Most of your Word documents are likely set in standard, drab Times New Roman or Calibre typography, perhaps with the occasional cheesy Word Art thrown in for variety. Yet Word actually includes a number of text effect tools that give you everything you need to make beautiful art from your words.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you everything about you need to create the text effects you want in every modern version of Microsoft Word, using its advanced type and formatting features. Once you’re done, you’ll know the tricks that I used to make Word templates that were featured in Microsoft’s Art of Office site.
Let’s get started.
Setting Up a New Page
Start by creating a new document by either clicking File > New, or pressing the Ctrl+N shortcut. To set the properties like the page orientation and the page size, jump into the Page Layout ribbon.
If you plan to print your document and you already know the final paper size, it is important to set it as a first step. Why? Microsoft Word lets you to easily scale any object, but some properties, like the outline width, remains unchanged. Font size also stays the same during the resizing, and has to be updated manually. Working in the final paper size right from the beginning helps save time in the future.
There are two things you need to know about the Page Layout ribbon before we set the final page size values. First, the Size dropdown menu contains only the paper sizes which are possible to print with the currently selected printer. In other words, you cannot set an A3 paper size when your printer can only print up to A4 documents. To fix that, you can jump to the File > Print menu, and change the printer to a different one for a second, for example the Microsoft XPS Document Writer which is a "virtual printer" that only saves files locally to your computer.
Don't print anything, but once you've chosen a different printer, go back (using the left arrow in the top left corner), open the ribbon Page Layout > Size again, and the list of the available sizes should be much larger now.
Then, the other thing worth noting is that the drop-down menus for Margins, Orientation and Size may not be enabled all the time. If you have a Text Box placed and selected inside the document, some Page Layout options will be disabled. I'm specifically pointing this out, because we will use Text Box objects all the time, and jumping to the Page Layout ribbon and seeing those options disabled can be quite frustrating.
Now, you know how to always be able to set a page Size to A4 and Orientation to Landscape. Your page is now setup the way you'll want for your custom word art, and you'll know how to tweak it again next time.
Changing the Font and the Font Size
Now, it's time to add your text and start tweaking it. Type anything you want, select the text, and pick the font and size you want. Most of the text effects look best in large sizes, so do not be afraid to use either the Increase Font Size button, the Alt-Ctrl-: shortcut, or the font size dropdown menu to make the text really big. If the maximum value of 72 pt is not enough, you can type in any number you want, for example 250 pt (only type the number). You can also use non-integer values, such as 198.5 if you want to get the largest possible text without wrapping.
What Is Kerning?
When a type designer creates a font, every letter has its own width set to make sure the gaps between the letters are even. This works fine in most cases, except for the combination of letters with less "rectangular" shapes, like "V" and "A". Thus, type designers add “kerning” features, which defines that those two letters when placed next to each other will have the gap smaller (or bigger). In a perfect world, an application uses this kerning and everything looks fine. Well, in a perfect world.
If you only need to know one thing about kerning, remember this—it should be always enabled, but it is off by default in Microsoft Word. To turn it on, open the Font dialog (Ctrl+D) Advanced tab, and check Kerning for fonts X points and above. When you check this checkbox, a current font size is filled into the edit box, but you probably want to change it to 1 pt instead—just to make sure it will be really enabled all the time for any text. For more information about the kerning, see Quick Tip: Typography Skills, Basic Kerning.
It is important to know that the kerning has to be enabled this way also for every Text Box in the document. If you accidentally or on purpose delete everything in your document (Ctrl+A, Delete), the kerning is again turned off.
Standard Text Effects in Microsoft Word
Before we start adding our own text effect, let's briefly take a look what Word offers us in the Text Effect and Typography dropdown menu on the Home ribbon. There are 15 pre-defined text effects with different outlines, fills, shadow effects, and some of the presets also include 3D effect. The colors of those presets always reflect the selected color theme.
You can jump to the Design ribbon and select a different color scheme from the Colors dropdown menu. Jump back to the Home ribbon, open the Text Effects and Typography dropdown menu, and it should look a little bit different.
This is nice, but unfortunately there's no way to adjust those presets. The items in this list cannot be edited or deleted, and you cannot add new presets. Those 15 presets can be helpful if you need a nice looking header and you only have two minutes of your time, but you will learn nothing new about the text effects just by using them.
Text as a Body Text vs. Text Box
The text can be placed in a document in a two different ways. The usual way is to create a new document and start typing - we can call this text a "body text". While the text effects can be added to this body text quite easily, they are limited and thus using a body text is not preferred option.
The second way is to use a Text Box object and write into this text box. To insert a new Text Box, select Insert > Shapes > Text Box, and draw a new text box the same way you draw for example a rectangle.
The text placed inside a text box has several advantages. It can be moved around the document freely without any restrictions (even off the document or over the margins) and it can be rotated. Moreover, some additional text effects like the 3D rotate options are available.
