Photoshop fails – they’re seemingly so common, they’ve become a meme. We’ve all seen those photos where some celebrity has magically lost several stone of weight and we’ve thought: “terrible Photoshop”.
Then, of course, there are the movie posters where the star’s head has been clumsily grafted onto someone else’s body; or there’s a group-shot made up of people who were clearly not even in the same room. We’ve all seen those and thought: “shoddy Photoshop”.
Unless you’re Nicholas Cage, it’s best to avoid becoming a meme. So let’s take a look at a few tips and tricks that can help sharpen up image manipulation.
One constant bugbear for designers, is having files handed over to them by other designers and finding …
#1 The PSD logo
… You unzip the folder and notice that the logo file is .psd. Your heart sinks. That’s just wrong. A classic schoolboy error is using Photoshop for creating artwork such as logos. Whilst it is perfectly possible to make a Photoshop object transparent – so you could potentially add your psd logo to any background – the logo would have to be made huge, if you want to go ahead and scale it up. If it was made small, it’ll simply pixilate like crazy when you enlarge it.
So, inevitably, you end up having to rebuild it in Illustrator.
The takeaway: In this case, Photoshop is the wrong tool for the job.
#2 The CMYK print job
Why, oh why? Whilst it’s true that RGB can be a more versatile palette to work in, if you’re working on a print job, you want what’s on your screen to be the same as what’ll be on paper. Send RGB to the printers, and you’ll be surprised by what comes back.
The takeaway: Know which medium your work is destined for before you start, it’ll save a lot of surprises later.
#3 Be clear on clarity
Over sharpening is an addiction. People can become intoxicated by the power of the ‘Clarity’ slider. Resist! Too much clarity can put a line around foreground objects and almost make them seem 3D. It’s a striking effect, but overusing it just makes pictures look fake. And making a photo of a real thing or person look fake is the ultimate Photoshop fail.
The takeaway: Throttle back on the Clarity, not every image needs to be sharp enough to cut you.
#4 Under the spell of the magic wand
Do you wave your Magic Wand with the regularity of Harry Potter? If you do, you’d be forgiven. After all, cutting out shapes with a single click is nice and easy.
The Magic Wand tool is great for beginners and pros alike. Even seasoned designers rely on the Wand to meet tight deadlines. But the quick option often means you’ll incur more lost time in the long run.
The limitations of the tool become quickly apparent when working on any object that doesn’t have clearly-defined edges. The inescapable truth is that isolating a shape from a background is something that is best done by Manual Selection.
There’s no trick to it, just do it the long-winded way with the Polygonal Lasso Tool or the Pen Tool. You can then finesse the edges with a combination of the Feathering Tool and the Refine Edge tool to make the picture look totally natural.
The takeaway: Whilst manually chopping out an image might initially take longer, in many cases it will save time in the long run.
#5 Save, save, save
Hands up who’s finished a highly complicated design project only for the tool to crash? Things get worse when you realise you forget to save everything. Back to the drawing board.
Of course, this doesn’t need to be the case. It’s an easily avoided Photoshop fail. When you’re in the zone, train yourself to save every 10 minutes or so.
If you can’t remember, set an alarm on your phone to remind you. It needs to become a habit. How often do you need the beachball of doom to consume a whole morning’s work, for you to get the message?
The takeaway: Seriously – save, save, save.
#6 Name your layers
You can’t really make too many layers when you’re working. Each layer makes it easier to control your image and the more complex it gets, the more alterations you’ve made, the more important it becomes to separate those elements.
That said, it’s really easy to lose control of those layers. So, make sure you name your layers and, when their numbers start to really stack up, group them into folders. Let’s face it, you’d appreciate it if someone handed you a file with grouped and organised layers.
The takeaway: The person you’re being kind to might be yourself – if you have to come back to a piece of work in a couple of months’ time.
#7 Destructive editing
Try masking rather than erasing. Using tools like the Clone Stamp, Patch Tool or the Spot-Healing Brush can make a profound difference to your image. Save that change and you have effectively destroyed your original image. Doing all that damage on a new layer – or range of layers – allows you to alter the opacity of your alteration, or remove it entirely. For the same reason, adjustments to the image contrast, saturation etc, are all best applied on Adjustment Layers. There’s nothing more destructive than a mistake you can’t learn from and undo.
The takeaway: You have a limited number of undoes. Act accordingly.
And finally, just a general comment about the ergonomics of having so many operations – it leads to a huge number of hotkey shortcuts. Some of which are not as short as we’d like…
#8 How many hotkeys?
Hotkey shortcuts can be a real time-saver (and when did you ever have enough time for a job?) But some of those four-key combinations require the digital dexterity of concert pianist. Sometimes, it’s just easier to use the menu.
Never-the-less, the inestimable Creativebloq has put together a handy infographic illustrating all the shortcuts you need to know.
Photoshop can’t do everything
The main reason that Photoshop fails is that it isn’t a sonic screwdriver – it won’t solve every problem at the push of a button or the wave of a hand (and definitely not of a magic wand!) It’s fantastic for photos, but used indiscriminately, it can just as easily ruin them.
And always be sure that Photoshop is the correct tool for the job. For logos, consider the likes of Illustrator and, for page layout, perhaps have a look at InDesign. Choose the correct tool for the job, then use it properly and all will be well.