Photoshop tip : layers

here are a couple of handy tricks for working with layers.

this image is going to be deep-etched. we first have to turn the background layer into an active layer (notice the lock in the layers panel) :
screen grab of initial flattened photoshop file

to achieve that, just double-click the layer. this will open a dialog box asking you to name the layer. if you’re happy to just use the default name (Layer 0) — hold down your option key before you double-click to bypass the dialog. but in this case a different name was applied :
screen grab of file with layer made active

now, we’re only a couple of sentences in and it’s already time for a rant …
if you are going to deep-etch an image, DO NOT DESTROY PIXELS. there is absolutely no good reason for permanently erasing a background. you should always use a mask instead. you can read more about making masks here. masks are created with the mask button at the bottom of the layers panel :
screen grab of masked photoshop file

if you click the new layer button you’ll get a new layer above the currently selected layer or, if no layers are selected, at the top of the layer stack. but if you want the new layer beneath the current one, or at the bottom of the stack, hold the command key as you click :
screen grab showing new layer added

to name a new layer as you create it, just hold the option key as you click the new layer button. this also works if you are duplicating an existing layer by dragging it onto the new layer button (but not if you are duplicating with the right-click method).

now we need to add a logo from another file. first you need the new file in a separate window in front of your working file (so that you can see both files) then just click and drag the layer you want from the new file’s layers panel into your working file. you can also do this with multiple layers (just command-click to select multiple layers) :
screen grab showing one file being dragged onto another

to make things a little easier, hold the shift key as you click and drag. this will place the new layers dead centre :
screen grab showing new art in the centre of the working file

to rename an existing layer, double-click on the name in the layers panel.

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Photoshop tip : masking

let’s start with a belligerent directive … if you are going to deep-etch an image, DO NOT DESTROY PIXELS. there is absolutely no good reason for permanently erasing a background. you should always use a mask instead. if you make a mistake or change your mind or whatever, it’s easier to alter a mask than it is to reclaim lost pixels. ok, you’ve been warned.

a mask is a non-destructive way to create a transparent or translucent portion of a photoshop layer. the mask appears next to the image in the layers panel. white areas are totally opaque, black areas are totally transparent, and grey areas are somewhere between :
screen grab showing a basic mask

it may be a little easier to see the difference with a red background :
screen grab showing the basic mask with a red background

different images require different approaches to deep-etching. here’s one way to do one kind of image.

we need to get rid of the white background of this image so we can put it on a black background. to start with we can make a quick selection with the magic wand tool or by using the color range command under the select menu :
screen grab showing initial selection

this is not a perfect selection however, because the chrome highlights are white too and have also been selected. if we use this selection as our mask we’ll get big black spaces in our chrome — not pretty. refining the selection is a perfect job for quick mask mode (hit the Q key) :
screen grab showing the initial selection in quick mask mode

zoom in and use your brush tool to paint in the missing areas. you can change the colour and transparency of the quick mask by double-clicking the quick mask tool near the bottom of your tool panel :
screen grab showing the refined selection in quick mask mode

now you can exit quick mask (Q) and create the actual mask by hitting the add layer mask button at the bottom of the layers panel :
screen grab showing initial application of layer mask

well, that’s not quite right — we’ve masked out the bike instead of the background. not to worry, there are at least two easy ways to fix this : either undo and hold your option key as you click the add layer mask button; or click on the layer mask and hit command-i to invert the mask.

now we can see the mask is not quite tight enough — there’s a white halo around the bike. this can be fixed by selecting the layer mask and choosing filter > other > minimum (this example only needed a 1 pixel contraction) :
screen grab showing the minimum filter being applied to the layer mask

the next obvious thing to fix are those shadow areas under the wheels. you can do this by painting directly onto the layer mask with your brush tool, or you could make a selection and fill it with black (again, on the mask itself, not the image) :
screen grab showing a further refined layer mask

the only problem now is those disastrous spokes. let’s have a closer look :
screen grab showing closeup of badly masked spokes

now, you could try patching all that up with a lot of brush and eraser work, but here’s a simpler way. first, use the brush and eraser to completely mask out all the spokes and do a basic cleanup (tip: you don’t actually need to swap between the brush and eraser, you could just swap between a black brush and a white brush — whatever you find easier) :
screen grab showing closeup of cleaned up spokes area

next, disable the layer mask (shift-click on the layer mask) so you can see the original image. and use your pen tool to draw straight paths for each of the spokes :
screen grab showing closeup of spokes area with mask disabled

here are the completed paths with the top layer turned off so you can see them easily :
screen grab showing closeup of spokes area with finished paths

