A Custom Twitter Background can make a real impression and enhance your brand – but how do you make one? In this guest post post Hugh Briss from Twitter Image (a service that offers custom Twitter backgrounds) shares some tips on how to make your own.
I know what they say about making assumptions but I’m going to make one now and assume that most of you already understand the potential of Twitter, especially for those of us with something to promote. If you aren’t yet convinced that Twitter is going to do for the Internet what sliced bread did for the sandwich, I encourage you to spend more time reading Twitip. My job today is not to evangelize Twitter — which I love to do — but to talk about how to create cool Twitter backgrounds and show you how valuable the proper use of that space can be.
Generic is Only Good for Prescriptions
In addition to the generic Twitter background, Twitter currently offers 12 stock backgrounds along with pleasing preset colors for the elements on the page. You can also modify the colors of the overall background, text, links, sidebar background and the sidebar border. The first thing any Twit (easier to say that Twitterer) should do is change the generic background, unless you don’t like standing out from the crowd, in which case you can stop reading now.
Switching backgrounds and changing the color palette of your Twitter page is easy to do. Simply select "Settings" in the top row of links on your Twitter page, click on the "Design" tab and then either select a "theme" or click on "Change background image" or "Change design colors" and get creative. Don’t worry about goofing anything up. Any changes you make will not be visible to anyone but you until you click "save".
Themes are Good but Why Stop There?
Now I know that some of you will be perfectly happy with one of the themes Twitter has provided for you but there are still going to be thousands of Twits with the same background as you. It’s like going out in public wearing the same exact clothes as a bunch of other people — which is only cool if you’re going to a football game or a funeral.
With the holiday season fast approaching, this would be a good time to start looking for a nice Christmas-themed background, or Hannukah, Kwanzaa or whatever holiday you celebrate.
The best way to make sure that your Twitter page doesn’t look like anyone else’s is to upload your own background image. Those of you with the necessary skills might want to use Photoshop or a similar program to create your own from scratch. If that’s not a possibility, then there are other options. You can simply upload a photograph you’ve taken, for example. Another option is to find an image that will tile (repeat) in an appealing way. Search Google for "tile background" and you’ll find thousands of places to get them.
Colour Lovers is an excellent place to start if you want to make your own tiling background patterns. They also offer palettes that will help you pick colors that go well together so your Twitter page doesn’t look like you picked the colors with your eyes closed or let your 3-year old do it for you.
Twitter Patterns is another great place to find patterns for your tiled background.
Here are some pattern generators that are a lot of fun to play around with:
If you want to make a pattern from your own image there are plenty of tutorials out there and a quick Google search will point you to them. Once you find the tile section you want to use upload it as your twitter background and be sure to click "tile background" before you save.
Here are a few pattern backgrounds from Colour Lovers:
Another way to create a unique background is to use a photograph. There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind, though. For one thing, a limited amount of the photograph will actually be visible. Realistically you have a couple inches on either side of the main text area to work with. That means if you upload a cool picture of your kid playing with the family dog and they are in the center of your photograph, no one is going to see them.
If you want the photo to fill the entire background, the size of the image is also important. It should be at least 1280×1024 pixels in size and preferably larger. Depending on the background and whether or not it can be nicely blended into a solid background color or not, I typically use 1600×1200 and even 2048×1600 for some backgrounds. It’s not likely that folks with huge monitors stretch their browsers to fill the entire screen, but you never know.
It is possible to create a pleasing background using a photo that isn’t large enough to cover the entire area but I recommend blending the edges of the photo into the background to eliminate the harsh edges around the photo. Here’s an example of that technique.
File size is something else you’ll want to think about when you create large photographic backgrounds. Twitter limits the file size to 800k but I recommend staying much smaller than that or otherwise your beautiful background will take too long to load. In some cases I’ve gone a little over 300k but I prefer to keep them under 200k. When you’re saving the .jpg file, you’ll want to experiment with the compression percentage to get the smallest file size you can achieve without degrading the quality of the image too much.
