Making a Scatter Brush and Sparkling Dynamic Text in Illustrator

featImage1In this tutorial we are going to make a scatter brush in Illustrator that we’ll then use to create some sparkling dynamic text and then in the next post we’ll create a data-driven holiday image that you can use to send a personalised greeting to all your friends, colleagues/clients and family.

Creating the Scatter Brush

Create a new document—in my example I created a 960x560px document with the Basic RGB profile; using millimetres for the measurement units but you can of course use whatever you like.

There are a number of different ways that you can approach making this brush—including using Capture CC—but this one is pretty easy to make from scratch in Illustrator directly.


  1. To avoid making lots of adjustments later on, it’s a good idea to make the scatter brush “tip” shape(s) at roughly the size they’ll be used (although they can always scale later). We’re going to create the art to fit into a 20mm square, so with the Rectangle Tool, click on the canvas and type 20 into both the width and height fields, then click OK to create the squarestep1
  2. Leaving that selected, use the ⌘-5 shortcut (View > Guides > Make Guides) to turn the square into guides, then zoom in to the guides to get a better view for the next stepsstep2
  3. Draw a bunch of circles of different sizes; if you’re using Illustrator CC2015.2 (or greater) then you’ll notice that with Smart Guides turned on that you no longer need the SHIFT key to create a constrained shape—the guides show the shape is equal in width and heightstep3
  4. Give all of the circles a white stroke and solid fills of varying colourstep4
  5. Select all of the circles, and drag them onto the Brushes Panel—click Scatter Brush in the dialog that appearsstep5
  6. Now we need to set up some dynamics for the brush—the only properties we really need to change here are the size and rotation; set them both to Random and then set a lower and upper limit for both, like in the example shown below (you can always modify these values later at any time by double-clicking the brush in the brushes panel). My approach to tuning this is to create the brush, then make a shape and apply the brush to it, then edit the brush and tune it with Preview enabled in the dialog to get a better idea of how it’s going to work in practice; it’s also worth noting that the stroke weight applied to an object will also be a factor in how the brush performs, too—plenty of room for experimentation!step6
  7. Delete the artwork from the artboard and clear the guides.

Making the Sparkling Text

  1. The first thing to do is create a dark background for the text, so create a rectangle that covers the artboard, give it a gradient fill and use the Gradient Tool to shape the gradient to how you like. Once you’ve done that, lock the layer and introduce a new layer for the textstep7
  2. Select the Type Tool and use the SHIFT+⌘+C shortcut to change the alignment to centred, then click in the centre of the artboard to place an insertion cursor and type your desired messagestep8
    Two quick notes:
    • This particular tutorial will probably work best if you use point text, as directed rather than area text, so resist the urge to drag a text frame (people who use InDesign primarily will probably do this automatically)
    • You can use whatever font you like, of course but just in case you’re interested the one I’m using here is Phosphate (Available from MyFonts: http://bit.ly/1NZlFUP or FontShop: http://bit.ly/1NZlw3Q); you may want to check out the great range of decorative fonts on Typekit, too
  3. Hit Esc to exit the Type Tool and leave the type selected as an object then in the Appearance Panel (where most of the action now takes place, just so you know) click the Add New Fill icon at the bottom-left of the panel.
    Pro Tip: the shortcut for this is ⌘+/step9
  4. Drag the new fill down beneath the Characters in the panel, just as you would if you were rearranging layers—and that is actually a great way to think about building appearances—they are in many ways just like object-based layers; make sure that the new fill is highlighted in the panel ready for the next step
  5. Choose a colour for the new fill—my example uses a purple—and then choose Effect > Path > Offset Path…
    1. Choose a positive offset value that makes the fill larger than the original text
    2. You may find that the fill creates big, jaggy corners—if this is the case, choose the Round join option

    step10

  6. Next, drag the stroke that already exists in the Appearance Panel down below the new fill, then—ensuring that it is highlighted in the panel—choose your brush from the Brushes Panel to apply that to the stroke. Once the brush is applied, you’ll be able to see it in the Appearance Panel and you can change the stroke width to make the effect smaller/larger. You’ll also see that if you click on the brush as shown below, that the brush reapplies randomly every time you click, just as specified in the brush settingsstep11If desired, you can duplicate the stroke and change the size of the duplicates; this will build a “deeper” effectstep11a
  7. At the top of the Appearance Panel, highlight the Type object and then choose Effect > Stylize > Outer Glow… (if you’re not too familiar with this panel, make sure you choose the effect from the Illustrator effects in the upper-half of the menu—the lower-half effects are Photoshop-generated). Tune this effect to give a soft glow to the text object as a whole, after all the other effects are appliedstep12
  8. Highlight the purple fill you created to start with, and then click the Duplicate Selected Item icon at the bottom-right of the panel. step13Change the fill colour to White, and then choose Effects > Blur > Radial Blur… and add a fairly low value zoom blur to the fill; you can drag the blur centre down slightly in the dialog, that will make the blur effect spread upwards and outwards from the text as lights would, maybe—it is a subtle enhancement that you can preview by turning the fill visibility on/off in the panelstep14
  9. Again, select the Type object in the panel, then choose Effect > Warp > Arc… and apply a fairly shallow arc to the text—around 10% should be just fine. step15

That’s it, you’re done and now you can tune any or all of the individual components to suit. The text is completely live—you can select and edit the text to your heart’s content and the appearance will build automatically.

Wrapping Up

In the next post, we’ll be taking this text to the next level by creating an automated workflow to generate graphics with data. You will be able to use the file you’ve just created

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