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Healthcare Insurance, Play Or Pay, And How To Bend Text Gently In Photoshop

October 22, 2012

Inside Counsel asked me to illustrate a feature story on the United States’ new federal healthcare law. It’s officially titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is frequently referred as Obamacare, especially by its opponents.

Most of the major provisions of the law are scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2014. The article focused on what the new law means for employers. In simplest terms: if you employ 50 or more people, you have to decide whether or not to provide (or continue to provide) healthcare insurance to your employees. If you decide not to provide coverage, you have to pay a $2000 penalty (per employee) to the federal government. In short: you have to decide whether to Play or Pay.

Here’s the page one illustration which set the tone for the article.

illustration about new United States healthcare act, PPACA, Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, showing hand holding two pills labeled Play and Pay, and pill container indicating that companies must choose one or the other when it comes to providing employee health insurance

It’s the kind of assignment I do best: attract readers by adding humor and visual interest to a complex, rather boring subject. Here’s a slightly larger detail image.Β detail image of illustration about new United States healthcare act, PPACA, Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, showing hand holding two pills labeled Play and Pay, and pill container indicating that companies must choose one or the other when it comes to providing employee health insurance

As you can see the illustration involves some text. The “Play” and “Pay” only required a slight rotation, but getting the text into position on the prescription label is trickier than it looks: the text has to fit the curve of the label– and the curve becomes more pronounced as you move toward the bottom of the label.

There are 4 lines of text. In a case like this, it is a huge mistake to try to “warp” all 4 lines into position as a group. There are too many things to control. Result: frustration.Β A much better strategy is to bend the lines one by one on separate layers, maximizing your control.

Another crucial step: rasterizing the text before you warp it.

What does that mean– rasterize the text?

Photoshop Text is vector-based: the smooth shapes of the letters are defined by paths. When you rasterize a Text layer, you convert the text to a bitmap image: the letters look just like they did before, but now they are just groups of pixels, rather than path-defined shapes.

Let’s take a quick look at why trying to warp text in Photoshop without rasterizing it first is a mistake. Here’s what the first line looks like if we just type it on the label. It clearly looks wrong, because it doesn’t follow the label’s curve.

image showing how typed Photoshop Text doesn't look right on curved surface and that you have to rasterize the text and then bend it along the curved surface using the Transform Warp command

It’s tempting to warp unrasterized text because all you have to do is hit a button. A little Warp Text dialogue window appears. You pick the kind of warp you want (the “style”) and adjust various settings to get the effect. In the Layers Window, a little Warp icon appears (circled in red below) to indicate that a warping effect is being applied to the
Text layer.image showing Photoshop Text Warp Window and setting options and the resulting effect on text which has not been rasterized

Our selected setting looks promising, but look at the result on the label. Definitely not right.image showing that using Photoshop Text Warp with its limited setting options often produces unsatisfactory result when you are trying to bend text along a curved surface

Time to rasterize the Text layer and try a different kind of warping.

Highly recommended: always duplicate your original Text layer first. If anything goes wrong, you’ll still have the original and all your settings: what font you used, the text size, etc– you will lose all that info when you rasterize the Text layer.

After duplicating: hide the original Text layer by clicking on the “eye” icon (circled in red below). Then select your copy, and choose Layer>Rasterize>Text from the drop-down menu. The “T” symbol disappears, indicating the copy is no longer a Text layer.

If you squint at the “PPACA copy” layer in the Layers Window (below), you’ll see a couple of black dots (red arrow): that’s our “PPACA,” now reduced to pixels, sitting all by itself on that layer.image showing Photoshop Layers window to demonstrate how you have to rasterize a Text layer before you can use Photoshop Transform Warp command

Next step: use the Rectangular Selection tool to select a fairly wide area around the “PPACA.”

Believe it or not, this is the most important part of our “trick”: not just selecting the “PPACA” itself, but selecting it and a fairly large area of empty space around it.

image showing marching ants selected area prior to using Photoshop Transform Warp command to bend rasterized text

Select Edit>Transform>Warp from the drop-down menu. A grid appears on top of the selected area.
image showing the warp grid that appears after you select an area and choose Photoshop's Transform Warp command

You warp the selection (the pixels contained in the selected area) by tugging at points on this grid: position the cursor, click and hold, gently move the cursor and watch the effect on the text. Don’t release (unclick) until you like the result (you can always Edit>Undo each tug on the grid). Repeat, moving the cursor around the grid to gently nudge the text into position.

