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Photoshop (PS) is a tool we have regularly use over the last 20 years. The image editing software has made it possible for us to improve photographs, create new images, banners, gifs and even layout websites.

Although the software is relatively easy for beginners to pick up, mastering all its features can take years. Layers, Filters, Color Correction and Masking, are just a few of the areas that can become baffling. A situation not helped by Adobe developers who like to move, combine and hiding once familiar tools.

One area that new PS users enjoy playing with is the various Filters built into the software. My first experiment with PS was converting a photograph to painting using the Oil Painting filter. I looked ok, but not great. The truth is many pre-rolled filters in PS are lame and overused. To get professional results from them, you will need to do significant tweaks and corrections to the basic application of the filter.

The ability to create your own filers can overcome the limitations of the included ones. However, building them is time-consuming and beyond the technical knowledge of most new users. One way around this is to use Actions, Brushes and Textures created by others. You can find free and paid resources which can be loaded into PS and utilised via the actions palette. Again, this can be a clunky way to work. If you forget to load the right brush or select the correct layer, the actions will not work. 

I’ve discovered the best way for novice and intermediate users to enhance photos is using the ‘Extensions’ panel. This panel makes it easy to extend the features and power of PS with virtually no fuss. I recently found a great resource over at Envato. You can purchase 1000s of actions and 100s of great extensions. The prices are competitive, around £7 per action and £15 for extensions.

USE EXTENSIONS

To use these extensions, download the zip file, open it and click on the JS loader. This will install the extension in Photoshop, and you’ll have instant access via a dedicated control panel—no messing around loading Brushes or Textures.

A couple of weeks ago downloaded two extensions from Envato. I will share the results with you below. The extensions are called ‘Draftum’ and ‘Perfectum’ they convert images/photos into artistic renderings. Draftum can create various types of sketch looks, and Perfectum transforms photographs into Watercolor paintings. 

I will use the same photo across all filters so you can judge the results.

ORIGINAL PHOTO

Base Photo

PHOTOSHOP BUILT-IN PAINT FILTER

PERFECTUM EXTENSION

DRAFTUM EXTENSION (URBAN SKETCH)

Draft

My daughter is ten years old and loves to draw and paint. Like most kids, she spends way too much time on the iPad. A few weeks ago, I saw her creating a cartoon dog on the iPad with a new app she’d download.

I watched as she flipped the canvas, swapped brushes, added textures and overlayed text. She did this like a Photoshop Pro with 20 years experience in the business. I instantly knew that Adobe hadn’t created this app – they would never make something this intuitive to use! I continued to watch as she drew lines, changed stroke thickness and deleted mistakes with multi-fingered taps on the iPad.

In my head, I thought – that’s a cute app. Obviously, it won’t have advanced features such as layers. At this point, my daughter swiped open a layers panel, filled it with a smoke effect, blending it with a graduated background and changed the opacity. Well, that’s cool, but the problem with these apps is the difficultly of exporting images in a format you can use. That’s when my MacBook pinged with an airdrop request, it was asking me to accept this cartoon dog drawing in PSD format!

“How much did that app cost?” I asked. My daughter told me I said she could buy it last week. I had no recollection of that conversion and began to worry about how much this had cost me, figuring that professional drawing packages can be relatively expensive. “What’s the app called,” I said, “ProCreate” came the reply. I searched on the AppStore and saw the price tag – £9.99. Phew, that was less than I was expecting.

A few days later, I picked up the iPad and started playing around with the app. I was blown away with how easy it was to use. Over the last 30 years, I used 100s of software packages, many of them in the field of image creation and manipulation. Most have a steep learning curve; one of the hardest to master is Adobe Photoshop. Not least because they continually change the way tools work and where you find them. Like a supermarket which keeps moving the bread aisle!

The more I played with the app, the more I liked it. I was continually saying to myself – if only Photoshop made it this easy to do XYZ. I started to wonder if I could use this app in my day job. I have several small image projects that require me to use Photoshop. However, the images are awkward to create in Photoshop. Adobe Illustrator would be better suited to the job, but I find the drawing tools in AI completely baffling.

I decided to use the Procreate app to make 40 racing silk images. My goal was to streamline the creation process using Procreate. I’d previously made these images in Photoshop, Fireworks and Illustrator. I roughly calculated it took me around 15 – 20 minutes to create each image using any of the software packages above.

Once I’d created my template in Procreate, I could knock out a silk variation in around 3 minutes!! The whole process was way more enjoyable too. I’d also saved enough time to justify the £9.99 price tag.

