Wordy Art: a Picture Worth 1000(+) Words




This will show you how to make a picture worth more than a thousand words (literally). I've always been a fan of large scale art that takes a collection of small objects to make a large image, and so in high school I created this self portrait using the text of Thoreau's "Walden".

Step 1: Picture

First, you're going to need a picture. Anything will work, but those with high contrast work the best. In highschool, I took pictures of my face with a light bulb right next to it to increase the amount of shadow.

I'm sick of my face, so lets use my roommate's.

Step 2: Tweeking Your Photo

Open your photo in Adobe Photoshop or a similar program. I have limited experience in some of the similar free programs, so for this instructable we'll be sticking to Photoshop.

First, Grayscale the image. Hint: play around with the contrast/brightness of your image, or Equalize the image to make the shadows and relief more pronounced.

After you are satisfied with the Grayscale, Posterize the image. REMEMBER HOW MANY LAYERS YOU DECIDE UPON. The less layers you posterize with, the easier the following steps will be. The more layers you use, the more impressive the effect will be. For this case, I chose 4 layers.

Play with your image until is just as your heart desires.

Step 3: Text

Now select the text you want your image to consist of. Keep in mind how large you want your image to be. As we format the text, the size of the entire selection will grow.

Open your text in Microsoft Word or a similar program. Remove all paragraphing so the text is uniform. I used a long exerpt (a chapter from Thoreau's "Walden"), but for this example I'll use something shorter, but of the same philosophical and poetic caliber, the lyrics to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, repeated.

Step 4: Format Text

Once you have your text, you need to make your page as large as you want your image to be. The original in the Intro is about 22" by 22". I used my high school's architecture department's printer to make a picture this big, but if your closest school doesn't have a large printer, I'm sure kinko's would be able to help.

Choose a page size and text size that will give evidence to the large image while allowing the text to be readable.

To change page size in word, use Paper Size under Page Setup in the File menu. In this case, I choose 12" by 12" and size 8 Times New Roman font.

Step 5: Inserting Picture

As a reminder, try to make the text just a few lines shorter than the entire size of the page (or the page just a bit bigger than the text). It may look unbalanced, but you can play with the margins at the end to make it look better.

Insert your posterized picture into your word file. Format the picture to be behind the text and to size of the margins (so directly behind the text).

You may have to format your page/font size a bit to make sure the image is large enough without distorting it.

Step 6: Change Text

Eventually, we are going to change the color of each letter, but since that would take forever to do individually, we'll label those letters we want to change so they are easier to identify later, in groups.

So pick a few text formats you can create quickly; for instance, those letters above the darkest layer, I'll change to bold (Ctrl B), those below the lighter layer I'll underline (Ctrl U), those under the even lighter layer will be in italics (Ctrl I). Finally, the lightest layer I won't do anything to ("regular").

Now go line by line highlighting and changing the text appropriately. Yes, I know, its tedious.

You'll note that the smaller the text the more detail you will be able to see. If you want, you can change the spacing between the letters and lines to bring the text closer together without making the text it is too small to read.

Step 7: Adding Color (shading)

No one wants a picture made of bold, italicized, and underlined words. We need some shading.

Once your entire text matches the underlying image in bold/italics/underline/whathaveyou, you can remove the picture from beneath the text.

Using the Find function (Ctrl F) we are going to replace all the altered text. Under the "Replace" tab, click the "More" button to expand the window. With the curser in the "Find" field, click the "Format" button and choose "Font". When the Font box pops up, choose your font and what format you want to change (bold/italics/whatever). Hit ok.

With the curser in the "Replace" field, do the same thing, but choose the font you want to change it too: i.e. if I'm finding all times new roman bold, I'm going to change it to times new roman regular, black. If I'm finding the italics, I'm replacing with regular, light gray, and so on.

Hit replace all.

Do this for each format. Try your best to have the shade of gray you choose match that in your posterized picture. (you may want to keep your picture underneath during this step, so you can see how colors line up.)

However: when you do your lightest color, you can't change the font to white, as then you can't read it. With 4 layers, I made the darkest black, the next darkest 75% gray, the next 50%, and the lightest (supposedly white) 25%.

Also, start adding shading with your "regular" font, if you have one. Otherwise, as you change Bold to Regular, and then finally change all the "regulars", you'll change everything you've already done. Remember our friend Ctrl Z...

