Software interfaces

In this section we'll talk about the basics of a computer-based canvas, the typical features of software that can edit them, and concepts unique to digital files.

This page will presume a primary use of Adobe Photoshop, but dotPDN's Paint.net and GIMP work in much the same way. Check the software specific page for some extra insight into their partioculars.

Setting up new documents

To set up a new document you'll typically go to the "File" menu (from the series of words that run along the top and expose larger menus when clicked on) and selecting "New".

For any given program, you can always change he settings later, but it will save time to think aobut your document before hand. What background color you want, white, black, or transparent, should be obvious.

Options for Color Space and Pixle Aspect ratio will be discussed later.

You may also be given the option of DPI, LPI, or some variation of that. "Dots per inch" or "Lines per inch" both refer to the number of individual color values that fall within a line one inch long. This is only in one direction however. With most DPI numbers it is inferred that you can square it to get the total number of points within a one inch squared area. So a DPI of 300 will actually has 90000 points of color within one square inch.

Truthfully, unless you are going to print the image out in the real world, DPI can be mostly ignored. But it can cause one problem that you will need to be careful of. And that is how it affects the choice between pixels and inches when making a new document. Consider this...

  • Your new document measurements are set to be in inches (this option should appear next to the actual width / height field).
  • The default DPI is, for examples, 75.
  • You enter 1000 x 1000 for the dimensions of your document, thinking that it is asking for pixels.
  • The actual document size in pixels will then be 75 DPI x 1000 inches.
  • 75 x 1000 = 75,000 pixels (in width or height).
  • 75,000 width x 75,000 height = 5,625,000,000 total pixels.

This will be way too much for most computers to handle and you will risk crashing your software. Just remember that if you want to create an image the size of your average book page, and want to use inches, then put in the measurement as inches (probably just 8-11 depending on width and height).

The new document dialogue of Adobe Photoshop CS6. Note how the width and height settings are set to be measured in pixels instead of inches or centimeters.

Photoshop: Rulers, Grids & Guides

None of the three helpers discussed here will affect a final image. The exist to help position elements or server as guidelines for tools. These tools can all be used for snapping by going to the menu item "View > Snap To". Just make sure "Snap", in the same spot, is also toggled on if you want to enable the snapping behavior. You know something is toggled "on" if it has a checkmark next to it.

"Snapping" means that the object you are moving, or the tool you are using, will align to that grid or guide line either by a side or center point.

To get the options for rulers, grids and guides, you can select "Edit > Preferences" in the drop down menu, but you can also just double click on a ruler to open the same window.

Rulers are just that, rulers that appear along the side of the document to help in measurement and alignment.

  • The shorcut to show the rulers is CTRL-R, and the menu item "View > Rulers".
  • You can change what the ruler measures via the preferences, but you can also just right click on it for a menu.

Guides are lines placed by the user, they are always parallel to the edges of the canvas and appear in a bright blue.

  • To toggle guide visiblity, use "CTRL & ";"", or select "View > Show > Guides" from the dropdown menu.
  • A new guide can be made by left clicking and holding onto a ruler, then dragging into the canvas area before releasing. Clicking on the top ruler will pull down a horizontal guide and clicking on the left ruler will pull over a vertical guide.
  • Guides can be moved after placing by holding down "CTRL" when clicking and dragging on them.
  • Holding down the "Shift" key while moving a guide will keep it snapped to whole pixels. Otherwise there are times when it may stop on a sub-pixel (for instance, 30.5, 111.7, etc).
  • To delete a guide, just CTRL & Click & Drag it back to a ruler.
Rulers toggled "on" for an image 231 pixels wide by 211 pixels high. You can see by their measurements that the rulers are set to measure pixels, but could also be set to inches, or percentages as well.

This image has also had two guides pulled into it and positioned at 90 pixles on the X (left / right) direction and the 150 pixel position in the Y direction (up / down).
Here we see a grid which has been set to "percent", though it too can be spaced by pixels or centimeters. Specifcally it is showing grid lines at "25%" with "2" subdivisions. Note that the ruler is still measuring pixels; the two do not have to use the same form of measurement.

The Grid is simply a way of dividing the image up into even sections, unlike guides, which can be placed at non-constant intervals. The image on the left uses them to make the space between text lines the same.

