I don’t think a lot of people who use Mac computers realize that they can create some pretty cool things without needing any fancy imaging software like Photoshop. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some Photoshop (of the Elements variety, of course) and I use it almost every day (sad, I know), but the standard ‘Preview’ program on Macs has some of the same basic functions….you can create just about anything with it too.
Chalkboard posters are all the rage right now, and they are deceptively simple to make. Here I’ll give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to create your very own chalkboard poster, whether it be for your little one’s first birthday, some holiday decor, or just a favorite quote….and I’ll share a free printable with you as well! Let’s get to it!
Steps to Make Your Own Chalkboard Poster on a Mac
These are the basic steps, and I’ll give more detail below:
- Download a chalkboard background and open it in Preview.
- If desired, download some fancy new fonts as well.
- Either select the ‘Text Tools’ option in your menu bar or select ‘Tools’ –> ‘Annotate’ –> ‘Text’ and type in your desired text. You can also change the font, size, and/or color with the menu bar.
- If desired, embellish with the rectangle, oval, or line tools, or add elements with dingbat fonts.
- Save image by selecting ‘File’ –> ‘Export’.
Download a Chalkboard Background
The first thing you need when creating a chalkboard poster is of course a…..chalkboard! There are tons of free ones available online in all sorts of colors and levels of chalkiness…..black, gray, green, brown, etc. and they have varying degrees of chalk residue/eraser strokes on them.
It’s all personal preference on what look you’re going for, so find one that suits your tastes. (Also, if you want, there are of course chalkboards available for purchase online, but I’m all about free so it’s Google to the rescue!)
The easiest way to find a free one is to do a simple Google image search. Just go to Google and search for “free chalkboard background” and then filter the results by clicking on the “Images” menu option at the top. You’ll want a large file size, especially if you’re looking to print out your creation, so filter the results further by selecting “High Resolution” images (you could also save yourself a couple steps and just search for “free high resolution chalkboard background” from the get-go….but you may not need a large size depending on your project….it’s whatev).
Once your results are filtered, hover over the images with your cursor to see their respective resolution sizes. Resolution size refers to the image’s dimensions in terms of pixels….when printing, bigger is better. You can always make an image smaller if needed, but if you try to increase a small file, you’ll get a pixelated, boxy, fuzzy image…not good.
Here is a handy resource for determining the minimum resolution size you need for various print sizes.
For this tutorial, I’m looking to make an 8″ x 10″ print, so I need a chalkboard that is at least 800 x 1000 pixels. This second file shown below is 2400 x 3000 pixels, so that is more than enough.
When you click on the image, it will pop up in the center of your screen with a menu on the right. Select “View Image” to open up the image file by itself.
Your image will open up in your browser and will be resized to fit your screen. To open it up to its full size, simple hover your cursor over it until you see a small magnifying glass with a “+” and click on it (my cursor disappeared when taking the screen shot, but just imagine a magnifying glass for me).
Bam! Your chalkboard is now at its full size, so just right-click on it and save that puppy.
Open Up Chalkboard Background in ‘Preview’
I saved my chalkboard to my desktop to easily find it….and just look at how cute The Cub is here at four-months-old. Ahhh, I could just eat him up!
Anyway…..once your file is saved, just double-click it to open it up in ‘Preview.’
The Menu Options
Once your chalkboard is open, you can go to “View” –> “Show Edit Toolbar” to open up your options. This adds all your tools to your window. There are a bunch of them, but I’ve labeled the main ones for our purposes here:
- Rectangle: adds a box; can be filled/unfilled and can change the line thickness or make it dashed (Tip: to make a perfect square, hold down shift).
- Oval: adds a circle; can be filled/unfilled and can change the line thickness or make it dashed (Tip: to make a perfect circle, hold down shift).
- Line: adds a line; can change the line thickness or make it dashed (Tip: to make a perfect vertical or horizontal line, hold down shift).
- Text Tools: adds a Text box, Text Outline box, Speech Bubble, or Thought Bubble.
- Adjust Color: Lots of options for editing the color of your image (i.e. Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness, etc); described more below.
- Color: changes the color of your added rectangles, ovals, lines, and/or text boxes.
- Font Family: Lists (but does not preview) all the fonts you have loaded on your Mac.
- Font Size: changes the size of your text box(es). Only goes up to size 288 but you can click on the number and type in your own to customize the size.
Adjusting The Chalkboard’s Color (If Desired)
By clicking on #5 above, you’ll open up the ‘Adjust Color’ menu box. This allows you to change a lot of the features of your image. For a chalkboard poster, you could play with the exposure or contrast to change the amount of chalkiness, or you could play with the temperature, tint, or sepia options to change the color. So if you found a black chalkboard that you absolutely loved….it has the perfect resolution and just the right amount of chalk and eraser strokes you’re looking for….you can easily change it to a green or brown chalkboard.
