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Designing Graphics for Video

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Most graphic artists think of designing for print. But there are great opportunities out there for designing video graphics, and you should know the rules and procedures that differ from print. Dennis Chominsky touches on the basic concepts to be aware of when designing for video.
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Most graphic designers have experienced designing for print. Over the past few years, many have worked with images for the Internet, but many haven't been exposed to designing graphics for video. If you might be thinking that this is an irrelevant topic and not an area that will affect you, think again. With the convergence of television and the Internet, with DVDs infiltrating the consumer markets, with everyone and their grandmothers attempting to provide streaming video on the Internet (whether the content holds any value or not is another topic for discussion), and with the cost of high-quality camcorders and computer-based editing systems being at an all-time low, many designers will start hearing the calls for developing graphics for video-related formats.

The hardest challenge I face when working with designers who have never designed (or rarely design) for video is to educate them about video: the rules and regulations; what works and what doesn't. We've all watched television or have been to the movies, so we are familiar with graphics used for these formats, but understanding how to properly design for them is critical.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of video, these rules are fairly inflexible. As technology improves, many editing systems can now work with more formats and control certain aspects automatically. Many aspects are just not so flexible, however. This article will cover many of the areas that designers need to be aware of as they develop for video.

Formats and Resolutions

Years ago, when I bought my first Avid system that ran exclusively on a Macintosh, the only type of file that could be used was a PICT file. It use to be a pain to constantly convert files from a designer who saved their images as some other file format into PICT files. Fortunately, Avid and many other computer-based editing systems, referred to as non-linear editing systems (NLEs), have developed systems for Macs and PCs. As the operating systems of both of these platforms improved, the door opened for these NLE manufacturers to allow their software to work with multiple graphic formats. Programs as inexpensive as Adobe Premiere to top-of-the-line Avid Media Composers can import (and export) a variety of different file formats. There are some systems out there that are starting to accept vector graphics (not just bitmapped files). One requirement that has remained the same is the resolution. Whether you are working with a JPEG or PICT file, NTSC standard definition video still uses 72 pixels per inch (ppi or dpi).


NTSC is a type of interlacing scan-line video format used here in America, as well as in other countries.

For print designers, who are used to working at 300 dpi or greater, this is typically considered high resolution. Designers have to remember to adjust the resolution before saving their files and turning them over to the video editor. On the other hand, video uses the same resolution as the Web—this low-resolution, 72 dpi image quality.

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