5 Tips for Creating Successful Packaging Design.

Good Brief…

Any good packaging project starts with a creative brief that is well written and clearly lays out the objectives of the project. This document should give the designer precise information about the brand’s values and the brand’s promises to the consumer. It should establish the level of change desired by the client from their current packaging. (evolutionary vs revolutionary) General information about the target consumer’s demographic as well as any relevant lifestyle details should be included. It needs to establish the communication hierarchy and desired messaging as well as identify the characteristics of the product that make it special and unique in it’s market. Without having this information clearly stated at the onset of the design process, the project will most likely run into problems.

Analysis Paralysis

Good research is essential to developing great packaging, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of the designer’s decision making process. It should serve as a tool in making your choices, but it should not dictate your design. This is due to the fact that research isn’t perfect, and it can be influenced by unforeseen factors. Sometimes a new, innovative idea may not test well with focus groups. You must encourage a client that a smart design that shakes up the competition may be exactly what their brand needs. Convince the client that as a designer you possess the correct insight and understanding of the target consumer better than a randomly selected focus group of non-designers.

Avoid Parity

Parity is the degree of similarity between two competitors’ packaging within a particular product genre. Avoid parity at all costs. It’s a proven fact that innovative and unique packaging can boost a product’s sales even if nothing about the actual product has changed. How are you going to help a company achieve greater sales if their product looks exactly the same as the product next to it on the shelf? In this way, parity is a death punch to profits. The point is to get a product to pop off the shelves, not to camouflage it.

Be Proactive

The best packaging design is a design that looks beyond the current trends to what is next. A designer must help the client understand this concept. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Again, it’s clear and measurable that good packaging can improve a product’s sales. We must not wait for the competition to take the next step, we must beat them to the finish line. Be innovative!

Production is Key

Having a good relationship and good communication with the production artists that are working on the packaging is something that should never be overlooked. They should be involved in the process early and often. This can help a designer avoid serious mistakes due to printing and packaging limitations. Not only that, but the production artists often have great ideas that can take a packaging project from good to great. Find a person you are comfortable with and trust their expertise.

Using Transform Again in Illustrator


This shortcut will help you in many different instances in Illustrator when you need to repeat a transformation. I use it most when I am trying to repeat a shape over and over again at an even interval.

First create a shape or a stroke, and then transform it in some way. You can find the Transform menu under Object > Transform or you can simply right click on an object and go to the Transform menu. Make sure that you are either holding alt (if you are transforming freehand) when you transform the shape, or using the copy button in the transform menus so that you get it to copy your original shape.



Then press Ctrl + D and the transformation will repeat itself and create a new shape.

This shortcut can be particularly helpful when creating Spirograph type shapes or a sunburst shape:


I also use it when I am trying to create many copies of a shape for a clipping mask, or with the Transform Each function to create even more dynamic transformations.

InDesign Quick Tip: Indent To Here


InDesign Quick Tip: Indent To Here

Have you ever tried lining up an indented, bulleted list by hand? Well it sucks. Some years back I was setting type on a sell sheet for a college bookstore and needed to align an indented list so that the first letter of each line was in a vertical row. My boss at the time saw me struggling and gave me a little gem of a keyboard shortcut that I will now pass on to you. I always seem to forget it though, so I wrote it on a Post-It note and put it on the wall by my desk.


In Adobe InDesign, move your cursor right before the first letter of the paragraph on the first line of your bulleted list. Press ctrl + \ and the other lines will fall in directly below that one. You are left with a clean left justified bulleted item. NOTE: When setting your rags by hand on the item, do not use a hard return (Enter) or the trick will not work. If you need to insert a manual break, use a soft return (Shift + Enter) and the list will still line up correctly.


Editor’s Note: when indenting bulleted lists in InDesign, I usually go with the “Bullets & Numbering” form the Paragraphs panel fly-out menu and apply my indents that way, then optionally save as a Paragraph Style.

