In our recent articles about personal brand, we talked about apps you can use to develop a consistent look and feel to your branded material. At that time, we didn’t talk about perhaps the most powerful digital solution for your graphic design needs, Photoshop (and its budget friendly counterparts, Pixlr and GIMP). If you’ve never used these programs, you might believe the learning curve is too great for you to ever develop the skill to use them. However, in the age of YouTube video tutorials, few skills exist outside of your reach. Typically, you only need to commit the time to educate yourself about modern design and design software.
Learning to use the layers palette
Most of the design skills, whether you’re using a template or starting from scratch, will involve the manipulation of layers. Photoshop, Gimp, and Pixlr all use a layers pallet. The concept of layers might be a little difficult to grasp if it’s entirely foreign, so we’ll explain it in the simplest possible terms.
In programs like paint, any change you make to an image ends up on one layer. If you use a brush to paint over something the change is final unless you hit undo. When you work with a layer pallet, you can split each individual element or effect of your project onto a different layer. So you can create a transparent layer over the top of your background and paint on the transparent layer. Your digital brushstrokes are visually “above” the background, and you can move and manipulate them at will without ever affecting your background.
Layers provide you with easily adjustable designs. If you’re still unclear on how layers work or why you would need them, check out this video. Although the producer uses software we are not talking about today, he does a good job of illuminating the basic value and uses of layers.
Choosing design software
In this section we feature some video demos created by our very own Tina Rawlins. We also give you a little commentary about each software option, to help you make your choice. First, let’s take a look at Pixlr.
Pixlr is probably the easiest design software to get into. The tools are pared down and thus a little easier to navigate, and the software is web-based so you don’t have to download anything to get started. It lacks some of the more advanced tools you’ll get in Photoshop and GIMP, but you should definitely give it a try.
Now let’s look at Photoshop.
Photoshop offers more robust features than Pixlr, but it comes with a price tag. If you’ve worked with Photoshop before, it is easy to reacquaint yourself with the latest version by watching a few tutorials online. A few key elements about the Photoshop tools have not changed. Creating layers, selecting colors, determining dimensions are similar with all versions of Photoshop. You can use Photoshop for about $10 a month (at the time of this writing).
Now let’s look at GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).
Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, we were unable to create a video demoing GIMP, but there will be GIMP videos in later articles in this series, and there are plenty more out there on YouTube.
If saving money is important to you, consider downloading GIMP. GIMP offers you many of the same tools as Photoshop in a familiar graphical user interface. It is open source and free to use. With a zero dollar price tag, it’s ideal when you’re just learning or dabbling. If you ever decide to switch from GIMP to Photoshop, just save your GIMP files in the Photoshop format (PSD), and you’ll be able to transfer all of your work.
In the rest of this four part series, we’ll give you what you need to get started. We’ll share some information about color theory, a walkthrough of the business card design process, and video tutorials for enhancing promotional photos for social media, branded elements, video watermarks, and more.
A look at color
When you set out to design materials for a launch or just to enhance your personal brand, selecting branded colors is an important first step. If your network marketing or MLM company has distinctive brand colors, you might want to incorporate them. Companies use distinctive colors to help brand the product, such as XanGo’s orange and Mary Kay’s pink. Consistency in color is key to branding.
When you have an idea of the color palette you want to work with, you’ll need to search for your “digital color swatches”—the codes that you’ll use to replicate those colors identically in your photo editor and in print. Color is more complicated than you might think, so we’ll take a moment to illuminate it.
There are two color formats: digital and print. Digital color codes are meant to display color on your screen, these are RGB and Hex (or HTML) color codes. You’ll use these codes while working in your editor of choice. Both GIMP and Photoshop can translate these digital color codes into identical print colors, but they won’t do it automatically. To achieve print colors you’ll need to save your files in CMYK format. If you are primarily going to work on projects that will be printed, you will want to learn about Pantone color codes.
