The Lazy Blogger's Guide to Title Graphics

So, it turns out that title graphics are kind of important.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, then forgive me. I should explain. A title graphic (in my mental dictionary, anyway) is the picture on the top of a blog post with the title written across it. The picture just at the top of your screen right now, in fact. They matter because they literally go everywhere. If your blog's hooked up to Bloglovin', then the first picture in the post will automatically be attached to its title and your blog name, and show up in people's update feeds. If you attach them to your tweets, then you'll get on average 313% more engagement, according to Twitter. If you have a picture-displaying homepage, like mine, then title graphics are the very first thing that someone sees about your blog.

You want them to see good things. Right?

And I know that anything picture-related that isn't just slapping an appropriate GIF near some text is time consuming. I know you're busy trying to juggle everything else that comes with trying to keep a blog afloat. Me too. But in all honesty, it doesn't have to be as gargantuan a task as you might think.

You just need to know the right shortcuts.
Image reads: Shortcut #1

DON'T TAKE ANY PICTURES

I have absolutely nothing against blog photography, but you'll probably know as well as I do that it takes forever. Between placing everything in the exact right place, waiting for the light to be perfect and then taking shots from at least a dozen different angles, only half of which are anywhere near comfortable, a decent photoshoot has been known to take hours - and this is all very well when you need to update your Instagram feed or feature a specific book (or lipstick, or video game ...) on your blog. But 99% of the images you need for a title graphic are just going to be backgrounds. Is it really worth your time to slave over taking them yourself?

Then where - I hear you cry - am I supposed to find my images? I don't want to violate any copyright!
It can be tough - unless you want to go ahead and remix old images you took for other purposes - but knowing where to look is the key. There are a lot of websites out there which specialise in Creative Commons Zero images - this is a type of copyright which basically means the creator has waived all their rights in relation to it, so you can use it in any way you like, personally or commercially, without giving credit, provided that you don't imply the photographer is endorsing your blog / work. My favourite of these websites has to be Unsplash. Their contributors are all incredibly talented, and they specialise in high-resolution photos, so the detail is perfect for big images. PicMonkey, the free photo editor, also has a bunch of textures and overlays built into it that you can use for backgrounds or extra detail. (The denimy background of the image just above this bit of text is from their 'Paper Scraps' section, and they have a whole collection of buttons available to use too.)

Lastly, when looking for pretty patterns or pictures to put in the back of your title graphic, remember that they don't have to be relevant to the post you're writing. I went through a phase when every single graphic I made had to have something to do with books or blogging ... this was problematic not only because it's hard to find a wide variety of decent photos like this, but because it was cluttering everything up - something interesting but uncomplicated, like marble or concrete or ... I don't know, a tablecloth, tends to work a lot better if you want to be able to actually read the text.
Text Reads: Shortcut #2

EDITING TRICKS

Once you've found an image, you'll need to upload it into your photo editor of choice in order to mess around with it (uh, I mean create the perfect background) and then add some text. These are some things to think about in order to make your image sing really easily:
  • What dimensions do I need for this graphic? I know, it seems like the kind of step that you ought to be able to skip if you're being lazy, but it's honestly really important if you want to make something that looks good - not to mention that it's one of the easiest things to decide in the world. You don't need to know the exact pixel width of the blog template you're putting it on, for instance, because your blogging platform will probably scale it up or down accordingly anyway. Your options are:
    • wider than it is tall (as is best for most blogs and webpages), 
    • taller than it is wide (as is best for Pinterest and probably Bloglovin), or 
    • square (a good all-around dimension if you want to use the graphic in a lot of different places).
  • (And please, for the love of love, remember to crop your background image as needed. It's no use thinking "ok, this is what I require" and then making the exact opposite because you're just following its dimensions. Seems stupid, but ... guess who's done it?)
  • Can I use more than one font here? I will admit that it's a tiny bit more time consuming to separate out lines of a title so that the key words are in one font and the less important ones in another, but it takes maybe two minutes more than slapping the whole thing into one textbox on top of an image - and the advantages are numerous. You get more size control. It's easier to change the shape of the various lines to fit around any features on your background (like the laptop on the title graphic for this page). But the other thing is that it just looks nicer. It might be something about having my eyes drawn to the key words, or liking the variety, but I always find myself clicking more on posts with more than one type of text in their title graphic.
  • Have I got too many colours going on? Colour is great, sure. It's pretty and without it, your graphics would look kind of ... dull. But they clash big time if you're not careful - not to mention that 'less is more' is cliche for a reason! I like to use mostly monochrome plus the odd one or two highlight colours, but then I am the kind of person that appreciates grey. Finding whatever works for you saves a lot of time because you create a formula for yourself; that formula is a downright incredible shortcut for professional looking title graphics.
  • Am I done? Here's a hint, bro. You probably are. Less is more with these things (hush, I knoonce you've got the title written out, looking nice, you probably won't need much more. And it's much quicker to call it quits early rather than spending ages fiddling with filters and effects, then realising that it looked better to start with, anyway.
Image Reads: Shortcut #3

PRACTICE

I know, this sounds counter-intuitive. You're trying to save time, goshdammit, and can't I understand that?

Shush, peasants. I know exactly what's best for you and I'm your overlord anyway, so a) you should be smart enough to listen, and b) it's not like you even have any choice. After about eighteen months of this 'making graphics' lark, I can do one I'd consider decent in about ten to fifteen minutes. Sometimes way less, if I've got a specific design in mind. And I have invested a bunch of time in reading tutorials and working out how to use PicMonkey and just making lots of graphics, but I never sat down and intended to. I've just learnt odds and ends from hanging about in the bloggersphere.
I'd say that now I have the design speed, I've more than made up for my time learning the ropes. And to be honest, it's got to the point now where I kinda love it. I look forward to starting a new post because I get to be creative and make pretty things. (Plus, for some reason it requires less brainpower than typing. I like to use the time I spend designing to mentally brainstorm the post I'm about to write.)

Also? I have by no means finished learning. There's so much I want to be able to do, so many people whose blogs I look at and want to emulate (if only a tiny bit because I fancy inspiration, not copying.) I honestly believe that every time I learn, I make my blog a little bit better.

That's awesome.


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In the comments: Do you guys like designing graphics for your blog? Or ... is it kinda dull? Tell me what you found useful here, and if you've got any questions, please. Ask away.
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4 comments:

  1. Aaaaagh, okay, this is probably a sign from the universe telling me I need to use more graphics on my blog posts. xD Gifs are just so gosh darn easy, but I have liked designing various pictures every now and then. Maybe I'll try out a title graphic sometime soon . . .

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    Replies
    1. Ah yes, I recently took a job from the universe as head of blog-related signs ;-P Two years ago I probably would have laughed in your face if you told me I was going to enjoy designing graphics at any point in my life - and of course I still love my GIFs, but giving it a try can't hurt, right?

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  2. I usually use Pixabay for all my picture-y needs! (And rarely even bother with the editing and titles, tbh, it's just not my thing!) I have limited patience, and I'm not afraid to admit it! ;)

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    Replies
    1. Pixabay is also very cool - it's always my second call if I can't find anything workable on Unsplash for whatever reason. I just love how big a range it has!

      (And hey, if editing's not your thing, no worries. I do not have the courage to admit my limited patience.)

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