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Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign: A beginners guide to choosing the right Adobe graphic software

Choosing which Adobe Creative Suite graphic software is right for my project The Adobe Creative Suite offers an array of industry-leading software products for graphic design, web design, professional photography, video editing, and much more.  For any aspiring designer looking at the Adobe software choices, there is a lot of overlap between the graphic design products (and for good reason!). If you are confused as to which product is right for you when you decide to tackle that new, creative project, it is helpful to know the key differences between the three major graphic design programs in the Creative Suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop is the industry leader in raster image graphics creation and manipulation software.  A raster is a grid of pixels, so any raster image is going to be composed of pixel information.  Each pixel can hold color, brightness, contrast, and other information.  When you get a large amount of pixels together in a document, it creates a recognizable image that the human eye can process. Adobe Photoshop is one of the best software tools for editing your raster images.  If you take a photo with a digital camera or camera phone, you can use Photoshop to make professional edits such as changes to brightness, color information, and much more. However, Photoshop can be much more than an image editing tool.  It can also create new designs from scratch.  You can combine images or selections of images from several sources and use advanced layer techniques to create a new image that is greater than the sum of its parts.  The blending and combination of many small images, plus the control of all the pixel information makes Photoshop an incredibly powerful graphic design tool. Adobe Illustrator: Illustrator is a vector graphics application, which is a completely different method to generate an image than a raster.  Instead of using pixels like a raster graphic, vector graphics use paths and points to create objects based on mathematical proportions.  For this reason, vector images can be scaled to any proportions without losing quality. Graphic designers mainly use Illustrator for corporate identity projects like logos and brochures, but the design possibilities are endless.  Vector images will have less detail than a raster graphic because there is not the high resolution of pixels in the document.  However, the advantage of “scalability” and ease of use with these types of images makes Illustrator the “go-to” for these projects. Adobe InDesign: Once you have designed your graphics in either Photoshop or Illustrator, you may be ready to layout your images into one final design.  Whether for print or web, Adobe InDesign is an essential tool for digital layout. InDesign is built to replace the manual design layout process.  Popular features of the program include text styling and threading, master page options, and smart guides.  In addition, there is a wide array of long document features to help you keep that long document organized. When you are finished, InDesign can output the design into the proper media and includes some handy features to mark-up your design for the web or prepare a file for commercial printing. Similarities All three of these Adobe products have some cross-over between them. While Photoshop is intended for raster graphics first, there are some vector tools built into the program.  In addition, Illustrator is primarily to create vector graphics, but it definitely allows you to place raster images into the designs and can handle the translation of the two types of images.  Last, while InDesign is not thought of as an editing tool, there are some basic editing features...

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Adobe Photoshop Cheat Sheet

Download the Adobe Photoshop Cheat Sheet for FREE! The Digital Workshop Center provides free cheat sheets on many popular software applications. If you are looking for a quick Adobe Photoshop reference sheet, then we’ve got just the thing for you! The Photoshop cheat sheet includes several useful shortcuts and common commands to help you be more efficient and confident while working in Photoshop. Several of these commands are included in our hands-on Photoshop Level 1 training class, so if you need more Photoshop help please contact the Digital Workshop office.  Stay tuned for more cheat sheets coming soon! Click the link to download the cheat sheet in PDF format: Adobe Photoshop Cheat Sheet...

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Decoding the Photoshop Selection Tools: Quick Selection

