Flash, Floppy Disks & FreeHand

Apple’s Steve Jobs just posted a long open letter on the reasoning behind the decision to exclude Flash support on mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Jobs lists six major points surround the decision, but wraps it up and confirms what I suspected was the driving force behind the decision. In Steve’s own words:

“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.

If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.

We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.”

Apple dealt with this during the transition from OS9 to OS X, and Jobs even notes in his letter that only now in CS5 has Adobe finally shipped a native Mac OS X version of the Creative Suite software. With the success of the iPhone & iPad, you can’t blame them for not wanting it to happen all over again.

The Floppy Disk is Finally Dead

I find it interesting that also this week, Sony announced it will be phasing out the manufacturing of floppy disk drives. Apple chose to do this in 1998 with the first iMac. Jobs implies in his letter that HTML5 is a new era for the web, and I believe he and Apple look at Flash the same way they looked at the floppy disk in 1998. Is it really any surprise?

Interestingly, this week Apple finally opened up access to hardware acceleration on OS X 10.6.3 for plugins such as Flash, something Adobe has been telling Apple for years they need in order to optimize the Flash Player on OS X. So far it’s only supported on the newest of the new Macs, but it’s a start.

Flash Catalyst

Jobs notes in his letter regarding the other Flash issue — namely their attempt with Flash Catalyst to provide a “packager” for Flash creations that would allow them to run on an iPhone in a “wrapper.  I think most Apple-bashers on the Flash issue seem to have overlooked what Jobs points out: any app created with that sort of tool must rely on the lowest common denominator features across all mobile platforms.

Apple doesn’t want this. Apple wants developers to create apps using the unique features offered by the iPhone OS.

The Apple “Experience”

Some people look at a device as a “tabula rasa” — something that they should be allowed to do whatever they want on it. I believe the Android operating system is built on this approach. But not the iPhone OS.

Apple has always focused on the overall experience rather than a “jack of all trades” open-endedness with their offerings. They make their own operating system. They make their own software. They make their own hardware/computers. And now with the iPad and recent acquisitions, they now make their own processor chips.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Apple has no desire to be a company producing a blank slate device that runs every last thing out there. They want to offer a unique and specific experience for the end-user. It is my opinion that they believe the best way to go about this is to use the tools specifically designed to create for the iPhone OS platform.

FreeHand R.I.P.

Adobe has called Apple to task on this decision, calling themselves open and Apple proprietary. But it’s not like Adobe hasn’t had their share of cutting users out of preferred authoring tools. It’s a no-brainer to see that Adobe acquired Macromedia primarily for the Flash authoring tool.

But in this process, they also acquired authoring tools such as FreeHand which was discontinued in favor of Adobe’s own vector graphics software, Illustrator. There has been no relenting of the frustration former FreeHand users have felt having lost their favorite tool.

Adobe has implicitly said that you need to move to Illustrator, and no roadmap as to what will or will not be incorporated into Illustrator. While not exactly the same, still it echoes the Apple decision that if you want to create iPhone OS apps, you do so with the approved tools. In a certain sense, Adobe has said that if you want to create vector graphics, you do so with the approved tools.

I’d venture to say that Adobe’s decision to end support for FreeHand and force users to migrate to Adobe Illustrator is really not that much different from Apple telling app developers that instead of writing lowest common denominator apps, you must use the free tools offered to create specifically for the iPhone OS.

I am sure out dear readers have opinions on this situation, and I would love to hear them. Please leave us your 2 cents in the comments section below.

Go Media friend Brad Colbow has a nice comic on this topic, and I’ll leave you with that.

The ArtCast Network

This one goes out to all you illustrator types.

Children’s book illustrator Dani Jones was an early adopter of using online video such as YouTube and live broadcast video service Ustream to share her tips, techniques and talents with others.

Over time she had found that there were quite a few artists producing both recorded video as well as doing live “screencasts”, but with no real hub site to bring them all together.

The ArtCast Network

This simple thought led to the creation of The ArtCast Network — a portal site where illustrators, comic artists, painters, cartoonists and any other visual art related to illustration would have a “group home” to allow those interested to find all of them in one place.

In a relatively short amount of time, Dani had put together a slick little WordPress site bringing together all these creators and their videos.

In The Studio

The real draw to the ArtCast Network is the live “screencasts”, where artists will draw, sketch and paint live via Ustream, Justin.tv or any of the other live streaming video services. Not only do you get t watch the artists draw live, but there is also a live chat window where you can interact directly with the artists — ask a question, make a comment, give kudos.

