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How to Use Precomposing in After Effects

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you'll learn about precomposing in After Effects using an example project. When working in After Effects, there will be times when you will need to precompose your layers. For example, let's say you have a text element that you need to use multiple times. Instead of duplicating your text, you can precompose it.

Let me show you how it works using this example project.

example projectexample projectexample project

So let's say I have a text layer that I want to use multiple times in a composition or maybe in several compositions.

Now, if this were just in this comp and I wanted to use it multiple times, that's no problem. I can just duplicate it by hitting Control-D on the keyboard, or I can go to the top menu and go to Edit > Duplicate.


I can just do that multiple times and make lots of duplicates of this text.

duplicate textduplicate textduplicate text

And I can change each one of these. For example, I can scale one of them up. 

scale up textscale up textscale up text

Or scale one of them down.

scale down textscale down textscale down text

Or even use other transform options like rotation.

rotate textrotate textrotate text

I can also change the colour and arrange them in a graphical way, as a design element.

But what if I wanted to actually change the source of the text? What if I wanted all of the text to say something else instead of "text"? Now I have to select each layer individually and use the Type Tool to change them all one at a time, which can be very tedious and time-consuming.

change textchange textchange text

So instead, I'm going to show you how to precompose this to save yourself some work. So let's start this project from scratch and have just one text layer again.

With this one text layer selected, I'm going to precompose it by going to Layer > Precompose.


A dialog box will appear where you can rename it if you wish. Leave the rest of the options at the default settings.

precomp boxprecomp boxprecomp box

You can tell a layer is a composition by looking at the little 'composition icon' that's right next to the name of the layer on the left side. So we've essentially put a composition inside another composition.

composition iconcomposition iconcomposition icon

The advantage of this is that now you can duplicate this composition multiple times, as we did before.

duplicate compduplicate compduplicate comp

But this time, if you want to change the source of the text, all you have to do is go into the text comp by double-clicking on it. 

double click compdouble click compdouble click comp

Change the text inside this composition, and this will update to change all of the text that you have duplicated simultaneously. 

change thischange thischange this

Sometimes, you might find that the bounding box does not fit the text properly as it would with a normal text layer, which might make selecting it quite difficult. This is because it uses the same dimensions as the source composition.

To fix this, go back into the source comp for the text and change the comp size so that it's just around your text. To do this, click on the Region of Interest button located near the bottom of the Preview panel.

When you use that, it will give you a little crosshair. Click and drag a selection area around the text.

region of interestregion of interestregion of interest

Then go to Composition > Crop Comp to Region of Interest.

crop region of interestcrop region of interestcrop region of interest

And now, if you jump back to the original comp and select these text layers, you can see that now you have transform handles with a bounding box for this layer, and it's much more appropriately sized.

bounding box changedbounding box changedbounding box changed

When it comes to resizing one of these comp layers, you'll find that if you increase the size, it looks blurry.

blurry textblurry textblurry text

To fix this, just turn on the "continuously rasterize" button, also known as the "collapse transformation" button.

continuously rasterizecontinuously rasterizecontinuously rasterize

This will sharpen the text again.

sharpen textsharpen textsharpen text

You can even use the precomp here, and you can use it in other comps. Let's move the precomp to this comp with a black background, for example. You'll notice that we can't see it in the Preview panel because the text is also black.

move text to another compmove text to another compmove text to another comp

Well, you can also add effects to a precomp, just like any other layer. So let's add a fill to this precomp and change the colour to white. Now you can see it.

white textwhite textwhite text

Now I have this other text layer that I can use as many times as I want, while having the option to change the colour or add other effects to it (which won't affect the source text inside the comp). It's a handy way to use one asset over and over. 



Congratulations! That's how you can use precompositions in Adobe After Effects. Now that you've learned the basics, check out some of the other tutorials we have on Adobe After Effects below.

I hope you've found this tutorial useful, and I'll see you next time on Envato Tuts+!

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