Animated Text Write-On Effect

Let's give a word or phrase some pizazz! Think about the meaning of the word/s and what you want to say with this animation. What can you do that supports the meaning of the words? This could be in the forms of the letters or the way they animate in.

The technique shown here works best with letters that are a consistent thickness throughout. Serifs work as long as they can be made with a uniform stroke. You can also animate the outline of a letter (like the "color" example below). Here are some examples:

Need more inspiration? Check out this Pinterest board (but keep in mind, not all of these effects can be achieved using the technique shown here).

Creating text in Illustrator

Whether you're starting with a sketch on good old fashion paper, using a digital lettering piece you created, or just using a typeface, you'll need to trace each letter so that it's made entirely from strokes.

Open up a new Adobe Illustrator file. I made my artboard 1080 px by 1080 px since that's good for Instagram, but choose whatever size you'd like. Check out this helpful article on the specs for different social media platforms.

Drag in the image of your sketch or type out your text. Once you have something you like, let's get it ready to be animated.

Using the pen tool, trace each letter so that it's made from strokes. This is important to how we'll animate it.

Optional Detail:

I extended some of the strokes past the letters in the final design. This will make the animation more interesting.

Next, separate each piece you'll animate onto its own layer. (If you don't see the layers panel go to Window > Layers. It will usually be on the left of the screen).
1. Select the layer with all your strokes.
2. Click the hamburger menu in the layers panel.
3. Choose Release to Layers (Sequence).
4. Drag the layer out so they are not grouped beneath "Layer 1".

You'll thank yourself later if you name all the layers and organize them into the order you want to animate them.

I kept a layer with the original text at the bottom. This reference layer will be helpful later when animating, but I'll hide it before I export the finished piece.

If you're short on time and just want to learn how to animate this, download my "Boulder, Colorado" Illustrator files here.

Jumping into After Effects

Open up After Effects and create a new project. Let's save it right away. When you import content, like an Illustrator file, into After Effects, it's essentially linking to that file behind the scenes. So if you move the linked file or the After Effects file into a different folder or place on your computer, After Effects will give you an error message saying that "footage" is missing. Therefore, it's best to have a folder or sequence of folders where you keep everything related to the project. With that in mind, save your project to wherever makes sense.

Import your AI file

Go to File > Import > File or hit Command I. Find your AI file and choose Import As: Composition - Retain Layer Sizes. (If you don't see this, click Options.)

The AI file will show up in the project panel. There are two parts: a composition and a folder with all of the layers from the AI file. You can think of a composition as a piece of a project or like a clip in a video. Double click on the composition to open it.

You should see your design from Illustrator in the main, center panel in After Effects. Let's check that the composition settings are what we need. Go to Composition > Composition Settings or hit Command K.

The width and height should be the same as your Illustrator artboard. Make sure you have square pixels, an even number frame rate (I choose 30 frames per second), and a reasonable duration (I choose 10 seconds, but we can always change this later).

Create Shapes from Vector Layers

You should see all the layers you created in Illustrator in the timeline across the bottom of the screen. Select all of the layers to animate (everything except reference layers or backgrounds). Select all layers, right click, choose Create > Create Shapes from Vector Layers.

Now you'll have a two of each layer. You'll animate the (blue) shape layers so you can delete the AI layers now. You shouldn't need them anymore, but if you do, they are in the folder in the project panel.

Note: If you use Illustrator and After Effects often, I highly recommend a plug-in called Overlord. It allows you to skip the last two steps and instead transfer your AI layers directly to After Effects.

Animating with Trim Paths

Trim paths are a super useful way to animate strokes in and out.
1. Use the little arrow to toggle down the first layer.
2. Click the arrow next to Add, then choose Trim Paths.
3. Now your layer has trim path properties so you can animate the start or the end of the line. Toggle down Trim Paths with the little arrow.
4. Set a keyframe on the End property by clicking the stopwatch. Set the End value to 0% so that the line is not visible.
5. Move your playhead forward in time and set the End value to 100%.

Hit spacebar to play or scrub the playhead along the timeline. You first stroke should animate in!

If your stroke isn't animating in in the direction you want, you can switch the direction of the stroke with this button:

Play around with animating the Start, End, and even Offset (moves the whole stroke) properties until you get something you like.

Easy Ease

When you set keyframes, by default they will create linear movement. To make the animation more interesting, let's add easy ease. This means that the stroke will start animating in slowly, then speed up, and then finish slowly. Here's the quickest and easiest way to do that:
1. Select all of your keyframes. You can click and drag over them to select multiple at once.
2. Right click, choose Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease. The shortcut key is F9 (so Fn key and F9 on a Mac). You should now have keyframes that look like tiny hourglasses instead of diamonds, indicating that they have easing.

Graph Editor

If you want to customize this movement even more, click the graph editor button. There are two kinds of graphs you can view in the graph editor. The first shows the value of the property over time. The value graph is especially useful if you have more than two keyframes as you'll usually want this graph to have smooth curves throughout. For this project, we'll focus on the other type of graph, the speed graph. This graph plots the speed of the animation over time (think derivative of the value graph... or don't if you're not a math person). You can drag the bezier (yellow) handles to edit the graph and make the change in speed more or less exaggerated.