The Pantone color system is a universal business standard. Pantone colors identify that you have selected the right color for your printer and give you accurate printed color results. When you select Pantone colors to incorporate in your brand identity, you can easily find the RGB or hex codes for those colors which you can then use in any photo editor.
There are many online tools that help you convert color codes; here’s one example. If you already know the Pantone code for your color, you can paste it in, and see all the other codes for that color. If you don’t already know your Pantone color, you can browse through “Pantone color books” click on any color and get the codes for a variety of systems, though you’ll want to focus on Hex or RGB. I prefer Hex, because it’s one line of code (as opposed for RGB’s three) that you can copy and paste directly into your editor’s color tool with no extra fuss.
We won’t go into more detail here about color, because like we said it’s more complicated than you might think, and these basics give you just enough to get started. However, if you want to learn more, check out these videos which offer more information about how color works and about printing in color vs. viewing color digitally:
In our next article we’ll walk you through the process of designing your own business card—a small enough process for you to start in on right away, and one that will teach you much of what you’ll need to know to keep going.
Design your card
In this article we are going to take you from point A to point B in creating a unique visual aesthetic–from thinking about style, to learning techniques, to creating a fully printable design. The process is simple and the principles can be applied to any design project. Before we get started, if you’re not familiar with your photo editor (or need a refresher) take a moment to view one of the videos below, which detail the basic tools available in each editor:
Making your business card
You’ve watched videos; you’ve played with the tools and tried out a few techniques. Maybe you’ve even created or found some textures or other design elements you’d like to incorporate. It’s time to create your business card. You might find it helpful to use predefined template files to start your business card. Doing so helps you quickly get sizing and resolution right. Many online printers make templates available to give you a head start on your project and create an easy and fast print process. You can find templates from reputable printers such as Uprinting, OvernightPrints, or iStockPhoto.com.
If you created design elements earlier that you want to use now, bring them in to the new file as new layers. Take as much time as you need to size and place your graphics. Manipulate the opacity and other settings on each layer. Get it all exactly as you want it.
Add and place your name, business name, and contact details. The text on a business card is the most important part. This is what people will use to contact you and possibly bring you future business opportunities.
Designers will typically spend hours on the content of a business card. Text size, color, and placement as well as the font selected should represent the business you are promoting. Most brands have preferred fonts which they use across all of their platforms. Pick a font (or two) that represents your brand—modern or classic, rounded or squared, narrow or wide—and use it (or them) consistently across your branded public-facing content (your website, your social media images, your banners, etc.).
Take a moment to decide if you want a double-sided card or not. If you typically write an offer on the back of your cards before you hand them to someone, you might want to leave the back of your card blank. However if you have a lot of information to convey to your contacts you may need to use both sides of your card. It is important to avoid making the contact information side of your card feel crowded or cluttered. Think of it as the text equivalent of you in a contact’s mind. Your contact information should look neat, clean, and attractive. It’s worth mentioning that applying this line of thinking to many of your designs is a good idea. Less is often more. In the publishing world, designers are taught to embrace white space. It might feel at first like your designs are incomplete if you leave blank space. In truth, however, white space is refreshing and appealing to the eye. Cluttered, busy banners, ads, and websites irritate the eye and increase the likelihood that we’ll look (or click) away.
Make sure to leave some space at the edge of your design file. You’ll see this extra space frequently referred to as bleed area and trim area. This area is included in the digital canvas of a design to avoid reprinting in case the cutting of the die becomes slightly askew. It’s a good idea to check with the printer you intend to work with to get the right size of bleed area. Any time that you set out to develop printed materials (like banners) it’s a good idea to do some research about the print process for that medium.
Here are two videos of videos of the business card design process, each creating a unique final product, each made using different editing software. Watching these should give you a good overview of the process of “putting it all together”, that is putting together all of the skills and ideas you’ve already worked through.
In our next article we’ll share more of our favorite video tutorials teaching a wide variety of skills and techniques. With advanced design software your options are limitless, and hopefully we can give you taste of what we mean when we say that.