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Adobe After Effects: Stylized Text Using Layer Styles

Clay Asbury

Use layer styles to spice up text in Adobe After Effects.  After Effects gives you tons of creative options for making stylized looks.

If you’re looking to make the text in your video project ‘pop’ here’s a must-know tips for using the layer styles in Adobe After Effects.  In this post, we’ll take a look at the basics of using layer styles in After Effects and then go over a quick technique that uses layer styles to add flair to your text.

AE Layer Style Basics

Layer styles let you apply drop shadows, bevels, etc. to video, stills, and text…adding style and pizazz to your project.  With text, you can also use layer styles to improve on-screen readability.  Layer styles first appeared in Adobe Photoshop but now they are also available in Adobe After Effects.

If you go to use layer styles in your AE project, you might initially have a hard time finding them.  They do not live in the Effect Menu like standard effects, but rather are under the Layer Menu (or you can right click on a layer in the Timeline Panel and apply them there.)

Applying layer styles

You can apply all AE layer styles at once by selecting ” Show All”, and then turn on the eyeball for each property to see the effect. You can also select just one property which turns on the eyeball for the selected layer.

layer styles turn on eyeball

Click the “collapsed property” triangle beside a property to “uncollapse” it and reveal the property options.

expand layer style property

In After Effects you can create looks and then reuse them by saving them as an “Animation Preset” (this is similar to saving favorites in FCP 7).

Select the Layer Styles and from the Animation Menu select “Save Animation Preset”. You can also apply presets from the Animation Menu or the Effects & Presets Panel.

save animation preset

Using Layer Styles for a Stylized Look

Now that we’ve covered the basics, lets create a stylized text look. This After Effects technique requires 3 layers (a text layer, a video layer to play through the text and a background video layer).  In this example I am using the same footage for the the matte and the background to create a bevel emboss look. Note: video playing through a text layer is called a track matte or traveling matte.

  1. First, create a text layer (thick fonts tend to work better).
  2. Put the video underneath the text layer.
  3. On the Video layer select “alpha matte” in the TrkMat pulldown. Track Mattes look at the layer above them, so the text has has to be above the video layer for this to work (press F4 if you don’t see Mode & TrkMat).
  4. The video now plays inside the text.
    After Effects Track Matte
    alpha matte text without background
  5. Put another copy of the same video on the bottom , and turn off the eye icon for that layer so we can see what we are doing.
  6. Right-click on the middle layer (the video playing through the text) and select “Apply Layer Styles>All”.
  7. Turn on the eye for Drop Shadow and Bevel and Emboss (adjust the settings to taste).
  8. Now turn back on the eye icon for the background layer to see the final result.

Experiment with different layer styles in AE to get varied and creative looks.  To learn more about layer styles check out the Adobe help page.

alpha matte with background

What tricks do you use to stylize your text in AE?
Let us know in the comments!