A lower third is a fantastic way to display important information to your audience. Here are a few tips for designing superior lower thirds.
Unfortunately, many people new to video editing overthink the process and end up with distracting graphics. To help with this problem, we’ve put together a few pointers for creating lower thirds like a pro.
Whether you’re watching a YouTube video, a news broadcast, or a Saturday night game show, you’re more than likely to see a lower third appear on the screen. A lower third, also called an L3, is a non-intrusive motion graphic that displays necessary information such as the guest’s name, the location, or even a short sentence of tips.
It’s called a lower third because that’s exactly where it appears on the screen; on the lower half and in one of the screen thirds. There’s typically no wrong third to place the L3. However, you will usually find them on the lower left, sometimes on the lower right, but rarely in the middle.
You might wonder, “Do I need a lower third?.” For most circumstances, yes. They are necessary to introduce elements to the video without it being a detriment to the presentational flow. Additionally, you may wonder if you need the L3 because you may have introduced yourself already. Or, maybe the location is obvious (such as having the Eiffel Tower in the background)—so why have a Paris, France L3 appear?
However, it’s essential to consider a few factors. The person watching may not have fully heard your name (perhaps the TV is on mute). And conversely, not everyone may know specific landmarks (you may have a young viewer watching). Furthermore, the lower third can also house secondary tags such as your social media handles, which acts as a follow-through for the invested viewer and doesn’t require you to give a vocal call to action. Instead, you can focus on the subject.
What Should Lower Thirds Look Like?
As with most factors within creative applications, there is no set standard as to how your lower thirds should look. However, and somewhat contradictory, how they look will completely dictate how the medium is received.
Your L3 could be an elaborately animated floral lower third that introduces the florist or a simple text line that introduces a law official. Let’s run over the primary graphical elements that go into an L3 to make sure it correlates with your video.
Font choice and character layout are where you can begin to see the difference between a professionally designed lower third and one designed by an amateur. Readability is incredibly important for excellent lower thirds, so it’s essential to choose a good font that can be scanned. This means you’ll want to steer clear of both cursive and overly ornate fonts.
It would be best to think about how you will lay out your font on your lower third. A typical lower third will feature a name on top and a title below. Often, lower thirds will capitalize the text on top.
You’ll want to take a look at your kerning (spacing between characters) and fix any tracking issues. No matter the font, you’ll likely have to adjust kerning issues by hand.
Check out the example below. Notice how the default kerning produces weird spacing issues between the S, T, and O. You can fix this by custom kerning the letters.
You can usually get by with capitalizing the first letter of each word or keeping it all lower case for the description text. Your lower third text should be discrete, easy to read, and minimal. New designers tend to make their lower third text large, but it’s almost always more aesthetically pleasing to have small, simple text.
Most crucially, you’re going to want to make sure that your font choice is complimentary not only the tone of the project but also the brand.
When using a simple text line, it’s preferable to opt towards a simple fade in so the L3 keeps with the text’s classic nature. However, when you use shapes with text, you can look at possibly animating the L3. After all, this a visual medium.
Shape and Animation
An animated lower third certainly sings the song of a professional. However, there is a time and place for an animated lower third as you typically don’t want to distract the viewer, but politely inform them of the additional information. Lower thirds that use shapes, typically a thin rectangle, will usually have some form of animation instead of fading in and out like a text line.
However, this can quickly turn into a cluster of useless animations. So, you have to analyze if the animation adds anything not only to your project, but to the L3 itself. If the project is about graffiti artists, then a sprayed-on animated square and text would fit the bill. Yet if the video is about how criminals are being rehabilitated with a new program, a set of quirky squares would feel out of place. You want the L3 to quickly call your viewer’s attention, but not distract from the presented story.
A safe animation is to have your background shape gradually move in from a hidden matte layer (as seen in the GIF above). It’s non-obtrusive but still elegant enough to elevate your production value. You can find how to do this effect in the following tutorial (tip 5).
With any design project, not just motion graphics, color is incredibly essential. Color can tell your audience what to feel and play into positive brand messaging. This is especially true with lower thirds. While you’re likely to see a plethora of bright, colorful, gradient-filled lower thirds online, the best lower thirds use solid, intentional colors that support your story.
While it does all depend on the type of video you are creating, most professional lower thirds are just a combination of white or black and another solid color. When you’re selecting the colors for your lower third, it’s usually best to stick to subtle colors that won’t distract from the video you’re working on.
If you’re working on a commercial or brand video, it often makes sense to use the company’s established color scheme. For example, if we were to make a lower third for Shutterstock, we would probably use Shutterstock’s iconic red and white palette.
