A lower third is a clean and simple way to display important information to your video’s audience. 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.
1. Designing a Lower Third
A good lower third design will give your audience the information they need without distracting from the story. In fact, if a lower third is done well, it can actually be a great storytelling tool.
Simple Design > Complex Design
Lower thirds can quickly get out of hand if you’re not careful. While you may be tempted to add in a bunch of moving parts, it’s best to use simple shapes.
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.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of motion design, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the term “title safe.” In short, title safe is an area inside your image frame that won’t get cut off during broadcasting. 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. As long as you make sure to place your text inside the title safe area, it won’t get cut off.
2. Picking Colors
With any design project, not just motion graphics, color is incredibly important. 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.
Colors can make your audience feel certain emotions, as illustrated on this color chart from StudioFynn:
By using some simple color theory, you can subconsciously send emotional signals to your audience via your graphics.
White or dark grey text is usually a safe best for lower thirds. In my experience, colored text can be difficult 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.
The Best Color Tool
There are a lot of good 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.
3. Typography Considerations
Font choice and character layout is where you can really begin to see the difference between a professionally designed lower third and one designed by an amateur. Readability is incredibly important for great lower thirds, so it’s important to choose a good font that can be read quickly. This means you’ll want to steer clear of both cursive and overly ornate fonts.
Use a modern sans-serif font like Helvetica Neue, Lato, or Avenir. If you really want to take your lower thirds to the next level, you can pair two different fonts together. This is known as type pairing, and there are a lot of really good resources online for choosing the right type pair for your project.
You should also think about how your font will be laid out 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. This can be fixed by custom kerning the letters.
For the description text, you can usually get by with capitalizing the first letter of each word or keeping it all lower case. Your lower third text should be discrete, easy to read, and minimal. New designers tend to make their lower third text too large, but it’s almost always more aesthetically pleasing to have small, simple text.
4. Tools for Creating Lower Thirds
Most NLEs (non-linear video editing applications) will allow you to create simple lower thirds. But if you really want to make a lower third template that you can be proud of, you’ll want to use a designated motion-graphics application. You can also bring templates into many popular NLEs. For example, you can import motion templates into FCPX and manipulate the text.
You can also use the Adobe Dynamic Link to import After Effects templates into Premiere Pro and manipulate the text. This is known as a live text template. The following tutorial from Cinema Spice shows us how it’s done.
5. Professional Options
If you really want to make your graphics shine, you can buy a lower third template online from a credible template site. My favorite place to look is RocketStock.com. RocketStock has dozens of professional After Effects templates. Here’s a quick demo of their lower thirds pack ‘Venue‘ in action.
Have any tips for creating awesome lower thirds? Share your thoughts in the comments below. For more info on how to use After Effects, check out this quick tutorial!