Photoshop: Beyond the Basics

  • Learning Photoshop Basics

Whether you are a freelance Designer or another type of creative, knowing Photoshop is a must these days. Many employers in the field want new hires to have at least a basic understanding of this program, and it really is helpful to have some basic program skills, even outside of the professional realm. There are several different ways you can learn:

• Take a class. Many community colleges or local design schools offer courses in basic Photoshop.

• Get a tutor. Do you know someone who can teach you the ropes? Perhaps you can help someone you know learn a skill you are adept at in return for some tutoring in Photoshop.

• Read a book. There are a ton of Photoshop books out there. Go to the library and flip through them to find one that works for your skill level.

• Do a web-based tutorial. There are many of these out there as well–and seeing things hands-on can be really be helpful.

• Play around. If you have a copy of Photoshop, you can also try just spending some time with the program. Often you can pick up some of the basics by just playing around.

It doesn’t matter what type of job you hold, if you are in a creative field, a few Photoshop skills will serve you well. Take a little time to get up to speed; you’ll be glad that you did.

Photo Cropping Tips

Everyone from a freelance Web Designer to a photo retouching specialist should know how to crop a picture in Photoshop. This is one of the most basic things you can do in terms of correcting the look of a photograph. There are many times the photo can be enhanced and improved by cropping it to highlight something–or eliminate something. Too much clutter in the background of a picture will water down the message, so cropping will help bring focus to a photo for an ad campaign–or even a candid snapshot.

To crop in Photoshop, simply choose the crop tool, re-size the photograph by dragging the box to your desired size and then eliminate the dark area outside the box. This works well to change the composition of a photo and emphasize a particular part of it. Be sure to start with a higher res image so that the cropped photo won’t look grainy. When you crop, you are eliminating pixels. This typically isn’t a problem for most Web images, but it can be an issue for print.

Here are a few ideas for how to use the crop tool creatively:

Recreate the photo from vertical to horizontal

Change the focus of the picture by zooming in on something

Create interesting imagery by cropping a photo in an unexpected way

Photoshop Brushes

Photoshop has a variety of brushes that you can use to achieve different effects and you can use these tools to create some truly amazing imagery. Besides simple adjustments, such as the feathering and size of the brush, you can also download many custom brushes from Adobe. There are brushes that create a “fur” look, those that have grunge textures, some that are floral and others that are industrial.

If you are hoping to achieve a particular look, you can try one of the custom brushes and see if it works for you. Browse the ones on Adobe’s site–they have a photo posted so that you can see the brush technique. This is helpful since you can tell at a glance if it may be a tool you can use. There are some that look like splatters or stains, some that look like fire and even brushes that create snowflakes. The possibilities are amazing.

If you have not worked with these before, there are some simple things to keep in mind. You can size the brush by clicking on the drop down menu and dialing in the master diameter in pixels. The brush can also adjust the hardness of your brush by adjusting that slide-bar as well.

You can also choose to create your own custom brush. This is a fairly easy process, and you can make a brush out of just about any shape that you have created. Brushes are used for a wide variety of different things, such as borders, design and special effects. These tools can be helpful for doing everything from designing brand identity to creating custom invitations.

Web Designers and Photoshop

Freelance web design professionals can benefit from using Photoshop, even if they typically employ another program to create Web pages. There are a number of things that Photoshop can do that will save you quite a bit of time–especially if you are using several images in the design. Here are a few ways that you can utilize this program that will help make your job easier:

  • Batch processing. This is a real time-saver and it can be the tool of choice for those who need to rotate and re-size photographs for the web. Rather than doing it all manually, simply select the photos you want to adjust, input your settings, and the computer does all of the work for you. While the images are being processed, you can even move on to do something else. This type of idea also works for things such as changing color photos to sepia tones or renaming files.
  • Text on image. Add text to a photograph without having to use Adobe Illustrator. This is a handy thing to be able to do, and as long as you don’t need to create something really fancy, Photoshop will do the trick. For complex text layouts, you still may want to rely on Illustrator software.
  • Photo retouching. Ideally the photographer takes care of the retouching before you ever see an image, but in reality, you may need to fix something here and there. Photoshop allows you to do things such as remove “red eye,” clone out distracting details and adjust color.