If your head is spinning with information overload, then just apply easy ease to your keyframes and don't worry about the graph editor! :)

Applying Trim Paths to all the Layers

You could obviously repeat the steps above on each layer. But, here's a shortcut...
1. Make sure your playhead is at the beginning.
2. Select Trim Paths under the first layer (the one you keyframed). It should be highlighted in gray. Hit Command C to copy.
3. Select all your other stroke layers. Hit Command V to paste trim paths onto all your other layers.
4. Now all of your layers should animate in at once. You may need to go in to some layer and switch the direction of the path or adjust the keyframes.

Tip: Hit the U key to show all keyframes on whatever layer/s are selected.


To offset the animation, you may need to drag each layer into position or adjust some keyframes to get it exactly how you want. Or, here's a quick way to offset all of your layers:
1. Move your playhead to one less than the number of frames you want to offset your layers by. In the example below, I wanted to offset my layers by one frame. So, I put my playhead at 0 frames.
2. Select all layer you want to offset. The order you select them matters, so you most likely want to select the top layer first.
2. Hit Option ] to trim the layers.
4. Right click on a layer. Choose Keyframe Assistant > Sequence Layers. Select OK.
5. Your layers should be offset. Drag the end out to fill the timeline.


Remember how I added some extra length to some of my strokes back in Illustrator? Now it's time to do something with that. As the end of the stroke is animating in, I want the start of the stroke to move into place. So, I'll animate the Start property from 0 to whatever number lines it up with the reference layer (blue).

Adding Colors

Once you're happy with the way your text animates in, select all of the layers for the first word (for me that's all my "Boulder" layers). Hit Command Shift C to pre-compose the layers. This moves these layers into their own composition and puts the new composition inside the current composition.

Select the composition you just created and duplicate it by hitting Command D. Drag the top composition a few frames forward in time.

Go over to the Effects & Presets panel (if you don't see it go to Window > Effects & Presets, it's usually on the left side of the screen). In the Effects & Presets panel search for Fill. Drag the fill property and drop it on the bottom composition. Then, in the Effects Control panel click on the red box next to Color to bring up the color picker. Choose whatever color you want.

You can repeat these steps to make as many colored layers to your animation as you want!


If you want your animation to loop, you could animate each stroke out, similar to how you animated it in. Or, here's another shortcut:
1. In the Project panel, drag your main composition onto the new composition button. This creates a new composition with the other composition inside it. Hit return to rename the selected composition.
2. In the timeline, move your playhead a little past when the animation finishes.
3. Select the composition in the timeline. Hit Command D to duplicate it.
4. Right click the duplicated composition. Choose Time > Time Reverse Layer.
5. With the time reversed layer (notice the blue pattern on the bottom of the layer indicating it plays in reverse) selected, hit Command [ to trim the start of the layer at the playhead.
6. Select the other composition and hit Command ] to trim the end of the layer.
Now your animation should play forward then backward, creating a seamless loop!

Exporting (called Rendering in AE lingo)

.mov file

Exporting a .mov file is easiest, so that's where we'll start.
1. Go to Composition > Add to Render Queue.
2. In the Render Queue, click "Lossless" next to Output Module.
3. From the pop-up window, click the Format Options button.
4. Under the Video Codec drop down, choose Apple ProRes 422. Click OK twice to get out of the pop-up windows.
5. Click the file name next to Output To to change the file name and/ or where the .mov will be saved. Click OK.
6. Click Render and wait for that wonderful sound letting you know your video is ready!

.mp4 file

MP4s are more compressed than MOVs but still look decent and are compatible more often. They're great for Instagram, Facebook, and the web in general. Unfortunately, you can't export them directly from After Effects (strange, I know). So, we'll use Media Encoder.
1. In After Effects go to Composition > Add to Adobe Media Encoder Render Queue. This should open up Media Encoder automatically (but give it a second if you're on a slower machine).
2. Make sure the format is set to H.264 and that the file is saved where you want it to be.
3. Hit the green play button to render.

.gif file

You can export a GIF via Media Encoder. Follow the steps above for exporting an MP4, but instead of H.264, choose Animated GIF. I've found that sometimes GIFs exported this way aren't very good quality. If you're having this problem, here's another way:
1. Go to Composition > Add to Render Queue.
2. Click on "Lossless" next to Output Module.
3. Choose PNG sequence from the drop down in the pop-up window. Click OK.
Note: It's also possible to open a .mov or .mp4 file in Photoshop and follow the same steps below. I usually use a sequence of PNGs as this may be slightly better quality.

4. After Effects will export a PNG for every frame in your composition. It should save them all in a folder by default. Choose where you want to save by clicking the file name next to Output To.
Note: If you have a long or complex animation, you could make it smaller by reducing the frame rate to 15fps in composition settings (Command K).
5. Click Render!
6. Fire up Photoshop. Go to File > Open or Command O. Find and double click the folder of PNGs you just rendered. Select the first image and check Image sequence (click Options if you don't see this).

7. Go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy).
8. Adjust the settings in the pop-up window. To reduce the file size, choose the smallest number of colors you need. Make sure to choose looping. If you're file is too big you can scale it down here. Then click Save!

If you're going to export a lot of GIFs from After Effects, I'd reccommend getting the GifGun plug in so you can export GIFs directly from After Effects. It's saved me so much time!

I'm excited to see what you create! Tag me on Instagram @explanimated so I can see!

What's next?

Check out my hands-on courses on Skillshare to keep learning. You'll come out the other end with something to show for it! All of my classes have a project you'll not only learn how to create, but be able to customize to make it your very own.

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