Using Envelope Distort in Illustrator for Fitting Words in Shapes

Envelope Distort exampleIn my t-shirt design, I’m using Envelope Distort in Illustrator for tweaking the shape of the words. Envelope Distort is awesome for getting words to fit into weird shapes. There are a few ways you can use Envelope Distort in Illustrator CS2 — I’ll show you what I did for the t-shirt design. Then, I’l show you how to make the “totally awesome wavy text effect” graphic.

Start with some text. You want your font, colors, etc. to be completely set, as applying the Envelope Distort command will make the text uneditable. (If you need to, create a copy of the text field just in case you need it later!)

By the way, you can distort any vector object or group of vector objects, not just text!

Type text.

Go to Object > Envelope Distort. There are three options:

  • Make with Warp gives you a dialog box similar to the Text Warp feature that you might be more familiar with in Photoshop. You can choose from several pre-set warp shapes (which allow you to tweak “how warped” the text is), and also modify the warp shape manually using the Direct Selection Tool (aka white arrow tool).
  • Make with Mesh is similar to Make with Warp, except that you get to define how many grid points you want to start with and then tweak it yourself. This is the one I’m choosing.
  • Make with Top Object assumes that you have already created a funny-shaped vector object that you have laid over the text.

Envelope Distort

After choosing the “Make with Mesh” option, you can choose how many rows and columns to have for your mesh grid. I just want a very simple shape, so I’ve set the options to 1×1.

Tweaking the shape.

This results in a basic rectangular shape, with four anchor points forming the corners. Each anchor point has bezier control handles that you can manipulate with the Direct Select Tool. In the diagram below, I’ve simply dragged the point itself out and to the left.
Tweaking the shapes.

My final shape involved some additional tweaking of the corner point positions as well as the direction of the control handles:

Final words.

Here’s one more example of using the “top object” envelope distort option. I’ve started with four separate text boxes, underneath a rectangle that I sliced into curvy shapes using the Knife tool. The curvy shapes are outlined in red so that you can see them more easily. (Remember to set your font colors and fonts before performing the Envelope Distort!)

Text and shapes.

Selecting the top text box and top shape, go to Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object.

Envelope Distort

Immediately, the text is warped to fit the shape, and the shape outline disappears.

Top shape distorted.

Repeating this for each shape/text box, here’s my final result, which took about fifteen seconds to create (not including my grabbing screenshots time, of course):

Final text.

Have fun!


  1. Posted May 19, 2008 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, this was really helpful! ^^

  2. Posted July 3, 2008 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your leasson. Really thanks. I know how to perfectly distort in Illus already. 1st i thought only can use Coreldraw to distort like that. Now I know illus also can. Really thanks alot friend! I appreatiate your blog alot!

  3. Cheryl
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    Hi:) I’m trying to learn Illustrator too.Can you show me the steps on how you made the curvy shapes from the rectangle? Thanks!

  4. Posted July 8, 2008 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    Hi Cheryl – I created a rectangle, then selected the Knife tool and simply dragged curvy paths across the rectangle to slice it up. Then I selected each slice and used the arrow keys to push them up or down to create the separations. Hope this helps!

  5. hjp
    Posted February 15, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this!

  6. Posted October 21, 2009 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Ahh thanks.. this lesson really got me out of a tight jam. Thanks again.😉

  7. Milan
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    This was a life saver, thanks so much!

  8. tatt
    Posted August 31, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    been looking for this trick forever! thank you for the great tips! luv ya

  9. Posted September 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial!

  10. Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Super helpful – Thanks so much!

  11. Aleydita
    Posted November 13, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Thanks very much – very clear and very informative.

  12. Joe St.Onge
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    A really great tutorial, Thanks!

  13. deanfmcleod
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    this tutorial was quick and to the point! Just what i needed! Cheers

9 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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