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Graphics for Television

These lessons are intended to provide a short primer on the technical and aesthetic knolwedge needed to create graphics for television. (Will try to cover all of the essentials in less than an hour.)

FYI IU has a purchase agreement with Adobe. What it means is that you can get a free copy of Adobe's CS5 Design Premium or the Production Premium. It is highly recommended that you take advantage of this while you can.

Like playing music or writing, one must do it everyday to become proficient.


What are we looking at when we see graphics on TV or in the theatre?

Maybe it's a keyed lower third, sports statistics, a spaceship, or someone shooting fire from their eyes.

These graphics are made with different types of hardware and software:

Character generators are designed for real time "live" TV production. (Inscriber, WriteDeko, Chyron/Lyric, Boris Graffiti) Simple versions support sequencing of pages with text and shapes, while more powerful versions allow for real-time painting, animated graphic elements and video captures and replays.

Paint & drawing programs let you create flat (2D) objects and artwork. Examples include Adobe Illustrator, Fractal Painter & Photoshop. Photoshop is likely the most useful and used software in the world of web, print, multimedia and video. (If you are serious about design, your time learning Photoshop will be well-spent.)

3D modeling & layout programs let you create three-dimensional objects and animate them in 3D space. If you see an object from alternate sides, chances are good it was made in a 3D program.

Movies like Star Trek, X-Men, etc. rely on programs like Lightwave, Maya, Softimage and 3D Studio Max to create the ships, people and places. But it's not just for sci-fi. More and more productions are using 3D to create organic, or real-life looking places, animals, and people.

Compositing and animation programs (such as After Effects) work mainly in 2 dimensional space, but are offering more and more 3D capabilities with each release. Even in 2D space, they can provide the illusion of working in 3D. Here are a few After Effects animations:

Before making graphics, one must be able to define the basics, such as color and text.


Color can be objectively described in a number of ways. One of the most common methods is using the HSB model:

Hue (the actual color)
Saturation (the strength or intensity, or how far it’s removed from gray)
Brightness (how dark or light)

Color Modes

But you can also describe color in other ways- depending on what color mode you are working in. Two color modes you should be familiar with are:

Additive Color (RGB)
Subtractive Color (CMYK)

Additive Color is the color system used for computer graphics, TV and lighting design. This is the color mode used to create graphics for TV and web. It's referred to as additive since lights are mixed or combined to make the various colors.

    The primary colors (think of them as light sources) are:

    • Red
    • Green
    • Blue

    Mix them together and you get white.

Subtractive Color is the color system used for printing. It's referred to as subtractive because the colors absorb (subtract) some light and reflect others.

    The primary colors (think paints or inks) are:

    • Cyan
    • Magenta
    • Yellow

    Mix them together and you get black. (K stands for "key" or black plate.)

Bitmap and Vector graphics

Bitmap or raster images, use a grid or array of pixels to represent an image. The grid is made up of squares or pixels. Each pixel is given a specific color and brightness. If you enlarge a bitmap graphic, you will eventually see the grid.

Digital photos, scanned images, and captured video frames are by neccesity bitmap graphics.

Vector graphics are made up of shapes, lines and curves that are defined mathematically.

When you draw a circle or create a piece of text with a vector-based application (such as Adobe Illustrator), it keeps track of the lines and angles that make up objects. From this mathematical data, it draws the display. We can scale a piece of vector artwork up to any size, and it will still retain its quality.

Fonts or typefaces are examples of vector graphic objects. You can scale fonts up as much as you want and the edges will never become jagged.


You can turn this feature on and off. It produces intermediately shaded pixels to smooth out the appearance of jagged edges. Note the anti-aliasing which is apparent on the enlarged image on the right hand side.


Text is the most important element used to convey information in graphics. Whether a lower third, the price of a product, stock market figures crawling across the screen, or the final scrolling credits at the end of a production, knowing how to properly use text is essential to graphic production.

It's also possible to make compelling pieces of art based primarily on text. Check out these examples:

Serif and Sans-serif

Serifs are small details found on the end of some fonts. In typography we can describe a font as either serif or sans-serif. (Sans means without.)

Arial and Helvetica are examples of sans serif typefaces.
Times and Courier are examples of seriffed typefaces.

Typographers generally believe that large blocks of text are more easily read by using a seriffed typeface. This is why books, newspapers and magazines primarily use seriffed typefaces in the main body of text.

Tracking, kerning & leading

Tracking refers to the horizontal spacing of an entire group of letters on the same line.

Kerning is the space between individual letters. For example you’d want to kern a small case letter “o” to fit underneath the capital letter “T”.

Leading (pronounced like bedding) is the vertical spacing between lines of text.

Terms you should know:

  • Anti-aliasing
  • Bitmap or raster image
  • CMYK (subtractive) color mode
  • 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
  • Kerning
  • RGB (additive) color mode
  • Vector image
  • Sans-serif type
  • Serif type
  • Tracking

On to Graphics, part 2



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