One of my good friends loves creating beautiful digital art, filled with lots of different colors, shapes, and a mix of both original characters and characters from pop culture. Recently, they asked me how to write alt text for amateur art, or how to write alt text for original art that they created. They also were interested in ensuring their art posts were accessible on social media so that anybody could access their portfolio and appreciate their awesome talent. Here are my tips for writing alt text for amateur art that can be added to social media or portfolios.
What is alt text?
Alt text tells people what is in an image, such as text or basic essential details. If an image fails to load, alt text will display in its place. Search engines also index alt text information and consider it a factor when determining search engine ratings. Alt text is typically a few hundred characters in length, though individual websites have their own limits on how long alt text can be.
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What is an image description?
An image description gives more details than alt text and allows someone to learn more about what is in an image that goes beyond alt text. Alt text gives the user the most important information while image descriptions provide further detail. For example, alt text tells someone that there’s a puddle on the floor, and image description tells someone that the puddle is in the middle of the floor, it’s orange juice, and it was spilled on white carpet on a sunny day.
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How is alt text helpful?
People who have low or no vision may use a tool called a screen reader to access websites called a screen reader, which converts text information to synthesized speech that is output to headphones or speakers. Screen readers ignore images without alt text, so having alt text means that the screen reader has something to read in place of the image.
Some websites have a feature that inserts automatic alt text for images, but I have found that these don’t work well for art and can be highly inaccurate. In a recent example, I had an automatic alt text incorrectly identify a group of trash cans as a group of gorillas- which was very confusing since I was at the zoo and thought for a second that the gorillas had escaped!
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Tips for writing alt text and image descriptions
Some of my top tips for writing alt text for original art as well as image descriptions include:
- Mention the medium of the art when writing the description, or any other unique materials used
- What do you think is the most noticeable thing about your art? Mention that after writing the name of the art medium
- After mentioning the top item, pick 3-5 other elements that are relevant in the picture and describe their shape, size, location, etc
- If describing people in a picture, describe their appearance such as hair color, height, and clothing choices, if relevant
- If you’re drawing fanart of a familiar character, feel free to just write the character’s name and leave out any other description of what they look like, unless their appearance has been changed drastically
- Don’t be afraid to use color names such as ocean blue or tomato red when describing items
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Examples of great alt text for art and image descriptions
Here are some examples of great alt text for original art that I’ve created, or that my friends have created:
- A digital art print that features a large yellow sun in the bottom right corner that extends to the top right corner, taking up 75% of the image, drawn with yellow markers and a black outline. The remaining 25% of the image shows a light blue sky, painted similar to watercolors. Inside the sun, the lyrics to “I’ll Follow The Sun” by The Beatles are printed in black calligraphy writing
- A photo of a car running a stoplight at night with a high-contrast filter applied. On top of the image, a large red and yellow cartoonish font says “See you in court!”, stylized similar to a vintage postcard.
- An oil pastel drawing of a copper-colored dog face that has light green eyes and a brown nose. The background is several different shades of green swirled together to complement the colors of the eyes.
- A cartoon picture of SpongeBob SquarePants jumping in the air on a blue background with bubbles surrounding him
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What to avoid when writing alt text and image descriptions
While it’s easy to write great alt text, there are some things that should be avoided when writing alt text for art, especially original art:
- Avoid having one-word descriptions such as “dog”, “SpongeBob”, or “landscape.”
- Write relevant information about what is in the picture, and don’t write random rants or about things that have nothing to do with the picture
- Don’t try to over-describe colors, stick with color names and simple descriptions in the form of shade names.
- For comics or other recurring series, don’t over-describe characters in every panel if their appearance doesn’t change. Instead, link to a character guide so that viewers can reference what a character looks like
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Examples of not-so-great alt text and image descriptions for art
Here are some real examples of not-so-great image descriptions and alt text for art that I’ve seen online:
- Idk (just write the word null and screen readers will ignore it)
- Dude chilling in car (what kind of car? what does the person look like? where are they?)
- A completely random rant about pop music that had nothing to do with the picture of a celebrity- it’s better to put these things in the captions where others can see them!
- A medium sized four legged animal with white and black spots, as well as hooves and a pink udder that stands in a field- it’s okay to write “cow in a field”, I have a mental model of what a cow looks like
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Writing alt text for amateur art is great practice for new artists to become more familiar with how to describe their art and learn a valuable skill that can help include the blind and visually impaired community in the fascinating world of art. I love it when my friends show me their latest creations, and I’m glad to see that many of them have started adding alt text to their social media posts so that others can read the descriptions as well. I hope this post on writing alt text for amateur art is helpful for other budding artists as well!