If you do not like the default appearance of the text box—especially the white fill and the black outline—both can be easily set to none on the Format ribbon. Use the Shape Fill and the Shape Outline dropdown menus.
To select a text box with no fill and no outline, click over the text which will show the text box borders as a dotted line. Clicking over this dotted line to select a text box should be easy now.
Changing a Page Background
The standard white paper color may seem a little bit boring for our text effect, and it may be a good idea to set it to a different color. Go to the Design ribbon, and from the Page Color dropdown menu, select some dark gray color. As for any other color dropdown, the first two columns with grays are still the same, but the eight columns on the right side change depending on the chosen color palette. After changing the background, the black text inside the text box is almost invisible now, but that is fine, we will fix it in a minute.
The Almighty Format Pane
The Format ribbon allows us to format the text box as well as the text itself. There are dropdown menus for the text fill, outline, and all the other possible effects, and there are submenus and submenus and submenus. It is definitively not an easy way to tweak the effects, and we only have access to the limited number of presets and options. There is a better place to adjust the setting—the Format Pane.
The Format Pane is an essential pane for setting all the advanced options, yet there is no standard way how to display this pane. In short, every "More…" item on the Format ribbon (More Lines, More Gradients, More Textures) opens the Format Pane, but since we have the Text Box inside our document, we can as well right click the text box border and select Format Shape.
Before we move on, remember there is only one Format pane, but the content of this pane changes depending on the selected content. It is different for the text box, for a body text, and for an image. I say it to prevent any confusion, because the name of this Format pane also changes, it can be Format Shape, Format Text Effects or Format Picture. Because this will be our base station for setting all the effect, it is a good habit to keep this pane open all the time.
Setting the Fill and the Outline
With the background color set and a Format Pane still opened, select the text box, type in any word, for example “Effect”, keep the font to Calibri and set the size to 72 pt. In the Format Pane, select Text Options, open the Text Fill settings and change the Text fill from the Solid Fill to the Gradient Fill. From the Preset Gradients dropdown menu, select a yellow top spotlight. This will create a subtle shading, as if there was a light source shining from the top.
To make the text a little bit more interesting, we will also add an outline. Change the Text Outline from the No Line to Solid Line, raise the Width to some bigger number, for example 3 pt, and change the Color to white.
The outline is nice, but too strong. We can open the Compound Type dropdown menu and select Double, which will split the outline into two, one visible over the text, and one outside the text. To get rid of the ugly joins, change the Join type to Round instead of the default Bevel.
All we need to do now is to increase the Transparency to make this outline less visible. A value around 60% seems to be just fine.
Adding Some More Effects
With the text box still selected and the Format pane still opened, switch to the Text Effects tab. As a first effect, we will add a simple drop shadow below the text. Open the Shadow effect properties, and from the presets dropdown menu, select Outer: Offset Bottom. Because the page background color is quite dark, the effect is quite subtle, which is fine, and probably does not need any additional tweaking.
If you want, you can also try to add a Reflection effect. Select any preset, but increase a Blur value to make the reflection less visible and not too distracting.
In just few steps, we have a nice looking text effect and we can call it done.
Sharing the Document - .docx vs .pdf
When sharing your document with your friends, you can choose between two main formats. The Word native .docx, or Adobe Acrobat .pdf file. The document saved in .docx format keeps the effects fully dynamic, but depending on the used effects, the other side often needs to have the latest version of Microsoft Word installed. Otherwise, the document can look different (and most likely ugly).
The biggest advantage of the document saved in a .pdf format is that it will look exactly the same on every device, in any application. However, you lost the ability to edit the text effects, and probably also the ability to edit the text. Microsoft Word can export as well as import the .pdf files, but the edibility of the text with the applied effects is in most cases lost. For more information, please read How to Edit PDF Documents in Microsoft Word.
To save the document in the .docx format, simply hit the save button—it should be the default format. To save the document as a .pdf file, select File > Export > Create PDF/XPS, then choosePDF in the filetype drop-down when saving the file.
We have only scratched the surface of the text effects in Microsoft Word, but you should have a solid knowledge of the Word basics needed for the future effects. Here is a list of the main takeaways:
- When possible, set the paper size as a first step. Resizing the objects afterwards can bring unexpected complications.
- Most text effects look best in very large sizes.
- Always be sure to enable kerning when working with text in Word.
- There is a difference between the "body text" and the text placed inside the Text Box. For text effects, text placed inside the Text Box is preferred.
- The Format Pane is the best place to change any formatting—make sure to have this pane visible all the time.
- Share your creations in Word .docx format to keep the edibility, or Adobe Acrobat .pdf format to make sure everything will look the same at all times.
Enjoy creating your own text effects using these steps, and leave a comment below if you have any trouble making your own text effects in Word!