Illustrator inset effect on text in combination with clipping mask

23 Nov 2010

Whenever I post an Illustrator tutorial, I often receive the question how to do this in Photoshop, or vice versa. There is a lot of common ground in these two. Still some things are easier in Illustrator and others in Photoshop. You might remember the tutorial I wrote about how to create an inset effect on text in Photoshop in combination with a clipping mask. Jonas Neubert asked me kindly how to do this in Illustrator. Just like its Photoshop counterpart, this tutorial covers more than just creating this inset effect. I hope you enjoy this one too.

Going out of space with inset the Illustrator way

The Power of Inset - Use subtly and with caution - Inset effect on text in combination with clipping mask in Illustrator CS5

If you look carefully, you'll see subtle differences between the Photoshop version and this version, created in Illustrator. Unless I'm really missing something here, this effect is harder and less precisely achieved in Illustrator. I also think the end result looks somehow more crisp and sharp in Photoshop. Anyhow, I believe it is always interesting to see the same technique executed in both applications. In the end you can compare and decide for yourself what works and looks best. So here we go…

Background from outer space

This time I'm using Illustrator CS5. We'll start by creating a new document. Just like before I used the same measurements 927 px wide by 420 px high, and RGB as Color Mode (under the Advanced options). CS5 users should also makes sure to check the *wonderful* new feature 'Align New Objects to Pixel Grid'.

Create gradient

draw rectangle

Select the Rectangle tool from the toolbox and draw a rectangle that has the size of your document. By default the object will have a white fill and black stroke. Set the stroke to no fill and the fill to black.

add a new fill

Add a new fill by going to the Appearance palette and choose Add New Fill from the palette's dropdown menu.

apply gradient

Choose one of the available gradient fills via swatch dropdown in the Appearance palette.

edit gradient

Now edit this gradient by opening the Gradient palette and clicking the swatches in the gradient to edit them one by one. The first most left one is black at 0% opacity, the second one, located at 43% (diamond slider icon) is 171 Red, 0 Green and 255 Blue at 50% opacity, and the last most right one uses 255 Red 71 Green and 0 Blue at 100% opacity.

edit gradient angle

Edit the gradient Angle to 25%.

Create sparkles

Now we'll create the sparkles for the background. We'll do that by creating one sparkle and turn it into a symbol. First, create a new layer by clicking the Create New Layer icon from the Layers palette. Lock the layer that holds the gradient background for now. Make the new layer active by clicking it in the Layers palette, select the Ellipse tool from the toolbox and draw a circle (holding down the shift key).

draw a circle

With the circle still selected, go to the Gradient palette and choose Radial from the gradient Type dropdown menu. Select white and 100% opacity for the most left stop swatch and white with 0% opacity for the right stop swatch. Move the gradient location slider (diamond icon) to a position of 25%.

add radial fill

Now select the circle and drag it into the Symbols palette to create a symbol. In the window that appears enter the name 'sparkle' and click OK.

create a symbol

Double click the Symbol Spraying Tool from the toolbox and set the Density to 3. Now select the sparkle symbol from the Symbol palette. Start dragging with the mouse in random circles across the gradient background as if you would doodle. If the result is not really to your liking just hit delete and try again. The sparkles are all equal, but we'll create a bit of randomness in the next step.

spray sparkle symbols

In the toolbox under the Symbol Spraying Tool, select the Symbol Sizer Tool.

tweak some sparkles

Make some of the sparkles larger by going on top of a sparkle and holding down the mouse button. Make some of them smaller by holding down the alt/option key.

resize some sparkles

Now select the Symbol Screener Tool from the toolbox in the same location. Go on top of some of the sparkles one by one and just click the mouse once to make the sparkle more transparent. This way some of the sparkles are brighter than others.

make some sparkles more transparent

This might need a bit exercise to get the space background exactly the way you want.

Clipping mask

Select the Type Tool from the toolbox and type your text. Now unlock the layer that holds your gradient. Select both the gradient and the sparkles. Make sure you have them all selected. Go to Object > Group (or hit cmd/ctrl + g) to group both together. Now select both your text and the grouped background. Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (or hit cmd/ctrl + 7).

create clipping mask

As you can see the text stays editable. This is cool, isn't it :) I'm actually not 100% sure if this is also doable in CS4. So if this isn't possible, you'll need to convert your text to outlines first. Do this by selecting the text with the Selection Tool (black arrow) and go to Type > Create Outlines (or hit cmd/ctrl + shift + o).

the text is still editable

Next I created a background under my text by creating a new layer and moving the new layer below the layer with the text. You can do this by simply selecting and dragging the layer in the layers palette.

