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Jim's TV Graphic Guidelines:

These basic guidelines can help you avoid common pitfalls when designing TV graphics.


  • Use Photoshop's built in TV/Video templates to create a new graphic. Use the "Film & Video" category and 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
  • Use the safe text area. Remember that when you design graphics on a computer, the edges 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.
  • Use contrast to draw attention to the message (not ornamental elements or backgrounds). The message (E.g. tites, words, etc.) should be the most noticeable element of your graphic. Don't rely soley on color to direct attention to the message- use contrast (brightness) instead. If you have an NTSC monitor hooked up to your computer, try turning the color all the way down so you can see your image in black and white. You should still be able to see the graphics well.
  • So in other words:

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

  • 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.


  • You only need a few colors. Most effective and eye-catching graphics only use a few different colors (not counting black and white). Find two colors that work well together (E.g. blue and gold or green and yellow) By varying the levels of brightness and saturation, you can get thousands of different shades.
  • Use 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 classic aesthetic 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 or foreground elements need simple backgrounds. 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. These are elements that you can manipulate.Try fitting the words together in different ways. You can condense, stretch, change case, drop the baseline of the first (capitalized) letter, etc. If you render (rasterize) your text, you can apply filters or manipulate it in interesting ways (E.g. roughen up the edges).
  • Avoid flat fields of a solid color. Instead try adding a subtle gradient.
  • Repeat elements (colors, visual elements, shapes, etc.) for greater interest.
  • Align elements to create order.
  • Start complex information in the top left-hand corner. If all things are equal, the viewers will start in the top left hand corner, just like a book (at least in cultures that read from the top left). Think of the order in which viewers should interpret the info. Make sure it's positioned spatially in the proper place.
  • Make sure keyed graphics (E.g. lower thirds ID) 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.
  • Add depth. Z-space (depth) exists in graphics. To emphasize depth, try overlapping elements, creating shadows, or skewing objects.

Making Graphics for TV:

If you are using Adobe Photoshop, start by selecting the proper template for whatever system you are working in. Below are a few popular sizes.

Standard Definition

  • DV (4:3) 720 x 480
  • DV (16:9) 720 x 480
  • D1 (4:3) 720 x 486
  • D1 (16:9) 720 x 486

High Definition (HDTV is always 16:9)

  • 720 (HDV & most other 720p formats EXCEPT DVCPro) 1280 x 720
  • 720 (DVCProHD) 960 x 720
  • 1080 (HDV) 1440 x 1080
  • 1080 (DVCProHD) 1280 x 1080
  • 1080 (full) 1920 x 1080 (Use this for the Chyron in Studio 5)

The preset templates in Photoshop ensure that your graphic is the proper size, is in the right color mode (RGB), give you safe text and action guides, and will set your resolution for 72 dpi.

  • Once you make your Photoshop graphic, store it with all of the layers intact in a safe place.
  • Save a single-layer copy (PICT, TIFF, JPEG, BMP, etc.) to import into your desired video editing application.

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.

How can you learn to compose good graphics?

Watch your favorite TV networks and try to duplicate the graphics you see. CNN, MTV, Nickelodeon, and other cable networks do a great job creating fresh, eye-catching and well-designed graphics.



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