Faking Depth of Field in Photoshop (w/Ps action)

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Here’s a quick technique that I use to fake depth of field in Photoshop and add realism to my images. I’ve seen this technique mentioned in various tutorials I’ve read, so it’s really nothing new. But it’s a good trick that I feel you should know.

1. Create a new Channel

2. With that Channel selected, add a reflected gradient at about 80 degrees. Black in the center and white around the edges.

3. Select your RGB channel and go back to your layers.

4. Filter > Lens Blur

5. Select your new alpha channel as your “depth map” source

6. Adjust the radius to your liking, don’t overdo it. Be gentle.

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See example images for before and after. Try adding lighting effects or other subtleties to make the effect more cohesive and realistic. Or better yet, work off a 3D render or image already in perspective for more accurate and convincing results.

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What’s that you say? This would make a great Photoshop action? Indeed it would. You can download the [download id=”45″] right here!

Quick Global Swatches In Adobe Illustrator

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Global swatches in Adobe Illustrator: they’re awesome. If you’re not aware of the power that is a global swatch, they are special color swatches that are applied like regular swatches, but when the swatch is changed, all vector objects using that swatch are also updated. Similar to Symbols in Illustrator, or Instances for you Flash users. Like I said, awesome.

Global swatches come in very handy when tweaking colors in an illustration or design. Obviously you’re keeping your color palette tight, limited and harmonious so using global color swatches is the ideal method for ensuring all your elements are using the exact same color throughout the illustration or design.

Of course, this is only handy if you’re using global swatches from the go. Otherwise you need to go back, select one object using a color, go to Select > Same > Fill Color and then create a global swatch, and then apply that global swatch. Sheesh! But what if I told you you could create global swatches in one fell swoop, and convert all your existing art to the global swatches, and group them all into a color group in one step? I thought you might be interested. Read on for the how-to…

Open Your Image

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Open up your .ai file. Obviously (or not so obviously) this technique will only work with vector objects. Here I am using a cool little punk rock alien cartoon character playing bass guitar, which I recently created for a client project.

Select Your Artwork

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Select all the artwork for which you want to create global swatches. Here I just used the Selection tool and dragged around the chosen vector art objects.

Create The Color Group

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Click the “Create Color Group” button in the Swatches palette/panel. It’s the little folder icon with a plus sign superimposed upon it.

Create The Global Swatches

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After clicking the “Create Color Group” button, you’ll be presented with this dialog box. Be sure to click the “Selected Artwork” radio button as well as the “Convert Process To Global” checkbox.

Behold Your New Color Group!

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Voila! You now have a new color group with all the selected object colors, and you can see by the white triangle in the corner that they are all indeed Global swatches. Illustrator also handily has converted the colors in your selected artwork to these new global versions of the swatches.

Preparing InDesign Files for your Print Service

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Often times when it comes to preparing files for a printer it can get really complicated really fast. Often times when I’m creating a design there are a lot of elements that I use in a file, most of which are images and fonts. It’s so complicated to remember EVERYTHING you put into a file so I discovered this cool trick you can use in InDesign to help package up all of your information for you! That way you don’t have to worry about missing anything. The function is called packaging. Here is how to package a file and what it does exactly.

*Note that this refers to InDesign CS4; CS3 refers to the “Packaging” feature as “Preflight”. Preflight has been expanded upon in CS4.

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To get the process started go to File > Package. Or if you love the keyboard shortcuts its: Alt + Shift + Ctrl + F (Mac: Option+Shift+Command+P). This will bring up a dialog box that gives you all the information about what is going to be packaged. What packaging does is put all your resources (links, fonts, Pantone colors, as well as a copy of the InDesign file) into one folder for the printer to easily access the files and information quickly. This way you don’t have to worry about a ticked-off printer coming back to you upset that your files weren’t all included with your submitted InDesign file.

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You can go through the other sections below “Summary” to make sure everything is good to go. These tabs show everything that is going to be packaged into the document. Once you have reviewed this information click “Package”. This will take you to a Printing Instructions window. I always put my information in the document for the printer, one never knows if they may need to contact you. There is also an area for you to write specific instructions for the printer as well. This can come in quite handy if you want to use a special printing technique.

