A few months ago, I made my personal Instagram account “private.” Or as private as it could be, with 794 followers. I was tired of playing Report > Block > Delete with the daily onslaught of fraudulent accounts. But I also wanted to keep a public Instagram account, and to explore how Instagram might fit with my writing – not just snapshots of “whatever caught my eye today.” And while my “personal brand” as Queen of the No-Niche Niche is “eclectic,” I wanted a template to tie things together, similar to what my friends Sharon Hurley Hall or Ming Qian have been doing.
Then, I ran across an account called @100Words100Days. I loved the idea, but I also wanted to make it my own. I thought that, for Instagram, it needed more visual appeal. My first efforts lacked any sort of cohesive look and feel; later entries were more visually attractive at the expense of readability.
I quickly fell behind. No one said #100words100days had to be consecutive days, though, right? As I refined my ideas, I grew to dislike the earlier posts and how they looked in a grid layout. The more I looked at them, the stronger my urge to rip out all the posts and start over grew. Would anyone care? Would I lose followers? Most of my followers there know me well enough, by now, not to bat an eye.
So I took a step back and thought about this for a while. I made a list of my own, personal requirements:
- Visual appeal;
- Readability (I put visual appeal first only because it’s Instagram);
- Cohesiveness of design;
- Ease of creation, using a consistent workflow that can adapt to either PC or mobile device with minimal effort;
- Affordability of software.
There’s a reason designers and graphic artists are paid well. What looks effortless is anything but.
And I started to rip.
Here’s what I finally came up with – but as always, I reserve the right to tweak it over time!
Now, how to recreate this and make it easy to do in the future?
Sharon and Ming Qian both recommended Canva, which is available both on mobile and desktop. I know that Canva has many die-hard fans, but for me, it’s like Scrivener: I really want to love it, but I just don’t.
I was determined to work with the tools I had on hand, if at all possible. For the desktop PC, that was Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 (the full version is currently $99, or $79 for the upgrade, and is close enough to Photoshop without the sticker shock to suit me).
For my Android mobile phone, I wanted just one or two apps that could do it all and on a shoestring budget. I was able to narrow it down to File Manager Plus, Snapseed, and Add Text (by Gabo Apps). Sorry, all you Clubhouse fans; Add Text is only available for Android. All three are free; for a small one-time fee, you can upgrade Add Text and File Manager Plus to remove the ads. I generally won’t pay a recurring monthly fee to use an app. I will pay a reasonable amount for apps I use quite often or find particularly useful. I use these often enough that I was happy to support the developers and support folks.
I’m using Microsoft Word to create the text, using a shared document on OneDrive. That lets me count words easily, and seamlessly move back and forth between devices. Microsoft OneNote is another good option, but it was easier to get the word count using Word.
File Manager Plus
If you have a favorite File Manager app on your phone, already, use it. I use File Manager Plus when I want to create a special folder for transferring files to or from my PC. In this case, I used it to create one in my photo gallery called 100 Words. This is also where I will save the output from Add Text, rename it, and select it to upload to Instagram. To create a folder:
- Tap the overflow menu (upper right corner, three vertical dots):
- Select New:
- Type a name for your new folder:
- Tap OK (check mark icon).
I use Snapseed to edit the photos I take on my phone. It’s a powerful, free app from Google. Fear not, iPhone users: according to Tom’s Guide, there’s an iOS version that, as of 2017, might even be better than the Android version. See Snapseed Review: Best Photo-Editing App for Serious Photographers. I remember there being a fairly steep learning curve, but only because I was unfamiliar with the icons and UI design of Snapseed. I’d suggest grabbing the app, loading a copy of any photo, and experimenting with all the features of the app before trying to create a photo story for Instagram with it.
After opening a photo in Snapseed, you will see a menu across the bottom of the screen: Looks, Tools, and Export:
Looks equates to Filters in Instagram. Snapseed includes a few built-in filters, just like Instagram does, but also allows you to save your own photo adjustments as a Look. Before using Looks, you may want to do a bit of research, and ask yourself: Do my photos need any pre-set filters? What sort of effects would I want to apply consistently? Things like filters, color saturation, and focus can have a powerful emotional effect on the viewer. But you may not need to make may changes to your snapshots, depending on what and why you want to share.
- The 10 Best Instagram Filters for 2021 – unsurprisingly, digital cameras have reached the point where no filter at all is often the best choice. Read this to find out why, and what the next best choices are. I prefer to manually tweak my images, if they need tweaking at all.
- When to Use Saturated Colors – color has a psychological effect on the viewer. This article talks about how to appeal to the viewer’s emotions.
The main thing is to crop your image to 1080×1080 pixels, to prep it for Instagram. Crop is found under Tools.
If you like the edits you’ve applied and want to save them as a group, to use on other photos, tap Looks, scroll through the options to the right, and click the + icon. Type a name for your Look. You can select those settings from Looks, and apply them, now, to any photo you edit in Snapseed.
Add Text is one of the few free apps that has ever made me think, “How can I give you money? How can I give you more money?” This full-featured app is free – no need for a “premium upgrade” to add all the best features! They are all there, right from the start. The cost to remove ads is $4.99, and well worth it in my opinion. The cost to add additional shapes is $1.99. I added this – call it a “tip” for the developer and support. If all we wanted to do was “add text to an image,” Snapseed does that quite nicely. Assuming you are satisfied with the built-in fonts and styles. Other apps let you do this, too. No – the trick is in how versatile the Add Text app is, and the fact that you can create multiple layers of images and text.
To duplicate the look here, complete the steps outlined below.
The image above consists of a background (white), two images (one photo and one banner “overlay” in black at 65% opacity containing byline, tag, and website URL), and one text layer (title). I created the original in PaintShop Pro, then saved each layer to my phone and created a Project in Add Text using these premade layers. That simply makes it easier for me to create the same look (and spacing, more or less) on both desktop and mobile.
