Stylin' text

Many of the requests for Gems I get from readers come in the form of, “Do you know of any way to do such-and-such?” But I’m occasionally asked questions more along the lines of “Have you found a replacement for...?” It seems that with all the transitions the Mac platform has undergone over the past decade, a fair number of older applications have gone the way of the Newton.

One of those apps is apparently TypeStyler, a popular app for creating textual graphics. Although the developer has promised an OS-X-compatible version, readers point out that this promise is now several years old.

What’s a fan of TypeStyler—or anyone needing to easily create typographical art—to do? Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator can each do quite a bit with text these days, but if you don’t already own one of these apps, I doubt you’re going to shell out the big bucks just to whip up some text graphics. An economical alternative is BeLight Software’s Art Text 1.0.6 (   ; $30). Although not as full-featured as TypeStyler, it’s only one-fifth the price, and it makes good use of Mac OS X technologies.

Using Art Text, you can create attractive logos, banners, and headlines. First you enter your desired text in the text box at the bottom of the Art Text window. Then you apply your effects:

  • Fill and Stroke: This panel, open by default, lets you choose the color, gradient, or texture to be used to “fill in” your text; you can even import your own images to be used as textures. It also lets you choose the “stroke” used for your text—basically, the color and width to use for any outline you apply. Using the stroke count field, you can even apply multiple outlines.
  • Materials: Instead of fill and stroke, you can choose to apply a material to your text by choosing Edit: Shading Pro (or by clicking one of the small arrows at the bottom of the Fill and Stroke panel). The new panel includes a pop-up menu with various categories of “materials”: artistic, glass, metal, plastic, or simple. Each category includes a number of material presets, such as Balloon, Green Velvet, and Polonium, that affect the texture and surface appearance of your text—basically, these effects give your text a “3D” look. For any material, you can customize the depth/thickness, the shape (rounded or bezeled), light effect, and, for certain materials, the color. You can also create your own materials using a nifty Editor of Materials.
  • Shadow and Glow: Also open by default, this panel lets you apply a shadow or glow effect to your text; you can choose the color, blur, and amount of the shadow or glow, and—in the case of a shadow—the angle. (There’s also a Background option that lets you change the background color or texture.) You can apply shadow and glow effects regardless of whether you’ve used the fill/stroke or material panel.
  • Transformations: By choosing Edit: Transform (or by clicking one of the small arrows at the bottom of the Shadow and Glow panel), you can access the transformations screen, which lets you customize the geometry of your text. Nineteen presets are included, along with the ability to create your own custom transformation.

Here’s an example of a basic style I created:

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Once you’ve created a style, you can save it for future use by choosing File: Save to Styles. But you don’t have to create your own textual styles; Art Text includes over 60 built-in styles, accessible via the Styles sidebar. (Tip: uncheck the “Use text from style” box below the style listing; this preserves your custom text when you switch between styles.)

Here are a few more examples of textual graphics created with Art Text; these are examples provided by the developer:

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Despite what its name implies, you aren’t limited to working with text in Art Text; you can also choose one of more than 300 pictograms—graphical symbols and objects—and then apply materials and effects to it. These images are especially useful for flyers and signs, but they’re also just fun to experiment with.

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You can even import your own images and apply materials to them. However, transformations don’t work with images; you can make the image narrow or shorter, but you can’t adjust geometry as you can with text.

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Once you’ve completed your creation, click the Copy to Clipboard button if you want to paste your work into another application, or click the Export button to save it as a graphics file (in GIF, JPEG, PDF, PNG, or TIFF format); with the latter option, you can choose the DPI of the exported image. You’ll be asked to select the specific part of the creation you want to use, a nice feature that lets you choose how much background you want to include.

My biggest complaint with Art Text is that many of its options are difficult to find—you need to flip window panes using controls that are easy to miss, or you need to or resort to menu commands. A number of features weren’t obvious to me until I accessed the application’s Help system (which is, thankfully, pretty good). It would also be nice if you could actually print graphics from within Art Text, especially banners; instead, you need to open your creations in another application and print from there. Finally, the text box is quite small, which makes it difficult to edit longer strings of text, and entering such longer strings results in the text in the main window becoming smaller than it needs to be.

Still, Art Text is a lot of fun to use and fills—at a reasonable price—a niche left by TypeStyler.

Art Text requires Mac OS X v10.4 or later and a G4, G5, or Intel processor. It is a Universal binary.

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