Bring your words to life with the quirky handwritten look of wiggly text in After Effects! Here’s how it’s done!

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects

Making text look like it has a hand-drawn wiggle is pretty easy in After Effects, and comes down to 2 parts:

  1. Getting the right amount of displacement
  2. Getting the right rate of wiggle

We’ll start out with a simple bit of text in a hand-drawn serif font. I added a colored drop shadow for a bit of style, but this doesn’t have any bearing on the effect itself.

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Flat Text

To get the wiggle, we’ll use the Turbulent Displace effect. We want to set both the amount and the size to be pretty small, but it takes trial and error to get the right look, and will vary depending on the font and size of the text. You want it to only deviate a little, to mimic imperfections in handwriting if someone was redrawing the text over and over again in the same place. As you play with the settings, move the Evolution control back and forth to get a preview of what the output will look like.

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Displaced Menu

To make the text wiggle, we’ll use an expression on the Evolution property. Part of the magic of this effect is that the rate of the wiggle is slower than the frame rate of the comp, so we want it to only change around eight times per second or so. We could just use a plan wiggle expression and call it good, but something we don’t want is for the text to smoothly move from one wiggle to the next — we want it to have a hard change, like if we were manually keyframing this and using hold keyframes.

To accomplish this, we’ll take a normal wiggle expression and add a posterize time expression to the mix. This will tell the wiggle expression to process at a different, posterized frame rate (very similar to the posterize time effect you can apply to clips, but it affects expression output). The final expression looks like this:

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Evolution Expression Menu

f = 8;
a = 1400;
posterizeTime(f);
wiggle(f, a);

Let’s break this expression down:

  • f = 8;  <= This is a variable we’re going to define and use for both the frequency of the wiggle and the new frame rate the posterize time expression will process to.
  • a = 1400;  <= This is the amplitude for the wiggle. I set this pretty high so that there weren’t too many repeats in the wiggle.
  • posterizeTime(f);  <= Here, we use the posterize Time expression, defining the new posterize rate using the variable (f) we set earlier.
  • wiggle(f, a);  <= Here’s a normal wiggle expression, reusing the (f) variable for frequency, and using the (a) variable for amplitude

With the expression in place, here’s what we have so far:

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Wiggly Text Example

We could totally stop there, but let’s add a write-on effect to seal the hand-written deal. We’ll start by creating a new shape layer above the text and tracing each letter as a separate shape using the pen tool. Set the stroke width just wide enough so that it covers the text below.

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Write On Stroke

Now we’ll add a Trim Paths property to the bottom shape and keyframe the End property from 0% to 100%. I also add a bit of easing in the curve editor to make it more organic.

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Trim Paths Curve Editor Menu

Now just copy that Trim Paths property and keyframes, paste it on all the other shape layers, and stagger the keyframes by 1 frame (Rift is a great tool or automated keyframe staggering).

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Trim Paths Keyframe Stagger Menu

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Wiggly Text 1 Write On Example

Set the text layer to Alpha Matte and the effect is finished.

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Wiggly Text Fin

This effect can look cool on a variety of handwritten fonts. Here’s a look at what it looks like using a sketched slab serif (Sketch Rockwell).

Just remember that the Turbulent Displace effect will need to be tweaked to taste for the new font and text size.

How to Create Hand-Written Wiggly Text in After Effects: Wiggly Text Complete

Have any tips for making this better? Share in the comments below.