There are some nice additional tips on using Indent To Here over at  Creative Techs (video) as well as some general notes on the official Adobe help page for InDesign.

Death To Creatives!!!


I am not a creative. You are not a creative. No one could ever or will ever be a creative. The word creative is not a noun. It is an adjective used to describe a noun. i.e. That is a very creative story you have there, Jimmy.


I have grown tired of seeing this word used within the design community. It is not our word. It is a word created by the advertising industry for their communication purposes. Outside the advertising community, however, it is incorrect grammar.

Now maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky here, but it is incredibly annoying to me. Yes, as a people designers are typically of the creative variety, but we don’t call advertisers ‘pitchers’. I mean essentially they are pitching their ideas to their clients, but does that accurately describe what they do? I would like to see all the sexual harassment and discrimination claims that would materialize if that term caught on…

However, using ‘creatives’ as a noun is just a symptom of a larger issue; what do I say when someone asks me what I do for a living? I’m certainly not a ‘graphic designer’, even though it says that on my degree. The connotations with that term are just terrible these days. Any old housewife that has a pirated copy of Photoshop Elements is now calling themselves a “graphic designer”. It is much worse when people refer to me as a ‘graphic artist’. The term just sounds so dirty to me and it makes me feel like I’m making clip art for a living.

I could be more specific and name all the different hats I wear, i.e. ‘identity designer’, ‘print designer’, ‘web designer’, etc., but I think that would be too much for most people looking for a quick response. Then there are terms like ‘information architect’ and ‘communications designer’. These sound a bit pretentious to me personally, but at least their credibility is not completely destroyed…yet. There is also the issue of illustration and typography. Where do they both fall into the equation?

So I’m left with a dilemma. What exactly do for a living? I design. I am a designer. That’s it. No more fancy titles or faulty phrases that cannot convey my true craft. I’m stripping it down to the essentials and laying it all out there for the world to see. If in casual conversation someone’s interest is sparked by my profession and they want to know more, I will elaborate. However, if I’m in a shitty mood when they inevitably ask “What do you design,” my answer will be “everything.”

Photoshop Quick Tip: Finding Layers Quickly


Photoshop Quick Tip: Finding Layers Quickly

Now this tip might be total common sense to some, but I’m going to put it out there for those not aware. When you’re in Photoshop and you have a document, like a web mock up, with a ton of layers it can be hard to find the specific layer you are looking for.

If you find yourself in this little dilemma, click on the selection tool at the top of the toolbar. Right underneath the task bar you should see the option “Auto-Select” with a dropdown for Layer or Group. Make sure this is selected and then click on the item in the layer you are looking for. If you have Layer selected, it will take you right to that layer in the Layers palette and highlight it. If you have Group selected, it will take you directly to the group that layer is in and highlight it in the Layers palette.



It must be noted that when using this technique you’ll need to click on the actual pixels in order to interact with the layer. Without Auto-Select activated, the Move tool will move the pixels in a layer regardless of where one clicks. With Auto-Select activated, you’ll need to click on actual pixels to do this, very similar to how one interacts with object in Adobe Illustrator. If you stop and think about it for a second, it has to work this way.

NOTE: Right next to the Auto-select checkbox is a checkbox for “Show Transform Controls”. This will put a small transform control box around the layer you are selecting so you can see it better—similar to using the Edit -> Free Transform command. It is also really helpful for changing the size of objects in a layer.

From the Portfolio: Swap Beats Logo

How to Design Your Own Custom Hoodie

We know how much you guys and gals love a good tutorial! We just launched our new Hoodie Templates and they are amazing. I decided to sit down and design a hoodie and to write a tutorial in celebration.

You should know right from the start that there is a lot to digest here. This is a long tutorial and will demonstrate some advanced skills. Along the way you’ll not only learn how to create a detailed illustration, but also how to create professional hoodie mock ups with Go Media’s Hoodie Design Pack.

