Adobe Photoshop is a powerful design tool used to manipulate photographs and create illustrative graphics. Photoshop can be used for tasks as simple as applying color corrections to a photograph or as complex as combining multiple images and special effects into an illustration. If you are a photographer or designer interested in creating high-end designs for print, web, and mobile, Photoshop is a tool you cannot live without.
Photoshop CS6 introduces a range of performance improvements and tool updates, including new brush features with stylus support and improved photo editing filters and adjustments, just to name a few. Photoshop CS6 Extended now provides enhanced support for 3D text extrusion and video editing in the new Timeline panel.
In this article, I guide you through some of the main features in the Photoshop workspace and introduce you to a basic workflow for creating an illustration. The expressive features in Photoshop can be used for many possible workflows. This tutorial is designed to help you take your first steps as a designer. You'll build a poster illustration by combining photographs, an imported typographic element, and graphics created in Photoshop (see Figure 1). You'll also learn how to create an editable master Photoshop file using composite elements as well as how to set up the final design for both print and web.
Design projects created in Photoshop use an editable master file called a PSD file. The PSD file separates elements with layers, saves color selections as masks, and preserves the ability to edit many of the effects applied to images and text. You can always return to the PSD file to make changes as needed.
Photoshop is primarily used to render bitmap graphics. Unlike vector images created in Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Flash Professional, bitmap images are composed of a grid of colors. The colors appear as dots side by side in rows and columns. The number of dots per inch (dpi) defines the resolution of the image. The higher the resolution, the more detail and clarity the image contains.
Tip: Photoshop CS6 introduces a new set of real vector drawing tools, enabling you to work with both photographs and vector shapes in an easy way.
Photoshop projects are usually created in high resolution at 300dpi for print design or in low resolution at 72dpi for web and mobile design. High-resolution projects produce a larger file size but enable you to publish for both print and web.
Tip: If you're working in 3D without bitmaps, you'll see the best performance if you start at a low resolution (150dpi or lower).
In this step, you'll create a new high-resolution PSD file.
Before you get started:
Create a new file and get familiar with the Photoshop workspace:
Tip: Use the workspace switcher pull-down menu in the top right corner of the Photoshop workspace for a preview of how the Photoshop panels can be configured for different tasks. Select the Essentials workspace for this tutorial.
You can import photographs, artwork, typographic elements, and 3D objects in Photoshop to use as building blocks for the design. This is common practice when creating illustrations from composite images, and it's a great way to quickly create special effects and color themes.
In this step, you'll import two photographs and a typeset vector graphic for your design.
Import artwork for your design:
At this point, you've imported the primary graphics for the composition.
Layers are an important component of the Photoshop workspace. They enable you to keep your content separate so you can edit each element individually. Layers are used to define the stacking order of the graphics in the image and to lock and hide graphics while working with overlapping elements. Layers can also be used to apply editable color corrections, filter effects, and masks to graphics. Photoshop CS6 introduces an improved Layers panel, enabling you to filter large stacks of layers by type and manipulate multiple layers at once. These improvements enhance support for drawing vector shapes by adding a new type of layer called a shape layer.
Keeping your content organized with named layers is an important best practice. Notice that the layers containing the imported images inherit the filenames of the images. In this step, you'll hide the imported images and add two new layers.
Prepare the layers for drawing:
At this point, you've created two empty layers that are ready for artwork (see Figure 4). Take a moment to get familiar with the controls at the bottom of the Layers panel.
The tools in Photoshop can be used for a wide range of tasks. For example, you can use the Pencil and Brush tools along with new erodible brush tips to simulate sketching or painting. Use the shape tools to create rectangles and ovals, and use the Text tool to create text. Use the selection tools to select areas by shape or color. Use the Clone, Blur, and Sharpen tools to correct damaged areas in an image. Use the Eyedropper and Pain Bucket tools to sample and apply color. And use the Zoom and Hand tools to navigate through your work at high resolution. You typically use these tools together to control the workspace and see the details of your images.
