zachleat’s Ugly Mug

Zach Leatherman

BigText Makes Text Big

11 January 2011 Read in about 3 minutes #5 most popular

*I like shortcuts: Fork BigText on Github or Check out the BigText Demo Wizard

It all began with a simple web foray to Designing Monsters. Their simple, typographic design was beautiful. But why? Their combination of the beautiful League Gothic font, use of Lettering.JS, and some simple font scaling gave the page a wonderful consistent vertical alignment. Like the Million Dollar Homepage, I wanted to rebuild it — but I didn’t want to spend a lot of time manually adjusting font sizes. So I did what any programmer with the jQuery Golden Hammer would do, I turned my problem into a nail.

At its simplest, the BigText jQuery plugin takes a single element and sizes the text inside of its child <div>s to fit the width of the parent element. Gives the text that lovely vertical alignment.

<div id="bigtext" style="width: 300px">
    <div>The elusive</div>
    <div>plugin exclusively</div>
    <div>captured on film</div>


Implementation Details

The plugin itself is more than just a simple font-size incrementer. I wasn’t happy with the performance of simply iterating through font sizes with a single fixed interval. I decided it would be better to test multiple decreasing intervals. For each line, it increments first by 16em until it detects a line break, backs off an interval then increments by 8em. It continues with 4em, 2em, 1em, 0.1em, until it finds the correct font-size to the nearest hundredth of an em. It’s noteworthy that Webkit does not respect font-sizes to the nearest hundredth, it’s precision is maxed out at tenths. This algorithm results in fewer tests in most cases, especially where the resulting font-size will be very large. Performance is always important. After font-size, it moves to word-spacing as a backup for extra precision, especially needed on Webkit.

The BigText Demo Wizard

This is where the magic happens.

Turns out, the BigText Demo Wizard makes for really easy Kinetic Typography screencasts (not amazing, but surely easy):

The above is simply the manual process of typing lyrics into the BigText Demo Wizard. You can easily make one of these too, with the help of the following keyboard shortcuts:

  • CTRL + ALT + X: Set the text to a random 3D transform angle.
  • CTRL + ALT + C: Toggles between white and black background.
  • CTRL + ALT + R: Reset 3D to default state.
  • CTRL + ALT + SPACE: Fade out current text, clears the text, sets a random 3D transform angle, ready to type!
  • CTRL + ALT + ENTER: Same as CTRL + ALT + SPACE, but keeps the same 3D transform angle.

The fun part about the BigText Demo Wizard for me was that it almost turned into a non-musical instrument when I used it real-time to complement music. Feel free to cruise Pandora and type lyrics to the music until your wrists get sore. What can you make with it?

The BigText Demo Wizard was tested manually in Safari 5, Chrome 8, Opera 11, Firefox 3.6, and Internet Explorer 8. The BigText jQuery plugin has a full JsTestDriver suite, available on GitHub. Just run ./ or test.bat