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Working With the Area Type Tool in Adobe Illustrator


Most blocks of text are set within conventional rectangular borders. But, what about those times when you want to place text within an irregular boundary? Or, what if you want to divide the copy in your text box into columns? I’ll show you how to do both of these things, as well as a few extras, using Adobe Illustrator’s Area Type Tool.

Inserting Text Into A Shape

Let’s say you want to insert text into a circle. The first thing you need to do is make a circle! If you aren’t a big fan of circles, go ahead and make a triangle, a star or a polygon using one of the shape tools or the Pen Tool. Any closed shape will work.

Select the Area Type Tool (found in the drop-down menu of the Type Tool). Click anywhere on the path of the shape. A blinking cursor will appear which means the shape is ready to accept text. Type or paste your text into the shape and watch it conform to the boundaries of that shape.

Too Much Text?

Sometimes there is too much text for an area. If you see a small box with a plus symbol (+) at the bottom of the bounding area, you’ve entered too much text. You have three options. Decrease the point size of the text. Increase the size of the bounding area. Create an overflow area for the extra text.

Creating An Overflow Area

To create an overflow area, click on the plus symbol (+) with the Selection Tool (V). Now, click on another spot on the page. A new text shape, identical to the shape of the first text boundary, will appear and will contain the overflow text.

Let’s say you want your overflow text to go into a different shape. First, create a new shape. Next, click on the plus symbol (+) with the Selection Tool (V). Then, click on the border of your new shape. The overflow text will appear in the new shape you created.

Additional Area Type Options

The area type tool has many handy options that a lot of people either don’t know about or don’t use. To see the available options go to Type > Area Type Options or double click on the Area Type Tool in the tool bar. The Area Type Options box will appear. Here, you will be able to specify the number of columns or rows and their width, gutter width, text flow direction, and more.

Let’s start from the top and work our way down. Select the Type Tool (T) and drag a box. It doesn’t have to be a certain size as that can be specified in the Width and Height fields in the Area Type Options dialog box.

Next, enter the number of rows you wish to have in the Number field and specify their height in the Span field. To specify the amount of space you wish to have between rows, enter a number in the Gutter field.

In the Columns section, enter the number of columns you desire, their span (width) and gutter width.

Checking the Fixed box ensures that even if you resize the type area, the height of your rows and the width of your columns will remain the same. If you leave the Fixed box unchecked, the width of your rows and columns will automatically resize to fit the resized type area.

After you have made your specifications, click OK. Then, either type or paste text into the text area and watch it magically form rows and columns! If you don’t like what you see, simply change the choices you made in the Area Type Options dialog box and the text will readjust. 

Inset Spacing

Under the Offset heading, there is an option titled Inset Spacing. The value you type in this field will add space between the text and the bounding box, should you want a bit of breathing room between the border and your text.

First Baseline

By default, text in an area object starts at the top. If you want the first line of your text to start either above or below the top of the bounding box, First Baseline gives you several options for doing just that. After you have chosen an option, enter a value in the Min field for your baseline offset.

The available options are as follows:

  • Ascent - The height of the “d” character falls below the top of the type object.
  • Cap Height - The tops of uppercase letters touch the top of the type object.
  • Leading - Uses the text’s leading value as the distance between the baseline of the first line of text and the top of the type object.
  • x Height - The height of the “x” character falls below the top of the type object.
  • Em Box Height - The top of the em box in Asian fonts touches the top of the type object. This option is available regardless of the Show Asian Options preference.
  • Fixed - Specifies the distance between the baseline of the first line of text and the top of the type object in the Min box.
  • Legacy - Uses the first baseline default used in Adobe Illustrator 10 or earlier

Text Flow Options

Here, you can control whether the text flows horizontally from column to column or vertically from row to row. Simply click on the text flow direction you prefer.


Now that you understand area type and the options the Area Type Tool offers, try it out in your next graphic design project!

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