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Develop Good Photoshop Habits

posted by Matt Ward on Jul 25, 2009.

Try getting into these four Photoshop habits, which will help to improve the flexibility of your documents, your workflow and your overall Photoshop experience. They are tricks that I’ve learned through experience, and they certainly help me.

If you’ve worked with Photoshop for any real period of time, you’ve probably experience (or at least can imagine) a PSD getting quite large. You may have even had some projects get to the point where you’re rummaging through layers, trying to find a particular element. You’ve probably made changes that you wish you could undo, even after having saved the project and come back the next day – when the undo function won’t do you a lick of good.

If you’re likc me, you’ve probably moved halfway through a project an realized that you’re working in the wrong colour space (usually working in RGB when you need CMYK), only to find that converting causes changes in colours and luminosity and certain adjustment layers to just disappear. At that point, the only option is often to either redo a lot of your work, or spend valuable time tweaking and adjusting.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help minimize the pain of most of these nightmares. By working to develop good Photoshop habits, you can create organized, easily manipulated designs and composites that will make your life much easier.

Plan your Projects

This may sound obvious, but it’s important to plan your projects. Think ahead. Create sketches. Build an outline of how you want your document to be structured. Nothing has to be written in stone, and the chances are that your final product will vary, at least slightly, from your plan. A plan will provide you with a tangible starting point, and should also help you keep on track.

Ask yourself questions about your project. What kind of media are you designing for? This can have a huge bearing on your design. If you are designing for the web alone, you can work in an RGB colour space, at a lower resolution. If you’re design is going to be printed, though, a good plan might start with switching to CMYK colour space and a higher resolution (such as 300 dpi). Setting these parameters from the outset of a design is a great habit to get into, since it can save all sorts of headaches later on.

Get Organized with Groups

When working with a number of different layers, you may find yourself wishing that you could group layers together without having to merge them. Well you can. At the bottom of the layers palette there is a tiny button with a folder icon, just to the left of the New Layer button. Click this button to create a new group within the layers stack.

Now, you can drag and drop your other layers into the group, rearrange them to your liking, and expand or minimize the group by clicking on the arrow just beside the group’s folder icon. You can even include other, small groups.

This is a great way to keep yourself organize. For example, if I was designing a website with a sidebar, I would take all of the layers that are part of the sidebar and put them all into one group. This way, my layers are all together and easily accessible.

Another huge advantage of groups is that certain effects can be applied to the enitre group at once. When a group is moved or distorted in some way, the change is applied to each layer (or sub group) within the group. One notable exception is a fill layer, which cannot be distorted on in and of itself. You can also apply layer and vector masks to a group, which is a lot simpler than applying identical masks to every layer in a group.

Basically groups help keep your Photoshop document organized, and can help simplyify certain tasks. Get into the habit of using them. They will make your life much easier.

Name your Layers

If you don’t already know about this, it’s really easy to do. Just open up the layers palette and double click on the name of any layer. This should make the name editable, so just enter whatever you want to call it. You can also do the same thing with folders.

In some instances, such as when you create a new layer from the Layer menu (as opposed to creating a new layer from the layers palette itself), you are given the option of naming the layer right then and there.

Naming your layers becomes especially critical when working with large documents containing dozens, and sometimes hundreds of layers. If this seems a little excessive, trust me, between normal layers, adjustment layers, fill layers, shapes, text, gradients and other blending effects, layers can add up in a hurry. This is especially true when creating several related or alternate designs in the same Photoshop file.

When your files start to get to that size, naming becomes more than just a good it habit; it becomes a strategy for maintaining an often fragile sanity!

Be as Non-Destructive as Possible

I always try to work as non-destructively as possible, by which I mean that I do my best to apply effects and changes in a non-permanent way, so that I can easily go back and remove or adjust something without having to completely redo it.

There are a number of non-destuctive techniques that you can use in Photoshop. Adjustment layers are a great example. While you can adjust the brightness and contrast using Image->Adjustments->Brightness/Contrast, the adjustment is permanent. The only way to change it is to go back to a saved copy of the image and apply the adjustment again. If you decide that you want to make a change after having done a bunch of other work, this could also mean having to redo all of that work too!

Using an adjustment layer is so much simpler. These layers apply a particular adjustment to all of the other layers below it. Even better though, is the fact that these adjustments are completely editable. If you want to make a change, just click on the layer icon in the layers palette to bring up the control dialogue. The changes are reflected immediately. You can also hide adjustment layers, mask them, and even delete them entirely, all without making any permanent changes to the layers beneath!

Another non-destructive technique is to use Smart Filters, which are really just an extention of Smart Objects. I won’t get into a full discussion of Smart Objects in this post, but if you create a smart object out of an element, you can then apply Smart Filters to that object. A Smart Filter is nothing more than an editable filter. For instance, if I apply a Smart gaussian blur of 20px, but then later decide I want to reduce it to 10px, I can just open up the Smart Filter, make the change and see it applied immediately.

There are other non destructive techniques, too, which I won’t get into right now (maybe in another post, though). The point is that it’s a good habit to approach things from a non-destructive direction whenever possible. I think that you will find that it makes your Photoshop documents much more flexible.

So, there you go. If you try to get into these habits (if you haven’t already), I’m sure that your Photoshoping will become much more enjoyable. I hope you find this post useful.

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About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Comments

Feb 28, 2010

ximi says:

Nice post with some useful tips. Good work!

May 5, 2010

Design Earth says:

I really like the ‘Be as Non-Destructive as Possible’ point. Good.

Jun 16, 2010

clippingimages says:

Wow …very handy tips indeed …nice one…thanks for sharing …

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