18 of the Best Retro Text Effects for Illustrator and Photoshop

by Julia Sagar March 29, 2017

18 of the Best Retro Text Effects for Illustrator and Photoshop

If you’re looking to quickly add a distressed or old-school vibe to your lettering work, there are hundreds of quality retro text effects you can apply to your designs. Whether you need ink textures, grunge effects, 3D type, a letterpress look, or more, we’ve rounded up 18 of the very best into one handy resource for you to refer back to whenever you need brilliant retro effects for your type.

To help you navigate through the different options here, we’ve divided them into the following categories:

  • Retro Photoshop layer styles
  • Retro Illustrator graphic styles
  • Retro text effect actions
  • Retro and vintage textures

As always, we’ll be adding to this list regularly, so if we’ve missed your favorite let us know in the comments below. Read on for our selection of the best retro text effects for Illustrator and Photoshop…

Retro Photoshop layer styles

The layer styles here use smart objects to let you work non-destructively in Photoshop, giving you a quick and easy way to add retro text effects to your illustrations. All you have to do is paste your work onto a layer and the effects are added like magic. If you edit the source file, your changes will automatically be made across the entire PSD.

01. VintagePress

Retro Text Effects: VintagePress Photoshop layer style

VintagePress is a PSD kit that gives you instant vintage print effects, transforming smooth colors and crisp edges into textured, hot-inked illustrations. All you have to do is drop your images into the clearly marked folders to get beautiful textures, ink edge bleeds, and authentic overlays.

Available in two sizes (2500x1875px for web and 4000x3000px for print), it's easy to turn textures on and off, and you can tweak the intensity too.

VintagePress also comes three bonus freebies: MatchPress (worth $12), which gives you rough edges and intense ink bleeds; RetroAcademy Vintage Press Video Training; and a Texture Refill Pack with five free, rough textures to create endless combinations.     

02. Pretty Vintage Text Effect

Retro Text Effects: Pretty Vintage Photoshop Smart PSD

If you’re looking for a nostalgic vintage text effect, try this free smart PSD from GraphicsFuel. With an old-school signage feel, it’s idea for breathing life into boring headline text.

03. Hot Foil

Retro Text Effects: Hot Foil Smart PSD

You can quickly add a rich, delicate hot foil stamp effect with seven different foil textures – including gold, bronze, silver and holographic – using Hot Foil. As well as a number of different-sized smart PSDs to cover all design scenarios, it also comes with three free foil Photoshop actions (Standard, Smooth and Rough), a variety of foil textures, and some cool extras including a flake effect to give your work a worn look.

04. 80s Retro Typography Effect

Retro Text Effects: 80s Chrome Photoshop Layer Style

This free chrome text effect lets you create an 80s-inspired piece of typographic work or logo. As with all the retro text effects here, just edit the smart layer and your lettering will instantly take on an iconic 80s feel. You’ll need Photoshop CS3 at least to use the effect, though.

05. Matchbook Print Machine

Retro Text Effects: Matchbook Print Machine Photoshop Smart PSD

It’s easy to create retro matchbook print effects in just a few clicks with this smart PSD. Matchbook Print Machine gives you six different ink printing settings, and lets you easily adjust textures, halftone patterns, and registration errors.

MORE: Retro Photoshop layer styles

Retro Illustrator graphic styles

Illustrator’s version of Photoshop’s layer styles are graphic styles. Again, they’re effects that can be applied non-destructively to objects, groups and layers with just a click – which is particularly handy when it comes to last-minute client changes.

06. PopType

Retro Text Effects: PopType graphic styles for Illustrator

Create retro 3D lettering in one click with the 48 Pop Type graphic styles in this pack. You’ll also get access to the PopType tutorial vault – which includes five easy-to-follow videos that show you how to get more from PopType – plus eight 1950s comic book-style Photoshop texture brushes, a halftone and grunge overlay, and six pieces of 1940s FizzleStock clip art.

07. Steam Punk Text Styles + Bonus

Retro Text Effects: Steam Punk graphic styles for Illustrator

These stunning steampunk layer styles from Artifex Forge will transform your text with intricate, beautiful Victorian-era details and decorations. The pack is compatible with Illustrator CS5-CC, and comes with a bonus set of bolt, nail and screw brushes, and the background cogs shown in the image.