Horray for not needing to download completely new chalkboard files!
Previewing & Selecting Your Fonts
Now this next step isn’t necessary, but it definitely helps me out with my projects. I like to be able to preview what my fonts look like, and one of the negatives about using ‘Preview’ compared to Photoshop is that (despite its name) it doesn’t actually preview your fonts…it just lists them in the drop down menu and won’t allow you to down arrow through the list and easily change your font selection.
This bugs me and slows down my creative process, so I like to use one of two methods to actually see what my fonts look like as opposed to seeing just their names.
Font Book: The first method is opening up my Font Book. Just go to the ‘Finder’ icon in your dock –> search for “fontbook” (if I search for its actual name as “Font Book” it doesn’t show up in the results….weird) –> double-click on the “Font Book” icon. Or just go to Applications on the left then select Font Book.
This will open up a new window and will list all the fonts you have loaded on your computer on the left, and then if you select a font, it will be previewed on the right in both lowercase and uppercase A-Z as well as all the number characters.
wordmark.it: The other method I use to preview my fonts (and it’s my preferred method) is going to a website called wordmark.it. I wrote a whole post about why wordmark.it is so great as well as how to use it.
The reason I like this website so much is because you can type in a word or phrase and see what it will look like in each of the fonts that you have loaded on your computer….it’s not just an A-Z preview like you get in Font Book.
You can see in the example below what the phrase “Where The Smiles Have Been” looks like in a variety of my fonts. It’s now so easy to find a specific font to go with my project, and quickly too. If I want something boxy and bold, it’s easily identifiable. Maybe I’m looking for a cutesy, curvy script font….I can easily find one of those too.
Your Mac obviously comes loaded with a bunch of fonts, but they’re pretty basic, and quite frankly, boring. There are tons and tons of sites online that you can download fonts for free, and I would suggest checking some free sites out if you plan on creating your own poster. One site that I frequently use is dafont.com. You can get all different kinds of fonts: hand-writing, boxy, futuristic, horror, holiday, kiddie, foreign, cartoon, dingbat (which I’ll discuss below)….just about anything you can think of is available, and they can really spice up your design.
I’ve put together a list of my favorite fonts to use on chalkboards, and then a second list with 50 MORE fabulous and free chalkboard fonts! Oh, and I’ve also got a list of awesome dingbat fonts to use with chalkboards, too (more info on these below), as well as a collection of the best free fonts for birthday chalkboard posters. Check them out for great inspiration!
And if you want, you can even turn your own handwriting into a font for FREE!
I’ve also compiled a list of my favorite sites that offer awesome FREE digital resources! High-quality fonts, SVGs, backgrounds, digital scrapbooking, Photoshop fun….it’s all covered here! And most include commercial rights too!
Making Your Design
Ok, so now that we’re able to preview our fonts, it’s time to start adding our text. To do this, just click on the ‘Text Tools’ option and select ‘Text’, or you can go to ‘Tools’ –> ‘Annotate’ –> ‘Text’. This will add a text box and you can type in whatever you want and then also change its size and color.
Then click anywhere on your chalkboard and type out your word. If you want different words to be in different fonts/colors, you’ll need to add a new text box for each one.
Keep adding new text boxes for all your words, and play around with different fonts, sizes, and even colors. You can also use the rectangle, oval, and line tools to add some extra elements as well.
My Design, Three Ways!
I’ll be designing a printable with one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes (which also happens to serve as the naming inspiration behind this blog):
Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.
I wanted this printable to be very graphical with even edges and have some words in a handwritten script font and others in a basic Sans Serif font. I wasn’t too concerned with having fonts that looked like actual chalk writing on a chalkboard, but there are certainly lots of those available to download for free if that’s what you’re after. Once again, it’s all personal preference and what type of image you hope to create.
You can see below how I added my text (each line of text is a new text box), then jazzed up the design with a box and then some color.
FREE PRINTABLE!: Do you like this quote and image? If so, you can download it (all three versions!) for FREE by going here.
Jazz Things Up with Dingbats!
If you’re looking to jazz things up a bit more than by just using the basic Preview options and adding a rectangle, oval, or line, you can use dingbats! Dingbats are a type of font that use images in place of letter, number, and punctuation characters.
For example, in the image below, the top left swirly corner is actually made by using a free dingbat font called Nymphette and typing a “u”…..that’s what is assigned to the “u” character. The top right swirly corner is made by typing a “v”. You just add a text box like you normally do, select the dingbat font, then type in whatever letter/number/character you need….this is where being able to preview the fonts comes in handy big time!