I’ve used red arrows below to indicate the approximate places where I “tugged on the grid.” Notice how far away I am from the text itself– I’m taking advantage of the empty space surrounding the text. If I tug near the edges of the grid, I get a much more delicate (nuanced) warping effect than if I tug close to the text itself. I’m using the empty space to maximize my control.

image of Photoshop warp grid and how you can use the Transform Warp command to gently bend rasterized text

You might be able to nudge the text into position with just a few “tugs.” It might take a dozen or more. If the result is not quite right, you don’t necessarily have to Undo and start over: you can reselect the text and do a second Warp, using an additional few tugs to fine-tune text placement.

When do you stop? When it looks right. Then you repeat the process for any other lines of text. Here’s where I stopped for that first line:

image showing Photoshop text after being rasterized and bent using Transform Warp command

Is it worth all the trouble? A quick compare (below):

L-R: Unwarped text; warped text without rasterizing the Text layer first; warped text after rasterizing the Text layer first and using the warping technique shown above.

triple image compare showing straight unmanipulated Photoshop text, the same text after applying the hard to control Text Warp settings, and the same text after rasterizing it and bending it using the Transform Warp command

Here’s the final again, with all 4 text lines finessed (warped) into position on the vial label, one at a time, each on a separate layer.illustration about new United States healthcare act, PPACA, Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, showing hand holding two pills labeled Play and Pay, and pill container indicating that companies must choose one or the other when it comes to providing employee health insurance

What do you think? Ever found yourself reading a very dry or technical article just because the illustration made it look interesting? Do you have to be a little warped to take an interest in digital warping techniques?? Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2012 10:14 PM

    As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, Mark, I am a very visual person. When I was a print reporter, and later when I started my blog last year, I’ve always thought of what photo would best illustrate my story. I know that a great visual heightens interest and does draw readers in. Yours do so in abundance. Great work! They’re lucky to have not only a skilled illustrator, but also someone who can figure out all the tekkie stuff.


    • October 24, 2012 9:48 AM

      Thanks, Judy! I don’t like taking pills, but your delightful comments are always easy to swallow… : )

      It’s a pleasure to know you, and I thank you sincerely for all your kindness and support.


  2. Margie permalink
    October 22, 2012 10:23 PM

    It really does make a big difference! I’ll have to open up my ‘Simply Eggcellent’ photo and try warping the text properly. Thanks for the lesson.


    • October 24, 2012 9:51 AM

      Ah! I was sure an ace image editor like yourself would appreciate some of that nitty-gritty… : )

      And I think all your photos are eggcellent, especially your chicken portraits… : P

      Always good to see you, Margie– many thanks! : )


  3. October 23, 2012 5:16 AM

    Excellent! Very informative and educating too πŸ™‚ Thanks Mark…


    • October 24, 2012 9:56 AM

      Well, I know I’ll never be as good as you, dear Dolly, but I must keep trying– plod, plod, plod, thunk! : (

      Merci buckets, as we say here at the Paris Fire Brigade… : P


  4. October 23, 2012 6:21 PM

    Love your stuff… All I need is more time to play:) I look forward to following your blog.


    • October 24, 2012 10:02 AM

      Play… that is exactly the right word in my opinion. I do think we learn best when we play and experiment and otherwise try to see what works. And it’s important not to worry too much about each single result, trusting that we’re going to get a little better each time we do our best.

      Thanks for your lovely comment, and I shall certainly be visiting your blog as well. Always delighted to meet a fellow artist! : )


  5. October 23, 2012 8:18 PM

    Oh wow. I learned something new and cool. I’ll have to see how this translates to the GIMP, though, because I don’t use Photoshop.


    • October 24, 2012 10:04 AM

      Excellent– always good to pick up these little tips here and there.

      I had a leg that translated to GIMP once– but I’m OK now… : P

      Cheers, Jak! : )


  6. October 24, 2012 10:47 AM

    I am always drawn to illustrations – an image can say a million words and can be very powerful and thought provoking if done in the right way – I enjoy your images, I like your use of colour too!


    • October 27, 2012 8:24 PM

      Thank you very much indeed! That makes us even, because I’m a big fan of your images, namely the wonderful pictures you post on your bicycle adventures blog. They always add a great deal to your spritely and witty prose.

      Thanks again for pedaling by! : )


  7. October 24, 2012 9:46 PM

    Wow; that one I’ll have to ‘bookmark’ into my ‘how to do hard stuff in Photoshop’ folder. Very clever, Mark, and yes, your posts always delight!

    I am a visual, and the first thing to attract me is a picture or diagram, and then the text.. Also being dyslexic has caused me many difficulties with reading throughout my life (although, these days, it rarely hinders).

