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.

Team Coco

“Nobody in life gets exactly what they wanted – but if you work hard and stay positive, amazing things will happen.”

Those are some of Conan O’Brien’s parting words on his final episode as host of The Tonight Show. As I watched it on Hulu the other day, I was reminded what a class act he is. He refused to compromise the integrity of a show he loved doing even at the cost of leaving it. It’s a shame NBC didn’t give his show the chance it deserved. He grew his fan base over the years on Late Night and put in a lot of work to earn Leno’s seat. Jay Leno’s a decent guy, too, but I’ve always found Conan’s show funnier. Maybe it’s because he was the underdog working hard to make you laugh and having fun. (A reason why I enjoy catching the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.) I know I and the rest of Conan’s fans look forward to following him onto whatever project he pursues next.

Something I like to take from all of this is try to be happy with your lot in life. Don’t settle, keep working hard to reach your dreams, but don’t forget what you do have and appreciate it. Some people let what they could have been in life overshadow what they are and it bums them down. Your dreams should be a goal you strive to obtain, not some specter of failure to haunt you. Rather than being bitter about his situation O’Brien chose to be happy that he got to host a show he dreamed about hosting his way and had no regrets for it. Now that’s the way to live.

I put this blog on the main page to share and learn from my experiences. Some of it’s technical concerning software, tools, or skills, and some of it’s philosophical and life lesson-y. Lately I’ve had a lot on my mind. Drawing/inking is usually a quiet zen-like experience where it’s just you reacting to the work and you can dwell on things. So I’ve jumped into other projects that have been more about problem solving and keeping my mind occupied. I’ll share some of these in future posts but right now I’m trying to focus on cartooning again. I’m almost done inking the section I’m working on. Once it’s scanned I’ll be streaming the digital side of the work and I hope some of you can join me. I really recommend you follow me on twitter so you’ll get the updates from the site, any links or other stuff I put in the feed, and if you’re on twitter you can comment on the blogs I post here.

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