If you’re like me, you love to watch other artists’ process of creating their images, and being able to interact with them while they do it is even better. I would have killed to have had something like this when I was younger.

The Screening Room

The ArtCast Network also has a weekly event called “The Screening Room”, where one of the many artists on the ArtCast Network do a live screencast at 9:00 PM EST. It’s a great way for those interested in watching to have a single day and time where various artists will be doing their thing.

Many artists have either an irregular broadcast schedule, or perhaps screencast when it isn’t convenient for you to watch. This is a nice solution to that problem.

Anytime, Anywhere

Of course, perhaps even that regular slot might not be ideal, so even better is the fact that all these live broadcast services allow recording, so you can go back and check out the ones you’ve missed.

Obviously you’ll miss out on the opportunity to interact with the artist, but with any luck someone asked the question you had.

Your humble editor also participates on the ArtCast Network, and I’ve hosted a couple of the weekly Screening room sessions as well. It’s a very rewarding experience, and even better when there’s a nice, big crowd of viewers keeping things active in the chat and asking good questions —on-topic or off.

ArtCast Network Wants You!

Partially we wanted to bring the ArtCast Network to your attention, but even better — the ArtCast Network wants any and all artists out there doing a live screencast to join up and be part of the site. It’s absolutely free, and very much a site that is “by artists, for artists”.

Quite a few of the artist are digital, but there are plenty who prop up a webcam and do traditional media as well. Some even switch between the two. There really is “something there for everyone”. It’s such a fantastic resource, a great way to network with other artists online, and something that we just didn’t have access to until recently.

I strongly urge you to head over to The ArtCast Network, check out some of the live shows, and again if you are an artist yourself, get a show set up and drop Dani a line to get listed on the website. The online live stream services like Ustream and Justin.tv are totally free, so there’s really no investment save for you time. There’s a great “Getting Started” page that has all the info you need.

You can also follow The ArtCast Network on Twitter.

Have another great online resource like The ArtCast Network that we should know about, or a favorite artist on the ArtCast Network? Let us know in the comments section below.

Go!

Color Management: Calibration and Profiling

Introduction

Welcome to the second post in our color management series. Be sure to check out Part One if you haven’t already done so. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of calibrating and profiling your input & output devices in your color management workflow. This is probably the most important step in the color management process, especially calibrating and profiling your monitor display because you need to trust that the color you see on your monitor is true and correct in order for you to be able to make color and luminosity decisions.

Profiling the display

When we’re looking at a photo, or anything for that matter, on our monitor display, we’re basically looking at a huge number of pixels, each of which displays a certain color. Monitors (or those pixels to be more precise) don’t always display the color they are supposed to display correctly because there are usually some modifications occurring between what color info the program (let’s say Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator) is sending out to the monitor to display and what the monitor does actually display.

Furthermore, the monitor display changes the way it interprets color information overtime, so you need to constantly tune your monitor to display color correctly, and this is when calibration and profiling of the monitor display comes into place.

Profiling the display has two parts to it. First of all, you have to have what is called a profiling software. The profiling software takes color information from your computer and sends it off to your monitor display. Second, you have to have a spectrophotometer (also called a colorimeter). The spectrophotometer is a device that is attached to your CRT monitor screen using rubber suckers, or hung over the edge of your LCD screen resting delicately against the surface of the screen.

What the spectrophotometer does is that it reads the color info that is actually being displayed on the monitor screen, and sends that info back to the profiling software so that the profiling software can make its measurements and map the color your monitor displays to the color info your computer sends for it to actually display, insuring that what you see on your screen is the color you’re actually intended to see, instead of the color your monitor thinks you should see.

This being said, this process is creating a profile for your monitor that will always work as a link between your computer and your display to make sure the screen is displaying the right color it’s being told by your computer to display.

A calibration/profiling package I am familiar with is the Gretag Macbeth that comes with the X-Rite Eye-One Match 3 profiling software, but I’ve also heard of other monitor profiling packages such as the basICColor Display and Squid combination, the Monaco Optix XR system, and the ColorVision Monitor Spyder and Spyder2Pro Studio.

When you get the Gretag Macbeth package, you simply install the software that comes on a CD with it first. You then start the X-Rite Eye-One profiling software and follow the wizard. It will first ask you to hook up the calibrating device to your computer through a USB port. After you do that the wizard will ask you what device you wish to profile since this system can offer profiling of a monitor display, a projector, a scanner, a printer, and a digital camera with its accompanying spectrophotometer.

