Understanding Type on Pattern

Unlike most print designers, video artists must design type over diverse canvases. Often this background contains a full spectrum of color. Achieving sufficient contrast is the key to preserving legibility. When using light-colored type, it is essential to make it larger than if it were dark type. Don’t be tempted to use all uppercase to make the letters stand out. Unfortunately, uppercase letters take more time for the viewer to recognize word shapes and process what they are seeing. This is generally time they don’t have.
Applying a stroke, outer glow, or tight drop shadow is an effective way to getting a contrasting edge. The biggest problem with type and video is that there will always be light and dark elements in your scene. It is crucial to add a contrasting edge to any type that is going to be keyed over a full-chroma, moving background.


A Hue/Saturation adjustment layer offers a nondestructive way to check contrast of type over a patterned background.
One way to test your contrast is to convert the file to grayscale. This can be achieved with several methods:

  • You can print it out in Grayscale.
  • Add a saturation adjustment layer, and desaturate (set to 0% Saturation).
  • You can use the History panel to create a duplicate document that you flatten and desaturate.

Adequate separation between foreground and background elements will make for better viewing for your audience. Think of color as tonal value. Some combinations show very low contrast when desaturated.