Step 8: I'm a Cheater / Tips

You may have noticed in the last picture that the colored text did not take the shape it was supposed to. There are two reasons for this:

1. I cheated. In order to produce a concise instructable, I only formatted a small area of the picture instead of the entire image.

2. Changing from bold/italics/etc. and back again changes the letter spacing. This can drastically alter the picture. Here are some ways to get around this:

A. Leave them in. If you pick font formats that do not change the flow of the image, you can leave them in after changing the colors. So stick with bolds for the darkest areas, italics for the lighter ones, and stay away from underlines or strike-throughs that will leave scars in your picture.

B. Center all text Problems come when the change in format changes the spacing from left to right. Centering all text before beginning will make any spacing issues move outward, minimizing and damage.

C. Use different formats Bold drastically changes letter spacing, Italics less so. Experiment with other formats that you can use with the Ctrl pad to see what changes more or less.

D. ALL CAPS transitions between large and small font agitates the spacing problem. With all words in caps, or none in caps, less problems should occur. You can also use "all caps" as a format instead of Bold, for instance.

General Tips

Make the big image big, and the tiny text tiny. The larger the contrast in size, the more visual acuity and room for error you will have. In the one I've worked through here, the font was rather large for such a small image. Also, the bigger, the more impressive the effect.

Hang it in a prominent place! Remember to record how many double takes people make when they see it.



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    27 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Okay, I've tried three of the ways mentioned here in the comments section and I've decided This one qualifies as "ART" the others qualify as "craft" and they all have their strengths! thanks for all the really good ideas!!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I tried this technique and added extra effects to make a signature tag for a forum. The effect isn't as good because of the small size and my lack of color judgement. =/

    typography sig.png

    11 years ago on Introduction

    I know a better way to this effect, it's much easier and just uses Photoshop. To make it just open a document with 3 layers: your photo, a background and the text(must be the top layer, folowed by you photo). Then apply a mask to your photo with the text layer, delete the text layer and...tacham! Tips: Use a high resolution photo and document.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    uh and i almost forgot do this after you apply the desaturation and posterization...


    11 years ago on Introduction

    What a cool idea.....im gonna do my wife pix with a love poem(s).....because I love her.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    the gimp can do this as long as you have the aalib package installed on linux. it's a direct export to text

    i figured this was too simple and cool of an idea for me to be the first to come up with. That is really cool (and much faster), but you do loose some control with the text (like placement, spacing, exact color, and such) and i feel like this method (though comparably time consuming) produces a crisper result. Or, maybe i'd just rather be a struggling artist. really cool though!

    AdamKFalaco Soliton

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm going to have to agree with you. Text-image.com does not allow for blank backgrounds, and although you could use print screen and then delete all of the numbers, it's a ridiculously round-about way and won't give you the kind of quality that comes from manual labour.

    I don't think the pictures that that website does are anywhere near as cool. The website just take your imagine and essentially pixelizes it, using characters instead of pixels. I think part of what makes this art is that the text is a poem or song or something else of significance to the person in the portrait, not just a bunch of '1s' and '0s' I'm sure that photoshop could convert any color photo to '1s' and '0s' in color if it wanted to, but that's totally lame if you ask me. I'd much rather have the original photo than an image made of '1s and 0s'. In fact, I'd sooner use any of the photoshop effects (cubism, pixelize etc.) on my photo than convert it into a bunch of colored numbers. That's not art, that's cheese. So, no, the website does not do the same thing and the color is a turn-off if you ask me.

    no you can do text also, the 1's and 0's are only in the samples make one and you can change what it says, this can also do black and white and some other options I think


    12 years ago on Introduction

    that's cool but I'm thinkin' of using bmp2html application.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the step-by-step! I've been doing alot of vector art recently and have been looking for a new style to try. I thought of doing this exact effect, but wasn't sure how to approach it. :)

    2 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I really like it too! I'm going to give it a try, but I don't have much experience w/ photoshop and I don't have the program. But I do have the gimp. Can you maybe explain how to do the color selections and "invert" them to another layer? I've never done it before...I'm sort of a beginner at "the gimp". I do know how to do selections, but not sure how to "invert".


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I've been meaning to learn how to use the GIMP, but I've been lazy. Maybe someone else will come across this and write up more detailed, GIMP-able instructions.