After you choose to profile a monitor display, you will have to specify what type of monitor it is. An LCD, a CRT, or a laptop monitor.

The wizard will then ask you to hang the spectrophotometer over the edge of your screen resting it nicely up against the display using a counter weight.

You will then sit back until the profiling software does its thing. It will show you the progress through a progress bar, and when done it’ll ask you when you want it to remind you to run the calibration and profiling process again. I prefer you choose to be reminded once every 4 weeks to ensure your monitor profile stays fine-tuned and up-to-date. The process is so easy and straight forward so don’t panic if you haven’t done this before, the wizard is explanatory and will guide you through every step of the way (and I’ve already done so above anyway).

Please note that if you get the X-Rite Eye-One Match 2, you will only be able to profile your monitor since it doesn’t offer profiling of the other 4 devices that the X-Rite Eye-One Match 3 software does. Another note is, always use a calibration device that hangs over the edge of your screen if you’re calibrating an LCD monitor because the rubber suckers might damage the delicate surface of your LCD screen.

Profiling the input

In the profiling input process you can choose to profile your digital camera and/or your scanner. Profiling the camera input is a tricky process since light conditions can vary from time to time and from one place to another, so unless it is fatally critical that your whole workflow is profiled from start to finish, you need not bother about profiling your camera input.  Unless you do all your shooting in let’s say a studio with one specific lighting system that never changes at any given time, you will need to photograph a color checker chart, and take measurements off of it every time light conditions changes so as to keep your digital camera correctly profiled.

Above is how one picture can look under 3 different light conditions. As you can see, the camera’s sensor responds differently to colors and white balance changes drastically from one light condition to another. So I wouldn’t stress on profiling your digital camera’s input. The most important thing for you to be able to trust what you see on your computer screen.

As far as scanner profiling goes, you will need to scan a film or print target similar to the one in the image below, and then use a profile creation software such as the Gretag MacBeth Profile Maker to read the data, make measurements, and build a custom profile of your scanner based on the readings taken from the scanned target. You can then incorporate your scanner characteristics into Adobe Photoshop by selecting the profile made of your scanner once you open a scanned image in Photoshop.

Profiling the output

For achieving the best printout results, you need to set up a separate profile for your printer along with each media paper type you intend to use it with in your work. When you purchase a printer and install the driver that comes on a CD along with it, the installation process creates a number of profiles for your printer and a few brand media paper combinations. This will be OK for a start, but I do prefer you run a custom profiling process for your printer along with each media paper type using the Gretag MacBeth Eye-One spectrophotometer.

To do that you will need to make a print of a test target like the one previously shown above, and you need to do this with each paper type you intend to use with your printer. You will do this print test without color managing your printer. Let the printouts settle till the next day, and then use every test target print to make a custom profile for each media paper/printer combination.

Conclusion

In digital imaging, color management is the controlled conversion of color representation between the various digital devices involved in a workflow. This includes digital cameras, computer monitor screens, scanners, printers… etc. The goal is to measure and adjust those devices in a way that insures they represent colors in the same way and that they represent them right.

By now you should be familiar with the basics of color management. Next, we’re going to walk you through the process of configuring Adobe Photoshop color settings for various Photoshop workflows. Stay tuned…

Blank Canvas: Photoshop, Crashes & RAM

“Photoshop crashed!”

I see this cry all over Twitter, on blogs, in web comics — you can’t go anywhere online that has a tangential relationship to Photoshop without seeing this complaint.

So why is it that Photoshop never crashes for me?

I’m not bragging or anything, but instead actually interested in why this happens to some people and not others. Perhaps it’s the setup, perhaps the types of files. I’d like to get to the bottom of this, and I need your feedback to do so.

My Setup

So let’s start off with a description of my setup, then an overview of a typical Photoshop document. First, here’s my rig:

  • Mac Pro (2008) dual quad-core processors
  • 14 GB RAM
  • Dual-monitors connected to the stock dual-monitor card shipped with the Mac
  • Creative Suite CS4 Premium (Photoshop CS4 Extended)
  • Wacom Intuos4 graphics tablet

I use Photoshop more for drawing and sketching than for photo manipulation, but a pixel is a pixel; a layer is a layer; a layer effect is a layer effect. Here’s a typical Photoshop document for me by the time I am done with it:

  • 8″ by 8″ (or larger) canvas at 240 DPI
  • 15-20 layers, collected in layer groups with effects such as transparency & masks added
  • RGB color mode

In addition, I am typically running Safari, my email program, iTunes, Illustrator, Acrobat, InDesign, Tweetie, an RSS reader and sometimes even recording or watching recorded video via EyeTV.

