Friday, October 11, 2019

Create Your Own Stream Graphics

Creating graphics for your stream can be a harrowing process. There are so many things to consider that most people simply don't know where to start. This leads many new streamers to hurry toward commissioned work, or simply discount the idea of having graphics altogether. It's true- making transitions, layouts, alerts and other visual designs on your stream can be pretty daunting, especially if you have no prior graphic design experience. Despite all this however, I think being able to create your channel's graphics is an important step for a growing Twitch stream. It allows you to quickly come up with ideas for your channel, change them fast, and not pay a dime for it. They can go on to define your channel's identity, or lay the groundwork for future commissioned upgrades. And you don't need to be a master artist to create them, you just need to approach the challenge with the right mindset.


Even with no experience, you'd be surprised how
well you can do if you only try.

The two biggest reasons people shy away from making their own graphics are actually the same two reasons many people don't start their Twitch channels in the first place- a perceived lack of experience, and a perceived lack of equipment. We know you don't need either of those in order to start streaming, and the same is actually true when making graphics. You don't need to spend any money at all to wield powerful design software, and experience is not necessary if you're willing to put your mind to the task. In this entry, I'll refer to all image-editing software as Photoshop, as it's become a household name, but there are dozens of great free Photoshop-like solutions out there that you can use to great effect as well.

Experience in graphic design is nice to have, but if you're completely new to the process you still have many options. You can simply learn as you go, drawing inspiration from other channels or designs out in the world, or even lean into your lack of experience. One channel I enjoy has graphics made with intentionally hideous MS Paint spray can brushes. That streamer used their lack of design experience to their advantage to craft a really memorable and funny visual identity for their shows. There are many avenues you can use, as long as you're actually putting your mind to it. The only wrong answer is assuming you can't do it before you even try. There are two top-level concepts I keep in mind when making graphics: communication and iteration. Stick to these precepts and you'll go far.


This is the most important thing about any on-stream graphics: how well it communicates information. If you've been following along with The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you may be noticing a pattern. Communication is the most important point about every category of streaming, in one way or another. For your graphics, this is extra important, because most people will form their impression of your channel in the first few seconds of seeing what's on-screen.
Communication is important.

So where do you start? The big things come first. Things like 'can the viewer see the game?' It might sound like a no-brainer, but many graphical layouts can get overly complex, shrinking the game needlessly or covering important areas with pictures, text and other stream elements. Make sure you're always taking a step back and confirming that the game (or other main subject of the stream) will be clearly visible before moving on. Another huge point is whether someone can read what you're writing on screen. This is not always a given either- try looking at your graphics in different contexts. Maybe the text color you chose looked fine in Photoshop, but against various colored backgrounds it's illegible. Maybe you chose a font that's hard to decipher without really concentrating on it. It's important to be sure that the subject of your stream, and the text of your graphics are both clearly visible to the viewer.

Another big point to take into consideration is the size of the viewer's screen. Try to optimize your graphics for the smallest size screen that a viewer will be watching from. You might be able to see your facecam clearly in the 22" monitor on your desk, but how will it look to someone on a 5" phone screen, or someone who has your stream open in a small window on their computer? After seeing my shows on a phone, I ended up having to enlarge my facecam a few different times for this reason. Break your visual concepts down into an order of importance. Make sure the most important things, like your game, facecam and any text that you want the viewer to definitely see, are very visible on all size screens. Then any other stuff, like event lists, tickers, leaderboards and such, can be smaller.


Be willing to iterate when needed.
This next piece of advice is hard for many people to take to heart: just because your graphic is done, doesn't mean it's done. You should always assume you'll have to go back to the drawing board and tweak things several times before you're truly ready to leave a graphic alone. On my channel I've done this for layouts, panels, emotes, transitions, filters, anything and everything I've designed.

Be open to iteration at all points of your graphic's implementation, not just while Photoshop is open. Let's say you're making a new layout for your game Scene. Yes, you'll be shifting ideas plenty while you're editing your images- that's a given. But once the files are saved and ready to import, you may notice that the thumbnail doesn't look good, now that you see it at a smaller size. So you need to go back in and change it. Later, you're in OBS and you've added the new graphic to your Scene. But you see now that, combined with your camera, game or other graphics, the colors are clashing or the translucent background behind your text isn't opaque enough. So you have to go back in and change it again. Even after you've started streaming with this twice-revised overlay, you may be watching your broadcast after it's over and notice that certain parts of the game look bad with the overlay for one reason or another. So now, even after implementing the graphic fully, you have to go back and change it a third time. And so on. And so on. This is a natural part of creating graphics for your channel. Just like setting up any other part of your stream, you simply need to have patience. Don't be discouraged when you constantly have to go back and fix things- iteration is good for your overall level of production value.


As long as you keep the mindset of communication and iteration at the forefront when making your graphics, you'll do very well. The graphics you make now don't have to be perfect, because you can change them any time. That's what's so great about designing everything yourself- you didn't pay any money to have them commissioned, so there is no sense of loss when you get rid of them to create new ones. And you're able to pivot your channel on a dime, without waiting on turnaround times from any third party. In the beginning of your channel's life, flexibility and speed are huge commodities, and having total control like this will give you a big advantage.

You may even find you love the look of the channel designs you've made. I've created all my own stream graphics, emotes, panels, alerts and banners from the outset, and they've since become a major part of my channel's identity. I've iterated on each of them several times since I began my channel, but the overall concepts are still there, and newcomers still comment on how much they enjoy the designs. Yes these graphics could probably be a lot better, but I can take pride in having created them, and I know that I could change them at a moment's notice completely free of charge if needed. Even if I did want to commission a professional design, I'd now have a solid blueprint on which they could base their artwork. So give it a shot- try designing your channel's graphics yourself. You may just fall in love with the look you create!

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