Word clouds are not the best tools for visualizing data, but their visual appeal endures. I generated one recently to use on the CTLE’s cool new promotional cups.

CTLE cup & straw
CTLE promotional cup featuring a word cloud about teaching, learning, and engagement.

I initially had a lot of trouble creating the word cloud. There is no shortage of word cloud generation tools on the internet. My problem was finding one that would generate an image I could download, and the image needed to have enough resolution to create a quality print. Most of the generators produce a web-sized jpeg file, which would look blurred and pixellated when printed on our cup. Another issue was color. Some generators let you customize the word colors, and some don’t let you choose.

Another issue was color. Some generators let you customize the word colors, and some don’t let you choose. I needed to generate all the words in a single color (or the cups got exponentially more expensive), or I needed to be able to quickly edit the colors after downloading.

I finally found the one and only word cloud generator that met all my needs. Actually, it exceeded all my needs. I present the Word Cloud Generator by Jason Davies. Thank you, London-based software engineer Jason, for making this free tool available online.

go to the Word Cloud Generator

For the nerdy among us, Jason has a great write-up of how this web app actually works. But if, like me, you just want to use it,  here is what I did to generate my word cloud, and what I discovered about Jason’s generator along the way.

First the basics of use. You need some text to paste in. I copied the text from our vision and mission statements into a plain text document. Then I did a find and replace (leaving the replace field blank) to eliminate words I didn’t want in my cloud: and, but, of, for, etc. Then I copy-and-pasted extras of the words I wanted the cloud to emphasize, like these: CTLE, Teaching, Learning, Engagement, collaborate, eCourses, faculty, GCC, instruction,  and so on. I saved this file as “word-cloud-fodder.txt” in case I needed to edit further or reproduce my results in the future. Then I copy-and-pasted all of it into the generator and clicked “Go!”

Paste your text and GO!
Paste your text and GO!

My first result wasn’t great, but I continued adding words into the text field. I also played with the other settings for spiral, scale, number of orientations, and number of words allowed. I don’t know how many times I clicked the “Go!” button, but it was a lot. Eventually, the right combination landed on my screen, with the words Teaching, Learning, and Engagement surrounding CTLE in the center of the cloud. I like!

screen shot
screen shot of word cloud generator settings

To save my word cloud to my computer, I clicked the “Download SVG” button. An SVG is a scalable vector graphic, which is perfect because the SVG image format is resolution-independent. That means I can shrink or enlarge it to any size without blurring, distortion, or pixelation. In addition, the words are actual text, not a picture of text. To prove this to yourself, try selecting an individual word within the cloud. You can! Because each word has been lovingly rotated and positioned using mathematics, which means I was free to edit the actual words and their colors before sending my word cloud to the cup maker.

To edit your SVG, you need a program that can read and edit this image format. Fortunately, GCC employees can install Adobe Illustrator, which is fully capable of reading and editing SVG files. I opened my SVG, changed all the words to white, and saved the resulting edit as an EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) file, the format preferred by the shop making our cups. Off went the file, and back came our cool drink cups!

But, I haven’t told you my favorite part yet: font selection! You can use any font installed on your computer. Most word cloud generators limit you to “web safe fonts” like Arial, Georgia, Verdana, those that are common enough to be installed on most of the computers in the world. In fact, I assumed that was the case with Jason’s Word Cloud Generator, and I left it at the default setting, Impact, because it’s bold and legible.

But later, going back to play with the generator, I realized there is no drop-down arrow in the font field. Nothing to enforce your selection to choices on a short list. So I typed in names of non-web-safe fonts that I know are installed on my computer. Adobe Caslon. Cooper Black. Amatic. Brannoboll Fet. As long as I spelled the font name correctly and it had no special characters in it, the Word Cloud Generator magically found and used my font. Wow.

Kaushan Script sample
screenshot rendered with Kaushan Script Regular

That’s a neat feature no other word cloud generator offered. Not one I could find, anyway.

Jason Davies’ Word Cloud Generator gives me everything I need for print design work, because it produces a fully editable, resolution-independent, downloadable file. It will be my go-to for word clouds as long as he keeps it running. The only thing I can think of that might make it even better is the option to use more than one font and allow the generator to randomly select from, say, three fonts that you define and assign one to each word. But since the download file is editable, I can do that myself.

If you give it a try, please share your results. We’d love to see what you create.

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