Lesson 7


Playing with photos and drawings is all well and good, but one of the most fun parts of tinkering with pictures is putting captions on them. In fact, text itself can be turned into artwork, especially for things such as logos. In this lesson we will venture into the wonderful world of words.

Open a new image and select the Horizontal Type tool (hereafter abbreviated as simply "Type tool," since I only use the Vertical Type tool for typing Japanese).

Next, look at the Type menu (right).

Item number one is the toggle icon that lets you switch between horizontal and vertical type. As I mentioned earlier, it is useful mainly if you are typing in Japanese and want the text to run vertically. If you try to use it with regular English text, all it does is rotate the text 90° clockwise.

The second item is the pull-down menu that lets you select the font. Personally, I use this menu more than just about anything else, because I absolutely adore playing with different fonts. Choosing the right font can really make your logo or caption come alive. For example, look at the word "Howdy" written in three quite different fonts (right)...which do you think best suits the word? Which would make the viewer confused? Which one will be readable at the font size you intend to use? There are lots of fonts out there for free download, so it's worth doing a little web searching to find some that you like.

The third item is a pull-down menu that allows you to select the font style if there is one available. Some fonts have styles such as bold or italic that you can choose, but many don't, so the usefulness of this varies.

Number four marks the pull-down menu governing font size. This is another extremely useful menu. You can use the choices on the menu, or you can type in a number if the option you want isn't available. If you highlight the number, you can increase or decrease one point at a time with the arrow keys while watching the effect on the text in the image. This lets you fine-tune exactly what size is best.

Number five is a pull-down menu that lets you change the anti-aliasing of the text. Anti-aliasing makes the borders of the letters smooth; with most other tools, this function is either on or off. With text, however, you have more choices as to how the smoothing is carried out. Each method makes the text appear slightly different. At large font sizes, you may not be able to tell, but at small font sizes (such as those used in captions for LiveJournal icons), the anti-aliasing can be the final factor determining whether or not the font is legible. I find that "strong" makes the text most clear at extremely small font sizes.

Sixth is the justification menu. The font that you type can be left-justified, centered, or right-justified with respect to the point on the image that you click.

Number seven is the color of the font. It is the foreground color by default, but you can change the font color by clicking on this box without changing the foreground color. Clicking the box opens the Color Picker.

Number eight is the icon that opens the "Warp Text" dialogue box. This has the effect of bending and twisting the text into different shapes as illustrated above.

Last is the toggle icon for the Character palette (right). I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the Character palette open when you are working with text! In addition to the items in the menu bar, it has a number of functions that make your work immensely easier.

  1. First, there is a tab that allows you to switch to the Paragraph palette. The functions on the Paragraph palette, such as justification and indentation, should be familiar to anyone who uses a word processor.

  2. Font. This is the same as the menu bar. Any changes made in one place will be reflected in the other.

  3. Style. This is also the same as the menu bar.

  4. Font size, again the same as the menu bar.

  5. Leading. This is one of the options I use most frequently. It allows you to set how much space there is between each line of text. By making this number smaller, it reduces the amount of blank space between lines. This is convenient because it allows you to fit more text in a limited space. You can also use it to spread lines farther apart.

  6. Vertically scale. With this function, you can increase or decrease the height of the font without affecting its width.

  7. Horizontally scale. This function increases or decreases the width of the font without affect its height.

  8. Tsume. This is a Japanese term for a function that scrunches characters closer together.

  9. Tracking. This is similar to tsume in that it can squeeze characters closer together, but it can also spread them farther apart. I use this function often when I want the text to take up less space yet reducing the font size would make it less readable.

  10. Kerning. This is a function that allows letters written at a slant, such as A and V, to fit snugly against each other, even though what you might call their "personal space" is overlapping. By default, most fonts will have automatic kerning. Turning the kerning off will force them farther apart.

  11. Baseline shift. This allows one section of a certain piece of text to be raised higher than the surrounding text by a specified distance.

  12. Color. This is the same as the menu bar.

  13. Font effects. These icons toggle font effects, such as underlining and superscripts. They should be familiar to anyone who uses word processing software. The one I want to mention in particular is the first icon, "Faux Bold." This allows the computer to simulate a bold version of the font even when the font itself doesn't have a bold version available. This can sometimes make fonts with very narrow lines more readable by broadening the lines. The second icon, "Faux Italic," does the same thing for italics, though I don't use it as much because if I want an italic font I will usually just choose one in the first place.

