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.