Yes, the 3D text in Final Cut Pro X is amazing, but it is not a one-click solution to getting good looking text. We take a look at ten tips that should help to make your words on screen look good and avoid some common mistakes.
There is no doubt that good typography is hard. That's why there are graphic designers who do nothing but concentrate on the design and layout of text.
The days of molten metal and Linotype machines are long gone, but that doesn't mean that we can't apply some old basic rules and guides to laying out text, this time in an NLE.
So here's my top ten tips for making good looking, readable text in Final Cut Pro X. The examples are shown with the FCPX GUI, but the most of the techniques apply to all editing systems with a character generator.
My pet hate is bad kerning and yes I shout at the television when I see text with incorrect spacing. It is also one of those things where once you have been made aware of it, you will see it everywhere.
Kerning is the adjustment of spacing between individual characters - not to be confused with tracking which adjusts the spacing between all characters at the same time.
Well kerned text should have the same surface area between each pair of letters or indeed numbers. Some fonts auto-kern, but still need a tweak to get looking right.
Take the name David for example as this is quite common in credits and shows the problem up well. The top name in the example below shows the text uncorrected. The second David highlights the different spacing between characters.
The third, kerned David shows an easier to read version where the character positions have been adjusted correctly. You can see there has been a lot of movement between the A and V, with not as much between the V and I.
Don't forget that good kerning rules should also be applied to numbers.
You will find the kerning control in the text inspector, but you'll have to twiddle down the Advanced disclosure triangle to see it. Place the cursor in-between the letters and kern away until it looks good. Move on to the next spacing and repeat.
9) Serif or not Serif?
Hang on a minute, what on earth is a serif?
A serif is a small extra line attached to a letter, indicated below by the red arrows on the image. They originated from the days when text was written with a brush. By varying the pressure and angle of the brush, these additions or flourishes to each character were added.
Serif fonts include Times, Courier and Copperplate which you should all find on a standard install of FCPX & OS X.
Fonts without serifs are called sans-serif and include the Helveticas, Arials and Lucida Grande for example.
With the current design trend for flat graphics, the contemporary thought for good design is to use san-serif fonts. Personally I think they are easier to read anyway and are my choice unless I'm looking for the old typography look of a book or newspaper.
8) All Caps / Small Caps
By toggling on the All Caps option in the advanced section of the text inspector, FCPX will capitalise lower case letters. These can then be adjusted in size to augment the full sized capitals at the beginning of words.
The All Caps (or Small Caps as some other NLEs and graphic programs call it) will probably mess around with the character layout, so kerning will be needed to correct the spacing.
In the example below you can see how the lower text has been emphasised by using All Caps. The serif font Cochin looks a lot more impressive - an example of where serifs work!
7) Keep it simple
Final Cut X 10.2 has amazing flexibility in its new 3D title tool, but that doesn't mean you have to toggle every available option on. Getting typography wrong is very easy and the more options there are, the easier it is to get wrong.
Don't go through selecting different materials for the face, bevels and edges. You might be able to colour every different aspect of a letter, but why should you? The goal with text is for it to be legible.
Likewise, animating the text spinning on its Y axis isn't going to do anything but shout amateur. Keep it clean, crisp and simple, unless your client requests a grungy look where you can go dirty, fuzzy and complex.
6) Not more than two fonts on screen at once
It is very easy to think that changing fonts on screen will differentiate between lines of text. It will, but it will look ugly unless the design calls for it. Imagine a smart, regular typeface accompanied by a handwritten font for example.
If you are going to use two fonts at a time, make sure they are very different so that they look completely different.
One trick here is to use different styles or weights of the same font. A good example of this is the 'Soft Bar' lower third that is preloaded into every copy of FCPX.
The top name is in Helvetica Neue Light, the bottom job title or description is in Helvetica Neue Bold.
But don't stop there, it still looks good if you vary the weight or colour on the same line. Take a simple name for example:
You don't need to butt up two generators as aspects of the text can be changed mid line. Just highlight in the Inspector the text you wish to change and then alter the font weight or face colour. Not that we recommend it, but you could have a different style for each letter!
