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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Photoshop Downloads at my Art Website

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I’m making the Photoshop actions and scripts I’ve done that have helped me available for download on my portfolio website. You can find them at freewillunlimited.com/downloads.

More posted as I come up with them and can make my library of existing ones available. Expect to be updated here when I add new ones. Enjoy!

Photoshop Downloads at Freewillunlimited.com

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Protip: Photograph Artwork in Natural Light

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These images were taken at different times, as you can see from the increased completeness of the drawing. The left one was taken indoors, the right one outdoors, under an awning on a sunny day. Neither has been retouched (except to crop them, etc) and use the exact same camera and settings. The difference is tremendous.

Cameras don’t perceive light the same way our eyes do. Our eyes have evolved to react intelligently and also have our brains working with them to improve our perceptions of the light that meets our eyes. My old Photography professor would harp on us that our eyes were poor judges of how much light is actually visible, and this is why.
Cameras are actually sort of dumb in comparison. The soft yellow light I have inside my house provides the camera with poor contrast and a yellow cast over the image.
Light from the sun is near optimal for photographing artwork. It is near unto white (with only a slight yellow shift as our sun is a “yellow” star) and bright enough for cameras to capture images  without blurring from involuntary hand tremors, etc. The contrast is also better, straight off of the memory card as well.
Try to recreate my conditions in order to get results you’re happiest with:
  • Shoot images outdoors
  • Don’t shoot in direct sunlight to avoid glare and shadows
  • Shoot on bright, sunny days
  • Shoot artwork against contrasting background (non-reflecting black is best) for easier cropping later in PS
  • Straighten crooked images in Photoshop or use a tri-pod to avoid shooting images skewed or in perspective
  • Use double stick tape to lightly tack your drawings down to avoid the breeze ruining your shots
The Final Word: If you’re like me and don’t like scanning, you can often get away with this. I don’t think I’ll ever shoot another piece indoors ever again. (By the by, I knew my pictures would turn out better outdoors, but I would keep shooting them indoors for reasons closely relating to laziness.)
Images © 2010 the author, Eric Z Goodnight. Do not reuse under any circumstances without permission.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Using the “Fill” Opacity to clean up Circles

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As one of the last safeguards before a job goes to print, I’m often handed artwork that has craftmanship issues like the above public domain piece from NASA. Neither the customer nor the artist that used this as an element in a design noticed the spotty shadows that stuck out to me almost immediately as something that would print and likely look terrible. So, I took the element out and did a quick Photoshop treatment to improve the quality for the sake of the final print. Here’s a quick, dead-simple rundown of what I did.
 Picture 4
Fortunately, I had all of the offending information on a single layer. Step one was simply finding this!
I could have used the eraser to take out the offending scum, but that would waste to much of my time. I hide the ring layer and opt to quickly create a much better outer ring myself.
Picture 7
I draw guides by clicking on the rulers on the top and sides of the image. If you don’t have your rulers enabled, toggle them with (Cmd + R).
Picture 5 Picture 6
I draw guides around the circle, basically drawing a box around it. This gives me a rough idea about where to start drawing my new circle.
Using the circular marquee tool (Shortcut M on your keyboard), I draw a perfect circle by holding shift and dragging the shape from one corner of my guide-box to the other, from upper left to bottom right.
 Picture 8
I fill this circle with the same navy color and Edit>Fill. Still dead simple, right?
 Picture 9
I right click (Opt+Click) the layer with my new circle on it and create a stroke the same navy color. My circle is roughly identical to the outside edge of the original art, just cleaner. The stroke effect allows me to draw the ring whatever size I want dynamically and precisely, as I can enter the exact number of pixels I need.
 Picture 10
Here’s the real trick. With your circle drawn, we can decrease the “Fill” on our layers pallet to make the actual circle we just drew transparent, leaving behind the Stroke Layer effect we just created.
The Key difference is “Opacity” makes everything in the layer, including effects less opaque. When you use the Fill slider, only the non-effect information has it’s opacity changed!
Keep this in mind, as it can be very helpful to leave your shadows, bevel effects and strokes behind when you make your layer otherwise transparent.
 Picture 11
Behold my new circle and the stroke around it! Notice the gap where the circle doesn’t quite touch the artwork. Let’s tend to that now.
 Picture 12
Adjusting the stroke is as easy as going back to my layer and right clicking (Opt + Click) and going to my Stroke Layer effect. I thicken the stroke and go on about my business.


