If you’re reading this, you’ve probably looked at more than a handful of the “best” streamers. They all have something in common: besides being interesting, unique, and fun to watch when playing games, they all put a lot of effort into their craft. Part of that effort usually involves unique graphics and design around their stream overlays so that they can set themselves apart from the dregs of zero-viewer streamers flaming their own team on CS:GO.
With the current competitive state of streaming, If you want people to come to watch, you have to put effort into the visual element. It’s not just about what you play and how you play it—you have to make your stream yours by having a personal artistic touch so that the gameplay isn’t the only thing on stream. If you want your stream to look the best it can, attract new viewers and retain current ones – you need an overlay that compliments you and your gameplay.
So what exactly is an overlay?
A stream overlay is a combination of graphics that are set up alongside the gameplay that will be showcased during a stream. Usually, it’s a large, transparent image with multiple elements meant to bring a personal design to the viewer such as a face cam or stream information. Generally, the center of the stream is left transparent to show actual gameplay.
Anything that goes over the stream is part of the overlay. Even if a streamer just has a picture of their dog in one of the corners, that’s their overlay. Even if it’s a scrolling chat box where people are talking about politics that have nothing to do with the content of the stream—that’s their overlay.
Why do I need one?
To put it bluntly, it’s going to make your stream better, no questions asked. If there are two streamers of the same caliber playing the same game and one has a slick, themed overlay with interesting info highlighted about their stream and game, most viewers are going to flock to them over a bland stream with plain gameplay. Viewers enjoy a streamer who has a persona, and they enjoy seeing a consistent theme that goes well with that streamer’s persona.
Beyond just showing that you’re putting effort into your stream, viewers respond well to personalization. If you get repeat viewers that turn into subscribers, your overlay and page layout will eventually feel “homey” to them. A well-themed overlay can become a clubhouse to your regular viewers.
They’re clearly not all created equal, though—that’s for certain. Slapping an image down usually isn’t enough. As the streaming community and industry has grown, so has the production value of design when it comes to streams and overlays.
What’s the difference between a static and dynamic overlay?
If they just have a banner at the bottom with links to social media and maybe their stream icon, that’s a static overlay—it doesn’t really change.
Static overlays can be good if you’re more of a relaxed or “chilled out” streamer.
A dynamic overlay, on the other hand, has elements that phase in and out during the stream and change depending on content. Subscriber alerts, donation alerts, facecams, subscriber goal bars, chat boxes, and polls are all examples of this.
Dynamic overlays are usually more impressive, although too much animation can be distracting.
What makes a good overlay?
Remember when I talked about “blocking gameplay” earlier? That happens a lot more than you’d think, and people do it by accident all the time.
You can’t make overlays for “general purposes.” It has to be tied to the game (or games) you’re going to be playing the most; if you’re switching around your games, you need to change your overlay accordingly. Otherwise you risk having parts of your overlay blocking vital game information such as minimaps or character info. Viewers hate this and they will definitely let you know in chat if something is blocking their view.
You want to make sure you don’t have too much going on, while also being flashy enough so people don’t get bored.
Take most MOBAs, for instance. There’s a lot of empty space on the bottom between the minimap, skill bar, and inventory. People normally put banners there and a facecam replacing their character portrait. For the purposes of that game, that’s fillable “empty space.” In a Street Fighter or Tekken stream, that stuff goes near the top, because there’s some space above the health bars where you can put whatever you want. No one’s gonna look there since there is no vital game information there.
That’s your start to making your stream both pretty and simple. Make sure that crucial information isn’t being pushed out of the way and that your graphic sizes are appropriate. You don’t want a massive 48-point font banner with a tiny webcam, and vice versa. People will remember you for all the wrong reasons.
Take a look at Dr. Disrespect. Do you think I would watch him play PUBG if he didn’t have a huge mustache, the green screen transitions and the “Slick Daddy Club” subscriber animations? Hell no.
Try to profile who you want to draw in with your stream, and build your overlay accordingly. Your brand builds off of that. I remember Browningtons, a low-sub Smash Bros streamer, because he has unique Ganondorf art on his stream and plays nothing but Ganondorf. It’s his brand. People tune in just for that and they tend to stay.
If your stream is relaxed and you’re streaming games like Slime Rancher or Hearthstone, your stream should be designed accordingly. You can’t have neon green Monster Energy slash marks and Disturbed album art at the bottom, because it creates a huge contrast between your overlay and the game itself. That kind of overlay works better for something like a high-intensity Starcraft stream.
You also should take into account your own personality as a streamer. If you’re a very exciting and energetic streamer then you should incorporate this into your overlay with brighter colors and more exciting animations. If you’re a more relaxed gamer then try muted colors with slower or even no animations. It all comes down to creating a common theme and atmosphere for your viewers.
How to get stream overlay
There are plenty of places that can provide you great-looking Twitch overlays, some for free and some paid. Some of the most popular providers are:
- Strexm.tv: Connect your Twitch and use their proprietary service to design a unique overlay for your stream.
- Twitchoverlay.com: Submit a request to get an overlay made specifically for you and your stream.
- Streamplaygraphics.com: Pay for one of their professionally made pre-done themes.
- Streampro.io: Use a simple drag-and-drop editor to make a dynamic overlay with all the elements you could ever need.
You can also hire an individual graphic artist or freelancer instead of going to a website. If you want something really personal but don’t have the time to work it out yourself, you can commission a freelancer to do it for you. Being able to assign rates and pick someone based on their portfolio is always a plus.
You can also look at the stream profile pages of streamers who have overlays you enjoy the design of. Very often they will have a note about who designed or styled it for them, and you can contact the artist directly for a quote. This is a great way to pick and choose from existing profiles which serve as a sort of public portfolio for the graphic artist.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed DIYing my stream overlays. It isn’t too hard to get started making one in Photoshop.
You can start with a base picture that’s typical gameplay you want to showcase (like a blank Hearthstone board). From there, you can add appropriately-sized elements into the empty spaces, mixing and matching what you want. From there, you put the overlay image into OBS/Xsplit/whatever streaming program you use, and add the dynamic elements as plugins through there.
You have a stream overlay all to yourself—specific to you, and branded just how you want it. A great Twitch overlay can only help someone. Potential viewers will really notice the extra effort, and it’ll set you apart from the competitors that haven’t put that work in.
I don’t know about you, but even the worst players sometimes have the greatest streams. Dunkey isn’t great at Counter Strike, but I’d watch him over a bland gameplay stream any day.