Holiday Card Inspiration 2009

Here are a few of my favorite holiday card designs:

Marines Magazine

I found Marines Magazine while researching well designed military publications. Marines Magazine was recently redesigned and the new look is bold, edgy and modern—reminiscent of Wired magazine's current design.

High Resolution for Non-Designers

I get asked to explain high resolution a lot so I thought I'd share my explanation here:

High resolution means an image of high quality with a lot of image detail. On a computer, image data is measured in pixels. In general, print resolution is 300 ppi (pixels per inch) and screen resolution is 72 ppi. For more detail on image resolution, read this Wikipedia entry.

How do I tell if a photo is high resolution?

  • Most photos downloaded off the internet are not high resolution

  • In general, photos below 300 Kb in file size or less than 1000 pixels in width or height are not high resolution

  • Look at the file size/file dimensions and divide each value by 300 to get the actual printed size in 300 ppi/print resolution.

  • Example 1: 640 x 480 pixels = 2.13 inches x 1.6 inches at 300 ppi which is pretty small. Example 2: 2048 x 1536 pixels = 6.8 inches x 5.12 inches at 300 ppi, suitable for most print needs.

Taking high resolution photos

If you have a digital camera and will be taking photos that might be used for a brochure or other print piece, be sure you set your camera to the largest image size (often shown in options of small, medium, large, extra large) and image quality to fine. Order extra memory cards if you need more file space.

If you're curious exactly how many pixels wide and high your 8 megapixel (or other megapixel) photo will be, check out this Digital Camera Megapixel Translator.

Scrapbook Art: I Am in the Details

I love the layering and variety of elements in this scrapbook piece. I Am in the Details by Heidi Kelly.

Web Gallery Troubleshooting in Bridge

CS4 has moved automatically generated web galleries from Photoshop to Bridge (or maybe this happened in CS3 and I never noticed it). Anyway, now you create a web gallery in Bridge in the Output section. Select the photos you would like to output and then navigate to Output. Choose Web Gallery and go through each section choosing your options.

The problem comes when you need to create your web folder or upload the web folder. Many people (including me) have had trouble with the files actually displaying properly when uploaded to the server, either through Bridge's ftp upload feature or creating a folder they upload themselves.

The solution: Somehow Bridge does not create the permissions properly. My web gallery files are created with permissions for Everyone = "No Access". Unlock the permissions (either using Get Info in the Finder or options in your ftp program) and change the settings for Everyone to "Read Only". Once I reset that, everything works properly.

London Jazz Festival by IWANT design

This is a neat abstract piece. Is it a flower? Is it music waves? Is it people coming together? This creative piece of art could mean many different things. Whatever it is, I like it. Designed by IWANT design.

Creating A Sepia Tone Photo

Here are two great ways to create a sepia tone photo. My favorite way is the second way, using Adobe Camera Raw - something new I learned from Michael Ninness at the InDesign Conference in DC.

If you look at the photos closely, you will see that using the Black & White adjustment in Photoshop puts a lot of color into all areas: highlights, midtones, shadows. Using Adobe Camera Raw gives you a sepia tone with a more authentic vintage effect - the color is applied mostly to the midtones, giving you brighter, cleaner whites and shadows closer to black.

Using the Black and White Adjustment Layer in Photoshop

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.

  2. Create a new Black and White Adjustment Layer. In the Black and White Adjustment panel, adjust the individual sliders left or right to control how the black and white conversion is applied to the image.

  3. In the top corner of the Black and White Adjustments panel, check "Tint". You can edit the default color by clicking on the Tint color box.

Note: Now that I think about it, you could simulate the effect of an Adobe Camera Raw sepia tone by adjusting the Blend If sliders on the Black and White adjustment layer and adding a Hue-Saturation layer underneath set to -100 saturation (desaturate). There are always so many ways to replicate an effect with Adobe products!

Using Adobe Camera Raw in Bridge
Adobe Camera Raw is a great sub application embedded into Adobe Bridge. It's generally used for raw files (hence the name) but it can also be used for any jpg too! So all of the settings like exposure, fill light and color temperature can also be applied to jpgs. Here's how to create a sepia with Adobe Camera Raw:

  1. Open Bridge. In Bridge, select the jpg or raw file you would like to edit. To open the image in Adobe Camera Raw, type Cmd + R.

  2. In Adobe Camera Raw, go to the row of icons below the histogram and click on the fourth item, HSL/Grayscale. Check "Convert to Grayscale". Adjust the individual sliders left or right to control how the black and white conversion is applied to the image. Arranging your sliders in an "S" curve is a general rule of thumb for a good image.

  3. Click on the next menu item (fifth), Split Toning. Adjust the top two sliders, hue and saturation, to apply sepia tone color to the image.