Not happy with my one stroke, I triple the layer by right clicking and picking duplicate. I go back to the stroke layer effect, and set each to a unique position. One is in the “Center” position, one is in the “Outside” position, and the last is on the inside position. This ensures I have no gaps in my ring, as well as giving me control over where each ring meets.
Coincidentally, my inner ring is thinner as to not collide with the text in the original artwork. The center ring covers the other two.
I select the three layers with Ctrl + Click (Cmd + Click) and press Ctrl + E to Merge them. This renders my layer effects and makes the three layers into one single one.
Picture 13
Much better. Without any trouble, I’ve taken out the scumming from the edge of the circle, and no one will ever be the wiser.
 Picture 14
And here’s a shot of the final merged layer in the palette. The initial circle we drew was thrown out when we merged the layers earlier. Merging layers makes Photoshop render the layers together as close as it can to how you’re seeing them. Sometimes it doesn’t quite pull it off, but usually merging these layer effects goes smoothly.
Picture 15
For added cleanliness to my edge, I remove the anti-aliasing by setting my Blend Mode to “Dissolve.” These are fun to play with and can give you unexpected results if you use some of the more arcane (and often useless) ones.
Dissolve changes fields of smooth blend to hard pixel blends. Gradients will become diffused patterns of pixels that can simulate Photoshop’s truer gradients.
 Picture 16
I prefer it because it gives me a hard edge that the Paint Bucket and Magic Wand have less trouble working with. Not exactly useful for everybody, however.
 Picture 17
I create an empty layer with a quick Ctrl + Shift + N and merge the two of them. When you merge a layer with a Non-Default color mode, Photoshop will render the layer in the default mode.
Basically, if you want your layer mode to become “real,” you can merge it this way. If I hadn’t done this, my dissolve layer would not have been selectable as Photoshop would be using the original, untendered layer as it’s guide.
It’s a little tough to explain. Try it yourself with a few different layer modes to see the strange effects you get.
Picture 13
From there, I took it further by cleaning up the blues to match each other, and took the speckling out of the lighter colors. The finished product came out sharp, and I will show the results at a later time.
The Final Word: We’ve drawn guides to draw a more perfect circle around our art. We learned about using the “Fill” style opacity versus the “Regular Opacity.” From there, we created layer effects, and learned how to make them “real” layers by merging them. These are all simple but extremely helpful skills I often take for granted. Not really glamorous, but they can be applied to a lot of different situations without much adapting.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Demystifying Channels

Image by PiccoloNamek. Via Wikipedia.

I remember several years ago, there were a half dozen little corners of Photoshop I was flat out afraid to venture into. Channels were one of the dark little nooks I was eventually thrown into kicking and screaming when I broke into the Screenprint industry, first as an artist, then as a separator. While they aren't terribly difficult to use, they can be tricky to understand, so we'll start with when it's appropriate to use channels.

The Square Marquee, Lasso and Wand tools are highlighted here.

Channels are essentially selections, the same as your Marquee tool (Shortcut "M" in your toolbox) or your Lasso tool (Shortcut "L" in your toolbox). When you draw a box, ellipse, or irregular shape with your Lasso or Wand, you're telling Photoshop you want it to pay attention to part of the active image area and ignore others. When you bring layers into this, it can get very complicated and potentially tough to understand, because you can have a selection go over several layers, but you can usually only draw an manipulate in one layer at a time.

Those selections are essentially a collection of Pixels, and a channel is a Grayscale representation of those pixels. (Grayscale is a limited color mode that only looks at 256 shades of gray, denoting value but no Hue or Saturation.)

Channels are effectively painted representations of these selections. In the above demo image, I've taken my selections I created and painted them in as white in a new "Alpha Channel" in my channels palette. The white areas here represent the selected area, while the black ones represent the non-selected area.

This is built on a model of "Light-based" color spaces. RGB, you may recall, is based on combinations of Red, Green, and Blue lights to create pure white light. You don't really need to have a deep grasp of that to understand that the standard setting for Selections in Channels means that White is your selection, while Black represents emptiness. Like outer space, where there isn't white, there is black--no reflection of color.


I personally can't stand working with Channels this way. I'm too hard wired to think of Black in terms of pigment, so I always switch my Channel's Default Setting to "Color Indicates Selected Areas." This sets your channels to react like CMYK, or Pigment-Based color spaces. Basically, the darker your image is in your channel, the more opaque, or solid, your selection is going to be.

I almost always work in RGB, but I prefer to work with my channels behaving as if they were Pigment-Based. This may sound odd, but you don't have to work this way at all if you don't want to. People work best with Photoshop when they're comfortable with it.

Red + Green + Blue builds up light and creates an image we can see and understand.

The RGB channels in your document are made the same way as these selections. They are Grayscale representations, except that Photoshop combines them to create the RGB values in your image.

In the Red Channel, areas that have a lot of red are represented with more white light. We can see some Red in the Blue LED, giving it a purple tint. We also see pure white in the Red LED, presumably because it's Red. It's a similar story in the Green and Blue Channels, with the brightest light going down respectively where the light is Green or Blue.