  • Grids can be toggled on and off with the shortcut "CTRL-'" (single quotation mark), or the menu dropdown "View > Show > Guides".
  • Unlike guides you can set grid lines to have automatically spaced subdivisions (shown in a lighter grey than grid lines). These are helpful for if you want major elements to be evenly spaced while minor elements evenly spaced *within* the major elements. For instance, setting subdivisions to "2" will add one line, but divide the grid square into 4 pieces (see the image to the left).

Placeholder images

For the purposes of this class I will often ask you to find images online to use in various exercises. In graphic design one will *always* want to use the highest quality assets possible. This means 2D images should be of a high resolution. Higher resolution images will allow you to edit them without quality degredation.

When searching for images online you may not always get the highest resolution possible returned for your query. To look for only large images in the Google search engine specifically follow these steps.

  1. Search for a subject / person / place / thing on google.
  2. Once the search results have returned click the "Images" category at the top of the page.
  3. On the new images page click the "Search tools" button to the right of the search categories.
  4. Once the sub-categories appear click on "Size" and select "Large" from the context menu that appears. This will research the web one last time to ensure you only see results for high resolution images.

When following these steps you should see a screen similar to what you see below.

Keep in mind that, if finding an image just for educational uses, you don't need an expectionally large image. Images that are several *thousand* pixels high or wide will surpass your requirements as a student and merely take up more space than they need to. Images between 1000 to 2000 pixels in either width or height will be best.

Also remember, images found online should only be used for either educational means or for practice / placeholder uses before a final image you have the right to use is obtained.

Non-destructive editing

One of the first principles that anyone getting into any kind of digital medium should internalize is non-destructive editing. This idea doesn't refer to one specific tool or program, it is part of the process of creation. It's simply the idea that, when possible, you should make your decisions reversable in case you ever want to try something different. It's the opposite of permanent edits.

A Non-destructive approach avoids permanent changes when possible to retain image flexibility.

For example, let's look at two ways of brightening an image in Adobe Photoshop specifically. Both methods will use the "curves" option from a layer adjustment menu. But there are two ways of getting to it, either through the Image > Adjustments menu, or through Layer > New Adjustment Layer.

The difference is that the first path will take you to a curve dialogue that, when finalized, will not be undoable. You can use Control-Z of course, but if you continue working after that point and make changes that you *don't* want to erase, then you cannot go back to that particular point is history.

With the second option the program will add a layer that creates the same effect, in this case brightening the image, but which can be toggled on and off at will.

Some other examples of non-destructive editing would involve...

  • Changing an image to be black and white. You may want a colored version later so why not just use an adjustment layer to change the saturation to 0%.
  • Having an object that you want to add shadows to. You could paint darker areas directly on the image, but you can also make a new layer to paint the shadows on. With a new layer you can toggle the shadows on and off, or even lessen them if they are too dark just by changing the layer opacity.
  • Making use of paragraph or character styles to bold certain text. This is helpful when reviewing a project with other people, a boss or client, who may want some input into the look. Changing fonts are often a way of giving them that feeling in a way that requires the least amount of effort on the designer's part.

So remember, always strive to use as few permanent changes to an image as possible. You'll thank yourself later.

Moving Elements

Within every program lies the ability to move an individual element around the project window. There are generally two ways of beginning a "drag and drop" movement using your keyboard and mouse. One is by using a dedicated movement tool, another is done using a freeform transform option which exists in almost every program.

To use a basic movement tool you will, 99% of the time, want to look for a simple black arrow icon. This may come in the form of a tool that moves an entire layer or one that moves individual objects. For instance in Adobe Photoshop the "Move Tool" is the first tool in the default vertical toolbar and will move an entire layer around via clicking and holding the Left mouse button as you move your mouse around. Lower down that same toolbar one can find another black arrow icon with a tool tip of "Path Selection Tool" (In Photoshop it may be in a group with the "Direct Selection Tool" but can also be accessed via "CTRL-T"). This tool will move one path at a time, which are lines that make up various shapes in Photoshop.

Most of these things are fairly self evident. The "transform" tools of some programs have more options for how they modify an object but options which are not as readily apparent.

  • Each corner / side node (typically a square) can be Left-Click and dragged upon to change the size of the transform.
  • Hovering the mouse around the empty areas just outside these same nodes will often show rotation or scaling options. Look for the change of the mouse cursor.
  • In many programs the circle / target in the center of the transform box can be moved itself. It typically is the point you rotate the transform around if you do need to use rotation.

The below video by "Phlearn Photoshop and Photography Tutorials" does a good job of going over the various uses and opertations of Photoshop's transform tool in particular.