Making Great Titles for your Next Video (Part 2)

This is part 2 in a series on making great-looking lower thirds with Photoshop.

#3 – Pick a cool font

Now that we’ve got most of the technical junk out of the way, let’s have some fun. Other than music, nothing says more about the character of your show than the fonts you use. Be sure to allow enough time (and possibly $$$) to pick a cool font. There are several options to consider when picking a font.

  • SERIF vs SANS-SERIF: Serifs are the little hooks on type. Serifed type (think Times) uses thick and thin strokes. Sans-Serif (think Helvetica) uses even-weighted strokes. Sans Serif usually reads better for video. If using serifed fonts, look for a bold or black version and avoid lines thinner that 3-pixels.
  • Style: Write 10 – 20 words down that describe your video. Get input from your client too. Use these words for guidance when looking at fonts.
  • Free or Paid: Free fonts (and overly cheap) fonts often have partial character sets. This may be an issue if you need special symbols (such as & ™ © or • ). You get what you pay for, but don’t worry, several independent font foundries sell great fonts for less than $25 per font.
  • Keep it in the Family: Some fonts belong to families (regular, bold, black, italic, etc). This is useful as you can use one font family and mix styles. This leads to a consistent design in your titles. If you want to mix fonts NEVER use more then two fonts in a title graphic.
  • Format: Many fonts come in different formats. Macs have historically used Postscript while PCs have used TrueType. Macintosh OSX can now read many “PC” true type fonts with no problem. A new format OpenType is also starting to pop up for sale.
  • Kerning: Some professional fonts have had the spacing between characters carefully tweaked. This balanciong is called pair kerning. If your type appears improperly balanced you will need to kern it. Move between characters using the left and right arrows. Hold down the Option key (Alt key) and press the left and right arrows to tighten or loosen pair-kerning.

Some places to look for unique (and often free) fonts:

#4 – Use good color

Can you match your own clothes in the morning? When you walk through a room do people point? By now you’ve likely figured out a few color basics (or have strategies that work). Here are a few more tips.

  • Avoid highly saturated colors. Bright reds and yellows will cause problems in video.
  • Use contrasting colors; if you were to use a color wheel, these would be colors opposite each other. If you want to use three colors, draw a triangle on the color wheel. Digital Anarchy sells a great product called ColorTheory that makes it easy to pick color combinations for two or more colors.
  • Pick up the Pantone book on color trends. This book offers interesting color combinations that always seem to end up the latest fashion.
  • Mix light and dark colors to maintain contrast. Dark on dark and light on light are VERY hard to read.
  • Use a contrasting edge on your type (such as a shadow or glow). This will improve readability.

#5 – Make it layered

If all you ever do is draw a box and put some words on it, you’re so retro that it’s not even cool. Video graphics these days use multiple layers and transparency to achieve good looks. I can go on for hundreds pages on layering techniques (see Photoshop for Nonlinear Editors, part of the DV Expert Series). Here’s some down & dirty tricks to take you to a higher level.

  • Use photos of textures in your bars. I often take pictures of light, reflections, lighting, water waves, etc. and mix these in with my graphics to add a natural depth. Simply place the texture above your bar and press Cmd + G (Ctrl + G) to group it. The texture is now applied just to the bar area below.
  • Use blending modes to achieve better looks. This is perhaps Photoshop’s coolest feature. While you can pick them from a list in the layer’s palette, I find it easier just to experiment. Highlight the layer you want to blend, pick the move tool (V), then press Shift + + or Shift + - to cycle through blend modes. Experiment, have fun, trust me it works!
  • Use layer masks to blend layers together. Use black and white gradients on your layer masks to create smooth transitions in mixing layers.
  • Fill an empty layer above your bar with a solid color or gradient. Tint your bar by setting this layer to the Color or Hue blending mode.