Tagxedo Blog's Blog

Posted Dec. 3, 2010   73830 views

How to Make a Great Portrait Tagxedo

Wanna make a Tagxedo with a portrait? It's certainly harder than using basic shapes, but it is so much fun once you master it. And I'll show you step-by-step how to do it!

The key to a good portrait Tagxedo is ... a good portrait. The B&W portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Steve Jobs are what I call ideal -- crisp image, highly recognizable even if blurred, clean background. But we often work with less ideal scenario (noisy background being the top offender), hence a little bit of preprocessing may be needed for best result.

I'll use a favorite picture that I took two years ago (say Hi to William!):

It was originally a 8MP picture, but I will be working with a smaller version of it (128KP, or 64X smaller), just so you know high-resolution is not a requirement. Clearly, the background needs to go. Fire up your favorite photo editor. You could have used Photoshop, GIMP, Paint.Net, or others, but I used Pixlr, online and free (http://www.pixlr.com/editor).

If your background is simple, just use the "Fill" tool to fill the background as white. For more tricky background, I'd use the magic wand to select, and use a white paint brush to paint the selection white. The magic wand is quite simple: Click to select, Shift-Click to add to the selection, Ctrl-Click to subtract from the selection, and Ctrl-Z to undo last action. After a few clicks, this is what my selection looks like (note: I dramatized the selection by dimming the unselected region):

and I'd paint the selection white (no need to be careful about boundary since only selected regions will be painted over):

After a few magic-wand-and-paint I got this:

Even though there are still slivers of background patches, this is good enough, or you could also use white paint brush to clean them up. I would say this process took me about a minute. Now, load the image into Tagxedo (Shape -> Add Image):

At this point, I would adjust the sliders until the shape looks good. For tricky images you may want to use the "Commit brushes" (see this tutorial). The secret is to make the blurriest shape while retaining the essence. I settled with this:

Click "Accept", and spin a couple of times. Portraits work well with themes with bright background colors, and "Any" Orientation. For portraits I highly recommend use hard boundaries (Layout Option -> Hard Boundary -> Yes), as it is especially important to perserving facial features. A word spanning across both eyes just doesn't work for me.

But hard boundary comes with a price. Many big words will no longer fit exactly (and won't show up), and narrow regions could be left unfilled. This explains why I prefer a blurrier shape to take out both small "islands" and "lakes". Here's what I get:

Pretty good already! Nonetheless, almost all portraits can benefit from a higher word count, since more words can better spell out the contours and outlines of the intricate facial features. Hence, I increase the maximum word count to 250 (from 150).

Moreover, instead of just using the default text, why not make it something unique? I like to just use the word "William", and use all the possible fonts, so I made the following change:

Load -> Enter Text -> William

Word Option -> Normalize Frequency -> Yes (make a nice size distribution)

Layout Option -> Allow Replication -> Yes (repeat the words so there are 250 of them)

Layout Option -> Font Preference -> All (use all fonts)

I got this:

Cool, isn't it? But let's say the goal is to get the best looking portrait, why not let Tagxedo work harder? Since I'm happy with the orientation ("Any") and the theme ("Aye Aye, Captain!"), I'll lock them, go to the history view, and click "Respin All" 30 times. By clicking the same button consecutively, Tagxedo knows that you want it to respin multiple times (instead of repeatedly cancelling and restarting). So I took a short break, and a minute late I got this:

Now all you need to do is to pick the best word cloud, and claim the credit! I like this following one (the fonts and layout) the best, but before I call it a day, I played with changing themes and colors within the same theme. I also considered using "Source Color" to capture subtle tones and hair color.

[The three images above have the same fonts and layout, but different theme: "Aye Aye, Captain!", "Shades of Gray", and color from the source image]

We are done! Aside from saving the image, I would also recommend saving the word cloud to the web (Save -> Save to Web) or saving an embedded XAP to your computer (note that Save-to-Web may not always be an option, for example if you use all fonts). If you wanna make your own T-shirts or mugs as gift later, you can simply reload the XAP into Tagxedo and go from there.

That's it, and enjoy!