  14. Language. I never use this menu.

  15. Anti-aliasing. This is the same as the menu bar.

Now to put this all together to create something with text. For this lesson, the goal is to make a LiveJournal user picture. For a graphic, use the bunny image from Lesson 6.

Open the completed bunny image. In order to maximize the available space, change the canvas size so that the width matches the height. (I like my icons to be perfect squares.) When you do so, anchor the right side of the picture. This provides a bit of space to the left of the bunny for writing text.

LiveJournal stipulates that icons can be no larger than 100 by 100 pixels, so reduce the image to this size. It is possible to write the text at a larger size and reduce the image afterward, but something that looks fine when large is often harder to read after being reduced. It's best to write the text at the final image size, if possible. The result should look like the picture (left).

The next step is to decide what text to use for the caption. It's a good idea to brainstorm a number of options and choose the one you like best. Here's a sample of my brainstorm list for this image:

  • Bunny Love...{Hugs}...Bunny Hugs...
  • With Love...I ♥ You!...Love!...
  • Love makes the world go round.
  • Someone loves you!
  • Have you hugged someone today?

    After a lot of thought, I decided that I was most inspired by the middle option, "Love makes the world go round." That's what I will use for this example. There's no single "right" caption, of course, so go with what strikes you.

    The next step is to choose an appropriate font. There are six major categories of fonts:

    Serif fonts
    These are fonts like Times that have small "serifs" (sticky-out bits) on the letters. The serifs are indicated by the black arrows in the picture (right). When reading long stretches of text, the serifs help guide your eyes smoothly from one letter to the next. This type of font also has a chiseled, professional look. At very small font sizes, however, the thin serifs tend to lose detail can can detract from readability.

    Sans serif fonts
    These are fonts such as Arial that lack serifs. They have a clean, simple appearance. They are good to use when you don't want the font to steal attention away from something else in the picture. They also tend to be readable even at smaller sizes. Unfortunately, they often aren't very exciting.

    Script fonts
    These fonts are designed to look like handwriting. The type of handwriting can vary from a simple scribble to elaborate calligraphy. The one pictured is called Brush Script. These fonts often have an elegant feel and are good for creating a mood, as in a caption for a romantic image. They are also excellent choices for dignified ceremonial text, such as on official certificates. Unfortunately, the flourished designs are almost always ruined at low font sizes. They need to be relatively large for the effect to be most appreciated.

    Block fonts
    Block fonts are thick and chunky. A notable example of this type is Impact. These fonts are good for logos and titles because they are extremely visible and easy to read. The drawback is that they often don't fit in small spaces.

    Artistic fonts
    These fonts were designed specifically to look non-standard. The one in the picture is called Jokerman. They are great for playful text, and there are fonts for all different moods, from sweet to wacky to scary. The drawbacks are that the fonts can sometimes be so specialized that it's hard to find effective outlets for them, and that they are frequently difficult to read because of all the decorations that have been added to the letters.

    Dingbat fonts
    These fonts, such as Wingdings, are not used for text. Instead of letters, you get symbols and icons and even detailed pictures when you type with them. They are very useful for adding decoration to spice up your image, but sometimes you have to search through many tiny symbols before finding one that suits your needs.

    For the bunny icon, I want something that will match the picture, so it should be a font with a round and cuddly feel. That means I probably won't use a serif font or a block font. The first thing I do is type the caption and experiment by comparing different fonts to see which suits the icon best. Select the Type tool and click somewhere blank on the image. It doesn't really matter where you click; separate the cursor slightly from the text area and it will turn into a Move icon that you can use to adjust the position of the text at any time. At this point, don't worry too much about size or spacing, because that will come later. The pictures below show some of the fonts I considered.

    Abbey Medium Extended




    Monotype Corsiva

    Forte MT

    Kristen ITC

    I spent a long time debating. It was particularly hard to decide whether to go with cuddly (Advert), warm (Forte), or childlike (Kristen). In the end I decided upon the latter because the width of the strokes used for the letters matched well the cartoony outline of the bunny.

    Now to fiddle with the size and placement of the letters. I don't want to change the font size, because it's already very readable. However, it overlaps the bunny slightly. Also, the comb-like nature of the right edge of the text doesn't look very good. To fix this:

    1. Add some spaces in front of "the" and "go" to push them more toward the right.
    2. Change the "leading" property on the Character palette to push the word "round" farther down where it won't overlap the bunny.
    3. Set the "tracking" property to -50 to move the word "world" away from the bunny's ear.