Creating Icons

If you enjoy creative graphic design when it comes to icons and buttons, Photoshop is a great tool to help you create them. If you don’t normally use layers, it takes a little bit of time to learn how to create these items, but the results are dramatic, polished and professional. The truth is, you don’t need to learn Illustrator to do some of the fancier tricks for imagery if you know how to get the most out of your Photoshop program.

There are many design tutorials on the web that will walk you through the process of creating buttons and icons. Set aside a little bit of time to learn this skill if you don’t know how to do it already. Even information architect jobs can be made easier by learning how to do this–you can use it in multimedia presentations to illustrate a particular point or to help people visualize the flow of information. Web Designers would do well to add this to their skills, as it can really add to the look of a website.

4 Photoshop Techniques To Use With Caution

Creative graphic design is a skill, and it certainly ranks as an important one. Even so, there are certain Photoshop techniques that can brand you as an amateur if you don’t use them very sparingly–or very carefully.

Here are four to avoid, or at least to work hard at using well:

  1. Over-using visual effects. Just because you are able to create a photograph that looks like a painting doesn’t mean you should apply that technique to all of the pictures on a brochure. Same goes for things such as lens flare and blur. A little goes a long, long way.
  2. Too much color enhancing. Emphasizing the color of an image can be nice when done with a light hand. Too much of it is distracting, and takes away from the overall look of a piece.
  3. Using sepia. This is appropriate in some cases, but don’t do it just to do it. The mood of a piece should call for it, or the customer should request it.
  4. Crazy text/brush effects. Use caution when selecting a font, and try not to overdo it on things such as drop shadow or brush thickness.

Just these few cautions should help you use Photoshop to the best of your ability. If you are new to this program, keep these in mind when laying out a design for a client and you will automatically come up with a cleaner, more professional looking piece of work.

Logo Design

Designing brand identity typically involves the creation of a logo. This process can be a simple one, or a complex matter, depending on the client’s needs. Creating custom logos in Photoshop is a great way to come up with something unique. It is also a good tool to use if you just need a simple design. If you are a freelance graphic designer, it pays to utilize Photoshop’s custom shapes to get started–or to serve as a jumping-off point to give you ideas for a more intricate design.

Click on the custom shape tool in the tool panel on the right hand side of your screen and then check out the various options in the drop-down menu. Select the one you want to work with and drag it over to the canvas to begin. Some choices include symbols, ornaments and animals. From there you can add colors, effects and text to the image if desired to complete the logo. If this is too basic for you, try starting out with a few things here just to generate ideas and brainstorm things that you can build off of. All of this can be helpful for creating your own logo as well if you don’t already have one. If you want to check out some tutorials on this subject, take a look at this roundup on All Graphic Design.

Working With Layers

Photoshop is all about layers. Whether you are talking about photo retouching or complex logo design, layers give the designer a world of different possibilities. Try to think of layers as a stack of individual design pieces that you can add or remove at will. All of these pieces together make up your final image. The advantage of working with layers is that if you don’t like a particular piece of the design, you can simply remove it without starting from scratch again.

When working with layers, it is helpful to know what some of the symbols mean. Here are a few to keep in mind:

The eye. This icon stands for “show/hide layer” and basically allows you to turn them on or off at will.

The trash can. This icon means “delete layer”. Pretty self-explanatory.

The brush. This icon shows you which layer is currently active.

Box within a box. This icon stands for “create a new layer”.

Just knowing these few symbols will get you started working with layers. It can take a little time to get the hang of this Photoshop tool, but it is one of the most easiest ones that the program has to offer–once you know how to use it.

Changing Brush Sizes and Other Shortcuts

Shortcuts allow you to do things quickly—often by just using a keystroke rather than referring to a menu in the program.

