After Effects 2020: Express Yourself (and Your Text)

Image source: Adobe Stock / Wavebreak Media.

Text layers have gained a massive upgrade in After Effects 17.0. You can now use expressions to control text styling as well as the text itself. This feature enables you to keep font, size, and styling in sync across multiple text layers in After Effects and Motion Graphics templates.

Bear in mind that this is a new feature and will only work in After Effects 17.0 or above. MoGRTS containing text-style expressions will only be compatible with Premiere Pro 14.0 and higher.

In this blog post, we’ll cover three ways to use text forwarding expressions:

  1. Forward Source Text only
  2. Forward style only
  3. Forward Source Text and style

JavaScript Engine

To start, double-check that the JavaScript Expressions Engine is enabled. Go to File -> Project Settings… and click on the Expressions tab. Change the Expressions Engine from Legacy ExtendScript to JavaScript.

Forward Source Text only

This method has been available in After Effects for a long time, and many enterprising creators use it in their MoGRTS.

Create two text layers. For our example, we’ll name our layers “Parent” and “Child.” Pickwhip the Source Text of the second layer and drag it to the Source Text of the first layer. Voila! The second text layer now copies the Source Text of the first text layer.

You can copy and paste the expression from here:


Forward text style only

We’ll continue where we left off in the previous example. In the Expressions Editor, simply add “.style” to the end of the expression. The second text layer now copies the text properties (style) of the first text layer. However, the Source Text remains separate.

You can copy and paste the expression from here:


Forward Source Text & style

This one’s going to be more challenging, and we’ll have to combine our previous examples to accomplish it.

In the Expressions Editor, we’ll create two variables with custom names. Coding best practice is to give meaningful, self-explanatory names when creating custom variables. So we’ll create one variable named “parentText” to get the Source Text, and one variable named “parentStyle” to get the style of the Source Text.

var parentText = thisComp.layer(“Parent”).text.sourceText;

var parentStyle = thisComp.layer(“Parent”);

Now we’re going to copy the text style properties from the “Parent” text layer via expressions. Hit Enter in the Expressions Editor to add a third line, and type in:

parentStyle.setText( parentText )

Once set up, the second text layer will copy all text style properties and the Source Text from the first text layer. Here is another way to write the expression and achieve the same result:

style = thisComp.layer(“Parent”).text.sourceText.getStyleAt(0); style.setText(thisComp.layer(“Parent”).text.sourceText);

By using “.getStyleAt()”, you are getting the style of a particular character index at a particular time. In this case, “.getStyleAt(0)” is getting the style of the character “P” because its character index in the word “Parent” is 0. Using “.style” is the same as using “.getStyleAt(0).” These techniques just scratch the surface of what is possible with text expressions.

More information on expressions for text properties can be found at the HelpX page.

MoGRT creators have long used Sliders for toggling between multiple designs. When designing several options in a MoGRT, After Effects 17.0 has a new feature to familiarize yourself with.

Checkboxes are appropriate for On/Off states, such as flipping on or off the stroke of a text layer.

Sliders are appropriate for ranges of minimum and maximum values, such as the padding of a text box.

The new Dropdown Menu Control is appropriate for selection from a limited number of options.

How to set up a Dropdown Menu

In this example, we’ll learn how to reposition a layer to four different positions on the screen, like in the GIF above.

Create a New Composition with dimensions 1920x1080px. Create a new Null Object and apply the Dropdown Menu Control effect to it (Effect -> Expression Controls -> Dropdown Menu Control).

In the Effect Controls panel, select the Dropdown Menu Control and click on Edit… Click the “+” button in the top-right of the dialog box to add Item 4. Click on Item 1 and rename it to “Bottom-Left.” Rename all other items to reflect their position. Always rename the Dropdown Menu Control items to something that reflects the contents best.

Create a new text layer. Hit “p” on your keyboard for Position, and alt-click the stop-watch to the right of the word “position” to add an expression. To move the layer’s Position based on our Dropdown Menu, we’re going to write a switch statement:

In the Expression Editor, copy the following expression snippet:

switch (menu)


case 1: [192,972];


case 2: [1344,972];


case 3: [192,162];


default: [1344,162]


The item names of the Dropdown Menu are not read by the expression. Instead, it is reading the index, meaning the hierarchal position of the menu item in the list (1, 2, 3, etc.). If no case (number) is matched, then the default code is executed. For our example, case 1 is “Bottom-Left,” case 2 is “Bottom-Right,” case 3 is “Top-Left,” and default is “Top-Right.” The values inside the square brackets are the positions that the layer will move to.

In the Effect Controls panel select the Dropdown Menu Control. Right-click the Menu property (A) and select Add Property to Essential Graphics.

In the Essential Graphics panel, hit Export Motion Graphics Template > OK. Fire up Premiere 2020, import your newly created MoGRT, and see the Dropdown Menu in action!

For more information on drop-downs, see the HelpX page.