I am trying to reproduce this sign in Illustrator:

enter image description here

To do so, I created a two-point path and added the text to that path using the staircase effect and center alignment to the path. Next, I added anchor points to the path at roughly the center of each letter of the text. I then nudged the anchor up/down slightly for each character and ended with adjusting the kerning of the letters. Below is the result.

enter image description here

I am wondering if there is a more efficient way to generate this effect and to improve the randomness/noisiness of the character nudging.

  • Something looks off, like the type is climbing up
    – curious
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 14:42
  • @curious Correct, right now I move anchor points arbitrarily, and with enough tweaking I could align the text properly, but I'm wondering if there are other tools available to make this process less manual. Commented May 30, 2021 at 15:21
  • 1
    If you are just making one sign, I think the manual method is by far the fastest and easiest. If you were to make hundreds of lines of text like this, it might be faster to program a script. But for that script to work you would have to be able to convert aesthetics into math.
    – Wolff
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 15:26

3 Answers 3


I, personally, would not use type on a path or brushes for this. But that's merely my choice. Ultimately, I would want more control than either of those options offer. I would...

  • Set the type
  • Create Outlines (Type > Create Outlines)
  • Ungroup (Object > Ungroup)
  • Select a few glyphs and transform them (Object > Transform > Transform Each)
  • Simply hide what has already been transformed (Object > Hide)
  • Select a few more glyphs to transform (Object > Transform > Transform Each)
  • Unhide all (Object > Show All)

enter image description here

You can repeat the Transform Each steps as many times as you want. Including transforming a glyph more than once if you feel it's necessary.

enter image description here

You could also scale the glyphs in the transform dialog if you also wanted a slight size variation.

enter image description here

This was all roughly a 1 minute procedure.

  • Very nice - an approach I would not have come up with. Commented May 30, 2021 at 19:29

One possibility is to download a SIL Open font you can freely (and legally) edit, and then open it in FontForge (which is free), and randomly move and rotate the glyphs. The beauty of this method is that the text will be editable, with no need to convert to outlines, and you can install it and use it in any application.

Here's an example. I used an SIL Open font called Falling Sky, I just edited the capitals, but you could do the whole font if you want.

enter image description here

  • Very neat idea. I've toyed around with FontForge for another project and the features/terminology were a bit overwhelming. Your demo is right on track with my desire for an efficient approach, though. Commented May 30, 2021 at 22:00
  • @bobthechemist - it's not so difficult to do this. Just open a glyph, CTRL+A to select all the anchors, move up or down using the arrow keys, and use the rotate tool, close and open the next glyph and repeat. When you've finished, generate the font, choose something easy like TTF for the output format. Because you've messed with the font, a whole bunch of error warnings will probably show, but it doesn't matter, just continue. Sure it will be messed up, but that's what you want!
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 22:09
  • 1
    @bobthechemist I'm no expert with FontForge either, so If I can do it, anyone can ;)
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 22:13
  • More choice of open fonts can be found at fontlibrary.org
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 22:17
  • 1
    Not an easy search @bobthechemist but there are fonts with baseline adjustments built in. Letterheadfotns.com has one titled "Beatnick"-- more display type than anything. But they are out there. (I'd link to it, but their web site seems to not load any images for me at the moment).
    – Scott
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 22:30

There's no upper limit for the achievable irregularity if you convert the text to curves (Type > Create Outlines) , ungroup and adjust the placements as you like.

You can also scale, rotate, move and skew letters individually, distort them with the direct selection tool for bizarre effects and apply envelope distort to them. An example:

enter image description here

I guess yo do not aim total randomness. You can keep it look designed if you use only a few tricks, remember their settings and use each of them in the same way to more than one letter.

You can make consistent shifts with arrow keys (set the increment in the preferences) and consistent rotations and scalings with Object > Transform.

Another way to add distortion to a text line is to drag the outlined text to the brushes collection and define it to be an art brush.

Draw with the pen a zigzag or convert a horizontal line with effects to a zigzag path (expand the appearance to make the path free if its zigzagged with effects) and apply the brush to it. Or use only type on path. An example:

enter image description here

You can edit the zigzag after applying the brush. Fix the effect with Expand Appearance.

  • Type->Create Outlines and then adjusting the individual letters is more convenient than my adding anchor point approach, although I'm still stuck with manually nudging letters, which I'd like to avoid if possible. Commented May 30, 2021 at 15:26
  • Have you any idea how to tell the wanted shifts? I do not know anything better than making some shifts with a repeatable way until it looks right. The bones of my skull are too thick for allowing me to tell the right amount beforehand as numbers.
    – user82991
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 16:10
  • If I were to do this mathematically, I would create a vertical displacement of each character that is upwards of 30% of the average character height. (That 30% might be an adjustable parameter based upon the chosen font and project.) As @Wolff alluded to in an earlier comment, I suspect this step would need to be done outside of Illustrator. Commented May 30, 2021 at 16:39
  • The closest I can come within AI is to apply a Distort & Transform (Roughen) effect to a vector. I don't know how to turn the result into a path that can be followed by text, however. Commented May 30, 2021 at 16:44
  • 1
    You can apply Object > Expand Appearance. If the original was a simple line, the expanded result is a path.
    – user82991
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 17:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.