Use these tips for adding text over photos to create stunning and effective designs that take your brand’s messaging to the next level.
Adding typography on photos is one of the oldest graphic design tricks in the book, but it’s a strategy that can all too easily go wrong. Illegible text, distracting backgrounds, a lack of visual hierarchy . . . these and other mistakes can quickly muddle your message and weaken your brand.
To avoid these common problems, keep reading!
In this straightforward guide, you’ll learn all the tips and tricks about how to do typography on photos—the right way.
Why Add Text to Photos?
From print flyers to Facebook posts, we all see tons of text-over-image designs every day. And it’s no surprise why: Layering text over photos is an easy, attractive, and versatile way of communicating any message (business or personal!).
For example, you might add typography on photos to:
- Add flourish and visual interest to an otherwise standard text-only message
- Make the best use of limited design space, such as a print postcard or narrow social media header
- Meet the specific requirements of the platform—for instance, Instagram, where photos and video can be uploaded
- Brand through typography via a watermark, wordmark, or text tagline over the photo
- Conform to audience expectations, such as memes (where photos almost always have text overlaid)
Creating text designs for your brand? Get more tips on building amazing collateral in our Small Business Brand Kit:
Best Practices for Using Typography on Photos
No matter why you’re adding text to photos, follow these text-over-image tips to ensure the best results.
1. Choose the Right Photos
High-quality images are a must for any design project, but “high-quality” means something very specific when it comes to effective text overlays.
Ideally, you’ll want to choose photos that:
- Have built-in white (or negative) space to accommodate the text
- Are not extremely busy or complex
- Reflect the theme, mood, or content of the text in some way
Stock photos are definitely the way to go here! You’ll have millions of options to choose from, allowing you to experiment with as many images as necessary to find a good fit.
2. Use a Legible Font
Even when chosen well, background images will inevitably bring a bit of visual competition to a design, so the more legible the font, the better.
Look for fonts with clearly defined letterforms and not super-thin strokes—there should be enough visual weight to the letters that they stand out from the background.
When in doubt, classic fonts like Helvetica, Verdana, Georgia, Open Sans, Times New Roman, and Roboto tend to work well.
Pro tip: You can also play around with the spacing of letters, words, and lines of text to make your design more legible.
3. Consider Contrast
As with any design, contrast between the text and the background is key—only it takes a bit more thought and intention when you’re using typography on photos.
It’s easy for letters to get lost amidst background images, so high color contrast is a must. (Get specific tips on achieving great contrast in the next section!)
4. Keep It Simple
With the background photo there to add visual interest, there’s no need for tons of additional flourishes. For the most attractive and effective design, stick to one or two fonts and as few words as needed to convey your message.
Let the photo do the heavy lifting!
5. Think About Different Screen Sizes
If your text-over-image design will be displayed on the web, keep responsive design in mind.
Your image will almost certainly size up and down depending on the viewer’s screen dimensions, and what looks amazing on desktop may become completely unusable on mobile.
Given this reality, try to avoid a scenario in which critical information is only provided in the form of an image overlay. It is a Google image best practice for search engine bots to read HTML. (This is good practice in terms of accessibility, too!)
Where possible, consider creating multiple versions of the same asset so that your design is effective at all sizes.
Typography on Photos: 15 Pro Tips with Examples
We’ve covered the theory—now let’s get into the nuts and bolts! Here are 15 ideas for effectively adding text to photos.
1. Use the Photo’s White Space
By strategically placing the text in front of the blue wall, this flyer looks great and is easy to read.
2. Pick a High-Contrast Text Color
With enough contrast, you can place text directly over the busiest part of an image and it’ll still work well. In many cases, white or black will be a great choice.
3. Darken the Photo
Add a dark overlay to any photo for an instant legibility boost.
4. Use a Strategic Gradient
Want something subtle? Try a gradient like this one, with the darkest and most opaque point right behind the text.
5. Put a Stroke Around the Text
A simple stroke works to make text stand out and to subtly reinforce the photo’s theme (tennis!).
6. Add a Shape Behind the Text
A quick shape makes all the difference! Play around with the shape’s transparency (like this flyer demonstrates) for extra visual interest.
7. Blur the Background Image
In this Instagram post, blurring the photo has a twofold effect: It makes text easier to read and it adds an elevated feel.
8. Make Text Decorative
If you’re looking for a splash of fun over your imagery (and don’t have a complex message to convey), try a decorative element like this repeated text.
9. Remove the Photo Background
If the photo doesn’t have any natural white space—or if you simply want a different look—try removing the photo’s background instead.
10. Choose a Simpler Photo
This photo evokes the right mood without having a lot of potentially distracting colors or subjects.
11. Oversize Your Text
This thin outline-style font would be difficult to read at small sizes, but sized up, it’s both legible and visually interesting.
12. Add a Drop Shadow
As this email header shows, a simple shadow behind text makes it stand out.
13. Make It B&W
By eliminating the potential for competing colors, black and white photos help maintain text legibility.
14. Use Multiple Photos
Who says you have to layer text over just one photo? Layer text across multiple photos for an interesting collage effect.
15. Make the Text Part of the Image
Instead of just laying text over the image, try weaving it into the visual story! A few hand doodles (and smart placement right over the t-shirt) make this text feel like a natural fit for the photo.
Ready to Add Text Over Photos?
With the tips above, you’re ready to master the art of adding text over photos. But remember this: Even the best text can’t compensate for a low-quality photo! Choosing the right imagery is foundational for a visually engaging and effective text-over-image design.
Looking for stock photos that actually work with your text? Find the right composition and color theme within Shutterstock’s library of 600 million+ photos.
With Shutterstock Flex, you’ll have all-in-one access to our massive library, plus the FLEXibility you need to select the perfect mix of assets every time.
License this cover image via Philipp Tur.