    The result of these changes is shown on the right.

    I was originally going to make the text pink to match the heart, but I changed my mind when I noticed the way the black matched the outlines. However, then I looked at the Warp Text icon, and a thought struck me. The "world go round" part of the text would look really nifty if I had the text going in a circle around the bunny. But the way the image is set up now, there isn't space around the bunny to do such a thing. Is my only option to quit out of the whole image, then reopen it and start from scratch?

    You should have the History palette open in your workspace, just above the Layers palette. (If it's not there, open it now.) The History palette keeps track of the most recent changes you make to your image, as shown in the picture (left). The number of changes it keeps in memory is specified by your user preferences. (I believe the default is 20.) If you surpass this number, the oldest changes are bumped off the list by the newer ones.

    Clicking on one of the items in the History palette makes your image revert back to that change. This is an extremely quick way to undo multiple steps in an instant if you make a mistake or change your mind. Scrolling all the way up to the beginning shows the oldest change to which you can revert (right). In this case, the image hasn't had more than 20 changes, so it goes all the way back to the point at which the file was opened. Clicking on this first item is equivalent to closing the file and reopening it, but much faster.

    Above the list item marked "Open" you should see a thumbnail picture. This is called a "snapshot." The snapshot is made automatically when you first open the file. You can always return at any time to this saved snapshot, even if you make so many changes that you push "Open" off the list. What's more, you can make your own snapshots at any time by clicking on the camera icon at the lower edge of the palette. This is like saving a document (or videogame) at a certain point so that you can go back to that point later if the changes you make afterward turn out to be unsatisfactory. This snapshots will never be pushed off the list, so you can rest assured that you can go back whenever you need.

    Note: This does not actually save the picture itself! If you suffer a computer crash or blackout or other such problem, the History palette memory will be wiped as well. Don't rely on it to save your work-in-progress in that sense.

    One further advantage of snapshots is that they can be used as a basis for the History Brush tool (left). This tool does not "paint." Rather, it is like "paint remover"; it replaces anything it touches with a version of whatever was in that location at an earlier stage in the image editing process. Think about an artist who has painted a picture and then at a later date painted another picture over the top of it, hiding the first one. The History Brush is equivalent to removing the paint of the second picture, revealing the first one underneath.

    The small icon of the brush with a counterclockwise arrow over it that is in the box to the left of the snapshot thumbnail in the History palette shows you from where the History Brush is drawing its properties. If you make more snapshots, you can click the box by one of the new snapshot thumbnails to set that as the basis for the History Brush instead.

    Now back to the bunny picture. Click on the "Open" item in the History palette. This takes the bunny back to its original state. The nice thing is, the rest of the changes in the History palette remain the same until you erase them by performing a new action. If at this point you change your mind again and want to go back to the way you had the image the first time, you can scroll down and click on the last item on the History palette list, and there's no harm done. This is something you definitely can't do if you simply close/reopen the file. You can use this ability to toggle back and forth between an old version and new version of the image until you make up your mind which you like best. (This is something I do all the time.)

    Change the canvas size of the bunny, but this time make it so that there's plenty of room around all sides for the words to fit. Then compress the image to 100 X 100 pixels. I want the caption to go all the way around the bunny, but the Warp Text function can only warp the words into a semi-circle at the most, so I will have to break the caption in half and handle each half separately.

    Type "Love makes the" and select the text, either by dragging the cursor over it or by using the shortcut Ctrl + A for "select all." Click on the Warp Text icon on the menu bar. This will bring up the "Warp Text" dialogue box (left). I chose a bend value of +100% to make the text arc in a complete semi-circle. When satisfied with the appearance of the text, click "OK" or press Enter.

    Accept the text by clicking on the check icon in the far right corner of the menu bar, then repeat with the second half of the phrase. You may have to fiddle with the font size and position to get it to fit properly. If you want the words in the second half to be right-side-up, choose a bend with a negative value. I wanted them to continue upside-down, so I chose a positive value and then used Edit → Transform → Rotate 180°. When you are finished, it should look like the picture on the right.
    There you have it! You now know how to add text to an image and manipulate the text into the size, shape, and position that you want.


    Choose, paint, or scan an image that you like and add a caption to make it into an icon. Experiment with several different fonts and font sizes. If appropriate, use Warp Text to make the caption take on an interesting shape. Use the History palette to undo any mistakes or to go back to a previous stage when you change your mind.