It can be helpful to keep in mind that Selections from the Marquees, Alpha Channels, and your Color Space Channels are the same kinds of thing. In this demo, I make a copy of my Blue Channel and radically adjust the Levels (Cmd + L), bringing Highlights up and Darks down, creating dramatic black and white contrast.

From there, I paint in the areas of speckle to get complete selection.


With this selection neatly painting in, I (Cmd + Click) my Alpha Channel, return to my Layers Pallette, and use "Layer via Cut" (Cmd + Shift+ J) and remove the bird from the background, neatly and in one painless step. This will oftentimes give you accurate cutouts that the Magic Eraser will not in a short space of time that you will not get with the regular Eraser tool.

The final word: As a Color Separator, I work extensively in Channels and I know the understanding you can get with experimenting with them. All images are essentially made of Channels, and Channels are glorified selections painted in a Grayscale Space. With this understanding and some zealous poking and prodding, you can get deep knowledge of Photoshop and do things you never thought possible.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Filetypes in Photoshop



I'm constantly receiving artwork from clients that do not understand art files, and I doubt this will ever change. What an "art file" is, is either a Raster Image or a Vector Image, theoretically one of good enough quality to be produced. One of Photoshop's many strengths is the fact it can often handle ridiculous and exotic art files. Although many of these are the same, or at least incredibly similar, let's go over some of the more common ones and talk about what advantages they have, and briefly discuss what makes an appropriate art file.



PSD: This is the big one, y'all. PSD is the Photoshop file, proprietary to Adobe Software. Thankfully, it's not so proprietary that it's not become a standard for numerous graphics platforms. GIMP, which will run on nearly every platform of mainstream modern computing (Windows, Mac OS, and Linux) will open a PSD file without flinching. It will also keep track of the number one feature of a PSD file, Layers. Photoshop lives and dies by layers, as they allow you to build on top of your existing image without losing the information from the original. I have worked in non-layered Graphics programs. I promise you I will never return.

PSD files are Raster Graphics, meaning they're made of Pixels. However, since you have the ability to use layers, Photoshop files are considered "live" artwork, although it's quite possible to kill them by flattening the artwork inside Photoshop and saving them as PSD files.

Another potential problem with Photoshop is that newer versions may save in a file format that the older versions cannot work with. So if you're working with a graphics agency or print broker with an older copy of Photoshop, you'll need to learn to convert it to legacy formats.

It's also important to note that there's no magical benefit to PSD files. If you only have a JPG of your art, and your art person asks for a PSD, you can't fool her by converting the existing artwork to PSD. They could just as easily do that themselves, and it would be just as useless for everybody involved.



AI
: Another important format, AI is the native illustrator file. Less ubiquitous than Photoshop, AI files aren't the norm except for graphics-oriented people. (Illustrator is, if you can believe it, perhaps less user friendly than Photoshop. It is, however, just as powerful for slightly different applications.) AI files are Vector Images, as opposed to Raster Images. Vectors are infinitely scalable, which means you can make a vector image at 2 inches square and print it on a billboard with no loss of quality. They're also incredibly small files since when you create shapes in illustrator, you're only creating the bare minimum information to recreate the artwork you're producing. (I could be more specific and say something dense like "Illustrator is reproducing your artwork dynamically, based on instructions you create with points, lines, gradients, and shapes," but it's out of scope for this article and will be covered at a later date.)

AI files can be imported into Photoshop easily, except that Photoshop Rasterizes them, or converts them into a Pixels. Once Vectors are rasterized, they can't be edited as Vectors without returning to the original file. Sounds complicated, doesn't it? I can demystify it later, just understand you can only sort-of transfer files back and forth from Illustrator and Photoshop.

Illustrator also handles fonts differently from Photoshop. If you move a PSD to a different computer and there's a font you used that the new machine doesn't have, your design will stay intact. Illustrator requires those fonts to dynamically rebuild your artwork upon opening. So if you move the file to a new machine, you're likely to run into trouble, and your design will change. However if you remember to select all of your fonts and "Outline" your fonts (Ctrl + Shift + O on Windows, Cmd + Shift + O on Mac) your fonts will no longer be editable and viewable on every computer with Illustrator or Photoshop.

Inkscape is a decent alternative to Illustrator, and a free open source download. If you're having trouble opening this filetype, Inkscape may help you.



PDF: Another Adobe format, there are dozens of PDF readers in the world, including the excellent program Preview for Mac OS X, and Foxit Reader for Windows. Adobe Acrobat is a weaker option for reading PDF files as it's bloated, slow, and the free version has important features locked out. Preview comes with Mac OS X, and Foxit Reader is a free download.