    I have always loved the ease of a good picture. The old saying ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ certainly applies for me; providing the image, and its message, are clear and precise… as yours always are..!


    • October 27, 2012 8:40 PM

      The hard stuff– yes, that’s the part I usually have trouble with. I’ve also been known to go astray on medium stuff and easy stuff… : (

      I did not know you were dyslexic. That certainly caught me by surprise. I must say, that makes all your accomplishments even more impressive. Really.

      I sincerely appreciate your wonderfully supportive comments– thank you, dear Carolyn! : )


  8. October 25, 2012 7:40 PM

    I was focusing on what I didn’t know…that the legislation was about employers paying health care insurance on behalf for employees as a ‘benefit’ or “penalty”. NOW, I realize why the private sector might still be whining and not understanding the true principles of public health care insurance.

    It doesn’t work that way in Canada and I hope it never will. My annual federal income tax like all taxpayers (and provincial) ultimately is pooled together and transferred/divided up to the provincial health government organization in each province to fund the hospitals, health care professionals, etc.

    Employers are not required by law to pay specifically on health care insurance for their employees. They can offer it as a benefit ..if they wish and there are all kinds of ways: % of dental care (ie. up to 80% with a ceiling cost cap), extended health care for specialized services but for a % ie prescription glasses, phsiotherapy ie. up $xxx.xx , usually under $500.00, travel health insurance, etc.

    But yes, my visit to my family doctor for 3 visits I had this year: a) annual physical check up including basic blood tests, b) my bee sting on eyelid c) 2 additional follow-up appts.

    the visits were covered by our health care system. The only “bill” I had to pay was some discounted medication. Under $20.00CAN.

    Sure there are sometimes problems in queuing..but right now I’m not needing that level of service.

    Thanks for your simple explanation of what Obamacare was really about. (Maybe oversimpification for a Canadian.)


    • October 27, 2012 8:56 PM

      Thanks, Jean. I really appreciate your offering your perspective as a Canadian.

      I may have led you astray. My post (and the magazine article I illustrated) only looked at one aspect of the new healthcare law; namely, it’s impact on employers who employ 50 or more people. The law is much more complex than that, and includes what is usually referred to as an individual mandate: individuals not covered by an employer are required to buy their own health insurance or pay a fine. You can read more about the law in this Wikipedia article.

      Just my opinion, but I think the law has two flaws which doom it to failure: despite its protests to the contrary, the federal government can’t pay for it (which means our already astronomical national debt will continue to rise), and the bill does nothing to control the ever-escalating costs of healthcare.

      Always good to hear from you, thanks so much for your comment!


  9. October 27, 2012 1:33 PM

    Wow! Whittling this topic down to a funny visual like you did Mark is simply amazing!! I don’t know very much about Photoshop but I do know enough to know that I’ve never known what rasterize was for! Now I know. You should be a teacher. You have a very natural way of taking complex things and making them easy! Not only did you do this with the assignment but you also did it with this tutorial! πŸ˜€


    • October 30, 2012 4:10 PM

      Gosh!– definitely one of the all-time nicest compliments I’ve ever received. Just tell me where to wire the money… : P

      Hey, you know it means a lot– thanks, Linda!! : )


  10. October 28, 2012 10:24 AM

    As always a clever illustration from you Mark! I found the text warping of special interest as I was using the very same technique this week for a logo design!

    Play or pay! That is the question as a certain Mr Shakespeare once mumbled #)


    • October 30, 2012 10:03 AM

      What?? You were using that same warping technique? I guess it’s true what they say, great minds think alike… : P

      That crazy Shakespeare!– amazing to think he was also an insurance guru, even if he did mumble into that big fancy collar of his… : P

      Great to see you, Mikk, thanks so much for stopping by! : )


  11. October 28, 2012 7:36 PM

    A simple result came from a hard work or perhaps complicated work. πŸ˜€
    I admire your work. πŸ™‚

    I love your idea! πŸ™‚


    • October 30, 2012 10:09 AM

      As always, my dear Inge, you are too kind– and I don’t mind at all!! : )

      Your support and good cheer always mean a lot to me– sincerely. Thank you, Inge!


  12. October 28, 2012 10:39 PM

    Superb tutorial.


    • October 30, 2012 10:34 AM

      Many thanks! Perhaps I’ll start calling myself Professor Armstrong. Naw, better not– I’d probably have to grow a beard or something… : P


  13. January 11, 2013 11:25 PM

    thanks πŸ™‚



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