During the process I extensively use Photoshop CS4 features like the Rotate Canvas tool and other processor and graphics processor features. Rarely does Photoshop feel sluggish, occasionally do I need to wait for an extended progress bar, and as I mentioned at the outset crashes are virtually non-existent. At least no more often than any other random software application crashes on the Mac (which is rare as well).

What is RAM?

In case you are unaware, RAM (“memory”, aka ‘Random Access Memory’) is like a magic potion for your computer. Most (or all) modern operating systems use virtual memory, cache and scratch disks (even Photoshop uses it’s own scratch disk) to allow you to do many things at once (“multitasking”) with a limited amount of RAM. Basically these features use your hard drive to swap out things from the RAM to “make room” for the digital information.

Why Should I Care?

Hence, more RAM equals less swapping info with the hard drive. RAM is fast; hard drives are not. Even without RAM, you can still open 183 applications, but if there isn’t enough RAM to not only store them all in the RAM but also allow for enough room to store the information for your open documents, you’ll see slowdowns and eventual crashes because of the swapping of information to and from the hard drive.

So the idea here is the more RAM you have, the faster things should be on your computer (this is true for Mac or PC). RAM allows you to work on larger files, have more software running at once, and work with larger files faster.

Physical Limits

In chatting with other Photoshop users, one thing does play a big factor in your RAM situation: the maximum physical limit you can install on a machine. Computers are built to support a maximum amount of RAM, and once you hit that limit there’s nothing you can do about it. It seems those with older or entry-level laptops are the most affected here.

When I replaced my aging PowerMac G4 with the Mac Pro in 2008, believe me I wanted to go with a far less-expensive iMac. But back then it all came down to the RAM. The iMac back then maxed out at possibly 8, but definitely 6 GB of RAM. From previous experience, this was not sufficient. I knew I would want a minimum ceiling of 10-12 GB of RAM in my new computer. The Mac Pro holds up to 32 GB of RAM. While overkill, it was the only option that fit my needs.

Today the iMac handles up to 16GB of RAM, so when I finally do need to upgrade my main machine I will be able to go for an iMac (or the equivalent) when that time comes.

What’s Your Setup?

My question to the readers: does Photoshop crash on you on a regular basis? If so, what version of Photoshop and how much RAM do you have installed? If not — well, the question is basically the same. I’d like to hear from the readers on this so we can nail down the role RAM plays in your Photoshop usage.

And it also may be a “heads up” to those looking to buy a new machine to keep an eye out on the specs for the RAM cap on that new machine. A tool at a good price is no good if it doesn’t add to your productivity.

Go!

Create Glossy 3D Text using Xara 3D & Photoshop

I am going to show you how to create 3D text in Xara 3D and render it in Adobe Photoshop. I’ll share basic Photoshop key shortcuts that really help speed up production. As a final touch I’ll use the pen tool to draw lines that look like strings attached to the 3D text we are going to create.

Final 3D text Image

Xara 3D Interface

Before we begin, let me quickly introduce you to the Xara 3D interface. For those who are already familiar with the interface, you can skip this part of the tutorial.

Xara 3D is an application that can transform 2D text into 3D text. It also creates simple 3D animated text. The interface makes it look simple but working with Xara could be very tricky for the first time user. The more you use Xara 3D the more you can explore the software to its full potential.

Xara 3D interface

text lighting tool

This image contains your basic File Open Save Export buttons found in almost all software. It also contains the Style Picker menu for animation of the text.

Let’s move on to the other menus.

Xara 3D Text Formatting Tools

Similar to Microsoft Word, this software also allows it’s users to choose the font typeface size and the style as it suits them.

Xara 3D animate Text

As I said at the beginning of the tutorial, Xara 3D can also be used to animate the 3D text you create. These buttons are used to pre-render the animation before you export it as Flash SWF file or GIF file.

Xara 3D toolbar

This part of the menu interface is the tools palette that contains the text tool, colour palette, extrusion tool, (this tool is similar to the extrusion tool in Google Sketch Up) Design Option tool (holds all the settings of the tools in the tools palette), Bevel Options tool, Shadow Option, Texture Option (contains pre-installed patterns and textures similar to Photoshop), Animation Option, and finally the Text Button Board.

