Word Clouds: Use them to create interesting graphics!

By Maureen Callahan

Word Clouds are images designed using a collection of words to convey ideas or information at a glance. Once a word cloud graphic is created, it can be imbedded in a website, printed on a T-shirt or used in artwork like journals and postcards!

There are free programs available online to help you create word clouds. Tagxedo is the most powerful web-based tool for creating word clouds, but it can be a little confusing to use at first!  For simple word clouds Wordle might be a better choice.

I prefer Tagxedo because of all of the options available. There are far too many options to describe in detail here, so I recommend playing around with it to see what you come up with. To get you started, I made this heart cloud in less than 30 seconds using words from our Postmark’d Art website!

Open www.Tagxedo.com and you’ll see the blue box shown below.

For the heart cloud, I chose the URL option (1), typed in “www.PostmarkdArt.com,” selected a heart shape, horizontal and vertical orientation (H/V), the “ChunkFive” font and the “Shades of Gray” theme and hit submit. Voila! A heart cloud appeared in a new window with a menu on the left hand side. You can go directly to the menu page by clicking Start Now on the opening screen. 

Now the fun with experimentation begins. Using the menu options you can change the look of your cloud.  The menu on the left hand side is fairly clear, but there are some advanced techniques that require play time and experimentation. Chances are you’ll love your word cloud and go directly to save but what’s the fun in that?

Let’s take a look at the menu options. Click on Full Screen (bottom right of menu bar under the shape) to see all of the options.

Load gives you additional ways to input words. You can upload a text file or paste words into the text box. You have the most control over the words in your cloud when you use either of these options.  The more often a word is repeated the more significance it will be given in the cloud. Include the words you want in your cloud and repeat the words that you want to appear the largest.

Save / Share / Print offers many ways to save, share or print your cloud file.

Options under Respins change the fonts, colors and orientations of your cloud in a random or controlled manner.  Click on the circled arrow next to one of the variables for a random change.  Click on the solid arrow to open a menu and select the desired font, theme, orientation or shape. Click to lock or unlock the current font, theme or orientation. Locked variables will not be changed when respinning.

Color randomly changes the color variation within the cloud using the current color theme.

Theme defines the background and font theme colors. Click the circled arrow for a random change, or click the solid arrow to select a color theme from the menu or to add a custom theme.

To add a custom color theme open the menu and click on Add Themes.  Input the theme name and colors, choose the background and click ‘add’. You must format it with the theme name in single parenthesis followed by the colors using the HEX code numbers, separated by a space.  For example, I created a simple blue and green theme by inputting the following: ‘Blue Green’ 008DE5 00E507 1F8923. HEX numbers are 6 digit alphanumeric codes that define colors.  Web tools like Hex Code Generator can be used to generate the HEX code that corresponds to a specific color.

Font determines what font is used in the word cloud. Click the circled arrow to randomly change the font or click the solid arrow to select a font.  Click Use Local Font to choose a font installed on your computer or click Add Fonts to upload a font.

Orientation changes the direction the words face. Choose from horizontal, vertical, a combination of horizontal and vertical, or any orientation.  Click the circle arrow to randomly change the orientation or click the solid arrow to choose the orientation.

Layout changes the location of words within the shape keeping the current font, theme and orientation.

All respins your cloud changing all of variables randomly unless they are locked.

Shape is where you can define the shape of your cloud. Click on Shape, then Invert and select a shape to create a cloud with the words surrounding the shape. Click on Add Image to upload your own shape. Click on Add Words to create a cloud in the shape of a word.

History stores images of all of your respins during that session. You can go back and retrieve a previous version of the cloud.

Word/Layout Options provides more options for modifying your cloud. Choose to include punctuation, numbers or common words, skip certain words, define layout rules and much more.

Let’s see what happens to the heart cloud when we respin the original heart cloud.

Theme respin – change the colors

Color respin – change the color variation within the cloud using the current Theme

 Font respin – change the font

Orientation respin – change the
orientation of the words

Layout respin – rearrange the location of the words maintaining the current orientation

All respin – change all of the variables
theme, font and orientation

Select a new Shape

Invert the shape

Respinning the original gray heart cloud through all of the variations to the inverted star only took a few minutes. Imagine what you can do using custom fonts, themes and shapes!

Here are a few applications where I’ve used word clouds.

I uploaded Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” and a raven shape to create the raven cloud for a bird theme postcard. My cloud was black and white so I used Photoshop to color ‘Nevermore” red.

We play cribbage at family gatherings. I wanted to design a cribbage quilt and used a word cloud to make the following image.  I uploaded it to Spoonflower.com and ordered a yard of fabric with an 8” repeat of the image.  I eventually made a cribbage quilt with 3 of my sisters but we didn’t use the fabric!

One of my favorite clouds was used on the back of my alphabet postcard, “E is for EEK”.  I uploaded a spider shape and the used only the word ‘Eek’ with exclamation points. The exclamation points serendipitously became the legs of the spider during one of the respins.  I added the eyes in Photoshop.  I’ve since tried, without success, to recreate this spider using the exact set of variables. Every word cloud is unique.

        Tips

  • To make a word bigger modify it using a colon rather than typing it multiple times . Entering “postcard:5″ is the same as typing postcard, postcard, postcard, postcard, postcard.
  • Only .jpg files can be uploaded as shapes.
  • Any custom themes, fonts and shapes that you upload are available only for the session, not saved permanently on the site.
  • Save your cloud at the highest possible resolution. I’d recommend a 16mp image. You can always reduce the resolution, but resolution cannot be ‘improved’ after it is lost.
  • Download 101 way to use Tagxedo from the Tagxedo blog for great ideas for using word clouds.
  • Google ‘word cloud tutorials’ to find You Tube videos on creating word clouds.
  • Respin to your heart’s content. Remember History saves all of your spins.
  • To keep words together separate words with a tilde (~) rather than a space. For example, ‘fabric~postcard’ will be treated as one word.
  • Add numbers and punctuation for interest. Click on Word/Layout Options and select “yes” so they appear in the cloud.
  • To skip a word, go to Word/Layout Options, select the skip tab and choose the word(s).

Now make a word cloud and put it on your website, postcards, T-shirts or quilts… wherever you want to make an impact!