PDF files can be either Vector or Raster files. PDF is also a native Illustrator file, so you can save your high-end illustrator artwork as a PDF without losing any of your ability to open and edit your art. Photoshop and Illustrator will open either type without fail, although the Vector Type will open best in Illustrator, and you'll have more Raster editing options in Photoshop.

PDF is a great file format for printers because there's little to no problem with fonts defaulting and software to open, view, and print PDFs are readily available. Many printers, including FedEx Office, seem to prefer PDFs over more common filetypes like JPGs.



JPG:Best to get this one out of the way. JPGs are popular because they offer a smaller file size than other Raster files. They do not have the capability of layers, and worst of all, they are Lossy, meaning they lose quality when saved. They do this because they have a type of compression similar to the algorithmic compression of Zip archives or MP3 files, in that they find redundancies and throw away bits of quality in the image in order to keep file sizes down. This loss of quality will affect your artwork and cause noticable graininess or blurriness in your final product.

JPGs do have upsides. The small size has made them omnipresent on the internet, and every browser with graphic cabability will read them. They are very WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). This means if you send somebody a JPG, you can be almost certain that there won't be any surprises with changed fonts or problems with legacy versions of Photoshop. JPG is a mature file format and you can be pretty sure even somebody with a 10 year old computer can open a JPG without trouble.



GIF: Compuserve GIF is an Indexed color-style file. This means that files saved as GIF have a palette of 256 pre-chosen colors and all pixels are limited to those colors. GIFs have some fancy, flashy features, like Animations and Transparency. But these are largely Web 1.0 era features--particularly Animation. There's not a lot of value to animated GIFs when you're printing T-Shirts or Business cards.

GIFs have relatively small file size, but don't have JPG style compression and loss of quality. The trade off is that they have their own loss of quality when the color palette is squeezed from 16.7 million colors into 256. Simply make sure you're happy with the look of your file before you send it off to be printed.



PNG: One of the lesser used files for printing, PNG was created to replace GIF files. It is an open standard and most modern web browsers should read it without trouble. It is lossless, and supports RGB and Index color modes. Most people do not save art files in PNG simply because it's not as accepted as other filetypes like JPG or GIF.

To this day, I have never been sent a PNG as artwork from a client. I may actually swoon from excitement when I am!


TIFF: These are a bit of an oddball of the bunch. TIFFs are large, lossless Raster Files that for some peculiar reason can be saved with Layers. I don't recommend saving layered files as TIFF, because it handles them clunkily, and your layered TIFF is likely to be extremely huge in comparison to a layered PSD file. Perfectly acceptable for a flattened file, but inferior as a layered file.



EPS: Another Adobe file format, EPS can either be live Vector or Raster images. Illustrator and Photoshop will read and write EPS. They are small and self-contained, and good documents for print. They are less common today, and PDF is likely a better option over EPS. Some printers, however, may prefer this filetype over others, so it is helpful to be aware of it.


Programs That DO NOT Make Artwork



Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher and Microsoft Powerpoint confuse most users into thinking they are making artwork. In reality, these are probably the worst things any user can create art for print in. Many print shops do not have versions of Powerpoint or Publisher, and none of these three create artwork in either a Vector or Raster style suitable for any sort of professional output.

I've seen clients send art over embedded in Word documents as clipart. This simply adds steps for resourceful artists to have to go through in order to print your artwork and adds no value to your work. You should use Microsoft Word when the important part of your document is the WORDS themselves, and not the layout, colors or graphics.

Publisher I have not ever used. I imagine it's a program similar to old Clipart style design programs like InstantArtist and PrintArtist from my youth. The proprietary publisher format of PUB is not useful to anyone without Microsoft Publisher. We have had to turn away more than one Client who had designed his art in Publisher and did not have the wherewithal to export it to a more useful type of artwork.

Microsoft Powerpoint has no application in the print world; it is simply a type of presentation software. I don't recommend using it for anything but presentations, and never for printing.

The final word: Apart from the Microsoft programs above, every filetype on this page should get you a decent result if your artwork is created at actual size, and at 300 DPI. If this confuses you, you can look at my article on Resolution to understand more about Dots Per Inch and creating a good file for print. It's all about getting yourself better results!


What's next? Learn about Resolution, or about Pixels.

All graphics for this entry created by me are available under Creative Commons Share Alike License. All Licensed graphics available through the CC and GNU licenses they fall under.


Questions? I can help.


I'd like to encourage all of you that are interested to ask me your Photoshop and imaging questions. I'm extremely knowledgeable, and I'm willing to give you a hand.

Email me at understanding.photoshop@gmail.com and I'll get to work on helping you, answering your concerns, frustrations, and issues with Photoshop, as well as questions regarding images and other Adobe software.

Sociable

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