Using Text “Over” Images


Presentation experts suggest a design style that uses large, impactful pictures along with minimal text. This is a good idea; in particular, it requires the presenter to deliver the message, not the slides.

There are a few practical issues with this approach; not the least of which is making the text legible against a complicated background image. This post will demonstrate a few techniques to assure that your text is clear and readable.

The first approach is to simply to avoid the problem. If you use stock images you will find some are available with space deliberately designed for “copy.” Since text legibility is also an issue for print media, it is not surprising that traditional sources provide these kind of images. Some stock image sources provide a search tool that can specify “copy space.”

Here’s an example slide using this kind of image:


Here’s another more natural image (one of my favorites), composed so that space is available for text:


You can also acquire stock images that feature elements isolated on a uniform background (sometimes called “cutouts”). You may be able to use “isolated” as a keyword to search for this specific style.

You can use PowerPoint or other tools to make the background of these images transparent (png format) and combine with other elements to get space for text. Here’s an example of a slide using this technique:


The woman’s face is the stock image; a gradient rectangle background and text have been added.

You can modify an image so that overlaid text is clear; this example uses a re-colored image with adjusted contrast and brightness:


Recent versions of PowerPoint include tools to colorize images and adjust contrast and brightness. Other low-cost software is also available with photo editing features.

Sometimes you want to use a specific image without modification. For example, the folks over at Acme want a testimonial slide using a specific photo of the customer’s facility. Here are a couple of attempts to add contrasting text to the image:


Using dark text against the lightest part of this image doesn’t work very well. White text in the dark corner is better for this particular image.

Your image may not have an area where you can successfully add contrasting text. In the past, I have suggested that using Text/Shadow or Glow will help in this situation. Here are two attempts:


The second (Glow) effect seems better here.

Another method that seems cleaner and more foolproof than text effects is to use a semitransparent (dark or light) rectangle as an “underlay” to clarify the text. Here’s what I mean:


This has become my preferred method but you should pick the location and degree of transparency carefully.

This method works especially well with longer text and complex images. Here’s an example (the folks at Acme did not want to edit the testimonial quote or the photo):


This example uses light text against a dark underlay.

So, here’s the recap:

  • Acquire or create images with open “copy” space.
  • Adjust color, brightness and contrast of the image to get text clarity.
  • If neither of these is practical, use a semitransparent rectangle between the text and the image.

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