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After clicking “Continue”, a “Package Publication” window will pop up. Here you will choose a location on your computer to save a folder with all the InDesign file information and fonts and files used within the layout. Navigate to where you want the press ready folder saved and click “Package”. This will start the packaging process.

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Once the computer has finished saving your file, go ahead and navigate to the folder. If you look in the folder you’ll see your file is there with a separate folder for fonts and links.

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Can’t get much easier than that! Next time let your computer do all the heavy lifting.

Using Transform Again in Illustrator

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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.

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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:

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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.

Paparazzi!: Full Web Page Screenshots Utility (OS X)

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Paparazzi! is a handy little niche utility for Mac OS X that creates screenshots of full webpages. Add a URL (or choose from a list of recently visited sites) and Paparazzi! brings up the page in a mini-browser. Save the file in your preferred format, with custom file name options (such as auto-adding the date, year, URL, page title and more).

The real gem here is that Paparazzi! takes a screenshot of the entire web page, not just what’s visible on-screen. Great tool for web designers.

paparazzi_04_mainBest of all, it’s free! Note that the developer does ask for donations of you find yourself using the app a bit, so show some love and drop a few bucks to the developer if this software is helpful for you.

InDesign Quick Tip: Indent To Here

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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.

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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.

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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.

Text Tool Tips

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So you’re a keyboard shortcut junkie, working on a design. You need to add text. You select the Text tool in Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign and add your text. But how does one jump to other tools—permanently or temporarily—while having the Text tool selected? Obviously if you hit one of the standard keyboard ‘letter’ shortcuts, you’re just going to enter that letter into the text box. Here are a few tips…

“Commit” the Text Box

Illustrator/InDesign: In Illustrator or InDesign, you can commit the text very easily by hitting the Esc key. The text/text box you were working with will no longer act as if it’s “live” and you can select another single-letter tool shortcut via your keyboard.

In Illustrator as well as InDesign, hitting the Esc key will also jump you to the Select tool as well. If you want to keep the Text tool active and still access the Select tool temporarily, just tap Cmd (Mac)/Ctrl (PC) to access the Select tool. Then release the Cmd/Ctrl key to revert back to the Text tool.

Photoshop: To “commit” text in Photoshop, you’ll need to hit the Enter key (note that the Enter key is not the same as the Return key; Enter is on your number keypad).  And of course, no special keyboard wrangling to move the text around—just move your cursor slightly away from the text, and your cursor will temporarily switch to the Move tool.

Thanks to Mike Shoaf for the Photoshop ‘commit text’ tip!

Temporarily Access Hand Tools

Illustrator: So you’re working with text but just need to temporarily do some moving of the canvas with the hand tool. To get the hand tool when you’re working with text in Illustrator, press Cmd (Mac)/Ctrl (PC) + Spacebar, then release just the Cmd/Ctrl key. On the Mac, Cmd-Spacebar is also the default Spotlight search keyboard combo, but if you do the tip as suggested it will work fine, even though the Spotlight search bar will pop up; just ignore it.

Big thanks to Mordy Golding for this Illustrator tip, been looking for a way to do this for so long!

InDesign Within InDesign, there’s actually a special Hand tool keyboard shortcut just for this purpose: Option (Mac)/Alt (PC) + Spacebar. In fact, I have mapped one of the stylus buttons on my Wacom graphics tablet to this Option-Spacebar combo as opposed to the standard Spacebar, and it works great even when not in a live text box.

Photoshop: In Photoshop, to temporarily access the Spacebar/Hand tool while working in the Text tool, hold Command-Shift-Space (Mac) or Ctrl-Shift-Space (PC).

Thanks to @jeremysnyder for the tip!

Know of any other handy Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign tips for using the Text tool? Let us know in the Comments section below!

Photoshop Quick Tip: Finding Layers Quickly

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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.

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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.

Polishing Your PSD: 3 Friendly Reminders for Front-End Sanity

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So you’re a visual designer who wants to suck up to a certain front-end hat guy. Wouldn’t it be a great gesture to clean-house and organize your file so the slicer doesn’t ‘slip’ and accidentally butcher your brilliant work?