Finally the tools palette options menu – this is the settings menu for all the tools in the tools palette located on the right hand side of the interface. The grey area is your canvas and workspace.

Xara 3D tool menu options

Creating 3d Letters in Xara 3D

For those who do not have a copy of Xara 3D full version, I have included the PSD file so you can try your hands at this tutorial. If you are using the trial version of Xara 3D, beware that a watermark will be placed on any image you export.

Open Xara 3D and click on the text creation tool in the tools palette and choose your choice of font and type in your text.

Now let’s generate each letter of your text and save as a PNG file separately.

Rendering first letter in Xara 3D

Render each letter of your text separately.

When you’ve entered your text click OK. Now click the bevel tool in the tools palette and go to the right hand side of the interface.

Input the settings below into the Bevel Design Option.

Bevel Type: Rolled
Corner Style: Round
Depth: 7

Xara 3D

This is how your text should look after putting in the given values. Note the bevel effect may vary according to the typeface you have chosen.

Now then, click the text lighting tool. You will see 3 directional point lights: one on the front of your model, one on the side, and one at the back of your model. These lights can be tweaked by rotating them to suit your light source. For mine I have decided to leave it at its default position.

Xara 3D render

Now let’s export or render our 3D text as a PNG file and import it to Adobe Photoshop to edit it. Hit Ctrl+ Shift+E or simply go to File > Export.

Give your text a name, make sure Save As Type is set to PNG, and click OK.
You will be prompted to put in some settings in the Save As dialog. Use the settings below.

Size: Current window size
Color Depth: True Color (24)
Options: Transparent

Make sure file format is set to PNG and click Save.

Important Xara 3d into Photoshop

Render all your 3D text using these steps and get ready to import them into Photoshop. Now let’s begin turning our boring 3D text into something more exciting.

Stylizing the 3D text in Photoshop

Open up Adobe Photoshop and hit Ctrl+N (Windows users) Apple+N (Mac users) to create a new document. Use the settings in the picture below.

New Photoshop file

This is how your stage should look:

Photoshop Stage

Now bring in all the PNGs you exported from Xara 3D and arrange them as it suits you.

Xara 3d text in Photoshop

Delete your background. Create a new layer on top of your 3D text layer by hitting Ctrl+Shift+N.

Delete background

Now with your new layer on the top, hit (W) to summon your Magic Wand Tool. Note: For Photoshop CS3 users and above, make sure you’ve selected the magic wand and not the Quick Selection Tool.

Now with your Magic Wand Tool active, select the 3D layer and click on one of the letters. Now you’ve got a near perfect selection around your text.

Magic Wand on 3d Text

The red marker shows you the selection made using the Magic Wand Tool.

Now hit Shift+F5 (Shortcut for Fill) or Edit>Fill to fill the selection with any colour. In my case I will be using White. Click Ok. Note the Fill selection menu only becomes active when there is a selection.

Fill Selection

Now this is how your 3D text should look after selecting the 3D text and filling it with White.

Make sure everything is done on separate layers to keep your workflow clean & manageable.

Layers in Photoshop

Now let’s add layer styles to our new layers. Double click on any of the new layers that end in “white” (apply the effect to only layers ending with “white”). Select Gradient Overlay and Stroke Style. Refer to the images below to apply the settings.

Photoshop Layer Styles

Tick Gradient Overlay and Stroke. Now double click on Gradient Overlay and apply the settings like the picture below.

Gradient in Photoshop

Double click on Gradient and apply these colours.

Color Gradient

Now double click Stroke and apply these settings to it.

Stroke settings

You should have this after those steps.

Now right click on the layer to which you’ve just added the layer style. Select Copy Layer Style from the menu.

Now right click on the other layers (ending with “white”) and click Paste Layer Style like the image below. Note:Pasting layer styles may not be possible with older versions of Photoshop.

Apply it to only the layers ending in “white”. After you apply the styles this is how your layers should look.

Hit Ctrl+Shift+N to create a new layer and drag the new layer down to the bottom. Hit Shift+F5 and select white as the fill colour and name it background.

Your image should look like this.

Double click on the background layer and apply a gradient layer like before using the settings in the picture below and click ok.

This is how your 3D text should look like after applying the settings to it.

Hit Ctrl+Shift+N (create a new layer) call your new layer “shadow”. Hit M to activate your Elliptical Marquee tool (make sure Elliptical Marquee tool is selected and not Rectangular Marquee tool).

