How To Create And Edit Custom Word Clouds with Wordle

Most people who spend any time at all reading blogs on the Internet are familiar with the concept of the tag cloud. It’s an often amorphous pile of post tags where words that occur more often are displayed with more prominence. Wordle is a web-based Java applet that generates similar clouds based on text that you input.

It’d take forever to get your text looking perfect for a Word Cloud in Photoshop or another graphics tool. Wordle does the heavy lifting for you, so you can get the word cloud you want quickly. So how do you create your own Wordle?

Getting Started

When you first head over to, you’ll see some sample word clouds that have been generated by the app as well as a brief description of how it works. While I won’t cover them much here, I do suggest you check out the FAQ and the Blog.

Do note that you’ll need to have the free Java plugin installed to view Wordle word clouds. Unfortunately, this also means that you can’t view them on most smartphones and tablet computers.

To get started creating your own, click on “Create” to select the text from which to make your word cloud. Wordle can accept text via copy/paste, or it can take a URL, which will generate a word cloud from the text on the page.

I don't think that this word cloud will create thunderbolts and lighting.

I don't think that this word cloud will create thunderbolts and lighting.

For the sake of this how-to, I’ve elected to use the lyrical text from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Partially because it’s a great song, and partially because there are roughly a billion words in it.

If you click the “Go” button after you input your text, the page will launch the Wordle Java applet. Afterward, the applet will render and randomly generated word cloud based on the text you provided, and output something like this:

My first randomly generated Wordle.

My first randomly generated Wordle.

Now, that’s pretty cool. As you can see, the word “go” appears quite often in Bohemian Rhapsody. But that’s not exactly the style I was going for, so let’s do a little bit of tweaking.

Editing Your Cloud

Along the top of the applet you’ll see a series of menus that contain controls for editing your word cloud. The edits you make happen in real time, and the only parameter you can’t change once you’ve generated the cloud itself is the word list. If you’re not happy with the words that your cloud contains, you’ll have to go back and create a brand new cloud. Otherwise, you can edit the image and tweak its style.

The Edit menu is simply used to undo or redo certain actions. The Language menu contains the option to remove common words, such as “the” or “and.” You can also tell Wordle how to deal with capitalization, making all words uppercase, lowercase, or randomly capitalized. The Font menu is pretty self explanatory, but perhaps cause for the greatest variation among Wordles, as you can choose to display the words in your word cloud in one of 32 different fonts. The Layout menu lets you dictate the general shape of your word cloud as well as the orientation of the words. Finally, the Color menu lets you choose a color scheme and a variation frequency. It should be noted that you can edit a custom color palette for fine tuning your word cloud.

After playing around with the settings on my word cloud, I’ve chosen the “Blue Meets Orange” color scheme, the Gnuolane Free font, and the “Any which way” layout. I present to you the new and improved Bohemian Rhapsody word cloud:

A little tweaking does the trick.

A little tweaking does the trick.

Saving and Sharing

So your Wordle is finished, what now? Well, you can hit the Print button down in the corner, and either print it out on paper or save it as a PDF. Unfortunately, Wordle doesn’t offer a very powerful export function, so the ways you can use your Wordle are somewhat limited. According the FAQ, the best way to get a large version of your Wordle is to take a screenshot of it from the applet itself.

You can also elect to share your Wordle in the gallery. Gallery images can’t be removed, so make sure you haven’t generated a word cloud with any sensitive information. If you’re ready to show the world your creative genius, click “Save to public gallery.”

I take no credit for the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody.

I take no credit for the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Give your Wordle a title, and an appropriate author name. You can also add a description if you like.

Once your Wordle is saved, you can attempt to find it in the public gallery for yourself, but so many Wordles are generated each minute that it would be tough to find. Regardless, browsing the gallery is fun, and you can look at other users works.

Put your Wordle in the gallery for the world to see.

Put your Wordle in the gallery for the world to see.


Wordle is a neat little app that will generate some pretty awesome images for your website, or for sharing with friends. The app is, as I would call it, in a ‘minimal development’ stage. What I mean by this is that the developer continually writes on the blog, answers inquiries, and makes sure the site is up and running. However, the code for the actual Java applet was evidently written on IBM company time, and it isn’t undergoing any significant updates.

Unfortunately, this seems to make it unlikely that any changes will be made regarding the exporting of Wordles. Being able to export full high-resolution images would be nice, as would a way to dynamically generate a Wordle based on an ever-changing set of text.

Regardless of these issues, Wordle is a fun little tool, and surprisingly addictive. Have you generated any neat word clouds?


A web-based Java applet for creating beautiful word clouds.