Serve your art, not your tools, Part 2: Don’t Photoshop til you drop

Given the complexity of learning new programs, designers often get locked into one tool that we learn in and out, reluctant to experiment with others. But to keep growing as designers, we have to keep exploring new tools that could make our job easier and push our creativity in new directions.

Don't Photoshop 'til you drop

We live in a Photoshop world! For all its power, Photoshop wasn’t designed to be an all-encompassing tool (even though Adobe appears to be pushing it in that direction). 

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While it does many things well, there are other tools that are far better suited than Photoshop for certain tasks. For example…

Need to crop an image quickly? 

Why spend 15 seconds waiting for Photoshop to launch to crop photos when an application like Pixelmator can do the job in 5 seconds? The time saved might seem minor, but it adds up over a lifetime. 

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Need to export images at different sizes?

How many times have you had to export a large group of files at different sizes? While this is a task you can do in Photoshop, it’s a bit of overkill. Why not add an application like Quickscale to your toolset? Quickscale is a small little application designed to let you scale a large set of pictures to a desired size and format.

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Compressing image file for the web?

Many designers prefer to use Photoshop to compress their images, and while the program does a good job with this task, there are other programs that are even better. Compress is my favorite; it uses a simple interface that was designed with the sole purpose of getting the best image quality at the lowest file size possible.

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Tips for getting the most out of Photoshop

When Photoshop is the right tool for the job, use these tips to save time and headaches. 

Why I don’t use Layer Comps! 

If you live in a Photoshop workflow, then you have been exposed to layer comps. Layer comps are a way to capture the different states of your design based on the layers you have selected to be visible. In theory, layer comps are a great solution and add the value of the multiplate pages concept that Adobe Fireworks users love. But, the problem with layer comps is also what makes Photoshop problematic: the more elements in a Photoshop document, the more system resources Photoshop requires.

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The bloat 

Layer comps tend to result in exponential file growth, drastically decreasing performance with large file sizes. With too many layers in a single photoshop document, Photoshop’s performance is impacted and the application becomes cumbersome to work in. This has become such a problem that I generally plan how I work in Photoshop and sometimes find myself rethinking the structure of their documents. 

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How I work with Photoshop files

I work in single Photoshop documents. Instead of creating a new layer comp, I create a separate Photoshop document file for the design I’m working on. For example, instead of having one large Photoshop file with layer comps for home, about, contact us, and blog screens, I have several smaller, more manageable Photoshop documents representing those screens.

There are 3 main reasons I work the way I do: speed, performance, and collaboration. 

Working in single Photoshop documents for each section, I can iterate on just those sections, creating several different designs of one document very quickly.

Photoshop can take up to 15 – 25 seconds to launch. If you use layer comps, most likely you're working in a larger file and that can take another 10 to 20 seconds to launch.

By working in single Photoshop documents, you can quickly share only the document you need with other coworkers or clients. I don’t have to worry about hitting the 10mb email limit. Working in separate files eliminates the need for merge designs from two different Photoshop documents to create on master file.

Apple Preview is a great way to present work

Another benefit of working in single Photoshop files: each Photoshop file represents one screen design that can be easily presented in quick view or dropped with multiple .psd files into Apple’s Preview for quick way to look at your work and/or present work to clients or supervisors.

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Little Applications that add value and save time in your workflow 

FormatMatch is a personal favorite. FormatMatch takes all the hassle out of copying and pasting text from one document to another by removing all the formatting that Microsoft Word or other editing applications apply to text. The benefits are simple: FormatMatch removes the annoying messiness of working with text across multiple applications.

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Here a few of my other favorite apps that add value to my workflow:


Camerabag 2

Better Renamer

Skala Preview


Part 1: Creativity Boosters
Part 3: Start with a solid foundation

Part 2 of 3: Using the right tool for the job

Jason Csizmadi

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