Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dressing Down ... Up the Corporate Ladder

A semi-newbie asked about fonts recently, as I gave them a bit of a review of a caption they had posted to the Haven. I like to do this in private so I don't make anyone look bad. Its one thing to ask for criticism, but another to heap it out in bucket loads in front of the entire viewing world.

The main thing you need to think about with regards to the font and the story in general is to use a readable font. In choosing one, it should be flexible, as in it should be clearly legible no matter how small or large it will appear in the caption. Elaborate and intricate fonts can make it hard to figure out what words are. I mean, have you seen many engagement announcements where you take a minute to figure out WHO is actually getting married, and the other particulars? The fonts should also allow for both capital and lower case letters.

On the other hand, I would try to stay away from Times New Roman and Arial (don't get me started on Comic Sans!) since it will give you a generic look. Perhaps you can search out a font that is related to them which still gives you a distinctive feel that isn't quite so cookie-cutter.

I barely ever change my font, and when I do, its for a reason of trying to achieve a certain feeling, I've used girl handwriting for fonts, and if I'm making a fake newspaper or prop, I'll make it as close to the original as possible. However, its for a one-off and I'll get my good old stand-by for the next caption I make.

The next thing I'd like to mention is the contrast between the background and the text. If you don't chose the right color text with the right background, it won't matter how good the story is, people aren't going to risk a headache to read it. I am all for "non-white" backgrounds but neon green with a yellow text color just screams "ignore me!" I tend to go with a deep color background and a light shade for the text as seen in the above caption. The background color usually has some sort of association with the picture (in this case, her dress) and that way, it tends to tie everything together. (Think about how much easier it is to see a white lettered STOP sign on a red background as opposed to a red lettered STOP on a white sign.)

When I have a dialog, I'll often try to match their clothing (or hair, shoes, etc ...)  so that, with a quick glance, you can tell who is talking. When that happens, I want to find a neutral color for the background that won't fight either text color. I suggest using multiple colors for dialog unless you are going the standard route of .. Dave said, "I can't believe that you went back to see the wizard!" "But you told me to!" Jenna replied, while rubbing her nipples in a circular motion ... which I also did up above. It shouldn't be too hard to find the multi-color dialog plan somewhere on this blog.

One thing I would NOT recommend is using different fonts for each speaker. An old saw in publishing is to stay with a single font per page (other than perhaps typesetting the headlines in a different font.) Otherwise, it can be jarring to go from one to another, back and forth.

You may have noticed that I have shadows set when displaying the font in a paragraph. Not every photo-editing program allows you to do this, but it can also bring out the text more and make it zing. Try not to have it too deep or too big; otherwise it will distract viewers from what is actually being read. I have a standard ratio of the depth, size, and direction of the shadow that I've honed over time. I especially need the shadow effects more so now that I am using gradient backgrounds on my captions. It could get buried without that little something to draw your attention inward to the text.

So, to sum up the 2 most important pieces of the font ... make sure that you have a highly readable font, and make sure you set up the font for maximum clarity by setting up a good contrast between the font, the color of the font, and the background you place the font upon.

DISCUSSION QUESTION: Now that I've given some basics here, was there anything I missed when it comes to the issue of fonts in a caption? Anything that I might have brushed over that needs to be elaborated upon? What makes a caption more legible for you, the choices relating to fonts that I've discussed above, or the formatting and spacing of the paragraphs in the caption? Both?


  1. Dee, I think you did a great job covering font selection and use. The one other thing to consider when it comes to readability is size. If the cappers are like me and tend to be fairly wordy, its easy to fit more words in by making the font smaller. But you really have to consider if its to small. I have fairly bad eyesite, and there are a lot of caps out there that I will just skip over as the font is to small. I always tend to err on the side of 'is it too big?' rather than 'is it to small' just to be safe.

    Another note is just going to a site and grabbing more fonts. I tend to like an Arial style san sarif font. But I have dozens (if not hundreds) in that same style. Some are thin, some are thick, some are more stylized that other, but they all fit that standard sansarif style. So I can change up my font use, but remain legible.

  2. I tend to go with Arial too. It may look a bit generic but it's clean and legible although sometimes I do try to cram too much in but I'm aware when I use a size that may be too small.

    Normally I try to make the background match the photo in some way. I do worry that my style may be getting a bit samey but I've arrived on it for a reason and I think it looks quite neat.

  3. I don't mess around with the font style too often, I usually mess with the text boxes to change it up. But like Caitlyn, I normally am asking my self, 'is this too big?' Rather then too small.

    I started doing the colored text trick back around my 4th cap, mostly becuase it was my first cap with spoken dialog. I only had so much room and I didn't write near as much I do now, so I wanted to keep it streamlined and also give it a little extra flair. I know I'm not the first to use it, but Not many people broke out of the, white background black text look. It just looked so boring and generic to me, even if the story isn't.

    When I do change up the font, It's normally to convey a feeling. The new girl is more girly then before or more of an airhead, so I'll pick something that looks femme or eloquent. Or I'll want to show that the person is scared and shaken to their core, so I'll pick a shakey looking font.

    Shadows behind the text, even on a gradient background can be hard for me to read some times. Case in point, I was working on one last night and had to drop the shadows because it was just too hard to read. Some times it works, some times it doesn't. Thankfully, I haven't had that problem with any of yours Dee.

    I work with comic life, so My advice would be a little different from the other programs out there. But I've gotten more out of the program then a lot of other people that use it. Making some fake looking posters or ad's that.. while not near what you can do in Photoshop or gimp, is still not bad for what comic life lets you pull off.

    all I ever did was experiment and messed with the tools, getting familiar with them until I got it looking pretty damn good. ^_^ But of course I still like to head back to my basics now and then.