Friday, August 21, 2009

Text Outlines

Yes, I know: I haven't posted ONE SINGLE POST from the previous request, but I got another question/comment which is easily disposed of that we are going to deal with today: Texts as paths.

For many of you, this is already way past your tolerance for geek-speak, but it's an important issue for people who, for example, build logos or are really laying out text on graphics. The hard-core users will use Illustrator for this anyway which, with a key stroke, will convert any text to the vector outlines of the text for use in the file, but we're all here trying to save a little money and, honestly, try to keep our hobby inside a budget-friendly box.

What is a Text Path?

That's a great question. When you use any application on your computer, regardless of platform, your computer has a system of files which tell it how to use the ASCII table of characters. (yes, I know: just bear with me) those files in the "olden days" could be either a pixel map which actually renders the font letter by letter as the white and black dots on your monitor, or it could be a pixel map linked to a file full of math formulas which, when paired with TrueType technology, made fonts you could scale easily and get great results on either your monitor or on a like-minded printer.

Today, almost all fonts are, in one way or another, descendents of TrueType fonts in that they are essentially files which map the outline of the characters in a font so that you can scale the characters to any size, and you can also print them to almost any print at the scaled size without the fear of jagged edges.

In day-to-day use (for example, when you're blogging and just dumping text into the bandwidth), you really don't give a hoot about this. If you type "Sarah palin is my Homegirl" or "Sarah Palin needs to go home, girl", you really don't care if there's a bitmap font or an outline font rendering the final result on your reader's computer. But if you're doing something more robust -- for example, something like this:

The question of the outline of the font becomes a serious matter. Let me point out why. Look at this closeup of part of that image:

And because I'm a little pressed for time, in your mind switch where it says "text fill" and "inner border" -- I goofed and I don;t have time to fix it today. There you can see the multi-layered effects which, frankly, are hard to re-create in GiMP because it is not a vector tool but a raster tool: it is made to manipulate pixels and not paths.

So What?


The big "so what" is that some of you have been clever enough to find the "Path from Text" button in the Text tool dialog dock. For those of you not so clever, or really not even informed enough to try to be so clever, look here:

That button down there can give you the path for the text you have just typed -- but here's the thing: it's not a path the way you get a text path in Illustrator. Not really. You are far and away better off to use your selection tools to create a text path for all GiMP 101 and GiMP 201 application of this tool than you are to try to understand and master the output of the "Path from text" button.

So if you want to make a knock-out with your text, or do some fancy-schmancy logo work with GiMP, my suggestion is to keep your text in its own layer to work with it, use your selection tools to create your outlines, and work smarter, not harder. GiMP is not a vector design tool, and trying to use it that way will, in the end, make you less happy than you want to be over hobby work.

Which, ironically, is a great lead in to the free-hand drawing tutorials. I promise to get back to those soon.