Then make a selection like in the image below. Hit Shift+F5 and fill it in black and deselect it. Now go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Keep hitting Ctrl+F to repeat the last Filter used until you achieve something like the image below.

Selection with the Marquee Tool.

Fill the selection with black.

Apply your Gaussian Blur and keep hitting Ctrl+F till you have achieved something similar to the image below.

This is how your image should look after adding your Gaussian Blur.

Now hit Ctrl+Shift+N to create a new layer and hit W to activate the Magic Wand tool. Click the a_white layer with the Magic Wand tool. Now hit M to select your Elliptical Marquee tool. While holding ALT, drag the Elliptical marquee tool to subtract from selection.

Now on the new layer you just created, hit Shift+F5 and fill it with white. Reduce the opacity to approximately 10%. Refer to the image below.

With the new layer still selected, hold ALT and nudge up (using the UP arrow key) Note: hit UP arrow once to create just one duplicate. Example – if you wanted 5 duplicates of that layer you would hit UP arrow key 5x) when duplicated move it to the other A letter and position it as the original is positioned on the image below. (The reason being you don’t have to waste time and create another selection for the other A as well).

Duplicated and nudged element.

Duplicated, nudged, and positioned duplicate layer to the other a_white layer.

This should be your outcome so far.

Now hit P to activate your pen tool (one of my favorite tools in Photoshop) and make a selection like the example in the picture below or something similar.

Now hit A and select the Select Direct tool, right click and select Make Selection. Hit Shift+F5 to fill the selection with black. Apply a Gaussian Blur Filter to it and keep applying it by hitting Ctrl+F until you get something similar to mine.

Make a selection and fill it with black.

Keep repeating the Gaussian Blur effect till you have something similar to mine.

Now hold Ctrl, select the two 3D text layers, and hit Ctrl+E merge the two layers.

Ctrl click the thumbnail of the merged layer to make a selection. Hit Shift+F5 to fill with black and again apply Gaussian Blur till you achieve something similar to the image below.

Remember to create a new layer before you apply the Fill in command.

Make a selection by holding Ctrl and clicking the layers thumbnail.

Make a new layer, fill it with black and move the layer beneath the 3D layer. Now apply the Gaussian Blur.

This is how it should look after those steps.

Duplicate your 3D layer, hold Ctrl+Shift+U to desaturate the image and lower its opacity as it suits you.

Your 3D text should look something like this in the picture.

Adding the final touches

Now let me talk you through how I achieved the string effects. Hit M to activate Marquee tool.

Rectangular Marquee tool and make a selection like the image below.

Make a selection with your Rectangular Marquee tool.

Fill your selection using the fill technique we’ve been using.

Now select your Elliptical Marquee tool and make a small selection like the picture above and just hit backspace to delete it. Through this tutorial you should always remember that anything we create has been done on separate layers to make working easy.

Make another selection on the other side as well to achieve something similar to the image above.

This is how your 3D text should look now. But remember to be creative and experiment with different arrangements.

Hit P to activate your pen and create a small path like the image above and hit A to activate the direct selection tool. Check that your brush size is set to 2px and on a new layer, still with your direct selection tool, right click on your path, select Stroke Path and just select brush and tick Stimulate Pressure.

Now be creative using your pen tool and all the skills, techniques, and key shortcuts, come up with something similar to my final image.

Hope this tutorial has helped you!

Adobe Creative Suite 5

It’s that time of the, um 18-month release cycle again. Time for a new version of Adobe’s Creative Suite. This time up: version 5.

For this initial overview, I’m just going to talk about the new stuff in Photoshop and Illustrator since those are the apps that I am most familiar with.

Mostly I am going to talk about what I think are the most compelling features from an illustrator/designer’s point of view.

We’ll start off with the granddaddy of Adobe software, Photoshop. Oh, and I have not used any of these new versions — but rest assured I’ll have a copy once they ship in late May 2010. Full review to come then.

Photoshop CS5

Photoshop CS5 levels the playing field with the Mac and PC versions with the Mac version finally being 64-bit. All the CS5 apps are also now native Cocoa apps on OS X, which means they finally run using the new PS X code, and not the legacy Carbon code previous versions of the Creative Suite used. this is a Good Thing. Well, at least if you aren’t running a PowerPC Mac. Cocoa is Intel-only.

From my experience, even running CS3 on a PowerPC Mac was pointless as the processor just couldn’t handle it.