Here’s what we’re gonna make:


1. Creating a Custom Hoodie Design
2. Mocking it up
3. More mockup examples
4. Hoodie Design Pack feature tour


1. Something to sketch with
2. Scanner
3. Adobe Photoshop
4. Wacom Tablet
5. Go Media Hoodie Design Pack
6. A cup of coffee

So, first things first:


We’re making a super custom illustrated hoodie design, right? The best place to start with a project like this is the sketchbook. For some inspiration check out my colleague’s sketchbook. You should start sketching something that you’re really interested in. Personally, I love tentacle looking things and couldn’t get the word “bogus” out of my head…so a bogus octopus was born. I did this one really quick (about 15 minutes) but your mileage may vary.

I scanned the rough image from my sketchbook into Photoshop and busted out my handy dandy Wacom tablet.


I set up my file for 25” by 20” at 300 dpi in CMYK, then pressed ctrl+alt+shift+n to create a new layer and began to draw over my sketch.

initial settings

We always get questions about what kind of brush settings we use when drawing with a Wacom. These are the exact settings I used.

pen settings

pen settings2

Remember how quickly I sketched the octopus? It’s just a starting point, because as you can see I don’t always stick to the original sketch. As I am working I just let the drawing dictate where things should lie.

If you aren’t comfortable with this, you can just add all the detail that you want to your initial sketch and try to follow it a little more closely inside Photoshop.


In this next shot you can see how the drawing is growing beyond the boundaries of the original sketch. It’s starting to shape up! Take a look at your own design right now and start to revise it until you’re happy. We’ll be moving on to adding details in just a minute.


After I had my rough outline at a satisfactory point, I then went back through the drawing and added detail to make the little guy come to life a bit more. For me, it usually just involves thickening up outlines to simulate depth and adding texture to the rough outline. In this particular image, it mostly involved making wrinkles and adding splashes of ooze.

These next few shots are really important. As Bill expertly explained in his “How to Become a Master Designer” series, one of the secrets to depth is varying line weight. Take note of how this looks and try to add a little depth to your own design.


Okay! Looks like all my linework is complete. Now let’s bring it to life with some color.


Adding Color

Once I was finished with the outline of the drawing, I went back and began to add color. I started by laying down the base color of the octopus. For this drawing I chose a nice bluish green color.

Here’s how I set up my new Octopus layer:

  • Use the magic wand to select all the white area around your black outline and all the other spots where you don’t want the octopus color to be.
  • Then use select inverse and create a new layer.
  • Use the bucket tool and fill the new layer with the color you chose.


Then I selected a slightly darker hue and added shadows to create even more depth and dimension.


I followed the creases and folds of the tentacles with my Wacom pen keeping in mind which parts I want to pop forward and which I want to recede into the background. Always try to think of where the light would be hitting the different areas.


I wanted the octopus to look really wet and shiny, so I added heavy white highlights throughout the illustration to simulate a glossy surface. Again, just follow the creases and folds keeping in mind how the light would hit the various parts. Also keep your Wacom pen strokes somewhat loose and free flowing.



I then chose other colors that complimented the design and I used them to add the final details to the octopus. FYI: I always keep my colors on separate layers. It makes it much easier to edit them without having to destroy the whole drawing if you decide to change something.


For the background of the illustration, I created a free form splatter shape that echoed the shapes of the ooze splatters. I duplicated the shape and used a bitmap to create a halftone image. I then used hue shift to change the color to a purple hue.

background 2

The final illustration looks a little something like this…


Making the Repeating Pattern

I really liked the way the tentacle/intestine shapes were looking so I decided to make a repeating pattern from them to use as a background texture/all over print.

To begin with, I created a file at 1800 x 1800 pixels. I then copied portions of my black outline layer from the octopus illustration into the new file.


