Add a Highlighter Effect to Videos Without After Effects or Premiere

Publishers like Vox often use documentary-style highlighter animations in their videos. In this article, I’m going to show you how to add your own.

Add a Highlighter Effect to Videos Without After Effects or Premiere

News and documentary producers like Vox create dazzling, professional video content nearly every day, and they have teams at the top of the video editing field working to produce standard-bearing video edits.

You can make some of these same video editing techniques, though, even if you have absolutely no experience editing videos. In this article, I’m going to show you how to add an animated highlighter effect to your videos online. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Upload your photo or video to the Kapwing Studio
  2. Add semi-transparent highlighter elements
  3. Edit positioning, animation, and timing
  4. Export & download

Step 1: Upload your photo or video to the Kapwing Studio

A screenshot of the Kapwing Studio before a project is created.

To begin, head over to in your browser and click Start Editing to enter the Kapwing Studio. Here, you can upload your video, photo, or GIF in a few different ways:

  • Click the Upload button and locate your file in your file browser or camera roll
  • Paste the link to content you found online or have stored in places like Google Drive
  • Drag & drop your files directly into the Studio window

Step 2: Add semi-transparent highlighter elements

Once your videos, photos, or GIFs are fully uploaded to the Studio, it’s time to add your highlighter effect layers. The best way to start is to select the Elements tab in the upper toolbar and choose a rectangle. It will start out as a solid black rectangle, so you should start by changing its color using the editing tools on the right side of the Studio. Yellow is standard for highlighters, of course, but you can choose any color for your highlight elements – pink, green, and blue are also common for highlighter ink.

A screenshot of the Kapwing Studio with the shape editing options demonstrated.
You can edit your highlight layers to look however you want.

To act as a highlighter, your shapes will also need to be semi-transparent, so you can see what’s underneath. When you select your highlighter layer, you’ll see an Opacity editor with plus and minus buttons on the right side of the Studio. Click the minus button until your highlight layer looks right to you – I’ve found that the 40-60% range looks best.

Step 3: Edit positioning, animation, and timing

If you’re using a video for your project you’ll want your highlighter effects to appear on screen at the right time and in the right place. To change their shape, size, and position, click and drag the shape layers and corner buttons on the canvas itself.

A screenshot from the Kapwing Studio showing the animation editing options.
Use the Reveal animation to make your highlighters look like they're being drawn on. 

You’ll probably want the highlight layers to be animated as if they’re being drawn on-screen, as well. For this effect, select your highlighter layer and choose the Animation tab in the editing options on the right side of the screen. Your best option is the Reveal animation, and to get the best drawing effect, I recommend choosing the slowest speed option.

A screenshot from the Kapwing Studio Timeline view.
Use the Timeline editor to arrange your layers in time. 

To adjust the timing of the highlight layers, choose the Timeline button in the top toolbar and drag the highlight layer to the time you want it to appear on the video. Click and drag the ends of the layer to trim it to a shorter length or expand it to stay on screen longer. Using the Timeline editor, you can also copy and paste your highlighter layers to use them for multiple lines of text or several parts of the video.

Step 4: Export & download

When your video looks just the way you want and your highlighter layers are edited just the way you want, click the red Export button in the upper right corner of the Studio. Give Kapwing some time to process your project – for longer videos, this may take a few minutes. When your video is finished processing, choose the Download button on the right side of the screen and your project will be saved directly to your device!

A screenshot of the Kapwing download page.

I hope this article helped you learn how to add a highlighter effect to your video projects. There are lots of high-level video edits you can accomplish without leaving your browser – learn about some more tools on our YouTube channel Kapwing App. And while you're here, read through some related articles on some of the professional video edits you can make in the Kapwing Studio:

How to Make Professional Explainer Videos
How to Censor Videos Online
How to Blur the Background of a Photo (No Photoshop)
How to Make Podcast Cover Art