Magic Delete

I’d have to say Photoshop CS5’s flagship feature is the Content-Aware Fill. If you’ve seen the videos, it looks amazing. Probably the closest thing to the “magic button” people think of when they think of Photoshop.

You can literally draw a loose selection around an object in a photograph, hit the proper delete button, and Photoshop will seamlessly figure out how to replace the background where the former object was.

It’s what you think of when you think of a computer. It also looks like magic.

Selection Heaven

Not to be outdone, the selection tools have also become more powerful, again working almost as if by magic. Adobe really out did themselves on these two features, at least as demonstrated by the videos.

What I like about these two features is that they extend and enhance the way users already work, making those tasks easier, In fact, they are no longer tasks at all.

Personally, I get sick of feature bloat when new “wow” features are added to make for good PR, but in reality the end user would prefer the tools they already use work more the way they want them to work.

In Photshop CS5, I think this may be the case with the above features. I’m looking forward to working with them to see how they hold up.

Brush Bonanaza

The last new feature that I think will also be a Big Deal is the new brush features, particularly the Mixer Brush and the Bristle Tips.

What these bring to Photoshop are new natural media painting tools that look to rival Corel Painter. Corel Painter seems to be the painting app, and it seems Adobe has been paying attention.

In conjunction with a Wacom and a tilt-sensitive stylus, this could be huge. I think it will also enhance every aspect of using brushes within Photoshop, so even if you don’t “paint” in Photoshop, these should still enhance your workflow quite significantly.

Illustrator CS5

Adobe may be featuring the new Perspective tools on their feature page for Illustrator, but from my perspective (also shared by Illustrator guru Mordy Golding, who’s actually been using CS5), the big new feature is Variable Width Strokes.

When Is A Stroke No Longer A Stroke?

Mordy Golding did a special edition of his weekly “Fridays With Mordy”, where he does live interactive screencasts showcasing features of Adobe Illustrator.

With the launch of CS5 on Monday, he did a “what’s new” episode to give all us vector junkies a guided tour of the highlights.

Mordy said that he thinks Variable-Width Strokes are not only worth the upgrade price for Illustrator, but perhaps for the entire Creative Suite. He thinks they might even be the best new feature in CS5 overall.

So what are they? As the name implies, there’s a new tool that will allow you to change the thickness of a stroke at arbitrary points along the stroke, each of which will flow into each other.

Imagine a stroke that started out at 10 points thick, then grew to 17 points thick, then tapered back down to 3 points thick. It’s like having manual control over a brush on a stroke.

Not only that, but each side of the stroke can have individual widths away from the center. And on top of that, it works with brushes, extending the level of control you have over these objects to an amazing degree.

As someone who works in Illustrator the majority of my day, and works with a lot of line art based illustrations, I am pretty stoked to start using this. It could change the way I work from now on.

Again with the brushes…

Illustrator users now also have a new natural media painting tool in their arsenal that mimics an oil or acrylic brush, all while remaining in resolution-free vector art.

“Little Big Things”

All of us Illustrator geeks were bugging Mordy on Twitter about “yeah, big new fancy features — but what about fixing the tools we already use?”.

As Mordy put it, there are a lot of “Little Big Things” in Illustrator CS5, some of which are more compelling to me than the flashy things.

A big one for me is Command-click Selections (Control-click on the PC). If you used InDesign, you know this feature, and wanted it in Illustrator. And now it’s (finally) here.

What is it? Simple, but powerful — have a stack of items, but need to select the fourth one down in the stack? Now you just need to hit the Command (Control) key and click on the stack — each click with select the object below, in order.

Next up is “Paste Into”, which is part of the new drawing modes (Draw in Front, Draw Behind and Draw Into). No need to create clipping paths anymore. Just like in InDesign, select an object, copy, select another object and Paste Into. And better than a clipping mask, the object you pasted into retains all it’s original properties as well.

Illustrator’s Artboards feature has also been greatly refined & enhanced as well. Rename them, order them up on their own new panel, and other tweaks.

Upgrade?

Honestly, as an Illustrator power-user the features I described above are enough to make me want to upgrade. But I tend to be a bit bleeding edge when it comes to my tools.

I currently work on CS4 and feel that I got every penny’s worth out of my $600 upgrade, when compared to the time it saved me, the frustrations it minimized and the ease at which I could create my artwork.

Photshop CS4 was the killer app for me in CS4, but I think Illustrator will trump this time around.

