If you want a hand-rendered or antique look for a custom map title, you can search for one of the many fonts available with a distressed appearance. Or, you can distress regular fonts using Adobe Illustrator’s Appearance panel, Effects, and Opacity Mask. It’s fun and the experiments you create might move your creation in an unexpected—but delightful—direction.
Mapmaker Steve Gordon applied the Roughen and Scribble effects, and the Opacity Mask, to chip away at the edges of letters for this title graphic.
Creating, Styling, and Roughening Your Type
To achieve the same visual effect, begin by typing your title. Gordon selected the Text tool and dragged through the title, “Zion,” to assign the font Zapfino to the initial Z letter, and then dragged through the rest of the word and assigned the font Optima. Once your font styling is complete, click the Selection tool and choose Edit > Copy. (You’ll use this copy later when working in the Opacity Mask.) With the type object still selected, open the Appearance panel, open the panel menu, and choose Add New Fill. Gordon selected the new Fill attribute, opened the Gradient panel, and created Gordon a blue-to-gold gradient fill for the type.
Now you’re ready to distress the type.
To distress the edges of the letters, you’ll want to turn to the Roughen effect. This effect alters the smooth edges of the type, changing them to jagged or bumpy edges. To roughen your type, un-select the Fill attribute in the Appearance panel (by clicking in an empty area in the panel) so that the effects you will create will apply to the whole object. Next, click the fx icon at the bottom of the panel. Now choose Distort & Transform > Roughen. In the Roughen dialog, enable Preview and then adjust the Size, Detail, and Points controls. For his title, Gordon set Size to 0.5, Detail to 10, and Points to Smooth.
Chipping Away with the Opacity Mask and Scribble Effect
You might consider your work if your Roughen settings make your type look hand-rendered (like ink that’s spread inconsistently from pen on paper). But you can distress your type further by chipping chunks from the roughened edges. The way to do this is applying an effect in the negative using the Opacity Mask.
Start by making sure your type object is still selected. Open the Transparency panel and click Make Mask. Click on the right thumbnail box (note that the active mode is signified by a blue border surrounding the thumbnail) and click Invert Mask while keeping Clip enabled. Remember that copy of the type object you made earlier? Put it to work: choose Edit > Paste in Front.
Changes you make to objects in the Opacity Mask affect the transparency of the original type object. Black artwork in the Opacity Mask punches holes in the original artwork. Now you’ll want to distress the copy of your type in the Opacity Mask. To do this, with your type object still selected, open the Appearance panel and click fx and select Stylize > Scribble. In the Scribble dialog, click the Settings menu and choose one of the premade settings. Use your chosen setting as-is, or customize its attributes. Gordon started with the Sharp setting, then changed some of its attributes, like Path Overlap (14 px to thin some of the chips in the edges) and Angle (so that the chipping aligned better with the angles of the edges in the lettering).
Enhancing and Editing Your Type
You’re done with roughing up and punching holes in your type. Now what? First thing you’ll want to do is to return to the Transparency panel and click the left thumbnail to return to artwork mode (from Opacity Mask mode). You can enhance your type object with other effects. Gordon added a Drop Shadow effect to lift the custom map title from the surrounding map artwork.
If you need to alter the lettering, you’ll need to do it in artwork and Opacity Mask modes. Gordon adjusted letter kerning to tighten the spaces between letters. For some changes—like graphically scaling or rotating the type object—you only need to work with the type object in artwork mode (you can ignore Opacity Mask). The opacity mask and artwork will be changed simultaneously as you edit the object.