Some firms carefully distingush the roles of visual designer and front-end developer; other firms have that one ‘web guy’ who also IDs as the creative talent, the Flash programmer, and the IT go-to (and secretly, the ping-pong master champion). Although our titles are more for show than showdown here at Go Media, there are those projects where designers and coders remain very separate.

If you wear the hat of front-end web developer on web projects, nothing is more frustrating than firing up someone else’s PSD file and finding a sloppy, steaming pile of Illustrator-imported poo. If your visual designer happened to be miles away on vacation doing something mildly exotic (or maybe just slightly dangerous), you’d be stuck with a razor-sharp deadline for valid markup and an endless sea of layers labeled ‘<Path>’ and ‘<Object>’. Blurg.

Take heed these gentle reminders for a polished file, and possibly (standards help you) a steady-handed co-worker:

1. Back It Up, Merge It Down

Each designer has their method, and it’s only madness when someone else messes with a sacred system. When organizing a Photoshop file for the slicer-and-dicer, create a back-up of your original for safe-keeping. Merge any monstrous layers down for the fresh file — this lightens the work-load for yourself and creates a cozier file for front-end guy. To ensure someone’s slicing the right PSD, label files something that communicates finality, such as “Homepage_Final.psd” or “ContactUs_Apocalypse.psd”.

2. Think <structure>

Even if you don’t get off by looking at the code (you know its bad when Ctrl + U is your favorite browser key combo), most visual designers have an inspired sense of website structure. Why not use this understanding to organize the layers in your file? When you think about it, most websites have an identifiable Header (top), Content area (middle), and Footer (bottom). You can also usually spot ‘Main’ or ‘Sub Navigation’ within a design. Chances are, these are the areas your HTML/CSS guy will be looking for. So for Meyer’s sake: next time you’re tidying up a design, man up and create some folders! Front-end guy certainly isn’t scared of them, and he’ll appreciate the effort.

3. Label Layers, Adjust Your Junk

Don’t just slap a few folders into your file and call it quits — get some names on those mother lovin’ layers! You don’t have to get carried away; a little labeling goes a long way. This is especially true for imported Illustrator files. Solid names are ones that not only distinguish the layer, but reference the general parts of the website. For example: you’re designing a page with elements collectively making up the background for footer navigation. You might stuff the elements in a folder titled ‘Footer’ (doing this obviously tells you where in the design these layers are), and label them “Background Bottom”, “Background Top” and “Background Overlay”.

10 PC Productivity Tools for Graphic Designers

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If you’re a PC user, reading George Coghill’s fantastic “10 Great Time Saving Mac Utilities for the Graphic Artist” may have caused a twinge of jealousy.

Many of these programs have been part of my workflow for a year or more. Several others are great suggestions from fellow Go Medians.

Okay then, let’s start off with one of my all-time favorites!

1. Thumbview • Free!

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Last summer I shared some tips for getting the most out of for Adobe Bridge and it’s handy ability to show live previews of all types of Adobe file. However, it’s no secret that Bridge uses a ton of RAM, and it may not even be part of your workflow.

Enter Thumbview – a small app that brings thumbnail previews back to PSDs in Windows Explorer (sorry Illustrator fans, I’m still looking for an .Ai equivalent).

Thumbview is especially handy in the Photoshop’s Open/Save dialog.

2. FolderMenu • Free!

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When Microsoft released Windows Vista one of my favorite improvements was Explorer’s customizable “Favorite Places” panel; Suddenly clicking 5 or 10 times from the open/save dialog became a thing of the past. Well, the AutoHotKey powered script (more on AHK later) FolderMenu is a supercharged “Favorite Places”.

FolderMenu creates customized a list of frequent folders that appears at the tip of the mouse with a quick middle click. And yes, the menu works in pesky open/save dialogs, which will save precious minutes of the workday.

FolderMenu can display shortcuts to your most frequent files, programs, and registry keys.

Power user tip: Ctrl+clicking a folder in FolderMenu will display a list of child folders, bypassing explorer all together! Using this tip, you can navigate right to the final file without ever opening a window.