One thing that will change for me is the decision not to go with the Design Premium this time, but rather Design Standard. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I launched Flash or Dreamweaver since getting CS4. I’m sure those versions will suffice if I do need to do anything in either, however I’ve moved away from Dreamweaver for my website recently, opting for a hand-coded solution that I will update manually.

As far as Flash, well I rarely used it before, and I pretty much never use it now. I think I’ll pocket that extra $100.

Speaking of upgrade pricing, those of you going for the Design Standard like me will be coughing up $499 USD, and if you want the Premium version that’s an extra $100. And that’s for CS4 upgraders. If you’re on CS1 or CS2, tack on another $200 to each of those tiers.

If you do the math, $500 over the 18-month release cycle comes out to $27.78 per month if you keep up to date regularly. Personally that seems more than reasonable if the software enhances your workflow.

Based on the upgrade price for older versions, in the long run you save $300 over 36 months (if you upgrade every-other version). A hundred bucks a year. to me, passing up on using the new tools just isn’t worth it at those rates.

Adobe isn’t paying me to coerce you into upgrading, I just like to break things down into digestible numbers. I really don’t see the benefit of denying yourself enhanced tools to save $100 a year. Raise your hourly rate $1 an hour and be done with it. I hear so many people complain about X feature — something that’s been improved in a newer version — yet they refuse to upgrade for the “outrageous” fees.

Personally, I’ve found something compelling enough in each Creative Suite release to warrant the upgrade, and have yet to be disappointed.

So, we want to hear from you dear readers: what’s your favorite new feature? Something I’ve mentioned, or another of the new features? Or does nothing interest you? And I am sure some of you will take issue with my stance on upgrade pricing. I want to hear from you as well. Sound off in the comments section below.

Blank Canvas: Adobe Creative Suite CS5 — Are You Upgrading?

It’s that time of year again fellow creative types. Well, actually that time of the 18-month release cycle for Adobe’s Creative Suite upgrade.

I know many users out there have a feeling of “didn’t I just upgrade?”, but in fact the release cycle is indeed every 18-months and this one is right on schedule.

Come April 12th, Adobe will be hosting a live CS5 launch announcement event where we will all find out about the new features to be added.

Some of you may already be aware of some of the sneak peek videos Adobe has released for the amazing new Content-Aware Fill feature:

This looks amazing for photo editing, almost like magic!

But our question to you, dear readers: even before knowing about what’s to come in CS5, are you considering upgrading? What’s your typical policy on upgrades?

If past pricing is any indicator, upgrade pricing for the Design Premium bundle will probably be around $500 USD.

Personally, I try to always stay current with the Creative Suite upgrades, and I have heard snippets of features to the Photoshop brush tools that make it very compelling to me.

I’ve also been told by the product Manager for Adobe Illustrator that there will be a “mind blowing” feature coming to Illustrator CS5. And no, I have no inside info as to what that feature is.

I love adding new tools to my arsenal that increase my productivity and enhance my workflow. I found the CS4 upgrade to be more than worth it, and if CS5 offers anything in the way of those features, I won’t hesitate to get me upgrade license.

So leave us your opinion in the comments section below, we want to hear what the community has on their mind about CS5.

Fave Font: Knockout

We all have our favorite bunch of typefaces we use on a regular basis. When I first started out I was a font-a-holic downloading every free font that I could get my hands on.

Over time, perhaps I’ve become less adventurous, but I’ve limited my pool to just a handful that I often use. Right now, my current favorite typefaces are Knockout, Gotham, Plantin, and Minister.

I’ve been using Knockout for my Weapons of Mass Creation branding and Parachute Journalists posters. It’s so versatile and has condensed and extended versions. Plantin and Minister are my serif typefaces of choice because of their subtle vintage flair and personality to their characters.

Knockout is versatile because it’s a “sweeping collection of 32 sans serifs.” It’s got 9 widths and 4 different weights.  It can be used for headlines and copy.

The sheer volume and variety here is what makes it so usable.  It was also designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones who are masters at their craft.

The reason why I like Knockout, aside from its versatility, is mostly because I’m a fan of tall and condensed sans serif typefaces. I like the subtle details like how the “R” flares out at the bottom.

I used these the tall condensed styles because I like the bold and powerful statement that it creates. It’s definitely geared more towards poster art headlines or credits on a film poster. I like the way they stack up and fill a space.

So what is your favorite typeface? Can you show us examples of how you used it?

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