How to Make Text More Readable in Your Graphics

from the Glambeau Design School Blog


There are four main reasons for text visibility problems in design:

  1. Busy backgrounds
  2. Bad color combinations
  3. Poor font choice
  4. Too much text

Here are some techniques to combat each of these issues.




Try to use a transparent shape like a square, rectangle, or circle behind your text. You can draw attention to specific words or phrases by adjusting the size and placement of your transparencies. Don’t forget to experiment with the percentage in the Transparences panel to reduce or increase opacity of your transparent shape – sometimes it’s best if the shape has no transparency at all.

Dropshadow & Outer Glow Effects

Experiment with Dropshadow, Outer Glow, and other tools. Don’t forget that you can make adjustments to find the perfect balance of color, opacity, blur amount, and display spread for these effects.

Background Adjustments

Improve readability by reducing the opacity or detail of the background if it is an image or pattern, or you may decide to use a solid color or less complicated background. Make sure that color choices are intentional, align with your brand, and that color combinations have enough contrast.

Text Adjustments

What the Font?!

Sometimes fonts that are too thin, delicate, narrow, tall, abstract, or decorative can be difficult to read on a busy background or when combined with many other words. You may need to try out some other font options or only use that *perfect* but illegible font for certain words. Sometimes the standard fonts that are already in your library are all you need to communicate your message and still make huge impact. When in doubt, stick to your brand font(s) plus a tried and true serif or sans serif font (ex. serif fonts Bodoni, Garamond, Caslon, Times, and Georgia and sans serif fonts Arial, Helvetica, Frutiger, and Gills Sans).

Let’s Break Up

Don’t be afraid to break up text into logical chunks on separate lines instead of keeping everything on one or two lines. Doing so forces you to keep your text smaller than you need to.

Oh No, I’ve Said Too Much

You can also try to use fewer words in your message – often, less is more and a direct message is what will stay with your viewer.

Speak Up!

Set important words apart by making them larger, bolder, or italicized, or by changing the font or color of the word or phrase (or highlight with a shape or transparency!). You can also make adjustments to the spacing between some of your letters (kerning), between all of the letters in a word (tracking), or between the lines of your text (leading) to adjust how your message is read and how it fits the available space. 

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Don’t! Unless…

These techniques can be done well, but only if you follow the rules or break them; there’s no in between! That’s art, baby!


Add an Outline to the Text

Using an outline (also known as stroke) typically looks better and is more readable on a short message than it does on one that is more than a few words long. Make sure the most important words are legible and play with the thickness and color of the stroke to find the right balance for the effect you want.

Use a Ton of Words in a Small Space

If you really need people to read and understand your full message, it’s probably best to trim away any excess that you can. If your message is more about impact and getting an impression of the message is all that’s important, this effect can work beautifully!

Introduce Too Many Fonts

At this point, there might be more fonts in existence than there are stars in the sky (okay, don’t quote me on that one), but if your brand isn’t totally locked down to a specific set of fonts, you may find yourself at a loss for what to choose. Try sticking to your brand font(s) and if you must introduce another, your best bet will likely be a different but complimentary one, like bold and blocky + a script font, or playful, round and bubbly + a thin sans serif font. Don’t go too wild, though – a good rule of thumb for typography composition is to use only two or three different fonts in one piece or you may find yourself staring at your screen, scratching your head, and wondering why it’s “not working.”

That’s it! I’d say you’re more than ready to go try out some of these tips and see where inspiration and your ideas take you.


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