Creating Graphics to Use in Menus

When creating graphics for menus, you need to be aware of several considerations. Some of these apply to all menu types, and some are specific to certain menu types, such as layered menus, menus with a still background, or menus using an overlay.

Using Your Graphics Program

DVD Studio Pro is designed to import a wide variety of graphics formats, allowing you to use almost any graphics program to create the menus and overlays.

Supported formats include:

  • Adobe Photoshop PSD files

  • PICT format files

  • BMP format files

  • JPEG format files

  • QuickTime image files

  • Targa (TGA) format files

  • TIFF (TIF) format files

Additional support is also included for files that conform to the Adobe Photoshop (PSD) format. DVD Studio Pro can recognize individual layers and allows you to assign them to separate functions in a menu. You can even use the same file for several menus by selecting the appropriate layers to use for each menu.

  • Layers for standard overlay menus: When creating graphics for standard overlay menus, you can select the layer (or layers, as is often the case) to use as the background and the overlay. In this way, a single file can be used in several menus, even sharing elements (such as a background image). To avoid confusion, assign clear names to each of the layers.
  • Layers for layered menus: When creating graphics for use as layered menus, in addition to the layer (or layers) that make up the background, you must create at least two layers for each button, one showing the selected state and the other showing the activated state. To show the normal state of each button, you can either build it into the background layer or create a third layer.

Tips for Creating Menu Graphics

Most of the following tips apply to all graphics programs. Several apply specifically to Adobe Photoshop, although similar issues may exist in other graphics programs.

  • Make horizontal lines a minimum of three pixels thick so they won’t flicker on TV screens. For the same reason, avoid using typefaces with narrow lines. Serif fonts tend to be more prone to flicker than sans serif fonts.

  • Be sure to use a filter that constricts the colors in the graphic to NTSC or PAL color space. To support broadcast bandwidths, NTSC and PAL video must use colors that are substantially limited compared to those your graphics program can create. Highly saturated colors create the biggest problems and produce the biggest disappointments when viewed on a video monitor.

  • Photoshop’s effects layers, transfer modes, and layer styles do not work with DVD Studio Pro. Be sure to flatten any of these before using them in DVD Studio Pro.

Flattening a Photoshop Layer

When creating graphics within Adobe Photoshop, you may want to add effects such as bevels, glows, and shadows to a layer, use the transfer modes, or configure layer styles. These Photoshop effects and modes are not supported by DVD Studio Pro. However, you can “flatten” them in Photoshop so that they appear in DVD Studio Pro.

Note: Flattening effects is not the same as using the Flatten Image command, which combines all contents of all layers of a Photoshop file (including effects) into a single layer.

It’s a good idea to use this procedure on a copy of the original file, just in case something goes wrong.

To flatten a layer of a Photoshop file
  1. Add a new empty layer immediately below the layer with the effects you want to flatten.

  2. Either merge or stamp the layer with the effects into the empty layer. Merging deletes the effects layer, and stamping leaves the effects layer in place (which can be a good idea if you need to make changes to the layer later on).

    • To merge the layer: Select it and choose Layers > Merge Layers (or press Command-E).
    • To stamp the layer: Select it and press Command-Option-E.

A bitmap image of the effects layer is placed in the new layer.

Understanding Pixel Differences in Graphics and Video

The term square pixel actually refers to the horizontal and vertical distance from a pixel to its neighbors. With a square pixel, the distance is the same in both directions. This distance is a function of the sampling rates, both horizontal and vertical, and the aspect ratio the graphic will be displayed in. Given the right aspect ratio, virtually any combination of horizontal and vertical sampling rates could produce square pixels.

Computer graphics programs are optimized to work with square pixels: When you draw a square, it has the same number of pixels in all four of its sides and looks like a square on the display.

Unfortunately, SD video is different.

Video Pixels

Standard definition video uses a 4:3 aspect ratio. No matter what the size of the display, the height is always 75 percent of the width. This is true for both NTSC, which has 525 lines in each frame (480 of these active with DVDs), and PAL, which has 625 lines per frame (576 active). Both standards also have 720 pixels per line when converted to MPEG.

