Guidelines for Great Text in FCP HD

Posted on by Larry

[ This tip was first published in the October issue of
“Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter.” Click here to subscribe. ]

This technique came from an email that Brian Dorr sent regarding how text looks in Final Cut. Brian writes:

I believe I’m running into a problem with FCP regarding text.  When I create a text for a sequence, It looks really sharp and defined…until I render the sequence.


Afterwards I get a lot of stair stepping.  Just doesn’t look as good as it did prior to rendering. Is this normal?  Does it look any better on a NTSC monitor than on my Powerbook?


I would like to see an article on how to properly add nice looking text to a project.

Larry replies: Brian, there are four things to know about text in video:

  1. It is always 72 dpi
  2. It is always bit-mapped
  3. Curved edges will always generate stair-stepping
  4. Fonts should always be checked on a video monitor, rather than a computer monitor

Having said that, though, there are several things you can do to improve the look of your text in video. And the first starts with how you scale (change the size) of your text.

Here’s an image of the letter “R” at 500 points in Baskerville. This screen shot has not been scaled, so you see it as it is displayed in the Canvas. The size of the font was set in the Controls tab of the Viewer.

Here’s the same letter “R” set to 100 points in the Controls tab and scaled to 500 in the Motion tab. Does the word “ugly” spring to mind?

This brings up the first rule of using text in Final Cut: Never scale text using the Motion tab, it will always be excessively bit-mapped. Always use the Scale setting in the Control tab.

That’s because when text is created and modified in the Control tab, it remains vector-based, providing the smoothest edges and least amount of stair-stepping. Once you switch out of the Control tab into any other tab, such as Motion, the text is converted by Final Cut into a video bit-map. Thus, all images modified using the Scale setting in the Motion tab simply change the size of each pixel, making the text or image looked even more bit-mapped.

When you scale text using the Motion tab, then render it, as in the image above, any existing stair-stepping gets further exaggerated because rendering is, among other things, conforming the image to the standard video bitmap.

So, when you are creating text in Final Cut, follow these ten rules for best results:

  1. Always use TrueType fonts. Final Cut likes them better than PostScript Type 1.
  2. Always scale and adjust your text using the Controls tab in the Viewer, not the settings in the Motion tab
  3. Avoid characters that have excessively thin edges, for example, “Didot”
  4. Avoid characters that have lots of fancy curves, for example, “Edwardian Script”
  5. Avoid characters that have thin little “feet,” for example, “Times”
  6. Avoid using characters smaller than 24 point
  7. Avoid coloring text with highly saturated colors
  8. Use fonts that are sans serif and solid, like “Arial,” “Lucida Grande,” or “Optima.”
  9. Increasing letter spacing often makes fonts easier to read
  10. You can use fancy fonts, just be sure to use them in large point sizes

Finally, never judge a font until you see it on a video monitor.

And, always put a drop shadow under text to make it easier to read. My favorite settings are Offset: 1.5, Softness: 30, Opacity: 90.

Hope this helps.

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4 Responses to Guidelines for Great Text in FCP HD

  1. Josh Benson says:

    Larry: As always, great tips. You’ve really provided some great stuff over the years. Thanks again.

  2. Excellent tips! I’ve often scaled fonts using the motion tab, but now I know better!

  3. Lisa Revelli says:

    For our 5 minute presentation, we crafted a 5 minute video that has stills, video clips, and stills with text overlays in FCP. When the render is done the text on the stills looked really *ra*py! Blurry and bitmapped. The text and image was comped in Photoshop and at 1920×1080 (72 dpi). We can’t figure out why! Help! We need to get this out!

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