This article will go a long way to banishing the disappointment involved with preparing graphics in Photoshop for TV/Monitor output, and on that you have my personal guarantee. In fact, if you don't see an improvement then you can track me down and I'll take you out to dinner to make up for it.
One thing to always do first is create a Photoshop document that matches the codec standards of the edit you're working for. This might be something you know if not, ask someone who does.
Never start with the Graphic you intend to use on TV, instead always open a new image that is set up for the correct codec standard.
From the New Document Preset options choose Film/TV, then select the correct Preset from the drop-down menu. For this article I am working with DVCProHD 1080p50. Doing this ensures that your image is the correct size, resolution (all TV images are 72 dpi) and also the right Pixel Aspect Ratio for the edit your Graphic will be added to.
None of the Photoshop Film/TV presets automatically select a Color Management option, however you'd be better to do so.
For a Standard Definition Edit (DV NTSC/DV PAL etc) use SMPTE-C. For High Definition Edits use HDTV (Rec 709).
Once the Document Presets are done click OK and the document will open to look like this.
The background options are up to you. I prefer to work with a transparent background as it gives the editor more options around compositing your graphics into the edit.
Notice the Cyan colored guides around the edge of the screen. The outer line marks 80% of the total image and represents the Action Safe area of your Graphic. Put simply you should keep any key design areas within this area as they may be cropped on some TVs.
The inner line represents the Title Safe at about 60% of the total image. This area should contain all readable text for the same reason. These guides are very important and I'd recommend keeping them visible. If you want to turn them off at any stage however, choose View > Show > Guides and uncheck them.
Here I have opened an image intended for use as a Background in my Graphic.
What's really important to note is that this image uses square pixels, like any Photoshop image. That's great for PC monitors. TVs however, display rectangular-shaped pixels so as soon as you insert a Photoshop image into the edit, the TV will naturally stretch the image, causing the first major problem for us. To make things even more complex, different video codecs display different ratios of rectangular pixels!
Dragging the image into our new TV-ready Photoshop document however does a very clever thing: because I used a DVCPro HD preset, Photoshop CS5 already compensated for the pixel shape mismatch! Good Photoshop.
To see exactly how clever Photoshop CS5 is, go to View > Pixel Aspect Ratio Conversion and switch it off. The original square pixel image is revealed in all its terrifying glory. Photoshop adjusts all images now added to this document and transforms its pixel shape as appropriate to compensate for the TV screen pixel shape. Brilliant!
Keep adding more layers to the TV-friendly document until your design is nearly ready, then we're going to have to do a terrible thing!
TV signals have a restricted luminance range. Instead of Photoshop's usual range of 0 for Black and 255 for White, TV signals use 16 for Black and 235 for White. To best limit your image's range to 16-235, add a Levels Adjustment Layer.
Open the Panel named Adjustments and click on Levels.
Make sure the Levels Adjustment Layer is above all other layers in the layers panel so that it affects them all. Then, set the output sliders up to 16 for Black and 235 for White.
It will make the image much less vibrant, however it will help keep your image looking the same on both platforms.
As with Luma, Color on TV has a narrower range and should also be restricted to a maximum 235.
You may find that adding a filter named NTSC Colors (Filters > NTSC Color) to each image will produce this fine, however I think it best to go in and make sure.
To help with this, switch on the Info Panel (Window > Information). This will show you levels of RGB color.
Move your cursor around any brightly colored areas of your image, keeping an eye out for anything over 235.
Adding a second Adjustment Layer, this time using Hue and Saturation enables the reduction of any overly saturated colors.
Use the master layer to reduce over all saturation layers, keep using the info Panel to measure the more saturated areas until they measure 235 or less.
Red and Blue can prove a little trickier for TV signals to handle and might benefit from being reduced further than 235, to as much as 180.
Using the same Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer, change the Channel selector to Blue and reduce the saturation of intense Blue areas further. Do the same with Reds.
As you can see, reducing colors and luminance so dramatically results in a considerable reduction in quality, in Photoshop at least. Bear in mind however that the image is being created for TV where it will look much better.
While images on the Computer Screen can display even the finest lines and strokes crisp and sharp, TVs struggle with thin non-horizontal lines, making them appear stepped. Nowhere is this more apparent than with text, particularly Serif fonts.
To get the best results from text, stick to the following:
You may well be tempted to flatten all your layers and export a JPEG, but to ensure a better result, and give an editor more options to use with your Graphic, try and stick to using .psd instead.
A layered .psd will be accepted by After Effects, Premiere, FCP7 and Motion 5 to name just some. The benefit being that each layer will open in the editor as a separate video track or Layer. This would enable the editor to add movement to the graphics, for example.
One thing to bear in mind is what can happen to Photoshop Layer Styles once they get into an edit package: they can get left behind. To prevent this, Flatten all layer styles first.
In the image above I have added an Outer Glow layer Style to the layers that require flattening.
Create a new layer below the Styled Layer, select the stylized layer and choose Merge Down or press Command-E.
Your Image is now ready for importing into an Editing software, and you can rest assured that the final result you will see on the TV screen will be a much closer match to the one you created on your computer. It may seem like a strange concept to have to make an image look worse in order for it to look better but when it's for TV, thats just what you have to do.