Do take note of your overall image crop size (mine is 1080 x 1080 pixels, for Instagram), your font choices, and your font size choices. One thing I wanted to do was to use the same typefaces I’m using on my website: Acme and Abel. I had no idea just how many fonts were available to me – so I suggested to the developers that they add a feature that would let users add free Google fonts. Within a couple of hours, I had an answer – just tap the up arrow under Format and search for them.
Here are the steps to do this, using only the Add Text app:
- To open the app, tap the Add Text icon:
- Select Background color. I chose white. Do not use Transparent (the gray and white checked circle) for Instagram posts.
- Next, you will see a blank canvas in your chosen background color. Across the top, from left to right: Back button; Pan/Pin/Fit (move, resize); Undo; Add Layer (same options are shown across the bottom, just below the canvas); Redo; Show Layers; Save and Share.
Use pinch-zoom to resize the canvas so that you can see its edges. This isn’t necessary, but it’s helpful in making sure that overlays and text go edge to edge and are centered.
- Using the + (top center) or the Add Layer ribbon across the bottom, tap to choose Shape. To create the image shown above, choose the square. Adjust the size and position of the shape until it looks like the image shown below. To do this, tap the icons – from left top, clockwise – Delete Layer; Adjust Height; Rotate; Expand/Contract (keep aspect ratio); Duplicate Layer; Adjust Width.
Slide the Opacity to 65% (or whatever amount you prefer) to allow the image to show through from underneath.
- Tap the + to Add Layer. Choose Text.
- Type the text you want to appear on the new layer. Tap the alignment button (top center-left) to cycle through left-aligned, centered, or right-aligned (relative to the text box itself). Tap the justification icon (top center-right) if you want text to have justified margins; tap again to return to ragged margins. Tap OK (the checkmark in the upper right corner).
- Tap and drag the text box to reposition it. The icons are the same as for Shape with two new additions: the icon at the right side of the box resizes the text box width without resizing the text inside the box, and Edit (keyboard icon at the lower left corner) lets you edit the text itself. If you use any of the other resize icons, you will also resize the text height, width, or overall size – but as an image. In most cases, it is better to resize the text using the Format options to select the font size.
- Across the bottom of the screen, you will see the text layer options: Style; Format; Color; Stroke; Highlight; Spacing; Position; 3D Rotate; 3D; Perspective; Bend; Shadow; Gradient; Texture; Opacity; Erase. Swipe this options ribbon right or left to scroll through all of them.
- Select Format. To locate a particular font, select Bonus or Standard. These are two different lists and are not searchable as a single list. My fonts, Acme and Abel, are under Bonus. You can scroll through the lists for visual samples of the installed fonts, or search for a specific font by name, if you know the name of the one you want. If you still cannot find the font you want, but have the .ttf file on your device, click the + icon to add it. You can find additional fonts at sites like fontsquirrel.com.
- Tap the font name to apply it to your text layer. Tap the star icon at the right to add the font to your Favorites.
- Tap the back arrow to the left of the font name to return to Format. Select the text you want to format – you can select individual characters, words, or the entire contents of the layer. Adjust alignment of text, apply bold, italics, underscore, or strikethrough. Increase or decrease the font size.
- From the text options menu across the bottom of the screen, tap Color. Tap white. You can also use the eyedropper to pick up colors from a background image or to enter a hexadecimal color value for more precise color selection.
- Repeat steps 5 through as often as needed. The example has three text layers: title, hashtag, and URL. To make it easier to reposition, resize, and add effects to text elements later, do not try to type all text into one layer.
- Experiment with other options to learn what each does. For the purposes of this exercise, this is all you need to do.
- Tap the + to Add Layer. Choose Photo.
- Tap Gallery. Browse the Gallery or File Manager Plus to the select the photo you wish to use over your Background Layer.
- Tap the Show Layers icon (second from the right, at the top of the screen).
- Tap and drag the = to the right of the layer name to move it up (towards the top) or down (towards the bottom) of the stack of layers. The image should be underneath the shape and text layers.
- Tap the Save and Share icon (upper right corner). Tap Save Project (you can use this next time, altering only the image and text as needed).
- Tap to open the Project you just saved.
- Tap the Save and Share icon (upper right corner). Share to File Manager Plus. Save to the folder you created earlier.
You may also want to view some of the Add Text Tutorials on YouTube.
Here are the two basic templates I created:
This is just the background, banner, and text (other than the title). All I have to do, now, is add a title and image to the cover, and add story text (and, optionally, a background image) to the story pages.
Here’s a second story I posted using the same templates:
The “boilerplate” and hashtags are also stored in, and copy/pasted from Microsoft Word.
Not only did I fall behind on the #100Words100Days challenge, I got completely derailed shortly after I’d written about half of this post. You may have heard that a little Arctic freeze hit North America – and smacked Texans especially hard the week of January 15, 2021. I’m in Houston.
And I’m fine. We were without power for 34 hours straight while night-time temps plummeted to 13ºF. Then we were thankful to be on rolling power – enough to warm the house up from 48ºF, at its lowest point indoors. We only lost water – due to pipes cracking and low power at the station that delivers us our water – but that only lasted about 4 hours. All in all, we were among the lucky ones. There are people in Houston, and across the state of Texas, who still have no power, no water, no food, and are – to add insult to injury – on a “boil water notice” (meaning that if they do get water, the pressure’s too low to keep it free of potentially deadly pathogens, so they can’t ingest it without boiling it for a few minutes first). Some of these people are seniors, or families with newborns or small children.
If you are looking for ways to help, I strongly suggest a donation to the Houston Food Bank.