I teach a number of production classes and often have
to provide basic information on how to get started designing graphics
for television. Without getting too in-depth about square vs. non-square
pixels, or 16 x 9, here are some pointers to get you headed in
the right direction.
Jim's tips for making graphics:
- Use the safe text area. Remember that when
you design graphics on a computer, much of what you see around
the edges of your composition will be cut off by the frame around
the TV display. Even if your text and other foreground elements
fit inside of the safe text area, make sure they have a little
extra room around the edges to "breath".
Related to this is the next rule:
- Avoid having boxes or squares end near the edge of
the screen. Place the edges well within the safe
text area or have them run off the edge of the screen. On
a similar note
avoid using a frame within a frame. If you must
do this, make sure your inner frame easily fits inside of the
safe text area.
- Avoid highly saturated colors- they will bleed
and can contain noise. Use NTSC-friendly colors- these aren't
very saturated. Photoshop has an NTSC filter you can apply to
a layer or a flattened composition.
- Think in terms of brightness (black & white) when
separating foreground and background elements. Don't
rely on color to differentiate foreground and background elements-
use contrast (brightness) instead. If you have an NTSC monitor
hooked up to your computer, try turning the color all the way
down so you can see your image in black and white. You should
still be able to see the graphics well.
So in other words:
Use either light letters on a dark background or dark
letters on a light background.
For keyed IDs and lower thirds, always do something
to make your text stand out from the background (background
box, edge stroke/border, drop shadow, etc.) If you don't you
can easily lose white letters against a light shirt.
- Avoid thin, 1-pixel horizontal lines and thin or delicate
text. Because of the interlaced video display, thin horizontal
lines or small picture elements will flicker on and off.
- Leave text up long enough to read and then a little more (1.5
times the time it takes to read it is a good rule).
- Lay out elements using tried and tested composition techniques.
Most of the classic principles of visual design work quite well
when applied to TV graphics. In other words you can use the "Rule
of Thirds" or any of your other favorite classic aesthetic
- Make sure your background doesn't interfere with the message.
Delicate or ornate text or foreground elements need simple backgrounds.
Complex backgrounds need bold and simple foreground elements.
Your background and foreground need to work together.
- Don't think like a word processor - in left, right or center
justified paragraphs. Instead break down your message into separate
elements. For instance if you're doing a promo graphic you might
have a title, a TV personality, a time, and a network. Think of
each of these items as a separate foreground element that you
can position and manipulate.
- Try not to use plain, bare text, unless you are going for the
stark look or simply conveying information (e.g. displaying a
quote on screen). Do something to make your text interesting or
it will look plain. However, avoid relying on Photoshop's layer
style effects to jazz up your text. These are overused and easily
identifiable. If you want to do something interesting with your
text, try rendering (rasterizing) it first. Then you can apply
filters or manipulate it in interesting ways. It's often nice
to try to make your text look more organic and to give it substance.
- If you have complex information to convey to the viewer, start
the info in the top left & draw the viewer's eye into the
frame. Think of the order in which viewers should interpret the
- Use as few colors as possible. Find a good color (hue) and try
using variations of its brightness, and saturation. Watch some
of your favorite network graphics. You'll see that most are made
using just a few colors. that work well together.
- For keyed titles and captions, think of the video as part of
your graphic. Place your text and other elements to coincide with
the existing video.
- Add depth wherever possible. Try overlapping elements, shadows,
skew (a 3D effect) to show depth.
Making Graphics for TV:
Graphics will be usually be for either a 4:3 or 16:9 display. Unless
you're using the latest version of Photoshop, you'll have to design
your graphics looking at square pixels. However, most editing systems
use non-square pixel dimensions.(DV uses 720 x 480, D1 uses 720
x 486). Once you make your graphics, you will probably want to re-size
a copy to import into your video editing application.
To create graphics for 4:3 (standard definition) television
Make your graphics using 4:3 pixel dimensions: 720 x 540 is optimum
for making standard definition TV graphics, but you can also use
800 x 600, or any other pixel dimensions that are 4x3. If you have
Photoshop CS, you can work directly in native non-square pixel
sizes such as 720 x 480.
To create graphics for 16:9 widescreen (standard definition)
Make your graphics using 16:9 pixel dimensions:.There are many
that could work, but 853 x 480 works fine for standard definition
graphics going into DV. For D1 you could use 864 x 486.
You can find nice preset templates in Photoshop specifically for
TV graphics. They will put you into RGB color mode and set your
resolution for 72 dpi.
Once you make your Photoshop graphic, store it with all of the
layers intact in a safe place. Save a copy to resize and import
into your desired video editing application.
Terms you should know:
- HSB - Stands for hue, saturation and brightness.
Used to identify a color.
- Leading- the spacing between lines
- Kerning- the space between individual letters.
For example youd want to kern a small case letter o
to fit underneath the capital letter T.
- Tracking the spacing of an entire group
- Anti-aliasing- Smooths out jagged edges on
graphics. This is usually an on or off option. It works by creating
intermediately shaded pixels between areas of high contrast.
How can you learn to compose good graphics?
Watch your favorite TV networks and try to duplicate the graphics
you see. CNN, MTV, nickelodeon, and other cable networks do a great
job creating fresh, eye-catching and well-designed graphics.