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DVD Menu Design

Craigman Digital has produced over one thousand DVDs over the past 10 years. While the audio and video content is the core of any entertainment DVD, the menus are what holds the disc together. Well-designed menus and navigation should compliment the on-disc content and its packaging. The menus should also offer the consumer elegant and effortless navigation through the disc.

This tutorial describes some of the technical details regarding DVD menu design.

DVD menus are submitted to authoring as uncompressed TIFF files. They are usually created or edited in Adobe Photoshop, though any advanced graphic editing application is fully capable of delivering DVD menus. Menus come in twos: one file is a full-resolution background file, while the other is a lower resolution highlight file. The highlight file is not displayed on the DVD, but it tells the DVD player what to do when the remote rolls over a button. See Highlights below.

Menus for Legacy (non-widescreen) TV

Because of legacy television pixel shapes, what you see is not quite what you get with DVD menus. The aspect ratio of a standard definition TV is 4:3 (or dividing those numbers, 1.33). This translates to 720 x 540 pixels. The actual number of vertical pixels on the screen, however, is 480. 4:3 pixels are taller than they are wide, so any image designed on a computer with square pixels will appear vertically stretched on a TV. To compensate for this discrepancy, menus are designed at 720 x 540, then resized to 720 x 480 before delivery to authoring.

Menus for Widescreen TV

Widescreen TV has a different aspect ratio, sometimes called 16:9, sometimes called 1.78, which is 16 divided by 9. Regardless of the TV resolution that is used (720, 1080), that ratio is consistent. But the DVD Specification calls for all assets – menus and video – to be delivered at 720 x 480. For widescreen TVs, this means that images presented onscreen will be stretched horizontally, resulting in a shorter, wider image. To compensate for this formatting, widescreen DVD menus are designed at 960 x 540 then resized to 720 x 480 before delivery to authoring. This results in a narrow appearance to the menus and is referred to as Anamorphic format.

Action Safe and Title Safe Areas

Title Safe Area Bad Title Safe Buttons Good Title Safe Buttons

All TVs have some amount of overscan, and it varies from set to set. Overscan projects the video image onto the TV screen at a larger size than the TV screen itself. This causes some of the outer pixels to be cropped off the screen. Some TVs have an overscan of just a few pixels, while others may lose as much as 5% of the image (or more).

Because of overcan, there is a region of the image referred to as Action Safe, and another called Title Safe. The Action Safe zone is the central 95% of the image, as shown below. The Title Safe zone is even more conservative, and is defined as the central 90% of the image. Text and buttons should be laid out on DVD menus such that they fall within the Title Safe region. Anything placed outside the Title Safe zone runs the risk of being projected offscreen on TVs that have a large amount of overscan.

Highlight Files

The highlight file usually consists of only two colors, typically white and black. White defines the background of the TIF file, and black describes the area of the screen that lights up when a button is selected. Additional colors (up to a maximum of 4) may be used for more advanced or nuanced effects, but they are not always necessary. All highlight files contain strict values for their colors, that is, the RGB value is either 0 or 255, without exception. Most authoring application allow for White (255, 255, 255), Black (0, 0, 0), Red (255, 0, 0) and Blue (0, 0, 255). Some applications will use Green (0, 255, 0) at the expense of one of the former 4 colors.

Craigman Digital’s authoring delivery specifications call for a White background with Black, Red and Blue button colors.

Highlight files do not describe the color of the buttons on the DVD. Rather, they map RGB colors to the Black, Red and Blue pixels in the highlight file once the project is in authoring. This means that if we’d like orange buttons on the DVD, we assign an orange color (247, 204, 0) to black.

When delivering DVD menus, always include the RGB color values and opacities for buttons in the selected state and in the activated state.

Highlight Color Normal State Select State Activate State
No Color Orange Dark Orange
Black (0,0,0)0% (247,204,0)81% (217,133,33)88%
Red (0,0,0)0% (247,204,0)63% (217,133,33)69%
Blue (0,0,0)0% (247,204,0)44% (217,133,33)50%


Some DVD titles have just a few menus, and their purpose can be very self-explanatory. For titles with a large number of menus, however, it is critical that authors be able to easily identify menus and their respective highlights. For this reason, a consistent menu nomenclature is recommended. Menu backgrounds should be named as cited in the Navigational Flowchart. We recommend the following nomenclature for DVD menus:

Menu Type Menu Name Highlight File Name Letterboxed Highlight Name
Main Menu Main.tif Main_HL.tif Main_LB_HL.tif
Setup Menu Setup.tif Setup_HL.tif Setup_LB_HL.tif
Chapters Chapter.tif Chapter_HL.tif Chapter_LB_HL.tif
Photos PH_01.tif

Note that for menu sequences that include multiple menus of the same type (such as photo galleries or credit pages), a sequential numeric identifier is used, and a leading zero is added for sequences of more than 10 menus. This allows for better organization, quicker reference when updating menus, and faster authoring times.


4:3 Project Design Dimensions Delivery Dimensions Resolution
Menus 720 x 540 720 x 480 24-bit RGB
Highlight 720 x 540 720 x 480 8-bit RGB
16:9 Project Design Dimensions Delivery Dimensions Resolution
Menus 960 x 540 720 x 480 24-bit RGB
Wide Highlight 960 x 540 720 x 480 8-bit RGB
LB Highlight 960 x 540 720 x 480* 8-bit RGB
*after (720 x 360 resize)

Highlight color values should be submitted in RGB, and should contain values and opacities for all three states: Normal, Select, and Activate.

  • White (255,255,255)
  • Black (0,0,0)
  • Red (255,0,0)
  • Blue (0,0,255)

Opacities should be submitted as percentages or in Opacity Units:

Percentage Opacity Unit
100% 15
94% 14
88% 13
81% 12
75% 11
69% 10
63% 9
56% 8
50% 7
44% 6
38% 5
31% 4
25% 3
19% 2
13% 1
0% 0