Over the years, one of my favorite things about blogging has become image processing. Really. I love having many windows open in Photoshop. I own about 5,000 fonts, and my font twin (Kelly from Gouldylox Reviews) and I will email each other links to new (and free) fonts. I love playing with the layers, trying different colors, transparencies and trying to create a great glitter effect. Yes, I’m a computer nerd and I kind of love it!
I’m not a graphic designer, though I definitely have more skills than the average blogger. I’ve designed this site and done the graphics on my own for about 6 1/2 years and have designed/coded for other bloggers as well. The thing I get asked the most (other than requests for more social media buttons) is for directions on how to create my collages. Check out my Busy Mom’s Makeup Kit and Martha’s Must Have Beauty Essentials to see what I mean.
This tutorial is only for the advanced Photoshop user. You shouldn’t be saying “what’s a layer?” and “transform?” I warn you now that I have Photoshop CS3, so it is old but I find no reason to upgrade (especially now that the cloud stuff is coming), and I have never even opened a Photoshop Elements program. I don’t know how things translate over and can’t help you with that. But, I do expect that some of the basic concepts would be the same.
Read on if you’re interested in my process….
When creating a collage, obviously you’ll first need to collect your images. I typically head to the site of a brand and use the images from there, or I’ll get the images sent to me by the PR reps. You want them to be larger than you would need (it is nice to be able to “zoom” in on a feature or size it however you want, not how you’re forced to based on the image size). If you’re getting images from the website, usually you can right click to snag the image. I sometimes will just click and grab, dragging my arrow down to the Photoshop icon in my dock below (this works on my Mac, I don’t know how you could do something similar for a PC).
Once I have all of my images, this will somewhat determine how I use them. If I can’t find enough images, I might take some pics myself, ask a blogger if I can use their image (I rarely do this, but when I do I make sure I leave their watermark intact and state somewhere in my text that the image was used with their permission or at least mention and link to them somehow).
Once I’m ready to begin, I’ll start a new window. With my current layout my set width is 650 px. This means that in the future I’ll never make my posting area skinnier than this. Why? I’m too lazy to go back and resize images that are poking over to the sidebars. So, 650 px wide, and I’ll pick a random height. Mostly I end up about 1000-1500 px tall, but if I have a long post with related images (like this one), I’ll keep extending down my canvas size (this is under my “image” menu at the top) as I need more space. It’s easier to keep a cohesive look with fonts and other styles when everything was created in the same file. I simply leave a little space between each graphic, and when I’m ready to save the pics I’ll select the area I want and then crop everything else out. The file for this post was 4000 px high, the intro pic, “more photoshop resources” pic and the cheat sheet pic were created separately.
Be sure to make it 72 dpi and have a white background. I like to have everything white so it looks like things are floating. With the creation of higher resolution screens and such, there are some web designers that are using higher dpi for websites, but currently so few people can view them that way, so I stick with the standard of 72 dpi.
Once I have my window open, I drag all of my images into my new collage area and close all of the other windows. Next, it’s time to start moving things around to where I like them. I usually delete the extra white space around the items to make overlapping a little bit easier as a first step (use the magic wand tool to select everything white or just select with the regular box and then hit delete). Then I move things around, and will resize/angle a bit. I use the “Free Transform” to do this easily, the short cut is command/control – T. It brings up the bar you see above.
The first thing I do is hit the interlocking icon (#1), this locks the aspect ratio in place so things don’t end up wonky. I hate seeing things smooshed funny or stretched out, it definitely doesn’t look good! For quick resizing I’ll enter a number into the #2 box, but I usually end up grabbing the controls around my image and refining that selection a bit. I sometimes angle things a bit here (#3), but if I do at the most I use 3 degrees off of center. More of an angle usually looks not quite right. Don’t forget to hit the check when you’re done (#4), I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to hit that and then been frustrated when I can’t move on to my next step!
I’m a girl that likes her fonts, but even with all of my options, sometimes nothing is quite right! I’ll pick my font and color, then write what I want. From there I will customize the font in the font window.
Things I adjust:
1. Line Spacing: Sometimes I love the look of lines close together so that the hanging g and y will overlap. Sometimes I want things spread far apart. Play with it until you get a look you like
2. On fonts that are super spread out I almost always bring down the spacing in between the letters. Conversely, if you find that a font is hard to read sometimes adding a few extra pixels between the letters is a much better option than increasing the font size.
3. Letter height/width are also things that can make a font look much more legible, or make a normal font more modern (Lucida Sans at 120% height and 90% width is very different than plain old vanilla).
Obviously some of the above is self explanatory, but it does seem like what you do when you start adding effects to your layers that can make the biggest difference! Once I get an effect that I like, I’ll often click on the layer, copy the effects and then paste it to many other layers within my file. The look is much more consistent that way and I’ll save a ton of time!
Drop shadows are probably the first thing that people start messing around with when they get Photoshop, and it can be misused very easily. Yes, you should use drop shadows (especially when things are overlapping a lot), but there are a few general rules that I follow when using them. I made them up, I’m sure there are more “official” rules out there.
1. All shadows in a post must follow the same angle. Your light wouldn’t be moving around like crazy to cast different shadows, would it? No.
2. Never use drop shadows with the default settings. They’re much too harsh and look very obvious. Bring that opacity down to the 30-40% range and things are much better.
3. Consider making the shadow a bit bigger by changing the size and spread, but if you’re going to do that you really should change the distance (usually to smaller, this makes it look like the light source moved).
4. Things on top get shadows, things underneath either don’t get a shadow or they get a smaller shadow, and that shadow is usually closer than the standard 5px. The exception to this is sometimes writing or arrows, sometimes when those are on top they’re fine to not use a shadow, but an actual object? Yes, shadows need to occur in the correct order.
Here are a few other ways that I’ll change layers. If you don’t know how to use the paths in Photoshop, here’s a great photoshop path tool tutorial for beginners. I have barely scratched the surface myself, but it is definitely my preferred way to circle things. As well, I’ll frequently change the opacity of layers (especially if it is a shape that I’m using as a “sticker), and don’t forget to only angle things a little! Too much looks overdone.
Once you’ve created a look that you love and will want to reproduce over and over, you should create a “cheat sheet” for yourself. I’m sure that there’s a much more technical name for this (style sheet?), but I create a window and drag all of my favorites into it. I save it somewhere that it is easy to find, but I make the window smaller (I usually have it at 50%) and have it open always.
The cheat sheet has my favorite layer options, fonts that I may have changed the width or spacing on and intend to use frequently, different items like my logo or arrows that I use all the time. I’ll drag things into my new window to use them, or copy and then paste the layer style onto something. It’s much easier than looking up all of my options over and over, a huge time saver!
I’ve never taken a class about how to use Photoshop, but I do have the correct version of Photoshop for Dummies for my program (I’m CS3). I used the book a lot while learning to use the program, but now only refer to it every few months or so.
31 Days to Learn Photoshop Basics for Bloggers: This is a great series on learning to use Photoshop.
My must reads from this series:
• Transform Tool
• Magic Wand Tool
• Adding Text
• Color Picker (Eye dropper)
• Layer Styles