Here are a few to keep in mind as you work on a photograph or document:

• A quick way to change your brush tip size is to use the bracket key. Use the one that opens to the left to increase it and the one that opens to the right to make it smaller.

• Zoom in or out quickly by hitting control plus or control minus. (For a MAC, use command plus or minus.)

• Undo something you just did by hitting control z. (For a MAC, use command and z.)

• Press the space bar to activate the “grabber hand” so that you can move an image around. Once you release it, you will go back to the original tool you were working with.

These are just a few simple tricks that will save you time when you are working on a project. It is helpful to use the keyboard for a quick adjustment instead of searching for something in the toolbars. As you learn more about Photoshop, see if there are other shortcuts for things that you do on a regular basis. Let’s face it—we can all use something to make a job go more smoothly.

More Photoshop Tools

If you are fairly new to Photoshop, getting acquainted with the tools you will be using is a must. Fortunately, if you just take a little time to play around with them, you will get a good feel for what each tool does. Simply open an image, select a tool from the menu and see what happens when you use it on a photograph. Here are a few to try:

The slice tool. Those who will be doing Web design jobs will want to get a feel for this tool, as it is used for creating Websites. It slices one image into smaller images and it looks like a small knife on the end of a pencil.

The healing brush. This tool looks like a band-aid, and it can help you repair any areas of an image that need it. It will help blend scratches or spots.

Clone stamp. This tool looks like an ink stamp and it also smooths out an image, but it will clone the area that you select, reproducing it on the new area.

Eraser tool. This tool is shown as an eraser and it will do exactly as it says.

These are just a few tools that are commonly used in graphic design jobs or Web design jobs. Take a little time to see what some of the other tools do as well, and before long you will have an idea of what you are doing with Photoshop. Follow up with tutorials on the ones that you think you may need the most often.

Saving Photos For The Web

First, click on “file,” then select “save for Web”. A box will come up that gives you a number of different choices. Since most photos come in JPEG format, you will need to dial in the quality settings and save. It is really a matter of personal choice how you set these, but again, you want a combination of good image quality and fast load time.

A Note About Photoshop Elements

If you are currently using a program other than Photoshop to create web pages or do layout work, you may still want to consider investing in Photoshop Elements. This program is a scaled-down version of the full one, but it still has many of the features that would be useful to designers or other creatives. It is also less expensive than purchasing the whole version of Photoshop. The good news is, just as Adobe has Photoshop and Illustrator tutorials, they also provide information and support for those who use Elements. That means even if you don’t know much about the program, help is available.

Photoshop Elements allows you to do all the basics with images, such as saturation and desaturation, cropping, resizing, rotating, cloning, adjusting the resolution and working with layers. It also allows you to create special visual effects with tools such as line drawing, photocopy and stamp. Having Photoshop Elements in your arsenal can mean that you have more options when working on a project–without the added expense of investing in the full Photoshop program.

Advance Your Design Skills

It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to come up with creative graphic design concepts or simply learn more about how to be a better freelance Website designer, continuing education is key. In order to stay on top of what is going on in the field, you need to continually advance your design skills and keep up on the latest trends. How can you do this? There are a variety of ways, but here are three that anyone can employ:

Follow someone better than you on the Web

These days there are blogs, Websites and tutorials everywhere. From Photoshop tips to Illustrator software, you can learn a lot from someone who has more knowledge than you do. Find someone on the Web who has good information on their site and keep checking back for more.

Get yourself a mentor

This is especially helpful if you are new to the design field, but mentors can help no matter how far along in your career you are. Having someone show you how they use some of the more complex Illustrator tools or walk you through how to create Web pages will really broaden your perspective.

Utilize social media

If you want to know where to find a good web tutorial on the latest Photoshop brushes, or have a question about how to create a tri-fold brochure, Tweet your question on Twitter or post it on Facebook. Someone out there may have the answer you are looking for.


Artisan Talent is a Digital, Marketing and Creative Staffing Firm placing talent in jobs perfectly matched with their skills all over the US.  For available jobs, to submit your resume, or learn more about working with Artisan Talent, contact us here.

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