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Cutting-Edge Web

How to Create Custom Twitter Backgrounds and Choose Your Twitter Profile Picture

Photo by Pete Linforth

Every impression counts and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Sometimes it’s the smallest details that make all the difference. Your twitter profile picture is smaller than a postage stamp, but it makes all the difference between whether or not someone follows you. And it’s the image your followers see day after day in their tweetstream, so it becomes the image that shows up in their minds eye when they think of you.

A friend of mine has 61,968 followers. When he first started tweeting, he threw up any old photo. 20,000 followers later he tried to change his photo and his following virtually revolted. They were used to seeing him in a certain way and the new photo, shattered their impression of him… it took him weeks to rebuild trust with that new photo…

So how do you choose the perfect twitter profile picture? There are really just 3 main criteria:

  1. Select a picture where you’re looking at the camera and your eyes are clearly visible. As they say, your eyes are the window to your soul. People feel like they know you better if they can see you eyes.
  2. Pick a photo where you’re smiling. While you may think you look sexy with that snarl or pout, nothing is more relatable than a genuine smile.
  3. Choose an image that’s brightly lit and well-exposed. Good lighting makes all the difference between an amateur pic and a professional shot.

Many people make the mistake of scaling their profile picture to 128 x 128 pixels, which is the size it displays on Twitter. You actually want to size your picture much larger — 500 x 500 pixels — since Twitter allows you to click on someone’s image to see it much larger, and you’re going to want to show up crisp and clear in that larger size.

Finally, you’re going to want to export that image to a JPEG, GIF or PNG file that’s under 700 KB.

Now what about that Twitter background? That’s a lot of real estate you have to deepen that first impression.

From a business and branding perspective, having your tagline, logo or other graphic, plus key details and a call to action in your background is essential. A custom background allows you to convey more than that single profile picture and the paltry 160 characters Twitter gives you to describe yourself in your profile and the 140 characters you have to tweet.

Here’s an example of a custom Twitter background we created for a client recently @BeautyBreakthru

Notice the prominent call to action the left column and the 3 additional social media links inviting followers to go deeper into her online universe. Finally, the photo montage gives her brand a face and allows the background to scale elegantly to almost any monitor size.

To create a custom Twitter background simply follow these steps:

**Edit 12/4/12** New Setting Option! Twitter now allows you to pick your alignment. If you have already created your background following the process below, you have nothing to worry about. Your background should still work. If you haven’t created your background yet, I’d recommend choosing CENTER aligned.

With center alignments, you can now easily place content on both sides of your profile, instead of just one side. (My profile is still using the left-aligned setting.) With a CENTERED background, the same LEFT side visibility rules still apply to both the LEFT and RIGHT Sides. Meaning 20% of viewers see 279 pixels on the left side and 279 pixels on the right side.

1) Create a new file in Photoshop that’s at least 1600 pixels wide and 1024 pixels tall. The canvas size doesn’t matter too much as your background will auto-scale depending on the size of the web browser window. The most important part of your background is the left side column area.

2) You want to keep the left side column as narrow as possible to make sure it isn’t covered up by the central Twitter content. If you want 90% of your audience to see the full left column, you have to keep it to a measly 71 pixels wide. But if you’re OK with just 65% of your audience seeing the whole column, you have another 100+ pixels to work with.  Here’s a handy reference for sizing all your images for Twitter.

Twitter Image Sizes

Profile Picture:
128 x 128 pixels (resized to 48 x 48 pixels in the tweetstream), but we recommend uploading a 500 x 500 pixel image (just remember to keep your file size under 700 KB.

Background Sizing (or the visible space between the left edge of your browser and the content area):
90% see 71 pixels wide
65% see 199 pixels wide
40% see 242 pixels wide
20% see 279 pixels wide

Once you’ve decided on a left column width, create a guide in Photoshop so you can see how much space you have to work with. Simply go to View > New Guide. Then click vertical guide and set the position to 199 pixels or whatever width you want to go with.

3) Choose a neutral, graphical image for the right column space. I recommend a repeating element or image such as the colored dots in my Twitter background above or the photo montage in the Beauty Breakthru image above.

4) Arrange your left column and right column graphical elements accordingly. There is no specific place where the right column starts, since Twitter backgrounds auto-scale depending on the monitor size.

5) Save your image by going to File > Save for Web & Devices (then choose to save the image as a JPEG, PNG or GIF), then adjust the quality until it’s under 800K > Done

Congrats, you’re almost there! Now that you’ve created your background image, all you have to do is upload it to Twitter. Just follow these 2 simple steps:

1) Go to Settings > Design > “change background image” > Choose file.

Browse your computer and add the image you just created.

2) Click Save changes.

3) Preview your design to see everything looks the way you want it. Creating a custom Twitter background often requires a little trail-and-error to get right. You may find that you need to make small adjustments in layout or font size after you’ve uploaded it. It took me at least 7 variations before I was satisfied with how my background looked on my screen.

That’s it!

Remember, Twitter has over 500 million active users and remains one of the top 10 most visited websites on the Internet, so you’re going to want to make a good first impression here…

**Edit 12/4/12**

Twitter now allows you to add a header image, much like the cover photo on Facebook Timeline Pages.

If you want to add a header image to your profile, keep the following specs in mind.

• The picture needs to be under 5 MB

• The ideal size is 1252 X 626

• The text is centered in the middle of your account so you’re better off using an image that doesn’t have important data/details in the middle area

• The header image is not a replacement for your profile picture

Paste a link below to your custom twitter background. It’s time to show off what you’ve done!

You can check me out at @liveyourmessage

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome. Thanks for sharing this additional resource.

      Reply ·
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About the Author Marisa Murgatroyd

Marisa is the founder of Live Your Message, where she turns entrepreneurs into Online Superheroes, and the creator of Start With You where she helps people just like you to discover the business they're meant to build, not just the business they can build. At 4’11 and a quarter, she’s called the shortest woman in marketing — and that doesn’t stop her from having huge ideas. She’s the “go to” brand builder for industry luminaries and heavyweights such as Justin Livingston, Callan Rush, Danny Iny, Alexis Neely and Susan Peirce Thompson. Marisa helps entrepreneurs create a business that is authentic and aligned with who they are, to empower them to turn up the dial on their “inner superhero”, so they can be the superhero to their tribe, as well as in their own lives.

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