In this step, you'll add some simple compositional shapes to the illustration.
Draw a background rectangle and outline:
Selections are another important concept in Photoshop. Selections enable you to isolate specific colors or areas within an image so they can be manipulated independently of other parts of the image. Selections appear as a series of moving dashed lines called marching ants. You'll most commonly create a selection using the Marquee, Lasso, or Magic Wand tool. When you create a selection that will be used repeatedly, you can save it in a channel. Channels by default appear as a black and white representation of the selection shape in the Channels panel.
Masks are another important concept. A mask is a selection applied to an image so that it appears to crop the image. For example, you can create a selection that isolates a person from the background and apply the selection as a mask. The result makes the background disappear as if it were deleted. The best part is that you can turn the mask off to see the entire image again or edit the mask as needed.
In this step, you'll create a selection, save it in a channel, and load the channel to create a mask.
Remove the background from the photographs using selections and masks:
Working with color and color corrections is a common task in Photoshop. You can sample colors using the Eyedropper tool, add editable color adjustments to apply corrections and create special effects, and blend colors across images using blend modes.
In this step, you'll add a gradient color effect to the rectangle on the Sky layer and blend the cloud image with it using a blend mode.
Create special effects using gradients and blend modes:
At this point, your graphics blend together nicely (see Figure 9).
Photoshop is all about special effects. Perhaps the most fun way to create effects is to use filters. Filters are used to distort a graphic or change how it looks. For example, you can use the Twirl filter to give an image a twirled look, or you can use the Oil Paint filter to make a photograph look like a painting.
Tip: Photoshop CS6 introduces the new Mercury Graphics Engine, which provides faster performance for the new Crop tool, Puppet Warp, Liquify, Adaptive Wide Angle, Lighting Effects Gallery features, and the new Oil Paint filter.
In this step, you'll experiment with filters to add more special effects to the images.
Add filters to create effects:
At this point, the image is complete (see Figure 10).
You can create simple horizontal and vertical text elements directly in Photoshop using the Text tools. For more elaborate effects such as text along a path, you would typically create the text shapes in Adobe Illustrator and then import them to Photoshop for further embellishment.
In this step, you'll stylize the imported typographic element and add supporting text.
Paint the typography using strokes and gradients:
Tip: You can use the new Character Style and Paragraph Style panels in Photoshop CS6 to save styles for use between projects.
At this point, you've completed the poster design (see Figure 11).
Photoshop CS6 Extended enables you to extrude shapes in 3D. New updates completely overhaul the 3D workspace, making 3D features more intuitive, fun, and easy to use. This can be particularly useful when creating text elements that need to pop off the page.
In this step, you'll enhance the typographic element by extruding it.
Use the 3D extrusion feature:
At this point, the illustration is complete (see Figure 12).
Tip: Check out Photoshop Dimensions magazine to learn more about working in 3D in Photoshop CS6 Extended.
The last step in any Photoshop project is to publish the PSD file to a flattened image format. You'll keep the PSD file so you can edit as needed, but the original file is not intended for distribution.
In this step, you'll publish for both print and web.
Publish the PSD file:
That's all there is to it! From here, you should archive the PSD file for future editing and publish as many variations as needed at 300dpi or less.
Adobe Photoshop is a powerful tool for simple and complex image editing tasks. New 3D and video editing features open up new possibilities for just about anyone working in the creative field. Take some time to explore the 3D workspace features and the video timeline features, and think about how you can enhance your creative projects using the expressive tools in Photoshop CS6.
For more information about Photoshop, check out the following resources:
Dan Carr is the owner, lead developer, and trainer for Dan Carr Design in San Francisco. With years of experience developing for Macromedia and Adobe, Dan has created a range of features available in Flash, including e-learning templates, UI components, and Developer Resource Kit extensions. Dan teaches Flash design and ActionScript classes in Northern California and develops e-learning and web applications for the public, as well as for Adobe product teams.