3. PrtScr • Free!

PrtScr is a remarkably free screen capture & annotation tool that stands up to it’s commercial competitors quite well. PrtScr has easy but powerful caption & save options, annotation, multiple-monitor support, and image scaling.

4. Ditto • Free!

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Ditto is lightweight free software that gives you quick access to recently copied text and images.

With Ditto you’ll be able to copy multiple fields from the source window by repeatedly hitting ctrl+c to load up Ditto’s history. Then in the target window, you can quickly activate copied items & paste them into separate fields.

Honestly, Ditto is easier to use than explain. If your fingers spend a lot of time hovering over Ctrl+C, then give Ditto a try.

5. Autohotkey • Free!

Autohotkey is is the six-cylinder engine powering a few of the productivity tools I’m discussing today. It’s a scripting language for Windows that gives less technical folks like me the power to write time-saving scripts.

Spend a few minutes reading the AutoHotKey quickstart guide, and you’ll be well on your way to writing a script. For example, a script can handle text expansion, or open multiple programs and close all other programs with a key combination.

6. Notepad2 • Free!

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Notepad2 is a no-frills, fast, and free text editor with syntax highlighting. It’s also the editor of choice for Dave Romsey, Go Media’s code-zone crusader.

7. Onenote • $99

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Onenote may be the most forward-thinking software Microsoft has released in years. It’s an organic re-creation of a spiral notebook, but with all the power & usability expected from modern computing.

In less words, Onenote is a second brain: a repository of snippets, tips, links, images, outlines, to-do lists, research, screen-grabs, code – you name it. Give the trial version a test run.

8. Multimon Taskbar • Free!

Setting up dual (or heck, triple!) monitors is a great way to boost computing productivity, especially as a designer. Nonetheless, the more pixels there are to manage, the more crowded the taskbar becomes.

MultiMon helps pixel overload by spreading the taskbar across multiple monitors. The nicest feature is that the second monitor’s taskbar shows only the active windows that appear on that monitor!.

9. Taskbar Shuffle • Free!

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In a similar vein, Taskbar shuffle addresses many common complaints waged against the Windows Taskbar. Taskbar shuffle let’s you drag ‘n drop taskbar buttons (of course), but it can also close a program or window with a middle click, like a Firefox tab.
Image courtesy of PC World.

10. CCleaner • Free!

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Gina Tripani of Lifehacker wrote that CCleaner “Decrapifies your PC”, allowing it to run faster & smoother. Over time, a PC collects a fair amount of junk files & registry keys that can lead to sluggish performance. CCleaner is no-nonsense, spyware free, and does its job very well.

Bonus: Zune Theme for XP • Free!

Occasionally I become bored using a PC, even if it is tweaked out & running smoothly. If you’re tired of the playground blue or dull olive XP themes, try out the official Zune Theme from Microsoft.

Quick Tip: Find Files On Your PC Fast With FileBox Extender

One little app that I couldn’t live without is FileBox Extender for Windows. Fellow Go Media designer @Adam_Wagner originally introduced it to me last year. It’s a free, lightweight app for Windows that I use to quickly access frequently used directories.

The description on their site says:

FileBox enhances Windows by adding several advanced functions to the standard Open File and Save File dialog boxes. (Note that if a program uses its own “private” dialog boxes for these functions, you won’t see our FileBox buttons, sorry.)

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So for instance, if I’m always going into our Vector Packs folder while working on a project, it can get tedious having to navigate through all of Go Media’s folder structures on our server. And when I’ve had some coffee, my mouse clicking is a little erratic and often find myself glazing over as I scan the hundreds of folders in our client directory.

Another quick tip is to simply start typing the first few letters of the folder you’re looking for and it should snap you right to it. I’ve watched people hunt and hunt for folders for at least 10-20 seconds of “dead air” time and it’s painful to watch.

One annoying thing with FileBox is that it doesn’t really work well when saving attachments from Outlook. I will go to save some attachment from my email, and use FileBox to select a favorite folder and *poof* my window disappears as it immediately saved it right to the first folder I selected with FileBox. That is mostly just an annoyance with Outlook though, as it’s the only program that seems to have problems with it.

FileBox is cool, but maybe there is something out there that does the same thing but better?