After I had arranged the tentacles into a design I was satisfied with, I used the offset filter to make the pattern repeat. I did this by offsetting the image by half of each of my dimensions, so 900 pixels in width and 900 pixels in length. You will notice at this stage there is a noticeable area in the center where the lines are crazy and don’t match up – don’t freak out – we’re gonna fix this.


So, I erased all the weird seams and began to re-connect the tentacles with my Wacom Pen. Go back and redraw, erase, and repeat. There are a lot of lines to clean up, but the most important thing is that you should not change any of the lines on the outer edge of your design or your pattern will not repeat correctly.

repeating pattern

Once you get it to a point where you think everything looks good, double check to make sure the pattern aligns correctly in all directions. If it does, congratulations, you just made a repeating pattern…not so hard, huh?


Now if a client asked for a hoodie design – she might not be too impressed if I show her just the flat illustration. She asked for a HOODIE, so that’s what we’re going to give her. Enter the hoodie templates.


I begin by dragging my artwork onto the “whole hoodie” layer to size it and get it positioned where I want it. Once you get it where you want, the joy of the hoodie template comes into play. The design already looks pretty darn real because it’s automatically shaded by the ‘Shadows’ & ‘Highlights’ layers.

For this design I only want the print to appear on the front and the pockets of the hoodie. However, if you want some custom pockets or cuffs – it’s really easy. Adam Wagner has painstakingly masked off the various parts of the hoodie at nearly every seam, so you can do some really custom things with the design.

Anyway, for my particular design, I opened the folders for the “Chest” and “Pocket” Layers and pasted the design onto the “Left Chest”,” Right Chest”, “Left Pocket” and “Right Pocket” Layers.


Now that I have my design in place, let’s move on to coloring the hoodie. I am a huge fan of reversible hoodies (two looks for one price baby!), so we’re to mock this up as one.

I began with the outside color of the hoody. I’m on a big purple kick right now so I am going with a vibrant dark purple color. I selected the folder named “Colors” and I use hue shift to adjust one of the color layers until the hoody is the right color of purple.


On the inside, I used a green that is similar to the green of the ooze in the design. I sampled the green from the ooze with the eyedropper tool and then filled all three of the “liner fill” layers with the fill bucket tool.


The last thing I did was add the seamless pattern to the whole hoodie. For the outside I gave the pattern a light purple color, and for the liner I gave it a light green color. Presto – done.


Here’s the final design and hoodie mock. Phew – we made it! If all of this was a bit difficult for you, give it time & keep reading. I’m going to show you some really quick shortcuts to get you started in the next couple of sections.



I’m pretty happy with the final result, but let’s take a look at what the design would look like on a couple of different hoodies. I really like the way this next one shows the inside of the liner. Gotta love reversible hoodies.
Here’s one more in a standard flat view.


Alright. This post is getting kind of long, but I really want to explain the Hoodie Design Pack a bit more. There’s a ton of included treats & functionality. Let’s see what’s under the hood.

1. The Templates

template-layersOk, so here is the meat & potatoes of the design pack. It includes 10 Hoodie templates in PSD format. Each Hoodie has masks & layers for nearly every single seam on the hoodie. Each seam has the following layers which make it really easy to experiment with many design possibilities.

1. The shape layer (this acts as the mask)
Fill Layer
Pattern Layer (more on this in a minute)
Art Layer.

To the left you can see all the seams that we’ve already masked out for you.

These layers make it a snap to mockup complicated designs that need to look real. For example, you can realistically mockup diagonal stripes on each of the pockets, or give your design dark cuffs. Besides all these layers, you’ll notice lots little details, like how the tag & drawstrings are separated for some extra realism.

The Colors Group has eight preset base colors, and you can of course fill any of these layers for any base color you choose.

2. The Textile Patterns

pattern_preview1The Hoodie Design Pack also includes 93 Seamless Textile Patterns for quick experimentation with the templates. Think of these as “presets” to start stimulating design ideas & options.

