FreeHand Type Design

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Aside from professional illustrators, most people use vector graphics programs such as Macromedia FreeHand for small projects -- for example, to create a styled headline or a quick logo treatment for a client. With the release of FreeHand MX ($399; 800/470-7211,, Macromedia has added an impressive collection of new features that make it easier than ever to design eye-catching text on even the tightest deadline. We'll show you three simple yet effective type techniques that can be adapted to a variety of projects, so you can start to take advantage of some of these new tools.

New Options for Objects

The key to FreeHand's new styling abilities lies in its revamped Object panel. Similar to the Property Inspector in Macromedia's other MX offerings, the new Object panel consolidates controls for a vector object's properties -- including strokes, fills, and effects -- in one window. This makes it easy to access and edit several different attributes without having to click through multiple panels.

The Object panel's compact approach is particularly useful since you can now apply multiple attributes to a single vector object -- another big improvement in FreeHand MX.

The Object panel keeps an inventory of every attribute and lets you rearrange and layer them to get just the right effect.

Together, FreeHand's Object panel and multiple-attributes feature let you use strokes and fills in ways never before possible. And they're especially helpful in creating special effects for text.

Different Strokes

One easy way to give your text greater impact is to outline it with a stroke. In previous versions of FreeHand, applying strokes to text was problematic. Because strokes could appear only on top of the text's fill, strokes thicker than 1 point often ended up distorting the original shape of the letterforms. To get around this problem, you had to create multiple versions of the same text and then place the stroked text in the background -- which meant keeping track of multiple objects if you needed to make changes later.

FreeHand MX solves this problem by letting you move the stroke behind the object's fill, thus preserving the letter shapes.

To do this, style your text and then choose Convert To Paths from the Text menu. This changes the letter shapes to vector paths and displays them as a group. In the Object panel, click on the Add Stroke icon and choose a size that's twice as wide as you want your stroke to ultimately appear. (Because the stroke is centered on the shape's vector path, your fill will end up covering the inside half.) Finally, click on the Stroke item in the Object panel and drag it below the Contents item. Your stroke should now outline the text without intruding on its shape.

For more-complex text effects, you can take advantage of FreeHand MX's multiple-attributes feature to apply contrasting strokes to the same text object. You can create double outlines or colored rings or even add patterned brushstrokes. The trick is to layer your strokes in the Object panel so thicker ones are listed below thinner ones.

You can also try overlapping individual stroked letters for a more dramatic composition. When you apply a stroke to grouped text (or any grouped object, for that matter), the stroke appears only on the outside edge of the combined letters -- not where they cross.

Live Effects

For something more eye-catching than a simple stroke, you can use FreeHand's object effects to alter the basic shape of your text's vector path -- making it look hand-drawn or distorted, for example.

Object effects aren't new to FreeHand. However, in previous versions, these commands permanently altered the object's shape, making it difficult to undo the effect later. FreeHand MX changes that. Taking a cue from Macromedia Fireworks, the new version offers nondestructive, live effects, for greater flexibility. Once you apply these effects to a vector object, you can change or even delete them at any point in the design process.

To apply an object effect to your text, click on the Add Effect button at the top of the Object panel. The pull-down menu divides effects into two categories. The top six effects -- Bend, Duet, Ragged, Sketch, Transform, and Expand Path -- modify objects while preserving their vector characteristics. This makes them good choices for objects that contain spot colors or that may need to be resized later for output. Ragged and Sketch simulate the look of hand-drawn text and work especially well when combined with multiple strokes or fills. For example, you can create one stroke that contains the Sketch effect and then create another with the Ragged effect. The result is similar to what you'd get by layering multiple doodles on top of one another.

The live effects in the bottom group -- Bevel And Emboss, Blur, Shadow And Glow, Sharpen, and Transparency -- convert vector shapes into raster images. Therefore, they'll also convert spot colors into process colors. Because these effects require that you set a final output resolution, which could change if the artwork is scaled later in a page-layout program, avoid them if you won't have control over the placement or size of your final artwork.

3-D Perspective

Another new feature in FreeHand MX is the Extrude tool, which lets you add 3-D effects to 2-D shapes. While it's not a full-fledged 3-D environment, the Extrude tool does offer an excellent way to add depth to simple objects such as text. To add a 3-D effect, select your formatted text and then click and drag the Extrude tool in the direction you want the object's depth to extend. The longer you drag, the deeper your text will look.

Once you've created a basic 3-D object, you can use the Extrude, Surface, and Profile icons (located along the left edge of the Object panel) to fine-tune its appearance. Just click on each icon to set its controls.

Extrusion Controls Click on the Extrude icon to access numerical controls for the length of the extrusion and the position of its vanishing point, the spot where all your extruded lines converge. The farther the vanishing point is from your text, the more distorted the extrusion will appear. You can also use the numerical controls to rotate the object within its 3-D space.

Surface Controls The Object panel's Surface tool allows you to manipulate the appearance of your text's surface and set lighting controls. Of the five choices listed for surface appearance, only the Shaded setting creates a realistic 3-D effect with blended light and dark shades. You can set the number of blending steps your 3-D text uses: the more steps you apply, the smoother your blends will appear. But if you're working with small graphics, try to limit yourself to 25 or 30 steps, as any more than that will slow the screen redraw without adding significant value.

There are three lighting controls for extruded objects. The first is Ambient, which sets the general light that reflects off all sides of the object. It's important to find the right balance here. Higher Ambient settings will wash out more of the object's colors. But if the Ambient light is too low, you may miss much of the detail in the extruded areas. You can also create two additional light sources, each of which offers a choice of seven directions. These lights create the most-dramatic lighting effect. To create stark contrasts between the light and dark areas of your object, set the Ambient light low and add intense direct lights.

Setting Color By default, the extruded areas of a 3-D object always correspond to the object's fill color. But you can work around this limitation by creating a two-tone extrusion. Start by applying the fill color that you want for the extruded sides. Once you've set all your extrusion controls and you're happy with the effect, choose Modify: Extrude: Release Extrude. This command converts the extruded areas into ordinary shapes. You can then select the front of your text and change the fill or stroke colors at will.

Adding Perspective If you feel that the results of the Extrude tool are too bland, you can spice things up by combining them with FreeHand's 3-D Rotation tool or Perspective Grid feature. Both let you add greater dimension by setting a different vanishing point for your 2-D text, so letters appear to shrink into the distance.

Great Results with Little Effort

While FreeHand MX isn't an instant art machine, you can create many of these effects quickly without much training. They let you create a wide array of interesting graphics that can liven up almost any layout.

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