Graphics for the Art-Challenged: Captions, Part 1 – The Free Solution


I am terrible at art. Really, really terrible. In fact, whenever one of the brilliant BBTV artists puts something together for one of our projects here at TGN, I’m always stunned that they managed to convince a million pixels to behave in a way that is both functional and visually appealing. Art is, to me, a school of magic for which I am missing The Gift.

I don’t think I’m alone. Producing graphics for YouTube gamers is a pretty lucrative market, with talented artists selling custom logos, intros, channel backgrounds, and other graphics for a sizable fee. While this is a reasonable solution for some, not all of us have YouTube pennies burning a hole through our digital pockets, and sometimes we just need a quick, simple graphic for a single video project.

Graphics for the Artistically Challenged

This brings me to my new series: Graphics for the Artistically Challenged. As a gaming YouTuber, I’ve picked up simple techniques that even I can handle to produce acceptable graphics and effects for my own videos. It still looks embarrassing compared to what a real artist produces, but at least my audience can look at it without laughing at me – I hope, anyway.

I’m starting with one of the most important and commonly screwed up elements to any video: captions, subtitles, text on screen, whatever you call it.

Too small, wrong color, no borders: there are a lot of readability issues with these captions. In this two part article, you are going to learn how to fix these problems and produce acceptable captions quickly and efficiently.  For now, we’re going to talk about the free solution, with Paint.net. Next time, we’ll ramp things up and use Photoshop for some really nice text.

“As a gaming YouTuber, I’ve picked up simple techniques that even I can handle to produce acceptable graphics and effects for my own videos.” 

The Tools

The first thing you need to do is head over to getpaint.net and do what the URL tells you to do: get Paint.net. I used to use Gimp for my freebie graphics editing, but I’ve found that Paint.net is better on almost every level. The next thing you need is the Pyrochild plugin.

If you don’t like clicking strange links in blogs, and I don’t blame you, just google “pyrochild paint dot net.” You’ll notice that the first result is a post on the official forums. Anyway, the specific plugin you want is “Outline Object.” There’s no harm in picking up the whole pack, but for now, that’s all you need. Follow the instructions in the included text file to install the addon; it’s very simple.

“Uh oh! The text disappeared…”

Let’s Begin

Once you have Paint.net up and running with Outline Object installed, you’re ready to go. Open a new document matching the resolution of your video. I typically work in 1080p, so I’ll use 1920×1080. If you play at 720p, try 1280×720. If you are on a weird laptop resolution, you’re on your own: also, buy a real monitor, please. Your video quality will improve dramatically.

Anyway, let’s write some text. Click the “Add New Layer” button to create a new layer exclusively for our text.

This makes it much easier to move around or delete if need be. Next, click the Text tool or press “T” and click somewhere in the middle of the image. Leave your font on Arial for the moment, but go ahead and increase the font size to something large like 84 or more. Click the “Center Align” button for now and choose white for your text color.

Uh oh! The text disappeared. Not really, it’s just the same color as the background. Delete your background layer by selecting it and clicking the red X in the “Layers” menu. Now, it’s readable, but kind of weird.

“This is where the money happens!”

White text becomes very difficult to read on light backgrounds. In fact, any color text is difficult or impossible to read when placed on a similar background. Time to give up? Nope! This is the very reason why we installed Outline Object, so let’s use it. Go to Effects->Object->Outline Object to bring up the dialogue.

This is where the money happens. There are a million options, but first, we need to change the color to black. Just drag the right slider all the way in, or put (0,0,0) in the RGB field. Next, you can tweak the width of the outline.  You’ll want to experiment with this one; I like a width of 6 for large text, but that’s just me.

 “If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve conquered the very basics of making readable text…”

Much better, right? Export the file by select File->Save As and changing the file type to PNG in order to preserve the transparency behind the text. You can then import your PNG file into your video editor to use as a caption. Let’s go back to our very first example and see how it looks:

Not bad! If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve conquered the very basics of making readable text: white text, black background. Better yet, the process is incredibly fast and efficient. Seriously, make three or four captions right now, and you’ll realize how fast these steps are to execute: Create new document, add layer, delete background, type something, size, color, outline object, publish.

You’ll want to continue to tweak this process for your videos. You may need smaller text to avoid blocking important information in your game, or you might experiment with colors and come up with something interesting.  Choose any font you like, except Comic Sans MS, because it is awful. You might consider matching the font to the logo for your game: for example, the font EvilDead goes very well with Diablo, and LifeCraft goes very well with World of Warcraft. You can find out the name of a specific font by searching on the almighty Google, and make sure you download it from a legitimate site like dafont.com. Or, you can just use Impact Bold, also known as the Meme Font.

The best thing about this process is that Paint.net is completely free, a considerable advantage compared to that behemoth of professional image editing, Adobe Photoshop. On the other hand, if you do have access to Photoshop, you can effortlessly put together some very fancy captions that almost look like you know what you are doing… almost. Plus, you get to work with real text layers, so you can build a template and reuse it for multiple videos. We’ll talk about that next time.  For now, enjoy having legible, free, and easy to produce text in your videos.

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