One tip here. If you cannot toggle part of the text back to the correct weight, select the whole lot and change the font, then change it back. It should reset itself.
The alignment controls in FCPX are fairly straightforward. Chances are depending on the amount of text you have to display, you will probably use the 'Align text to the Left', 'Align text to the Centre' or 'Justify Last Left' options.
But what about a screen where you have to show more than one item or prices that need to be lined up?
To do this, we have to build a custom text template in Motion. I just right clicked on the Basic Title to make a copy and altered that.
Double clicking the text in Motion brings up a ruler above the text. Expand the margins of the text box out, then click on the ruler to add or modify tabs. Here I've set two left tabs and a decimal tab.
Save the title effect, return to FCPX and you'll find the effect in the browser. Drop the effect onto the timeline, then add your text using the Tab key to move to the next position.
The prices should align correctly on the right hand side as we inserted a decimal tab. You can also drag down the size of the text entry box in the Inspector to add multiple lines of text. they will of course all line up correctly!
If you need to move tab in FCPX, double click on the ruler icon in the top right of the viewer, you will be able to click and drag the tabs. Not too sure if there is a very clever way in FCPX to build tabs without going to Motion, but that tip even impressed me!
This can get complicated to build in Motion, so maybe we will leave the advanced features to another tutorial. It's a handy trick anyway!
3) White Space
The area around the text is as important as the text itself. So important for example that some company branding guides specify that no other design element can be within a certain distance of their logo.
You do not have to fill the 1920x1080 frame with text. Not only will a good space around text look better, it is actually easier to read. Think of headers, footers and margins, they apply in video too.
Don't forget to ask where the content you are making will end up. Broadcasters have guidelines about safe areas that text should remain within.
3) Go looking for extra fonts
There are thousands of free fonts out there, there is even a site called 1001 free fonts! Don't get locked in to just using the fonts supplied with FCPX.
It makes me chuckle every time I see a title from FCPX that has been used in broadcast without even altering the size or position!
With FCP7 it used to be the default plain Lucida Grande, with FCPX it is Basic 3D that shows you have gone with the first thing you clicked on. The pre-supplied templates are great, especially the 3D ones, but please customise them.
One tip here, if you do download a font, check all the characters before you embark on entering a lot of text. Some fonts have the odd funny character and some do not have the extras you might need such as currency symbols, punctuation or other special characters like a percentage.
Also corrupted fonts can be a big cause of crashes and slowdowns. Be prepared to remove or disable them using Font Book if you have problems.
2) If it looks right, it probably is right.
Trust your eyes. The text might say it is lined up, but depending on the first character of a line, it might look incorrect. In my old days of tape editing, I always used to carry around a chinagraph pencil to put small marks on a screen. A combination of that and working a vertical wipe on the vision mixer usually got things aligned.
Now we are in the digital age, things are easier, but I still hold up an edge of a piece of paper to the screen sometimes.
Is punctuation like a full stop really necessary? It might be the correct way to end a sentence, but it can look clumsy on video. Choose to display or not to display punctuation like full stops and then stick to it.
1) Check, check and check again
Better still, get somebody else to read all of your text through for errors. I am the world's worst speller and auto carrot has a good go correcting mistakes, but it doesn't catch everything.
Back in my tape editing days I made a 10 second holiday commercial that included a telephone number on the end. It took all day to make. We agonised over every element including the colour of the telephone number. We used Pantone settings, put the company brochure under a camera to match the yellow to a logo on a vectorscope, it took us hours.
The next day I got a phone call from the facility company who had had a phone call from the Ad Agency saying there was a mistake with the phone number on the end.
"But we spent hours getting the correct yellow" I said.
"Yes but the actual telephone number is wrong" the booking lady said.
Do not take any text supplied as being correct and make sure the client signs it off before they leave or the 3000 DVD run starts.
Peter Wiggins is a broadcast freelance editor based in the UK although his work takes him around the world. An early adopter of FCP setting up pioneering broadcasts workflows, his weapon of choice is now Final Cut Pro X. You can find him on Twitter as @peterwiggins or as he runs the majority of this site, you can contact him here.
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