Learn More Contact Now
In order for a text super to be readable, the text should (obviously) stand out from the picture that you composite it onto.  In some cases, you can manage this on a one-off basis: if you have a single title, for example, you can (and should) allow the specific picture for the title slide to dictate how you style your text.

Other times, you'll want to have more confidence that your text will stand out regardless of what picture happens to be underneath it.  For example, you might use subtitles, series titles, and multi-purpose templates like lower thirds over a variety of pieces of footage.  For that matter, imagine that the video under your title pans from, say, a (dark) mountain over to (bright) sky: you need for your text to be readable over both settings.

Traditionally, folks have improved the contrast of their text using treatments like heavy, high-contrast outlines (see, for example, many subtitles); drop shadows; and heavy-handed styles like bevels.  All of these approaches can be useful, but there are a couple of strategies that might allow you to make more subtle choices that are still visually acceptable.

Read on for some theory and a couple of tips ...
The most important factor in legibility is the luminance contrast between foreground (text) and background (picture).  This is not the same as color contrast: check out some of the example images at the Ames Color Lab.  You can use this fact to your advantage in a couple of ways.

colorwheel-brightness.pngFirst, take luminance into consideration as you choose your text colors.  This is when the Mac's color picker can be useful: the "color wheel" mode gives you a rough brightness slider on the right, and lets you pick the color qualities separately using the wheel at left.  Cast your primary title in a more extreme luminance value (dark or light), and if you need a secondary title treatment (for less important text in the same title), pick a luminance value closer to the middle of the luma range.  Do bear in mind that the "brightness" slider on the color palette does not necessarily correspond to "brightness" the way the human eye sees it: if you have Photoshop, take a look at the "L" box in the color picker (luminance, in the L*ab color space)  to get a better idea of a color's perceptual brightness.

Avoid fully saturated colors, especially primaries (red, green, and blue).  If you must use them, remember that their contrast features depend on their luminance, not their saturation: put another way, a color that's "100% blue" isn't "100% bright," or even "as bright as 100% green."  Pure broadcast blue has a perceptual luma value around 30%; red around 50%; and green around 90% -- so pure blue contrasts better with light colors, red doesn't contrast well with much, and pure green contrasts better with dark colors -- as you can see for yourself in the image below.  To affect the perceptual luminance of these colors, mix the pure colors with some black or some white.

Here's an intentionally awful background image to title over, with an intentionally awful placement and size for the title.  None of these options are fantastic, but remember that, for this exercise, we're after readability first and artistic merit a distant second ...
  • Avoid fully-saturated colors, because they tend to be harder to read.
  • A thin stroke around your text is almost as effective as a thick one, and it's more subtle.  Be sure to select a stroke of the opposite luminance of your text's face color -- dark stroke for light text, or light stroke for dark text.
  • For a more subtle contrast than a drop shadow, consider a black outer glow at a high spread and a relatively low opacity.  In applications like Photoshop, be sure that the black outer glow is set to a Darkening or Normal compositing mode, or you won't see it at all.  This increases luma contrast between your text and picture, while preserving the color details of the background picture.  Often, this technique provides quite satisfactory "pop" for your text without being immediately obvious to the viewer who's not looking for it.badtitle-sampleog.png
  • To keep your text consistent with the palette of your image, use the eyedropper to pull colors from your image, then adjust only their brightness (or, better but trickier, their perceptual luminance) to provide effective contrast. 

    You could also adjust the hue according to a color theory to get contrasting but compatible colors -- for example, to get a compatible contrast color using a triad-based palette, you could add or subtract 120° from the hue value of your eyedropped color.  In the example below, I adjusted both the hue and the brightness of the color that I selected (one of the tan colors on the buildings); decide for yourself whether or not that was a bad idea.  Also, Adobe's Kuler is a great resource for discovering this kind of color theory.


Listed below are 0 links to blogs that reference this entry: Creating subtle contrast between text and picture.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.geniusdv.com/weblog/mt-tb.cgi/1300

Receive FREE Tutorials by email:


    Avid Media Composer Training
  • Enrollment Cost: $50.00
  • 84 Media Composer Lectures
  • Includes Practice Media
  • Interactive Quizzes
  • Official Certificate of Completion
  • 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
  • Click to Enroll for 10% off!
    Final cut Pro X Training
  • Enrollment Cost: $20.00
  • 60 Final Cut Pro X Lectures
  • Includes Practice Media
  • Interactive Quizzes
  • Official Certificate of Completion
  • 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
  • Click to Enroll


Rendering Backgrounds in Final Cut Pro was the previous entry in this blog.

Introducing the Genius Gear Shop is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.