White or dark grey text is usually a safe bet for lower thirds. In my experience, colored text can be challenging to read, depending on your background video. Remember, typography on screen is different than typography in print; audiences will only see the text for a few seconds.
As you want your lower third to supplement the material, you don’t use a color that will distract the viewer. If you’re working with a brand, use their colors, or use complementary colors to those found in the scene.
If you’re unsure what color is complementary to those in the scene, I recommend using a color tool. There are many useful tools out there designed to help you pick the right colors for a project. One of my favorites is Coolors.co. Coolors lets you quickly navigate through a collection of color palettes using keyboard shortcuts. You can “lock” colors that you know you’ll be using in your final design. Once you find the perfect color palette, you can download a PDF with the hex codes.
NLE Vs. Motion Graphics Compositor
With the increase in content creation content, the popularity in lower thirds has never been more significant. As such, many NLEs have adopted lower third accessibility, allowing the user to stay in a single application. While that provides a sense of efficiency, does it help or stifle the creator?
Across most NLEs, you will find various built-in lower thirds that require your text input. These may be great for quick videos where the lower third presentation is of little importance, such as a work presentation, a holiday video, or a school project. However, you can also often manipulate these presets into your own custom lower thirds, or outright create your own. While most cross-platform software, such as Premiere and After Effects, have adopted similar tools, there are some setbacks in creating lower thirds in an NLE.
When you’re creating a motion graphic within an NLE, it’s usually within that one edit project. And although you can save your preset for later projects, the workspace is built for editing video, not the L3, which will typically be refined to a single panel.
The Resolve interface only offers a small panel to configure the L3. If you’re using a built-in 3D title, you could always jump over to the Fusion page for space, but that page has a steep learning curve.
In a compositor, such as the entire workspace, is designed to accommodate your animation, in this case, an L3. You’re able to control and manipulate the workspace in a far greater fashion than you would than an NLE, allowing for greater control and accessibility in designing the L3.
Suppose you’re creating an L3 from two to three elements in Premiere. In that case, you’re slowly going to start seeing several layers clutter your timeline if you have multiple lower thirds appearing throughout the edit. With a pre-rendered file straight from your compositor, you have the one file to deal with. It’s cleaner and more efficient.
Professional lower thirds have very smooth movements. This is because the animator has purposefully created smooth movements using a graph editor. If you’re not already familiar with a graph editor, it’s essentially an algebra-like graph that allows you to customize your object’s movements. So instead of your text or shapes coming to a hard stop, you can adjust a graph editor to smooth out your movements. The following tutorial from School of Motion shows us how to use the graph editor to create smooth movements.
Premiere does have a decent curve editor, but it’s not nearly as proficient as After Effects’ editor. Additionally, there are also several curve plug-ins available for AE.
There are many graphical plug-ins, such as Deep Glow, that only exist within dedicated motion graphic software such as After Effects. While designing L3s in Premiere is a possibility, it’s a restricted one.
There are numerous tools available for After Effects that can help take your motion design to the next level, and they’re just not available for use in a standard NLE.
While you’re going to get adequate to OK results in creating lower thirds in an NLE, I would recommend creating your lower thirds in dedicated motion graphics software. However, two years ago, Premiere received an update that allows you to import, customize, and use custom mographs with the essentials graphics panel. With this, you can create an empty preset within After Effects and then import it into Premiere Pro to customize each project without ever opening the file again in After Effects.
Ok, so you’ve just read through all of this, and as a video editor or videographer, you’re one thought is “I’m not a motion graphics artist, I can’t do any of this.” Well, not to worry. Thankfully, there are a variety of pre-built templates available to use.
You can find an array of lower thirds elements in the Creator pack (along with 250 other items). They assist by taking the hassle away from animating shapes with pre-rendered animated lower third shapes and lines.
Alternatively, you could purchase an After Effects template pack such as Anarchy from Rocketstock. This pack allows full customization of the lower third.
Important Technical Elements To Consider
With the factors considered above, the final aspect to acknowledge is more technical than creative, and that’s understanding the title safe zone.
As video is consumed on various devices and screens of multiple resolutions, it’s important to confirm that your L3 can be appropriately viewed without trouble on any setup. While the title safe zone is initially a broadcast first feature, as many video players, such as YouTube, have the play bar appear over the bottom of the video, along with the channel’s branding avatar, it’s essential to follow the principle for online viewing.
In short, the title safe is an area inside your image frame that won’t get cut off during playback. Likewise, some TVs and projectors cut off the edges of your video; if you place text too close to the edge of a frame, it might get cut off.
To help with this problem, all major video editing applications have title safe guides that you can turn on when working on lower thirds. If you make sure to place your text inside the title safe area, it won’t get cut off.
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