Textile Patterns include:

  • Herringbone
  • Houndstooth
  • Zebra, leopard & crackle print
  • Plaid & Argyle
  • Shearling

The hoodie mockups below were created in a few clicks using a few of the included patterns. Cool!


Phew! We went from sketch to scan to final Illustration to mock up. Then we went ahead and explored the Hoodie Design Pack in a little more detail. I think that’s enough for this time! I hope you ended up with a killer illustration and had fun playing around with the templates.

How to make an animated GIF with 8-Bit Characters: Part 2: Animation

8-bit Blog Part 2 GIF

In the last post, I showed you how to make 8-bit characters in Adobe Illustrator. In this post, we will animate those characters in Adobe Photoshop using the Animation Window.


To Begin, open up a new document in Photoshop and make the dimensions the size you want your final animated gif to be. This will be used for on screen viewing, so set the resolution at 72 pixels per inch.

Next, transfer your vector images into Photoshop. The easiest way to do this is to use the copy command in Illustrator and paste them into Photoshop as a smart object. You may need to resize them when you move them to Photoshop, but just remember to keep the “pixels” of the different objects the same size.

photoshop document settings


Now that you have all of your images in Photoshop, it’s time to animate! Open up the ANIMATION window which is located under the WINDOW menu. The animation window will serve as your timeline for your animation.

There are a couple of nice features here that should be noted.

  • Each box in this window serves as an individual frame of your animated gif.
  • On the bottom of each of these boxes is a drop down menu that allows you to control the duration of that particular frame.
  • Below the frames in the toolbar, are the add and the delete frame icons. They function in the same manner as the add and delete layer buttons on the layers palette.
  • There is also another helpful button, the TWEEN ANIMATION FRAMES button, that allows you to enter frames automatically as tweens for your animation so you don’t have to animate every individual frame. Instead you can just make two frames, one where the animation should start and one where it ends. Then, you select the last frame in the animation and you press the button that looks like little boxes going in a diagonal direction. This brings up a pop-up menu that allows you to enter as many frames as you would like to control the duration of the animation.
  • On the window there are also the typical video controls that will allow you to play through your animated gif.

animation window


For this tutorial, we will do a short animation of our characters fighting. To begin, make sure that all your characters are on different layers. The way the animation works is by turning on and off different layers in each frame to controll animation. So, begin with your character on one side of the screen. Then, add another frame in the animation window, and make sure it is selected, and move the character across the screen. If you click back and forth between the frames in the animation window, the character should jump from one part of the screen to the other.

moving your character

This is where that handy tween animation button comes into play. Select the frame with the character where you want him to end up, and press the tween button. In the pop-up box that appears, make sure that it says “tween with previous frame” in the drop down box. Then enter the number of frames that you want to insert in between your animation and press ok. Now you should see a lot more frames in your animation window. Press the play button to see the results.

tween dialogue box


So great, you made a little guy move across the screen, now what?! Well, how about some good old violence? This may take some more pixel pushing in Illustrator, but what you need is to create the impression of a sword swinging motion.

The best way to do this is to have your character have two different poses. In one pose, have him stand with his sword up and in the other he should be standing with the sword in a downward slashing motion. When the two are animated together, it appears if your warrior is swinging his sword. Use the same technique to animate as you previously did, turning on and off layers in the different frames. Then all you have to do is move him towards the other character and swing away.

sword swinging animation


Finally, to save the animation out as a GIF, go to the FILE menu and click on the SAVE FOR WEB & DEVICES option. In the window that comes up, make sure gif is selected, and then click save and you are done. Choose a color preset like 128 colors or 32 colors depending on many you have. Remember, fewer colors mean smaller file sizes.

save for web as a GIF


Now go crazy with it, and add some effects and some projectiles and soon it will be mass hysteria! Then, you can show it off to your friends by putting your gif’s on your web page or use them as a AIM icon. Here is the final one I created…GOOD LUCK!

8-bit battle

If you want to, post your results in the User Showcase and show off your amazing animating skills.

