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Outlining Type in Photoshop: Right and Wrong

So from the previous page, you learned the right and wrongs of outlining type. We used Adobe Illustrator because most professionals have learned by not that for precision work you just can't beat it -- not even with Photoshop. Illustrator is a pure Postscript drawing program. It's precise and sharp as a razor. With the exception of the raster fluff added by Adobe recently to please neophytes, Illustrator is 100% reliable for anything involving type and typography.

But since Photoshop Tutorials with misinformation out-number Illustrator ones by about 50,000 to 1 -- let's see why Photoshop falls down when it comes time to outline type.

wrong in Photoshop
As we saw previously in this illustration, the tutorial on outlining used Photoshop. This example shows very clearly what can go wrong. The author neglected to select "Outside" from the Stroke options in the Stroke Layers Style, or the tutorial was done on a version of Photoshop prior to version 7.

The most correct settings would be: OUTSIDE.

Photoshop outside stroking

This is the best Photoshop can do when outlining, because it is actually reading pixels rather than the true shapes of the font paths. Centered and Inside modes will substantially mung the characters, close in the crotches and inside curves; round terminals, and make legs and strokes much thinner...

Centered looks like this:
Photoshop outside stroking

Inside, which you should never use, looks like this:
Photoshop outside stroking

Because of the inaccuracies, use Photoshop's outlining only on subtle shadows or colorizing detail; or when working at very high resolution from 300 to 1200 ppi. At high resolution, the aliasing will be unnoticeable. This is also why so many people post to the Forums that their type is so fuzzy! Photoshop is a raster program. It sees pixels.

Now, let's try the "Paste in front" method outlined on the previous page.

Duplicate layer, select, expand, fill

In this exercise we create the shape on its own layer, then Duplicate layer.
Then select, the layer below and choose Select > Modify > Expand.
Set the expansion number to the desired thickness, and then FILL the selection.

Duplicate layer, select, expand, fill
However, with close examination, you see the corners are hacked off, and the crotches are even more dense. Once again, Photoshop reads the pixel aliasing rather than the true shape of the character. The tighter the curve, the worse the effect performs. Notice how the inner curves under the top serifs have become square.

Right, Wrong Outlining

The bottom line of this tutorial has been to show you the upside and the downside to outlining type, and the various opportunities available to you. It's up to you to make the judgement as to which method best fits your finished art -- whether to retain the pure characteristics of the typography; or to let that go in favor of expediency. Either way, the results will truly show -- and most any experienced designer can immediately tell the difference.

Thanks for reading

Fred Showker
Editor / Publisher: DTG Magazine
We welcome your comments and reflections on this essay


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