We’re almost done with our tour of the Photoshop selection tools; only two more to go! Already, we’ve visited the Magic Wand, the Lasso, and the Selection Brush, and this week we’ll stop by Quick Selection and see what all the fuss is about. It’s one of a handful of editing tools in the selection arsenal, which is one of the most important and versatile sections in Photoshop! But why, you may ask? Well, let’s back up and explain before we proceed: If you need to cut out an object, or modify only part of an image, then the selection tools are just the ticket. This is one of the most common editing actions, so it’s important to know which individual tool is best for your needs. Whether you want to change the color of someone’s shirt, or move a flowerpot to the other edge of the frame, selection tools are crucial in getting the job done! So what is Quick Selection and when should you use it? It’s easy if you think of this tool as sort of a hybrid: a cross between the Magic Wand and the Selection Brush. Quick Selection does “see” tone, color, and texture (like the Magic Wand), but also allows you to control it with your pen strokes (like the Selection Brush). If you have an object that is similar in color or texture and you’re not 110% rock solid with your fine mousing skills, then Quick Selection may be just the tool for you. Let’s get started with a sample image, just like we’ve done in our previous tutorials; a black and white gradient with a high-color object in the center: Now let’s locate the Quick Selection tool by going to your left-hand toolbar inside the Select section. On the bottom right there are three tools nestled: the Magic Wand, the Selection Brush, and Quick Selection. You’ll know you’ve found it when your bottom toolbar looks like this: You’ll notice several options for customization that should be familiar to you: The New, Add, and Subtract options on the left side (This tells the program whether to start a new selection or to modify the current one by adding more pixels or subtracting some.) The options to Sample All Layers and Auto-Enhance (Remember that generally, when working with a multi-layer image, it’s best to have that first one selected. As far as auto-enhance goes, it can result in smoother edges, but can sometimes slow down processing.) The brush size slider, which does exactly what you’d think! Underneath that, however, in the Brush Settings, there are several more tools: You’ve probably seen these before, but let’s have a brief summary: Hardness: Controls the tightness and “severity” of the brush edges. Harder = more crisp, clean lines. Softer = more fuzzy, blurred lines. Spacing: Controls how many selection points are dropped while you drag your brush over a set of pixels (kind of like anchor points). Low spacing = uninterrupted brush line. High spacing = selected dots along brush line. Roundness: Controls the shape of your brush head. 100% = your brush is perfectly round, as indicated by the diagram. 50% = your brush is oblong. 0% = your brush is a thin flat line. Size: This allows you to change the size of your brush by pen pressure or stylus wheel. Great if you do your editing on a tablet or similar device. Angle: Controls the degree of “pitch” of your brush. For example, if my brush is at 50% roundness and 45 degree angle, it looks like this: For today’s purposes, I will...

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10 Common Mistakes People Make in Photoshop

We all love to critique photos right? If you’re anything like me, you click on articles that say things like “Horrible Photoshop Mistakes” and spend time trying to figure out how a particular image has been altered. And while there are lots of “bad” photos out there, many of them started with a good idea in mind. Programs like Photoshop are amazing and powerful tools, if you know how to use them right. I’ll go through a list of some of the most common mistakes beginners make in Photoshop, and help you find a workflow that is not only efficient, but ends with a clean and professional-looking product.   Mistake #1: Not regularly saving your work You may think this sounds like common sense, but I’ve seen people time and time again complete an entire 20-30 minute editing session without saving even once! Things happen: computers crash, programs freeze, tabs are accidentally closed. Prepare yourself for the worst by regularly saving your work, preferably without making permanent changes (we’ll talk about layers later!). When you first open and starting working on a file, save it as a .psd or Photoshop document file, making sure to preserve an unedited version as well. Then throughout your editing process, hit Command+S (or Control+S on PC) to save often. Then, of course, when you are finished, save your work using whatever file extension you deem appropriate (I usually save as both a .psd and .jpg, sometimes as .pdf depending on its final destination).   Mistake #2: Not taking advantage of shortcuts Now, this isn’t exactly crucial, but knowing the keyboard shortcuts for your Photoshop program will save you lots of time and effort in the end. Here is a helpful infographic to get you started. And remember, the more you use them, the faster and more fluid your work can be. Not to mention, saving your eyes from having to search drop down menus and saving your wrists from having to mouse and click everywhere!   Mistake #3: Oversaturation Our eyes love color, but there is such a thing as too much. It can be tempting, when first learning Photoshop, to pump up the levels to make all your colors richer, brighter, and deeper. And sometimes it’s hard to know where to stop. For example, here is an example of an oversaturated image: A little bit goes a long way here, and if you’re stuck or unsure, either exit out of the image file and come back later with fresh eyes…or refrain from touching the saturation slider at all! Most photos don’t benefit from this action anyway. There are better ways to fine-tune your color using the Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Color Curves editing tools. Whichever you choose to do, just be sure to air on the side of caution.   Mistake #4: Using desaturate to convert to B&W It might seem handy, when wanting to turn a color image into a black & white one, to simply pull down the saturation slider until you “remove” all the color. But most of the time, this results in a flat image or one that is simply bland. The best way to adjust your color photos into monochrome ones is to use the channel mixer function. This box offers pre-set adjustments for things like portraits and landscapes, but also allows you to control each individual channel for Red, Green, and Blue, as well as overall contrast. It’s easy to just select Enhance > Convert to Black and White! Then you can play around with finding the combination that suits your image best and...

