I have always been fascinated by word clouds. I first discovered them through a web-site called wordle, which takes text and created a spiffy-looking word cloud based word usage. The site's engine is smart, it's able to skip linking words such as “and,” or “a,” or “the” and concentrate on the words which make up the heartbeat of a text. More common words are made larger in the cloud, less common are smaller. I used to create word-clouds from my sermons to see what I was actually communicating in a message. If the largest words weren't related to what I thought my main point was, I knew I wrote it wrong. It's pretty fantastic. Sadly, it also uses Java — which is why I used to use it. I've turned Java off as a web-plugin. If you haven't made that step, though, I highly recommend the site.
My new toy
I'm still fascinated by word clouds, so I've taken to scanning the iOS app store to see if there is anything which would replace the functionality of wordle. There are several apps which look promising in the store, but my curiosity never led me to make a purchase. Until yesterday, that is.
Yesterday morning I discovered an app called Phoetic. It's not a word-cloud in the tradition of wordle. Instead, Phoetic takes an image, and creates an image mask — filling the contrast of an image with either black or white, depending on it's color value. It then uses this mask to recreate the picture using a list of words you provide. The app's features are dead simple to use. Photos can be cropped, the mask levels can be altered or inverted, color schemes can be created, fonts can be chosen (or even added), and words can be selected with simple swipes and taps. The results are stunning.
Things to remember
While Phoetic is simple, and incredibly powerful, there are some things to keep in mind in order to make your word clouds turn out as beautiful as possible.
Use high contrast images
Phoetic uses an image mask using contrast as it's key value, so it works best with images which already have high-contrast. In other words, close ups with simple backgrounds or computer art with high contrast are going to give you your best results. You aren't going to recreate huge group shots or nature scenes using this app.
Darker colors equals sharper results
I've had better results with a majority of darker colors in the color palette. Light colors tend to reduce the illusion of sharpness in the generated word cloud. If you like the shape of your cloud but are disappointed in it's sharpness, make the colors darker.
Play with the color order
The color palette is easy to set up and rearrange. Play with your color sets to get your best results. Also, remember the first color in the palette will be used as the background color.
Email any cloud you want to print
I don't like paper, but some people are addicted to printing. So, if you want to print out a cloud make sure you email it from the app, rather than saving it as an image. Emailing the cloud allows you to send a PDF which is set up as a vector image. That means you could scale the cloud infinitely and not lose any sharpness. One a screen you can zoom in to the smallest letters and see which words are being used. For printing you could make the image fill an entire wall and have every word be legible.
One thing I'd like to see
As it currently stands, there is really only one feature I'd like to see, the ability to insert color values by typing in their numerical values (either hexadecimal or cmyk values for printing). That way, I could easily match the colors of my word clouds with the color schemes for a particular brand.
The app is 99 cents. If you have access to an iOS device (the app is universal) and enjoy making unique pieces of art from photos picking this up is a no-brainer.