've deleted both end points you'll see we get a nice sharp corner without much fuss.
Now we have to do the exact same thing with the inside corner points on the letter 'W'. Use the same method we just used on the letter 'K' and add the center anchor points, then delete the end points.
You can see this has a great impact on the overall appearance of our action word once the corners have been manually sharpened.
We will be combining a lot of layers here so it's best to use the Compound Path shortcut, which is Ctrl+8. Looking at the inner stroke layers you can see that the inside pieces of the letters A, P, and O are all on separate layers. Start off by holding down your Shift key and selecting both pieces of the letter 'A' then press Ctrl+8 to combine them. You can then double click on this new combined layer and name it if you want (I named mine after each letter to make things easier).
Continue doing this, selecting the pieces of the other two letters and pressing Ctrl+8 to combine them. Finally, select the grouped layer at the top and go to Object > Ungroup. You don't have to select both of these layers since they will be automatically selected when you ungroup them. So then just press Ctrl+8 to combine the exclamation mark.
When you are done your inner stroke layers should look like mine above. You can name these layers if you want, which will make things easier as we progress. We don't have to do the same thing with the other two layers since we did not outline any strokes with them.
Expand both your inner stroke layers and the KaPow! layers. Leave the outlines layer locked. We're going to take care of that overlapping 'A' so make sure your Pathfinder Palette is visible.
Holding down your Shift and Ctrl keys select both the 'P' and the 'K' layers and then press Ctrl+C and Ctrl+F. Doing this will paste copies of both layers above the originals.
They will still be selected so while holding down your Shift key grab one of them and drag them up into the inner stroke layers and place them right below the letter 'A'.
Still holding your Shift key select the 'A' layer, too, and then click on the Minus Back button on the Pathfinder Palette.
As soon as you do this you'll see that the layers become a Group so just go to Object > Ungroup and immediately press Ctrl+8 to combine them. You can name this layer again if you want.
As you can see this has fixed our overlapping 'A' problem. Now you can collapse all the layers and name each of those if you want.
To make your drop shadow just create a new layer and place it below the outline layer. Use the same method we did earlier in Step 6 to drag the outline layer contents onto this new layer.
You can name this layer 'shadow' and then change the color if you want or just leave it black. And that's it! You can use Illustrator to save this action word for the Web or you can copy/paste it into a Photoshop document to use with something else you've designed. The easiest way to do this is to press Ctrl+A (to select everything), Ctrl+C (to copy), and then switch to Photoshop and press Ctrl+V (to paste). A small dialogue box will appear like the one shown below. Make sure you check 'Pixels' and then click OK.
If this dialogue box does not appear for you then consult my tutorial Stroke That Puppy! for steps on how to activate it. If you have Photoshop version CS like I do then after you paste your text you will see that it has a black bounding box around it with a 'x' through the middle.
You can grab the corner handles and resize your text while it's like this and it will not effect the image. When you are satisfied then press 'Enter' or click the commit checkmark located in the options bar above.
And there you have it... KaPow!
Now you might be wondering why did we go to all this trouble to create this word in Illustrator when we could easily have typed some text in Photoshop and given it a couple layer styles? Well, as I said earlier, Photoshop has a way of pixelating your strokes and you can't really get true square corners like you can in Illustrator.
Granted in the newer versions of Photoshop you can import your image by going to File > Place. This will automatically convert it to what is called a 'smart object'. When you double click that layer in Photoshop, Illustrator will open up and you can continue editing the vectors in Illustrator. There you can make your edits, save the file again, and Photoshop will update to the modified design.
For the purpose of this tutorial my goal was to create text with nice sharp corners in Illustrator which can then be copied into Photoshop. Naturally they will become rasterized once there, but the corners will be infinitely better looking than if we created the text solely in Photoshop itself.
To see what I mean examine the images below: the top one is our text we just created in Illy, the center one is the exact same text once it is pasted into a Photoshop document, and the bottom image is the same word created in Photoshop with layer styles applied. Notice that even though the text in the middle image has become rasterized it still has sharper looking corners than the bottom image.
Holy Pixelization, Batman! Quite the difference, eh? I think Nate would be proud of me. I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and perhaps learned some new techniques in the process. If you have any questions or suggestions please share them with us in the comments. Thanks for reading!
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