Jim’s Tips for Making TV Graphics

These basic guidelines can help you avoid common mistakes when creating TV graphics.

Technical Guidelines:

  • Use Photoshop’s built in TV/Video templates. For HDTV use the “Film & Video” category / HDTV 1080p/29.97″ for full raster 1080i (& 1080p) graphics. This will:
    • put you in the proper pixel dimensions
    • put you in the proper color mode
    • give you safe text & action guides
    • give you a square pixel aspect ratio
  • Keep text inside the safe text area. The edges of your graphic will be cut off by the physical frame bordering 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:
    • 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.
  • Make your text large/bold enough to read. A common mistake is to use type that’s too small or too thin.
  • 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.
  • Make sure keyed graphics (E.g. lower third ID graphics) stand out well and work with the background. Consider the video as your background layer and make sure your text is visible. You might need a background box, edge stroke or, drop shadow to make the text visisble.


    • Use contrast to draw attention to the message – The message (E.g. titles, words, etc.) should be the most noticeable element of your graphic. Don’t rely on color to direct attention to the message- use contrast (brightness) instead. Try turning the color (saturation/chroma) off so you can see your image in black and white. You should still be able to see the graphics well. In other words:

Use light letters on a dark background or dark letters on a light background.

  • Use just a few (thoughtfully chosen) colors. A common mistake is to use too many colors/hues, which don’t work well together. Most effective and eye-catching graphics only use one or two colors. By varying the levels of brightness and saturation, you can get thousands of different shades with just a few different hues. If you are new to color palettes look on-line for examples.
  • Use tried and proven compositional 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 visual design guidelines. Some great tips and an overview can be found on Wikipedia.
  • Avoid overly complex backgrounds. Don’t let a busy background interfere with the message. Delicate or ornate text requires a simple background. Complex backgrounds only work well with bold and simple foreground elements.
  • Text – Don’t think like a word processor. Think about each letter, word, or phrase and how you can fit them together and format them in creative ways (known as typography). Simple parameters you can change include font style, font weight, size, scale, case, and baseline. If you render (rasterize) your text, you can apply filters or manipulate it in interesting ways (E.g. roughen up the edges and apply a blending mode).
  • Repeat elements (colors, visual elements, shapes, etc.) for greater interest and to create order.
  • Align elements to create order.

Terms you should know:

  • HSB – Stands for hue, saturation and brightness. Used to identify a color. Hue, (sometimes thought of as tint) is the actual color, saturation (sometimes called chroma) is the amount of color present (no saturation or chroma means the image is B & W), and brightness, which is how light or dark the color is.
  • Leading– the spacing between lines
  • Kerning– the space between individual letters. For example you’d want to kern a small case letter “o” to fit underneath the capital letter “T”.
  • Tracking – the spacing of an entire group of letters
  • 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.