Working with the graphics text tool

One confusing area of graphics is the text tool. At first glance, it may seem that all you need to do is type in your words, click OK and you are done. Sadly, the results of such an approach are frequently disappointing.

Introducing text to an image requires its own set of tricks. After selecting the usual values such as font and alignment, most people hit their first problem - size. In word processing and desktop publishing documents, it is easy to get an understanding of font sizes. However, since graphics files can have vastly different resolutions and dimensions, it is harder to pick the right-sized font for a particular file. On an image with small dimensions, an 18-point font will appear quite large; conversely, 18-point appears to be small on a high-resolution image. It can take some trial and error to determine the final size, but quickly checking the image's dimensions (in pixels, not centimetres or inches) will make it easier.

The process of adding text is much the same across all programs. First you select the text tool, which is generally an icon shaped as the letter A (Paint Shop Pro and Microsoft Paint) or T (Photoshop). Click the cursor on the spot where you want the text to appear. In many programs, a new window will appear in which you can make adjustments to styles, paragraph sizes and so on. After checking these settings, type in your text and press the key (this may vary between programs). Then use the mouse to move the text to the desired position. In Photoshop (versions 6 and up), the process is a little different - instead of a new window, the options toolbar will change and the text will appear in the image (use the move tool to make final adjustments to its position).

Anti-alias

When drawing characters, most programs use a feature known as anti-alias, which introduces additional pixels to the edges of an object. These pixels blend the edge of an object with the background colour. For example, if you have white text on a blue background, you will notice light blue pixels appearing at the border between the two areas. The end result is that letters no longer have a blocky appearance. In most circumstances, anti-alias is the best choice for text.

Layers

More advanced graphics pro­grams such as Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop allow you to paste text into a new layer. This can be a handy technique if you need to apply special effects to the letters such as rotation, distortion or filters. More importantly, by placing the text into its own layer, you can easily make alterations or corrections without affecting the rest of the image.

Stroke and fill

These two general terms describe the way colours are applied to an object or text. Stroke refers to the outline of the image, such as the line used to draw a circle; fill is the space within an object. Both can have different textures, patterns and other styles. For text, stroke and fill give increased control over the characters. For example you can create yellow words with a black outline - this can be a handy for adding captions or sub-titles over the top of multi-coloured backgrounds. Without the black stroke, the letters could easily disappear into any yellow parts of the background. Note that most text is simply filled, with no stroke - going overboard with these options can ruin an image.

Stencilling

There is an almost-hidden trick in programs such as Paint Shop Pro that allows you to create letters as if they were cut out of another image (also known as stencilling). In Paint Shop Pro, click on the small ‘A' icon from the Tool Palette on the left. This activates the text tool. Using the cross-hair cursor, click where you want the text to appear (the text should appear to the top right of the cross hair, but check the paragraph alignment as this may cause the text to appear centred over the cursor or to the left). Pick a large, fat font and consider changing its style to bold. At the bottom of the window click the small button next to ‘Selection'. Type in your words to stencil and click OK. Instead of text, you now have a selection in the shape of the letters.

To create the stencilled letters, go to Selections-Invert. Everything but your letters will now be highlighted. Go to the colour picker on the top right and select a background colour such as black or white. Tap the key and only the letters will remain. -D will remove the selection marquee. A quick crop and your text is complete.

As an alternative, you can also copy the text selection into another image by clicking Edit-Copy, then open your new image and choose Edit-Paste-As new selection. Advanced users may want to experiment with layers for more detailed effects.

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Scott Mendham

PC World
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