There are dingbat fonts available for just about anything you can imagine, and most are available to download for free for personal use….frames, ribbons, embellishments, people, places, animals, objects, paint splatters, bar codes, actual words…you name it, it’s probably out there. They are a great way to easily add decorative elements to a project, especially a chalkboard poster.
When using Preview, you may see yellow vertical and/or horizontal lines flash on your image as you’re moving your text boxes around. These will pop up as guides for aligning your elements. You can see below that as I was moving the bottom right dingbat, the yellow lines flashed on to help me line it up with the bottom left and top right dingbats. These guides can come in quite handy.
Changing The Image’s Size
If you want to change the size of your image (either its dimensions, resolution, or both), just click on the ‘Adjust Size’ menu option.
Saving (aka Exporting) Your Design
Once your design is complete, you can save it by going to ‘File’ –> ‘Export’ and then selecting your desired format. DO NOT CLICK ‘SAVE’. If you click ‘Save’ it will save your design overtop your original downloaded chalkboard file….this may be just fine, but if you ever want to use that chalkboard again for a new project, it will no longer be blank.
Also, anything you added to your image (text boxes, rectangles, ovals, etc.) will be merged with your chalkboard background and your image will be saved as a flattened image….in other words, each element is not saved as an independent editable layer as is the case with Photoshop PSD files.
Therefore, once you save it, you will no longer be able to edit the text in any way…that means that moving the text boxes or changing the fonts, sizes, colors, etc. is a thing of the past, so you better be in love with your image or you’ll be starting over from scratch (don’t worry, we’ve all been there).
Preview -vs- Photoshop
Photoshop Elements is obviously much more powerful than Preview and gives you a lot more options. Here are some of the bigger limitations to using Preview, at least when it comes to simple digital designs:
- No option to bold or italicize fonts.
- Some fonts with very tall letters or decorative swirls get cut off.
- Cannot change colors of individual letters in a single text box (whole word remains same color).
- Words can only be horizontal or vertical (no text warping abilities).
- No special effects options (such as drop shadows, outlines, bevels, etc.) or filters.
- Cannot create animated GIFs.
- Only saves files as flattened images (cannot go back in and edit individual elements).
That being said, Preview has one big bonus over Photoshop….it’s FREE! Yep, Preview comes standard on all Macs (as far as I’m aware at least).
Photoshop Elements is worth every. single. penny. Depending on your needs, however, Preview may be more than enough.
How to Make a Birthday Chalkboard Poster
If you’re interested, I’ve also put together a full tutorial for how to make a birthday chalkboard poster (this is in Photoshop). Find out all the juicy details and learn how to make your own!
Also, here are a couple versions of a chalkboard poster that I created for The Cub’s first birthday using Photoshop:
And here’s one I made for my niece’s first birthday, this time a Classic Alice in Wonderland version!
Phew, that was a doozy! I hope this tutorial was of help to you and that you learned something new, or at least got a flash of inspiration for a new project. I’d love to see what you’re able to create, so please do share!
Did I miss anything though? I am by no means a frequent user of Preview’s editing tools (like I said, I’m in a long-term relationship with Photoshop), so are there other cool things Preview can do that I don’t know about? If so, please share below! And don’t forget to grab your free printable(s) either!
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Tuesday 2nd of January 2018
Found this on Pinterest! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This is a fabulous thing for we Mac users. I've used preview for other things but not for making chalkboard posters. And, I'm thrilled with wordmark.it! That's an amazing site.
I'm spending lots of time on your site. And will be back often. Thank you for all you do and share! You're wonderful!!
Wednesday 26th of July 2017
What do you print the final product on? I see that you are writing on it like a real chalkboard, so I'm confused...
Monday 5th of September 2016
Hi, is there a downloadable version of the one you made?
Wednesday 31st of August 2016
Just stumbled on site while trying to make a poster for my brother in laws birthday and checking out your posts has set me back a few hours! Love your stuff! Question.. i made chalkboard poster then stupidly (didn't read your full instructions!) saved it and then went back to try and finish it and well..you know the rest! Im a little puzzled how to do it so that i can add/move/change it later. I tried exporting a minimally restarted one just to see if it would work, but i still couldn't edit when i went back into it. Am i being a total dummy?! Know this is old post so not sure if you still answer but thought it worth a try!
Thursday 27th of October 2016
I would be interested in this too!! i actually didn't save the working chalkboard, but did the export step... but still the next morning, the original chalkboard had somehow turned into a jpeg. some naughty elves were at it i guess... or just the apple elves?
But, honestly, amazing post and tutorial. I am not even very creative and even i could do it! Thanks so much Christine!!
Thursday 18th of August 2016
I'm trying to make a first birthday sign for my daughter...how do you add text on top of text? For example in your sons sign, you wrote My first birthday on a dingbat..how>?