Create A Photoshop Tool Preset for Custom Text

Quick Tip: The Adobe Exchange

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Here’s a quick tip for all you Adobe software users out there: The Adobe Exchange. What is it? The Adobe Exchange (which seems to have recently been renamed to the Adobe Marketplace & Exchange) is a community resource to share and download lots of extras for your Adobe software products: Actions, Brushes, Custom Shapes, Displacement Maps, Filters, Flash Panels, Gradients, Droplets, Patterns, Plug-ins, Scripts, Styles, Templates, Symbols, Patterns and lots more. Just about every piece of software offered by Adobe has it’s own section, and of course Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are covered.

10 Great Time-Saving Mac Utilities For Graphic Artists

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Time. There’s never enough of it. But what if I told you there was a way to create more time, particularly in your design life? It’s simple, actually—make your computer do the work.

Over the years, I have found a rather handy set of software utility programs for the Mac that have saved me countless hours of production time in both illustration & graphic design work, as well as in general computer usage. By letting these programs do their thing, they free you from having to do them manually.

Some are free. Some cost a few bucks (or more). All, however, I have found invaluable in my creative work. I’m a big fan of using your tools to their maximum potential. Usually if there’s some brainless, repetitive task, I have found that some software developer out there has had the same frustration and has created software to alleviate these time-wasters.

The following collection I have found to be the most useful utility software for the Mac, specifically for creatives. They range from free to seemingly pricey, but once you’ve used them you’ll find the work you’ve saved to be well-worth the price paid.

The utilities cover the gamut of creative work on the Mac—from graphic design, illustration, magazine layout output, file/folder/Finder navigation and more. I use every single one of these on a regular basis and couldn’t create a Mac without them.—or at least I wouldn’t want to!

First Look: Adobe Illustrator CS4

Thirteen versions and twenty-one years after the very first Illustrator, Adobe is rolling out beta versions of Illustrator CS4. After so many iterations, you might wonder what Adobe could possibly do to make Illustrator CS4 worth the cost of the upgrade. In this preview, I am going to highlight the most noticeable changes with big scoops of screenshots and video to give you a real taste of the new Illustrator. Note: this preview is done on the Windows version of Illustrator CS4 Beta.

Lets start with the obvious:

What’s Your Opinion on Stock Artwork?

stock artwork from Go Media's Arsenal

A recent comment by “Smutek” inspired me to ask this question. His comment was on Dave’s tutorial about designing on a budget. The tutorial covered the use of stock artwork (specifically Arsenal stuff) to create a pro-looking design in less than an hour for that client that wanted it yesterday and doesn’t have the budget to pay for a total custom job. Smutek’s comment was:

I used to smirk at stock art myself.

Then I got a job.

I am the only artist at my company. Stop by desk on any given day and you’ll find 15, sometimes more jobs in various stages of progress or waiting to be started. If I were to try and hand draw every job I would quickly find myself the victim of a client lynch mob.

This is a deadline driven industry. It isn’t about sitting in the basement in a haze of pot smoke, making something “rad”. It’s about more than drawing a “wicked” picture.

It is about juggling multiple projects, time management, asset organization, communication, talent and creativity all working under pressure in some kind of beautiful chaotic harmony to interpret the clients vision and provide them with the best possible product in the required time frame.

It’s about staying fresh and being creative, not just wen you *want* to, but when you *have* to.

There is a huge difference.

Whether you are creating completely from scratch, using clip art to compliment an original piece, or doing an entirely stock art driven piece, stock art is a tool, just like stock photography and just like fonts.

Embrace it. Or don’t.

So that brings up a great point. There are times when I feel like I should be in a basement drawing something rad every day (minus the pot smoke). But then on most occasions, there are just so many things going on, too many clients asking for stuff to be delivered asap and with a discount. Most of us are not drawing every single day. We spend hours every day in our email, twitter, or WordPress trying to build relationships with potential clients and define our roles within the design community.

I look at customers who are buying stuff from our Arsenal and I see big names like Nike, MTV, Adidas, VH1, etc. You would think companies like that would have the budget to pay their designers to do 100% custom jobs every time? Then why are they buying our stock?

So what do you think?

Are vector packs just a cheap cop-out or are they a saving grace?