08. RetroInk Illustrator Styles

Retro Text Effects: RetroInk Illustrator graphic styles

For a huge pack of retro text effects, try this pack of 36 Graphic Styles. It includes 10 subtle texture effects, three  double-offset-halftone ink effects, six retro line actions, eight offset ink actions and more design tools to lend an authentic retro touch to your artwork.

09. Metal Pro-Instant Illustrator Effect

Retro Text Effects: Metal Pro-Instant Illustrator graphic styles

Chewed Vector’s pack of 12 high-res graphic styles for Illustrator will add a metal effect to your type. Suitable for Illustrator CS5 and above, you can edit the text after adding the effect, and colors include gold, bronze, silver, pearl, brown, chrome, titanium, brass, carbon, gloss, aluminum and glossy.

10. Vintage Allsorts Graphic Styles

Retro Text Effects: Vintage Allsorts Graphic Styles

Quickly create 3D vintage signage text effects with this pack of 50 graphic styles. Created by DesignDell, you’ll need Illustrator CS3 or above, and the bundle also comes with three tillable vector grunge textures.

MORE: Retro Illustrator graphic styles

Retro text effect actions

Another super-fast way to apply retro text effects to your designs is with Photoshop and Illustrator actions – sequences of tasks that you can apply with the click of a button. They’re particularly useful when it comes to repeating the same complex effects multiple times, but they’re big time-savers even when used just once.

11. American wood type

Retro Text Effects: American wood type Photoshop action

American Wood Type is a powerful Photoshop action that lets you apply a rich retro text effect to your illustrations with wood-cut textures (it comes with 18, plus a helpful instructor manual). Inspired by 19th century printing techniques, the pack lets you choose the textures, colors, edges, and intensity of your wood type effects.

12. Craftype

Retro Text Effects: Craftype Illustrator actions

For a traditional hand-painted text effect, try this pack of 32 Illustrator actions. They work in eight directions, and include fours colors and a variety of retro patterns.

13. Vintage Letterpress Photoshop Actions

You’ll get 22 vintage letterpress Photoshop actions in this GraphicRiver bundle - that’s 11 different textures in two sizes (large and small) to create a retro wood type text effect. All you have to do is select the layer you want to letterpress, click one of the 22 actions and you’re there.

14. 10 Retro Text Effect Actions

Retro Text Effect Photoshop Actions

The clue’s in the name: there are 10 retro 3D text effect actions for Photoshop in this pack from Medialoot. You can choose the font and colors to customise the effect, depending on the requirements of your retro illustration.

15. RetroLift

Retro Text Effects: RetroLift Photoshop Actions

Convert your favorite fonts into 3D with RetroLift, a set of five 3D Photoshop actions that quickly add retro text effects to your lettering. Included is a video tutorial showing you how to create an exploding letter effect and vintage film look, plus instructions on how to load the actions.

MORE: Retro text effect actions

Retro and vintage textures

One of the most effective ways to create retro text effects, of course, is with textures. Quickly rough up your illustrations by applying these Photoshop and Illustrator textures for a warm, authentic and aged aesthetic.

16. SuperGrain

Retro Text Effects: SuperGrain ink textures

These 15 high-res worn ink textures are great for applying an aged, retro text effect. Inspired by 70s T-shirts and classic album covers, the textures in the SuperGrain pack are compatible with Photoshop CS4 and upwards, and will quickly give your designs a rich, distressed feel.  

17. Free High-Resolution Grain Textures

Retro Text Effects: Grain textures

For grungy distressed text effects, try SpoonGraphics’ pack of nine high-res grain textures. Created from scatterings of tea granules, each texture is available in JPG and PNG format with adjustable transparency.      

18. Diet Vector Textures Bundle

Retro Text Effects: Diet Vector Textures Bundle

We’ll end this collection of the best retro text effects on a high, with the Diet Vector textures bundle. Inside are 100 high-res, super-lightweight textures that won't crash Illustrator. Made from cardboard, ink, sandpaper, and old tools, the textures are divided into four diverse packs, and you can change the color with the click of a button.

MORE: Retro and vintage textures



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Julia Sagar
Julia Sagar


Julia is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously a commissioning editor for Computer Arts, Creative Bloq, net, 3D World and Imagine FX magazines, she’s been writing about design for 10 years. Tweet her: @JuliaSagar

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