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Understanding Resolution

During every graphic design class we run at the Digital Workshop Center, there’s almost always a lengthy discussion about image resolution. Imagery used to be so simple when the world was still analog. But with digital imagery, there are many factors to consider when determining resolution. First, to understand resolution you need to understand that all digital images are made of pixels, which is short for “picture elements.” A pixel is the smallest meaningful unit in an image and holds all of the color definition information, including color and brightness. When you group a large amount of pixels in a small area, you begin to represent an image into something the eye recognizes. The more pixels in an area, the better the quality of the image. This quality is what we call resolution and is typically measured in pixels per inch (PPI) on a computer screen. On a printed photo, it’s often measured as dots per inch (DPI) because printers originally measured in dots, not pixels. When referring to resolution from a digital camera, we’re really talking about how many pixels per inch the camera can store in one image. This is typically measured in megapixels, which multiplies the total width and height pixels of an image. For example, an image that is 4,368 pixels by 2,912 pixels is said to have 12.7 million pixels, or 12.7 megapixels. For most digital images that need to be printed, we use 300 DPI as a standard because it’s what’s been determined to be enough for the eye to view the image and effectively determine that the image looks correct. Printers work by putting ink or toner onto a piece of paper. A printer’s possible output is measured in DPI due to how the printer moves the ink head across the page. Inkjet printers drop a dot of ink as needed, while laser printers melt a drop of toner to the page. The more dots you fit onto a printed page, the higher the resolution of the printer. You may ask, “What’s the right resolution for me?” Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer. For everyday printing of basic documents, you don’t need to print at a high resolution, as it would be a waste of ink. You need to think about each step in the digital chain of events from capturing the image to printing it, and then determine what resolution makes the most sense for your situation. [Originally published in The Coloradoan on...

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The Concepts of Strong Visual Design

Strong designs go far beyond looking cool. When you load a website, watch an ad on television or peruse magazine ads, are you looking at them with random purpose, or did someone sprinkle a breadcrumb trail for you to follow? A well-designed document leads viewers from point A to B, highlighting and emphasizing key components without shouting in all caps “HEY! LOOK OVER HERE!” While there are many creative and intricate ways to draw viewers to the important content like moth to flame, there are basic (and highly effective) methods that are commonly used in just about all of today’s media. Eyeflow Eyeflow is one’s natural visual progression through a document. Creating visual flow is like drawing a map through your document using various design elements. To help draw this map and mark your important goodies with a big, fat, subconscious “X,” designers will use anything from color or shade gradients to roadways or even an arrow. Subtler techniques incorporate less obvious materials, and piecing together a design that not only looks compelling, but compels the eye to follow a specific path is a true art form. There are no rules written in stone for eyeflow. As in, you can get creative with where people should begin viewing your document and where eyeflow should lead. Really, eyeflow should be different for almost every project you have, as your materials and goals will differ. Just remember that whether it’s an arrow, an innocuous background object, text or the central component of your design, give everything in your design direction towards your project’s goal. “Reading” Designs This is perhaps one of the most basic and fundamental rules of eyeflow. Ever since we were children, we’ve been trained to read from left to right, top to bottom. This principle of eyeflow holds true for graphic and text-laden content. This isn’t the only way to create designs, but it’s used so often that it’s important to highlight this technique. This comic book cover of Spider-Man is a great example of how top-left to bottom-right rules apply for both images and text. You can see how the illustration uses a strong headline to initially grab the eye at the top. Then, Spider-Man’s pose not only draws the eye to the center of the design, it also leads the eye from the top-left to the bottom-right of the page. All literal messages (dialogue bubbles and text blocks) follow the same path as his pose, giving the content a natural flow. Also, as Spidey’s first appearance ever, there is literally an arrow pointing at his name, saying Hello world!” without stealing the focus from the central image. The Fold While you don’t want to bludgeon people with calls-to-action and information, you shouldn’t hide them either. When creating images for websites, it’s important to remember that monitors, smartphones and tablets typically aren’t large enough to display a website’s full content. The fold is the point where a page goes from visible to off-screen. It’s typically important to place all important information above the fold, as many people will move on without scrolling through the entirety of web pages. These principles can potentially help when designing for other media than the web as well, as it will help create a hierarchy of content. Speaking of which… Hierarchy vs. Anarchy Newspapers may be an endangered species, but they sure know how to prioritize content. Typically, newspapers follow the inverted pyramid rule, where articles lead with the most important information and get to the finer details and extras toward the end. When creating your designs, it’s important to think about...

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