10+ Tips to speed up/improve your digital art production

1. Start with print resolution files first

Yes I know web res is smaller and easier to work with. But if you want to use something again for print you’ll thank yourself later if you have a print-ready version. Having to recreate art you’ve done before eats time and sometimes you can’t remember what you did to make the magic happen that first time.

2. Work larger than the final piece

This is an old artists’ trick for tightening up your work. When art is shrunk down for reproduction it looks slicker. Also drawing things at actual size is a pain because smaller details can require a smaller brush that’s difficult to work with. If you’re working traditionally before scanning in there’s only so small you can draw.

3. Don’t over-saturate your color choices

The first time you select colors you may be a bit unsure of the palette. Don’t use the most saturated colors because those won’t translate well into print later if you have to convert to CMYK from RGB and they can look really amateurish. One way to avoid this in Photoshop is to make a saturation layer, fill it with black, and adjust the transparency.

4. Use layers

Photoshop and most image manipulation programs today offer layers. This lets you focus on detailing one element without changing another. So you can color a file on a lower layer without running over the inks on an upper layer.

4.1 Use different layer types

When you render something play around with the type of layer and it’s opacity to give a more subtle effect.

4.2. Use layer styles

Creating effects like a uniform glow or stroke around an object can be tedious. Use layer styles to do this for you. They can recreate the same effect again and again and be easily changed/archived for later use.

4.3 Use layer groups

If you’re using a lot of layers after awhile even labeling them doesn’t help much in keeping organized. Use layer groups, folders of common layers, to organize your art structure

5. Flatten before you resize

If you’re using layer styles or text it’s really a good idea to flatten files before resizing them. That way dynamic effects won’t change with the different versions you save. It’ll also take less time than resizing multiple layers at once.

6. Use actions for repetitive tasks

Actions are little recorded tasks you play back on a file. They can be as simple as flattening an image or adding a watermark to automating a majority of your workflow with batch files. Just be careful because actions don’t think. It’s always a good idea to save your starting point in one place and the result of an action in another.

7. Make and use template files

If you know you’re going to need a lot of something, make a template. This can hold preset layer styles, fonts, guides for ruling things out, and anything else to make your life easier.

8. Use keyboard shortcuts

In Photoshop you switch between tools with certain keys. The ones I use most often are “B” for the brush/pencil, “E” for the eraser, ( with “[” and “]” resizing either one up or down) “G” for the paint bucket/gradient fill, “I” for the eyedropper, and “W” for the magic wand. When using the lasso or marquee tool you can hold down Shift to add to a selection or Alt/Option to remove from it. There’s plenty of other shortcuts that can easily be found online.

9. Use photos for reference and creating palettes

If there’s an image with a specific color scheme you like, use the eyedropper to pull colors from it. One trick in Photoshop is to run the Stained Glass filter to make blocks of the most prominent colors. I’ll bookmark images I find online all the time. I keep them organized in folders and use XMarks to synch them across my browsers and over the web.

10. Use the proper filetype for the kind of art you’re doing

Making something with a lot of blurs in it? That’s a .jpeg. Using limited colors in flat fills on black line art? That’s a .png or .gif. (.png gives you more colors – both will give you a transparency layer using an alpha channel – .gif is popular for animations though .png has some abilities there as well) Saving print-quality black and white line work? Then .tiff is your friend. It’ll even handle layers.