make a new layer, select your brush tool and set it to a fine solid brush (this example uses a 1 pixel, 100% hardness brush), then select your path in the paths panel and choose stroke path from the dropdown menu. if the resulting lines are not quite strong enough you can just stroke the path again with the same settings — try that before opting for a bigger brush :
screen grab showing closeup of spokes area showing new lines

now select the lines by holding down the command key as you click on the layer preview in the layers panel. turn off that top layer and hit command-h (hide selection) so you can see what you’re doing. click on the layer mask and hit delete. if the result isn’t strong enough, just hit delete again :
screen grab showing closeup of spokes area showing new masked spokes

bonza :
screen grab showing completed mask

as mentioned, this is just one way to mask this image. feel free to share your favourite way.

keep grunting.

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InDesign tip : #24

InDesign’s preflight panel is a great tool. as mentioned previously, live preflight is a dog, but the preflight panel is pretty much a compulsory tool for anyone sending stuff to print.

however, there’s still no substitute for doing your own manual and visual checks of a document before sending it out into the world. just as spell checking and grammar checking are no substitute for a proper proof read.

one invaluable feature which you should take a look at before sending EVERY job to print is the separations preview panel — if only to check your black plate. here’s a simple job about to go to press — boring design, yes, but looks fine to go :
screen grab showing simple page layout

now let’s take a look at it with the separations preview panel (click to enlarge). here we can see three common problems :
screen grab showing simple page layout with separations preview panel activated

the first is the spot colour (this is supposed to be a process job). whether or not that would be picked up by your preflight panel depends on how you’ve set it up. but this is a problem easily spotted in your swatches panel too.

the other two problems are highlighted by turning off the black plate in the separations preview panel (click on the eye to turn it off). you’ll notice all the black text has disappeared — this is how it should be.

that graphic is going to be a bitch to print — especially those fine diagonal lines — you’re just about guaranteed to get coloured halos around those lines when the heavy CMY plates hit the sheet (note: you can get readings of ink coverage by hovering your mouse over part of your artwork. the readings in the screen grab are from that graphic). BEWARE — images downloaded from online sources will not necessarily be well prepared.

ok, the last problem is that first bit of black type knocking out the coloured background. again, you’re creating a potential registration problem on-press with this fine type knocking out — it should overprint. in this case the problem is due to the type being inadvertently set to 99% black (as soon as type is anything but 100% black, it will knock out by default).

so there you have it — two common black plate issues which will not be picked up by your preflight panel but which could still compromise the quality of your printed job. remember — when sending a job to print — ALWAYS check your black plate in the separations preview panel.

… and keep grunting

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InDesign tip : #23

sometimes you get a reminder that what is obvious to you may not necessarily be obvious to others. and this is why sharing information on blogs and forums is important. knowledge only becomes obvious once you possess it.

this post was inspired by seeing an experienced InDesign user forcing text to the next column with multiple returns. there are a bunch of different break characters in InDesign. this post is about the big four :

1. return — also called a line break or hard return — the most common break, this designates the end of a paragraph.

2. soft return — also called a forced line break — place a soft return using shift-return — you use these when you want to force a line break within a paragraph. the difference between a return and a soft return is particularly noticeable when using paragraph styles or space after/space before settings.

screen grab showing four different break characters

3. column break — THIS is what you should use if you want to force text to the next column. why? because if you use multiple returns, and then later edit the text before those returns, there’s a pretty high likelihood that you’ll stuff up your neat columns. if you have a keyboard with a number pad, you can use the enter key to place a column break. with a truncated keyboard you use function-return (the function key is the fn at bottom left). you can also use a right-click (or the type menu) to access the conditional menu :

screen grab showing how to select break characters from conditional menu

4. page break — similar to the column break — hopefully the name makes its purpose obvious. also accessible through the conditional menu.

work smarter, not harder. and get in the habit of using returns and breaks correctly — this will make you a better layout artist.

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book mockup imposition

if you still get confused when working out which page goes next to which when you’re creating a book mockup or dummy, this post is for you — all you need is grade 3 maths ability.

we’ll use a 16pp book as our example. the front and back covers are pages 1 and 16 — add those two numbers and you’ll get 17. the inside covers are pages 2 and 15 — add them together and you’ll get 17. see a pattern here?

it’s the same for any book — take the total number of pages and add 1 — that’s the magic number your imposed spreads should add up to. page 6 of a 16pp book will be next to page 11, page 13 will be next to page 4, etc.

the only other thing you need to worry about is which page goes on which side of the imposed spread. again, it’s just a matter a grade 3 maths — even numbered pages are always on the left.

showing page imposition for 16 page book

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