To fit the 4:3 aspect ratio perfectly using square pixels and 720 pixels per line, there would have to be 540 lines in each frame. So for NTSC, which has 480 lines, the lines must be spaced slightly apart to fill the same area, resulting in rectangular pixels. For PAL, with 576 lines, they must be squeezed together slightly to fit.

The Settings pop-up menu in the DVD Studio Pro Menu Editor has a square/rectangular pixel selection that allows you to choose whether to view menu graphics as rectangular pixels (forcing a 4:3 aspect ratio) or as square pixels while creating menus. The Viewer tab also has the same settings. The Simulator always shows rectangular pixels, simulating what the viewer will see.

The real problem arises when you create your menu graphics.

Square Pixels in Graphics

Graphics programs use square pixels. If you set the dimensions of a graphic to 720 x 480 pixels (the NTSC frame size), you will notice that the drawing area of the graphic in the graphics program is not a 4:3 aspect ratio (it is a bit short). If you set a graphic to PAL dimensions (720 x 576 pixels), the drawing area you see in your graphics program is taller than 4:3.

Anything you put in the graphic will be distorted (either vertically stretched or compressed, depending on your video standard) when viewed on a video monitor. If you draw a square, it will look like a rectangle. In some cases, the distortion is not great enough to worry about, but in most cases you should build your graphics with the distortion in mind.

To compensate for pixel differences between graphics and video, you need to build the graphics at one size and then rescale them to the appropriate video dimensions, as shown in the following table.

Aspect ratio
Starting dimension
Rescale dimension
NTSC 4:3
720 x 534 pixels
720 x 480 pixels
NTSC 16:9
864 x 480 pixels
720 x 480 pixels
PAL 4:3
768 x 576 pixels
720 x 576 pixels
PAL 16:9
1024 x 576 pixels
720 x 576 pixels

Important: While DVD Studio Pro automatically rescales graphics that use the starting dimensions above, it is strongly recommended that you rescale the graphics in your graphics program. (Graphics that already use the rescale dimensions are imported without any rescaling.) If you rescale the graphics in your graphics program, they will appear distorted in the graphics program but will be correct when viewed in DVD Studio Pro as rectangular pixels.

Using Later Versions of Adobe Photoshop

Later versions of Adobe Photoshop, including the CS versions, have presets that automatically set Photoshop to display the graphic with 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios using nonsquare pixels. Even better, these presets include title and action safe guides. For SD assets, these presets include:

  • NTSC DV 720 x 480 (with guides)

  • NTSC DV Widescreen 720 x 480 (with guides)

  • PAL D1/DV 720 x 576 (with guides)

  • PAL D1/DV Widescreen 720 x 576 (with guides)

You can turn this feature off by choosing View > Pixel Aspect Ratio Correction (a checkmark next to this indicates when the feature is active).

Note: See Shape Aspect Ratios for information on how DVD Studio Pro works with graphics used in shapes, buttons, and drop zones.

HD Video Pixels

There are a variety of video resolutions supported by HD projects:

Square pixels
Starting dimension
Rescale dimension
480p (NTSC; 16:9)
No (anamorphic)
864 x 480 pixels
720 x 480 pixels
576p (PAL; 16:9)
No (anamorphic)
1024 x 576 pixels
720 x 576 pixels
720p (NTSC, PAL; 16:9)
1280 x 720 pixels
1280 x 720 pixels
1080i (NTSC, PAL; 16:9)
Yes (anamorphic)
1920 x 1080 pixels
1440 x 1080 pixels
1080i (NTSC, PAL; 16:9)
1920 x 1080 pixels
1920 x 1080 pixels

Note: HD projects can also use SD assets, which should use the same starting and rescale dimensions as in SD projects.

For the 480p and 576p resolutions, you use the same process that you would use with NTSC 16:9 and PAL 16:9. The 720p and the non-anamorphic 1080i resolutions both use square pixels. The anamorphic 1080i resolution is based on square pixels that are rescaled to 1920 x 1080.

Note: Later versions of Adobe Photoshop include presets with guides for most of these HD resolutions.

Important: You should always try to have the menu’s resolution match the resolution of the items it links to. This includes the two versions of 1080i (anamorphic and non-anamorphic). A noticeable hesitation can occur during playback because HD playback equipment needs to change its resolution to match each asset.