Once you’ve selected your background, you may want to change the colors of the sidebar background and border so they complement the colors in the overall background image. Don’t pick a dark color or your text will be hard to read. You might be tempted to use white or light-colored type on a dark background but the problem is that if you use light colors for your text links they won’t show up in the upper row of navigation links.
I’ve added a section on my web site with royalty-free backgrounds which you are welcome to use or that might give you some ideas. All of the photographs I use to make these backgrounds are either royalty-free or published under the Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/ license and used with permission because I’ve added a credit line for the photographer.
A Picture Might be Worth a Thousand Words but I Want to Say More
Your Twitter background can actually work for you like a business card or brochure does if you use the space on the left side — and to an extent the top — to promote something. A professional-looking Twitter background also makes an excellent first impression and will help you pick up followers that might have otherwise overlooked you. Someone recently told me that the background we had done for a client "induced me to follow her". The way I look at it, you only have one chance to make a good first impression; that’s why they call it a "first" impression. Even if someone only looks at your profile one time, the results could end up being well worth the time and effort you put into creating an attention-getting background.
A custom Twitter background gives you the opportunity to tell someone more about what you do than you can in the 160-character bio you get to put in your sidebar. An obvious choice would be to use your logo along with a bit of text, perhaps something like, "Mention you saw us on Twitter and get 10% off on your next purchase". If you don’t offer a product but just want to promote your blog, you might want to use design elements from your web site and then add a bit of text about your blog along with the url and your email address. If you have more than one web site, a custom background gives you a spot to list them all.
A custom background is also a good way to let people know at a glance what company you represent, which is especially important if your company is well-known. For example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has a Twitter page with over 17,000 followers, but word has it that nearly 400 employees of Zappos also have Twitter pages as part of the company’s marketing plan. Since only one Twitter page can use the domain twitter.com/zappos, the best way for the employees of Zappos to let people instantly know what company they are with would be to use a custom background with the Zappos logo on it somewhere.
When you’re creating a custom background using the left side for your "business card" you’ll have to make a decision. Monitors with a resolution of 1024×768, which is the standard resolution of a 15-inch monitor, will shift the main center section of your Twitter page to the left more than a monitor with a resolution of 1280×1024 (17-inch or larger) will.
Viewed at 1024×768
Viewed at 1280×1024
I made the decision to work with a live area of about 200 to 225 pixels in width, which unfortunately means that some of the images and text in that area will be covered up when viewed on smaller monitors. If you decide that you want the promotional area of your background to fit within the live area on monitors with a 1024×768 resolution, you’ll be working with a width of about 120 pixels.
Although it’s tempting, it’s not a good idea to frame the main text area in some way like creating a border or placing something important like your logo on the right side. The problem is that depending on the size and resolution of the viewer’s monitor, the center section is not stationary, so your carefully planned background probably won’t look good to everyone. The same applies to placing something near the bottom of the background. It might look great to you but your picture of a tree that appears to be growing out of the bottom of your browser might look completely different to someone else with the same size monitor if they have multiple toolbars open taking up 2 inches at the top of their browser and moving your background image down 2 inches.
Do a Little or Do a Lot; Just Do Something
Whether you only take a few seconds to change the generic Twitter background to one of the provided "themes" or you take the time to upload a photograph or make a custom background, it says something about you. If you don’t care enough to change the standard Twitter avatar and generic Twitter background, what it tells me is that you probably aren’t worth following, and if you’re using Twitter to promote your blog or company and don’t have a custom background, you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity.
Please be aware of copyright laws and only use images and photographs that you create yourself or that come from sources that specifically allow you to use them.
Share Your Favorite Twitter Backgrounds
Thanks to Hugh Bris from Twitter Image for writing this post.
Have you customized your Twitter background? What approach have you taken?
We’d love to see your suggestions on great Twitter backgrounds – share them in comments below.