Compared to Photoshop or another image editing package, the Procreate price tag is ridiculously cheap. Yes, you will need a Stylus Pen/Pencil to access the full benefits of the app. However, you can pick those up a non-Apple stylus for around £30 on Amazon. Meaning you get a pressure-sensitive pen and app for approximately £40.

Website usability and design testing can be an expensive business. Many small and medium web projects can’t justify the costs of commissioning professional usability testing. Either the project budget is too small or testing would adversely affect the completion date. If you’re involved in a small scale project which can’t afford full usability/design testing then the lead designer and project manager will usually stick to industry best practice for U.I. elements and overall design.

Designers, clients and project managers rarely disagree on core design/usability issues, where you place a navigation bar or call to action are easily resolved. However, disagreements over color, photos and fonts are common place. Typically these types of disagreements can be settled by testing, but if you don’t have the budget – what can you do?

 

Until now – not much! Thankfully Usabilityhub.com identified this problem and produced a set of tools which allow you to quickly test design and UI parameters for little or no cost. You can learn how visitors interact with your design before launching. Find out what they think, what they remember, and where they make mistakes.

Test out mock ups/designs using a secret URL which you can share on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email. Use the power of social media to get test results for free. You can also order responses from the UsabilityHub community at the cost of 1 credit each. Responses from testers of specific demographics (country, age range, gender) cost 3 credits each. You can invite as many of your own testers as you like for free. Fifty credits can be purchased for $45 and one thousand credits will cost you $500. However, you can earn karma credits by completing other people’s tests!

If you’d like to check out this fast and free method of testing click the link below.

Test your designs and mockups on real people…

3Lancer.com is a resource aimed at freelance web designer. The site contains links to 100s of useful online tools, code snippets, software programs and inspirational designs. Designed in a visual format the site is growing at a rapid rate, and proving very popular.

In the coming months we hope to add a submission process for users to add their own finds, tools and website. 3lancer.com is designed on the GalleryPro wordpress template with a ‘lazyloader‘ on the homepage. jQuery and LazyLoad ensure that you never use more bandwidth than you have to and includes a really neat fade in effect as the user scrolls down the page!

Our latest website creation is Free Slot Machines, it adds to our already growing list of dedicated slots and fruit machine portals.

The soft gaming niche is an area we are planning to expand into, we have a number of domains that we’d like to see active with content. So far this year this is our second slot site to go live. Read more

Finally our very first website TheGameHunter.co.uk has got a much needed re-design! Online since 2003 The Game Hunter gambling guide is now in it’s third incarnation. The site has been a firm favourite with visitors who love it’s informal, informative casino, poker, bingo and bookmaker reviews.

The new Game Hunter incorporates lots of usability enhancements which easily allow us to add new offers and merchants. The additional of rotating banners means we can feature more merchants than ever before, we can even change the frequency that individual banners display. Casino, Poker, Bingo and Scratch Card reviews are now separated from guides and news.

The redesign also gave us the opportunity to prune some content and reviews, we have reformatted the popular guides into a search-able database and added a tagging system which allows visitors to quickly drill down to the most relevant sections of the site for them.

The site is still a work in progress, over the coming weeks and months we will be replacing the static screen shots of the casinos and games with our own generated video content, which will feel will be more beneficial and informative for the visitors.

We are currently working on the redesign of our first website The Game Hunter. The first phase of the redesign is creating a new ‘Game Hunter’ cartoon. The website has always featured the character Cornelius, he gives visitors the low down on the best places to play online casino and poker games.

As you can see the new Game Hunter is based on a series of sketches I made over the last few weeks. I’m very happy with the final result which was traced from the original sketches with Adobe Fireworks vector tools. I was never completely happy with the old cartoon but never had enough free time to revisit the design.

A new Cornelius is just the first phase of a massive overhaul for www.TheGameHunter.co.uk, in the next few weeks the site will begin to migrate to the new template and format. The original concept of The Game Hunter will remain, but expect to see plenty of web 2.0 elements creeping into the next few weeks.

It’s been a long time coming but finally we have new business cards, designed by Crewe based company TDB the cards are transparent and feature the Eddison Media light bulb logo and the usual information. We love the cards and can wholeheartedly recommend TDB if you’re looking for unique business cards, designs and print services.

If you’re looking for inspirational ideas for your business cards then check out 100 really creative business cards at www.webdesignerdepot.com. I was please to see it featured a couple of transparent cards, phew! at last we’re cool.