Make Illustrator Behave!

I often get questions about scaling text in Illustrator CS, CS2, and CS3. For example, someone scales his text frame only to find that the text within the frame becomes scaled as well. He wants to simply resize the frame, allowing the text within to reflow without changing size. Sometimes it works as he wants it to, while other times, it doesn’t — which leads to frustration and acts of computer violence. Why this seemingly inconsistent behavior?
The first thing to understand is that Illustrator has two types of text objects: Point Type and Area Type. Point Type is used most often for random text objects that appear in your document and aren’t bound by any shape or frame. Area Type is used for larger blocks of text, where words flow from one line to the next and are encompassed within a shape or a frame. (I’m using the term "frame" here only because it’s a familiar word for InDesign users, but Illustrator really has no concept of a frame.)
Normally, it’s pretty easy to make a distinction between Point and Area Type by looking at it when it is selected. Point Type (left-hand type in Figure 1) shows a single point on the first line and other lines are underlined. Note that the line endings shown here are manual, using hard or soft returns.

Figure 1.
Area Type (right-hand type in Figure 1) also appears underlined, but is enclosed within a shape that contains small boxes on the upper left and lower right sides. (Those boxes are called ports, and I’ll talk about them in detail in a moment.) The text within the Area Type object shown below has no specified line breaks — the text simply reflows on its own to fit within its frame.
However, when you have the Bounding Box option turned on (View > Show Bounding Box), and you use the Selection tool to select your text object, Point Type and Area Type appear nearly identical when selected (Figure 2).

Figure 2.
The trick is, you have to pay attention to the ports (Figure 3) — those are the boxes I mentioned above. It’s really the only way to differentiate a Point Type object from an Area Type object.

Figure 3.
These ports are used with Area Text to help manage "threads" of text, or text that is linked from one frame to another. It works just like InDesign, and different icons in the in or out ports indicate functionality (Figure 4).

Figure 4.
Now that you know how to identify the two kinds of Type objects, you can understand how to scale them and get the results you expect.
Point Type has no frame or shape that holds it. Therefore, scaling Point Type will always result in the text becoming distorted — after all, you are scaling the text (Figure 5).

Figure 5.
However, if you use the Selection tool to scale an Area Type object, the object itself will scale, but the text within the object will not scale, only reflow to fit within the new shape (Figure 6).

Figure 6.
A nice little feature is that while you’re scaling an Area Type object, Illustrator previews live how the text will reflow. (InDesign can also do that if you click, hold for a second or two, and then start dragging.)
However, if you’re like me, you’ll also want to use the Transform or Control panels to resize Area Type frames numerically, to fit a specific dimension. But when you do so, you’ll notice that the text within the Area Type object also scales. Is there no way to scale an Area Type frame numerically without scaling the text within it?
There are two ways:

  1. Double-click on the Area Type object to select all the text. Copy. Apply your scale numerically, then select all, and paste. Silly, right? That’s why there’s option 2…
  2. Use the Direct Selection tool to select only the side of the frame (Figure 7). Now when you apply a numerical scale via the Transform or Control panel, the scale will apply to the frame and the text within will reflow as expected.

Figure 7.

The author of Real World Illustrator CS3, Mordy Golding also blogs about Illustrator and publishes the free video podcast "PEN: The Vector Podcast".

  • anonymous says:

    Hi Mordy:
    In your article you say “A nice little feature is that while you’re scaling an Area Type object, Illustrator previews live how the text will reflow. (InDesign can also do that if you click, hold for a second or two, and then start dragging.)” Unless you’ve got some specially enhanced version of ID, I think you’ll find that InDesign has no comparable text reflow preview as in AI. Yes, holding the mouse a sec before dragging will allow you to see your text dynamically resize, but that’s not exactly the same (or as useful) as Illustrator’s reflow preview. Otherwise, you’re right as rain on everything else!

  • anonymous says:

    Thanks for doing this

  • Anonymous says:

    Beautifully explained! I can’t wait to get to work tomorrow to try it out. I wasted all afternoon trying to figure out how to resize the frame without scaling the text. The Help on F1 didn’t mention View > Bounding Box which seems crucial to making it happen.
    Thank you!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    THANK YOU, Mordy, for clarifying a frustrating situation. We can always count on you!

  • Anonymous says:

    dude, you’re awesome. i was so frustrated… thank you!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Very nice and detailed explanation. Helped me a lot to understand the difference between the two text types in Illu. Is there a way to convert a point type text into an area type text (so we can resize the box without resizing the text)?

  • Anonymous says:

    CS6 Illustrator. I use Direct Select. Selecting the text leads to some points on the left. No “line only” as suggested in note #2 above. Now what? When I resize the box with that point, it does rescale the text. What else?

    This is ridiculous.

  • Anonymous says:

    (I know this is six years later but…) Thanks. I have been battling this for a while now and had my own way of fixing it by copying the old original scales back to the Horiz. and Vert. scale boxes in the character tab. Great to finally understand. Thanks from PHX-AZ-USA.

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