Text Effects with Gradients and Patterns in Illustrator

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Filling Text With a Gradient

Gradient Text in Illustrator
Dress up your text in Adobe Illustrator using gradients, patterns, and brush strokes. Text and images © Sara Froehlich

If you've ever tried to fill text with a gradient, you know it doesn't work. At least, it won't work unless you take another step before applying the gradient fill.

  1. Create your text in Illustrator. This font is Bahaus 93.
  2. Go to Object > Expand, then click OK to expand the text.

This turns the text into an object. Now you can fill it with a gradient by clicking on a gradient swatch in the swatches palette. You can change the angle of the gradient by using the gradient tool in the tool box. Just click and drag the tool in the direction you want the gradient to flow, or type in an angle in the gradient palette.

Of course, you can adjust the colors in the gradient just as you could with any filled object. Move the distribution diamonds on the top of the gradient ramp preview window, or adjust the gradient stops at the bottom of the gradient ramp preview window.

You can also use the Create Outlines method. After typing your text, click the selection tool to get a bounding box on the text, then go to Type > Create Outlines and fill the text with a gradient as above.

If you want to use different fills in the letters, you'll have to ungroup the text first. Go to Object > Ungroup, or select them separately with the direct selection tool.

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Adding a Gradient Stroke to Text

Adding a Gradient Stroke to Text

You may have tried to add a gradient stroke to text only to find that even if the stroke button is active, the gradient applies to the fill. You can add a gradient to a stroke, but there's a trick to it.

Type your text and set the fill color as you like. You can use any stroke color because this will change when you add the gradient. This is Mail Ray Stuff, a free font from Larabie fonts for Windows or Mac OS X. The stroke is 3 point magenta. Decide the text fill color before proceeding because you won't be able to change it later. 

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Convert the Stroke to an Object

Convert the Stroke to an Object

Convert the stroke to an object using one of these two methods. 

  • Go to Object > Expand. Click OK. Then go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. The stroke is no longer a stroke. Now it's an object, and it can be filled like any object. Click a gradient swatch in the swatches palette to fill the expanded stroke with a gradient. This is the rainbow gradient in the Default RGB swatches palette.


  • Go to Type > Create Outlines, then to Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Click a gradient swatch in the swatches palette to apply. If Create Outlines is grayed out, click the selection arrow in the tool box and try again.

The results will be the same regardless of which method you use.

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How to Change the Gradient

How to Change the Gradient

Use the direct select tool to select just the text outline if you want to change the gradient. Click another gradient in the palette. You'll have to select the center stroke separate from the outer one in letters like "B" and "O" that have a center, but you can select multiple strokes if you hold the shift key. 

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How to Fill the Stroke With a Pattern Instead of a Gradient

Fill the Stroke with a Pattern

The expanded stroke can also be filled with patterns from the swatches palette. This Starry Sky pattern is from the Nature_Environments pattern file found in the Presets > Patterns > Nature folder.

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Filling Text With a Pattern

Filling Text with a Pattern

You may not know that there are pattern swatches available in Illustrator, too. The same steps apply when filling your text with one of these seamless patterns as when you're filling with a gradient.

  1. Create your text.
  2. Expand the text with Object > Expand or use the Create Outlines command on the text menu.
  3. Load a pattern file in the swatches palette. Click the swatches palette options menu and choose Open Swatch Library then Other Library from the bottom of the menu. You'll find a lot of great patterns in the Presets > Patterns folder of your Illustrator CS folder.
  4. Click the pattern you want to apply. If you want to apply different patterns to the individual letters, go to Object > Ungroup to ungroup the text or use the direct selection arrow to select one letter at a time and apply the pattern. These fills are from the Nature_Animal Skins pattern file in the Presets > Patterns > Nature folder. A two-pixel black stroke was applied.
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Using Brush Strokes on Type

Using Brush Strokes on Type

This one is easy and you get great effects with almost no effort.

  • Start by creating the type you want to stroke with a brush. Set your fill and stroke colors and make sure the stroke chip is active in the toolbox. Click the selection tool in the toolbox and go to Type > Create Outlines to make the text into a group of individual objects. The text will no longer be editable with the text tool.

I decided to fill this text with the jaguar pattern from the Nature_Animal Skins pattern.

  • Open the brush palette and choose a brush to edge the type. This is one of the paintbrushes from the Artistic_Paintbrush brush sets in the Presets > Brushes folder. It was too wide, so I changed the stroke width to 0.50 in the Stroke palette. The font is Cooper Black.