How to make an animated GIF with 8-Bit Characters: Part 1: Design

creating a retro video game animated GIF from scratch

Have you ever wanted to make a kick ass animation of 8-BIT characters tearing each other to shreds? Well now you can. In this tutorial, I will take you through the process of creating vectorized 8-bit characters for use in an animated GIF. I’ve also included the vector source files of the characters and objects so you can create your own animation. So start jamming to The Advantage and get started!

1. Set up your document in Illustrator

To begin, open Illustrator and create a new document. It doesn’t really matter what size, so the default 8.5 x 11 dimensions will be just fine (Since these are vectors, they can be resized later to suit your needs).

2. Turn on the Grid

Next, you want to make sure you turn on the grid in your document. You can do this by going to the VIEW menu and selecting the SHOW GRID option (or by pressing CTRL + “ for the shortcut). This grid will serve as a guide for all the pixels you will use to make your characters, backgrounds, items, etc. Also, I find it helpful to turn on the snap to grid option as well. This makes it easier to move the pixels around the grid, without having to spend time lining them up by hand. You can find this option in the VIEW menu under SNAP TO GRID (or by pressing SHIFT + CTRL + “ ).

creating a nintendo character

3. Use Squares to create your Character

Now your document is set up, you are ready to make some vector 8-bit characters. First, use the square tool to make a square the exact same size as the squares of the grid. Since you have the SNAP TO GRID option on, this should be fairly easy. This square will serve as a single “pixel” that you will copy to make all of the objects in your 8-bit environment.

creating a cool game character

4. Get Creative!

Next, you’ll have to decide how you want your characters to look. You can either sketch them out and scan them into your computer or just wing it. If you are going to sketch them out, make sure that you turn the opacity down on your sketch so you can still see the grid in Illustrator. For this tutorial, I am just going to wing it using characters from the Final Fantasy series as a guide.

At this point, you need a quick way to move the pixels around to create your character. I find it works best to work with one color at a time, and then go back and add detail later. The fastest way to do this is to select the pixel you want to use, and hold ALT while pressing the arrows in the direction that you want the pixel to go. This will copy your single “pixel” and move the copy in whatever direction you choose.

Start with using Squares on the Grid

5. Color your character

When you have your outline finished, it is time to fill in your character. I use the same technique as before, but I have found you also need to use the mouse to hand place pixels at times. When choosing colors, keep in mind that you need to use a limited palate like a real 8-bit game, if you are going for authenticity. If it helps, you can also keep a single pixel of each color next to your characters that you can copy or use for other elements in the 8-but world you are creating. Also, don’t forget to create a weapon for your character.

creating an 8-bit Nintendo character

6. Create more characters

After I finished my first character, I made some other characters of a similar style so that he has someone to fight.

more 8-bit characters

7. Create Your environment

Now, you need to create an environment for your characters to fight in. This can be a bit tricky, but just remember that most retro games had a block or unit of background that was usually repeated across the screen. In this background, I have created a couple of different trees and used darker shades of greens and browns to add depth. Then, I repeated them across the background using the HORIZONTAL DISTRIBUTE CENTER tool to keep them looking uniform. In the fore ground, I created a dirt road that the characters can be placed on. Also, when blocking out large areas of color in the background, it is much easier to create larger sections of color using the square tool.

create a cool retro gaming background

8. Create Some Objects

You may also want to create other elements that the characters can interact with in the environment. For this free vector sample pack, I have made a few different things that you can add into your animation like mushrooms and torches. And now you should be ready to bring your characters to life, through the power of an animated gif!

post links to your character designs

I’m curious to see what our readers come up with. I want to see some awesome 8-bit characters, monsters, bosses, objects, etc. I’ll even post my favorites in another post!

create an awesome 8-bit animated gif


Free 8-Bit vector elements



In Part 2, I will take you through the process of animating your 8-bit characters using Photoshop CS3’s animation panel.