Scaling a Graphic to Fit the Frame Size

If you want your imported graphic to fit entirely into your image frame, you can select the clip once it’s edited into the Timeline and use the Scale to Sequence command to set the scale of the graphic so that it fits as neatly as possible into your frame size.

To scale a graphic
  1. Select a clip in your sequence to rescale.

  2. Choose Modify > Scale to Sequence.

    If the aspect ratio of your imported graphic doesn’t match that of your edited sequence, the graphic will not exactly fit the dimensions of the Canvas and will therefore appear letterboxed or pillarboxed. For more information about aspect ratios, see Video Formats.

    • If your graphic is taller than it is wide: There are gray borders to the right and left of the image in the Viewer and Canvas. The borders are not part of the image.
      Figure. Viewer window showing gray borders on the sides of an image that is taller than it is wide.
    • If your graphic is wider than it is tall: There are gray borders at the top and bottom of the image in the Viewer and Canvas. The borders are not part of the image.

Understanding Digital SD Video Non-Square Pixels

When creating graphics for SD video, you need to consider the fact that the digital video pixels are considered to be non-square (taller than wide for NTSC video, or wider than tall for PAL video) compared to your computer graphics program that uses square pixels. Non-square pixels are also referred to as rectangular pixels.

Note: Some computer graphics programs support non-square pixels, making it simpler to create graphics for SD video formats like NTSC and PAL. For high definition (HD) video formats, you can simply create square pixel graphics, which means designing graphics with exactly the same image dimensions as your HD format.

Reconciling the difference between non-square pixels and square pixels can cause a lot of confusion for beginning video graphic designers, but the best rules of thumb are to:

  • Use a graphics application that supports non-square pixels, such as Adobe Photoshop. In this case, you create your graphics with the proper dimensions and pixel aspect ratio throughout the entire post-production process.

  • Keep your destination video frame size in mind and follow the table in the section Frame Size Chart for Creating Graphics when designing graphics in your graphics application.

Note: There is no accepted standard for the exact aspect ratio of non-square SD video pixels. Different manufacturers may assume different pixel aspect ratios when designing their software. Fortunately, these differences tend to be very small, so in many cases you may not notice a difference between pixel aspect ratios of, say, 0.9 and 0.89.

Since every non-square video frame size has an equivalent square frame size that will look correct in SD video, it’s easy to create your graphics with a usable frame size. The steps below tell you how.

See Pixel Aspect Ratios in SD Video Signals Versus Computer Displays for more background information on this topic.

Graphics for projects that will be output to HD video, or for video that will be played only on computers and doesn’t use any captured SD video footage, simply need a frame size that matches the sequence frame size. No alterations are needed.

To create graphics that look correct when output to video
  1. In your graphics application, create a frame size that’s the square-pixel equivalent of the video frame size of your sequence.

    To select the correct frame size for your video format, see Frame Size Chart for Creating Graphics.

  2. Create your graphic.

  3. Do one of the following:

    • Save your image from the graphics program to your media folder on disk.

    • In your graphics program, first save your image at the original dimensions with a name such as MyGraphic_original (this is a working copy that you can always use to make further changes). Then, rescale the graphic from the square-pixel frame size you created it with to the non-square equivalent shown in Frame Size Chart for Creating Graphics. This makes the image look distorted in your graphics application, but it will look right when you output it to video. Save this resized graphic to the folder in which you store your media.

  4. Import your image file into Final Cut Pro.

    If your imported image dimensions match any of the SD digital video formats supported by Final Cut Pro (such as DV NTSC, PAL, or widescreen), Final Cut Pro automatically assigns the appropriate pixel aspect ratio associated with those dimensions. If you want to change the pixel aspect ratio, you can change the image file’s Pixel Aspect property in the Browser column or in the clip’s Item Properties window, as described in Working with Projects, Clips, and Sequences.

Frame Size Chart for Creating Graphics

Use the chart below to determine the frame size you need for creating graphics. For example, if you’re working in DV PAL (which has a frame size of 720 x 576), your graphic should have a frame size of 768 x 576 to look correct on an SD video monitor.

If you are using this format
The video sequence frame size is
Use graphics with this frame size
CCIR 601 NTSC 4:31
720 x 486
720 x 547
CCIR 601 NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
720 x 486
853 x 486
720 x 480
720 x 540
DV NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
720 x 480
853 x 480
CCIR 601/DV PAL 4:3
720 x 576
768 x 576
CCIR 601/DV PAL 16:9 anamorphic
720 x 576
1024 x 576
720p HD
1280 x 720
1280 x 720
1080i or 1080p HD
1920 x 1080
1920 x 1080

Refers to ITU-R BT.601.

Important: Final Cut Pro uses slightly different square-pixel image dimensions than other video and still-image applications. For the most accurate results, you can avoid creating and converting square-pixel images by using a graphics application that supports non-square pixel aspect ratios. These applications allow you to create and preview your graphics at their native resolution.

Pixel Aspect Ratios in SD Video Signals Versus Computer Displays

SD video images use pixels with a non-square (rectangular) aspect ratio, whereas computer displays represent images using a grid of pixels with a square aspect ratio.

Figure. Diagram showing the difference between SD video images with non-square pixels and computer display images with square pixels.

SD NTSC pixels are taller than computer pixels and SD PAL pixels are wider than computer pixels. As a result, a 720 x 480 pixel image looks different (taller) on an NTSC video monitor than it does on a computer display. For example, if you capture a clip of video with a globe in the picture, export a frame, and look at this frame in a graphics application, you’ll see something like this:

Figure. Diagram showing that the picture of the globe looks right on a video monitor but is too wide on the computer monitor.

The Viewer and the Canvas let you display non-square pixel video correctly on the computer’s display. You can choose this option by choosing Show As Sq. Pixels from the Zoom pop-up menu in both windows.

Pixel Aspect Ratios in HD Video

Uncompressed HD video transferred via an HD-SDI signal has pixel dimensions of either 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080. However, HD video recorded on tape is often horizontally compressed to reduce the data rate. DVCPRO HD, HDV, and HDCAM are three examples of formats whose native horizontal dimensions are squeezed. For example, 1080i60 DVCPRO HD is 1280 x 1080. 1080i50 DVCPRO HD is 1440 x 1080. Because of the discrepancy in dimensions even within a single format, it’s usually best to create HD graphics at either 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720, depending on your final output format. If you are uncertain which HD format you plan to output to, you can always be safe by creating your graphics at the largest size possible (1920 x 1080) and then scaling down if necessary.