5 Mistakes You're Making With Your Words On Images

Putting interesting quotes, powerful text, and motivating blurbs on gorgeous images is HUGE in social media. As I've detailed in my ebook, posts on any platform WITH an image elicit a much larger response than posts without. Just think about the social media culture of memes and videos. Also think about your own behavior as your scroll quickly through a newsfeed. Images make you stop and take notice, and with the help of free services like Canva, it's easier than ever to put text on images and make it more engaging for your audience.

Unfortunately, however, there are common mistakes floating around that cause your followers to squint and run versus draw them in. So in this post I want to address those mistakes head on and give you ways to FIX IT. Because putting your words on images is too powerful to not get right.

5 Mistakes You're Making With Your Words On Images - and how to fix it! by Finicky Designs
5 mistakes you’re making with your words on images—and how to fix it!

1. It's unreadable.

No, really, I’m not being mean – I just can’t read it. One of the biggest issues with putting text on images is CONTRAST. The seascape you chose is beautiful, and the white text on the dark blue ocean – perfect! But notice your text is also on the clouds above the sea, and how it’s completely unreadable. It’s rare you can just choose one text color and have it work on your photo seamlessly. So, how do you fix it?

Blur your image. If the colors are similar throughout your photo, blur the image just a bit and your in-focus words will stand out!

Darken or lighten the image behind the text. And I’m not talking about cheesy drop shadows and glow effects. Use a low opacity paintbrush tool or burn tool in Photoshop and darken/lighten the image where the text is.

Poor contrast is one of the BIGGEST mistakes people make when putting their words on images.

Use multiple font colors. When I say multiple font colors, I mean TWO font colors. And they should both be in the same tonal range. When in doubt? Use a shade of black or white. Also make sure that where the colors break makes sense. Don’t do it randomly mid-sentence.

Overlay color onto the entire image. Your brand uses green? Then put a low opacity green colored layer over the image. Make it so you can still SEE the image, but have the color add unity to the entire photo and  get rid of those poor contrast issues. (Pst: That's what I do—see above.)


2. Poor quality.

Pixelated photos and blurry words are detrimental. It immediately says either that you didn’t notice, or you were too lazy to care… and that, my friends, has a reflection directly on YOU.

Find good stock photo sites that allow you to download high resolution images. There are many great free resources now-a-days such as Death to the Stock Photo.

Take and edit photos yourself. I know we're not all professional photographers, but often originality beats perfectly framed. 

Save your graphic as a png file. Sometimes jpg files get this weird bubbly effect around the text when you save them (usually due to not saving them at a high enough resolution). I’ve noticed that saving as a PNG file will result in a high quality graphic nine times out of ten.

Make sure your graphic is at least 72 dpi. You can check this in Photoshop by going to Image > Image size. Canva will automatically make sure it's at the correct res for you.


3. Bad font choices.

What is a "bad" font choice? Remember CONTRAST. Poor contrast fonts are typically too thin and too styled (as in – lots of curlys and fake handwriting loops). This list sums up quite a few "NO" fonts pretty well, too.  (Side note: I think Impact, Arial, and Helvetica are just fine font choices. They’re simple and to-the-point… us designers can just get snobby sometimes and critique perfectly good fonts to death.)

The simpler and bolder you make your text, the better.

Pair fonts with script fonts for emphasis. Have a word you really want to stand out? Put it in a clean, simple script font. Change the sizes of words with emphasis, and arrange them on different lines with different lengths. Be creative with layout—but don't forget, SIMPLE.

The simpler and bolder you make your text on images, THE BETTER.


4. Crazy glows and drop shadows.

Huh? Glows: those colorful, fuzzy outlines around your letters. Drop shadows: the dark shadow outlines around your letters. (Super technical definitions, clearly.) Each has its place—they weren't created inherently evil. But the mistake happens when these effects are no longer SUBTLE. Putting a dark shadow behind white text on a white background to make it stand out is a poor design practice you need to start avoiding.

Fix contrast. Usually you're using a glow or drop shadow effect to compromise with contrast. Fix your text/photo contrast with some of the tips from #1, and you'll find yourself no longer in need of glows and shadows.

Keep it neutral. Glows and shadows can be a natural occurrence. So if you really need to use them, keep them subtle and neutral. Never add a colored glow or shadow. That just stands out (in the wrong way).


5. No design discretion. 

You can learn every design principal and best practice out there, but at the end of the day – it comes down to you being able to step away from the personal attachment you have with it, and judging whether or not it's good design. Designers especially have to keep that in mind, asking ourselves when we’re done: Is this really good? Is it meeting my objective in creating it? (Pst: usually we hate it for several days before finding the right revisions to make it what it needs to be.)

Browse through the designs of someone you admire who has a strong following. You like their stuff for a reason (that’s your good taste talking). You don’t need to compare your stuff to a professional designer's, but remind yourself of what good design is, then take a fresh look at your piece.

Does it feel modern? If your graphic feels out-of-date (and not in the cool hipster kind of way), check your image and font usage. Is there something that’s dating it? And how can you fix it?

Is it within brand? Usually just keeping within your brand style keeps it within good design. This is why brand style guides are SO important! Check for consistency and that “you” factor. It should be noticeably there!


Putting text on images is TOUGH, and you know what? Practice makes close to pretty darn perfect. The longer you go at it, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. So stick with it!


Need help putting your words on images?

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