Inset effect

Drop Shadow

Select your text using the Selection Tool. Go to the Appearance palette and choose Stylize > Drop Shadow from the Add New Effect dropdown menu. Select Screen from the Mode dropdown menu, 75% Opacity, 0 px X Offset, 2 px Y Offset, 1 px Blur and white as color. Check Preview to see the result. It could be that you need other values as it depends on how large your text is. Click OK.

create a drop shadow

Inner Glow

Go to the Appearance palette and choose Add New Fill from the bottom of the palette. Select black from the fill's swatch options. Click the Opacity option and choose Multiply as mode and enter a value of 30% in the Opacity field.

add inner glow effect

Choose Stylize > Inner Glow from the Add New Effect dropdown menu. Choose Screen as Mode, choose white as color, 100% Opacity, 4 px Blur and Center. Check Preview to see the result. Because we choose white here in combination with Screen as mode, we don't get to see this and our clipping mask background is still visible. Using Black and Multiply on the fill reveals the effect that is more or less like an Inner Shadow. I say *more or less* because it still is an inner *glow*. We can't move the position of this effect like we can in Photoshop with Inner Shadow, which makes it more real looking. Here, because of our clipping mask we are more restricted and I didn't find a way to circumvent this.

add inner glow effect

Document Raster Effects Settings

After you are completely done, you can change the Document Raster Effects Settings to a higher resolution. You see, Illustrator is completely vector-based, which means you can resize your document anyway you want without loosing any quality. However, as soon as you start using these Photoshop effects like Drop Shadow, Inner Glow, Gaussian Blur,… you need to define the resolution you want it render in. Doing this at the end of your job is best, as it influences performance. So it's always best to work at 72 dpi, and then change this to a higher resolution at the end.

Document Raster Effects Settings
Inset effect on text in combination with clipping mask in Illustrator CS5


I would still without a doubt choose to do this in Photoshop instead, where the effects and text are still editable and flexible. Though, in Illustrator things are vector-based, but an effect such as Drop Shadow is not. Plus, this is the most important reason to me, you don't have the Inner Shadow effect in Illustrator. We have to resort to Inner Glow instead, and you just don't get the same result. The fact that we want to combine all this with a mask makes it rather more difficult and a bit more consuming as well.


  1. 1 Quan Nguyen 23 Nov 2010

    Awesome tut, I’ve soooo needed something like this!

  2. 2 Iaroslav Lazunov 23 Nov 2010

    This is a good tutorial, but I do not like to apply bitmap effects. Vector is a vector.

  3. 3 Veerle Pieters 24 Nov 2010

    @Iaroslav Lazunov

    This is a good tutorial, but I do not like to apply bitmap effects. Vector is a vector.

    You are only repeating what my article already says :)

  4. 4 Jonas Neubert 24 Nov 2010

    Hey, great tutorial.
    The result looks better than I thought, but in Photoshop it’s still a bit more realistic.
    Thanks a lot.

  5. 5 David 24 Nov 2010

    This is so creative - thanks!

  6. 6 Simon Hellin 25 Nov 2010

    I was looking to do this the vector-way last week while making a logo. I did it the hard way

    It’s a bit more work but it pays off at the end. When i use the logo on a digital document i would do it with photoshop no doubt.

    As long as the bitmap effects aren’t vector, i think they are useless…

  7. 7 Faro 27 Nov 2010

    And by the way, text is also editable in CS4 after a clipping mask.
    Actually I think that you can do a clipping mask with a text only if it’s still editable, when you create the outline you can’t.
    (I try several times in different ways using also pathfinder tool and i couldn’t.)

  8. 8 Tony Xia 27 Nov 2010

    Great tut, I always thought only PS can do that:)

  9. 9 Daniel Máslo 02 Dec 2010

    Perfect tutorial. As you’ve said, some things are really more easier in Photoshop :)

  10. 10 Phil 09 Dec 2010

    Great tut, I need to brush up on my illustrator skills… thanks for posting.

  11. 11 Mordy Golding 21 Dec 2010

    This is an awesome tutorial, Veerle! Did you try using a transform effect to offset the inner glow to try to get a more realistic shadow?

    I did something similar a while back in trying to do just the opposite—create an emboss effect, which is also not available as an effect in Illustrator. I used transforms and gaussian blurs instead of glows. Maybe that might work for you?