  4. Click Save Image in the bottom left corner to save your changes to a .tif file or click Open Image (bottom right corner) to open your jpg with the sepia effect in Photoshop and continue from there. Clicking Done will save the Adobe Camera Raw settings without harming the data in the jpg or raw file (it saves your Camera Raw settings for that image in a special side file).

Thanks to user CDJensen for the image in this example.

Extracting the Original Photos from a Word Document

This is my favorite "use-immediately" tip from the InDesign conference I attended last week in DC. I literally needed to use this technique the first day I was back at work. The InDesign conference was awesome - I'll be sharing my favorite tips from the conference in the weeks to come.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who receives Microsoft Word or PowerPoint documents from clients with photos I need embedded in those documents. In the past, I've tried to copy and paste them into Photoshop which only yields a low res copy. Then I have to go back and ask the client to track down the original jpg or tif files which takes a while. Sometimes the originals are lost and I'm out of luck.

Now I finally know how to properly extract those original photos thanks to Anne-Marie Concepcion of Seneca Design and InDesign Secrets. Of course, garbage in, garbage out - if the client inserted a low res photo all you're going to extract is that original low res photo but at least it's something!

  1. Open up your Microsoft document. If it's a Word doc, you're ready for the next step. If it's a Powerpoint file, open a blank Word document. Copy all of the photos from Powerpoint into that new blank Word doc and save the Word doc.

  2. Open a new InDesign document. Choose File > Place (Cmd + D), select the Word document, make sure the "Show Import Options" check box is selected and click Open. In the Show Import Options dialog box, check "Import Inline Graphics". Click OK and place the file.

  3. Go to your Links panel and select all of the placed photos. Click on the Links panel's flyout menu and choose Unembed Link. In the dialog box that comes up, click No. You will be prompted to select a folder to place the embedded photos. Decide where you want the photos and click Choose. The original photos will be extracted to that file location.

New Yorker Halloween Cover

I like this illustration for it's understated color and ironic message.

2010 calendar from Amy Soczka

Beautiful and simple vector natural art on this calendar featured at Design*Sponge.

Type Around a Sphere and Other Type on a Path Tips

I don't know how long it has existed but I only discovered the Type on a Path dialog box recently. That's the Adobe suite for you - there are always a couple different ways to create the same effect and the easiest, most efficient way is sometimes hard to find. At least I know about it now. These tips work in both Illustrator & InDesign.

Arcing Text around a Circle

I used to create this effect with two circles of different sizes and visually and manually align them so they looked even. This way is much easier:

  1. Open a new document and draw circle (hold down Shift while drawing to keep it proportional).

  2. Select the Type on a Path tool and click on the circle. Type in your text and center it. With the hollow point arrow tool, move the text center line to the outside top of the circle.

  3. With the text still highlighted, double-click on the Type on a Path tool in the toolbar to bring up the Type on a Path dialog box. Select Effect: Rainbow, Align to Path: Center and click OK.

  4. Copy the text, Paste in Front and move the text to a new layer. Move this text's center point tot the bottom center.

Wrapping Text Around a Sphere

  1. Open a new document and place your world graphic or other round object. Draw a long oval as shown.

  2. Select the Type on a Path tool and click on the oval. Type in your text and center it. With the hollow point arrow tool, move the text center line to the inside bottom of the oval.

  3. With the text still highlighted, double-click on the Type on a Path tool in the toolbar to bring up the Type on a Path dialog box. Select Effect: Skew, Align to Path: Center and click OK.

CD Artwork

I'm finally catching up on finding and adding cover artwork to iTunes so my albums can be reunited with their covers. It's funny how technology comes in a circle: moving away from artwork to a text only list back to including the artwork again. Here are some of my favorite covers.

Pink Floyd, Pulse - unique and creative concept. Excellent execution considering the album release date: 1995 and Photoshop version at the time: 3.0. Sarah McLachlan, Mirrorball - love the warm tones and textures and flower-like shape.

Jamie Cullum, Catching Tales - The bright red text and funky font make this cover pop. Sarah Brightman, Harem - I love the smooth empty space of the water and the sky. The curls on the text add interesting flair.

Sissel, Into Paradise - I know this technique is probably past its due date by now but I still like the erased title and photo edges. Shiller, Tag und Nacht - (Day and Night in German) simple, graphic, striking.

Creating Running Heads with Text Variables

This "how to" is very handy for books and other long documents. I was delighted once I learned how to use text variables to automatically generate running heads and maybe you will be too. So much time saved. So many master pages eliminated. No more worrying if I remembered to change the running heads when the chapter title was revised. I'm sure I've only just touched the surface of text variable capabilities and I'm looking forward to exploring more. Here's how to use text variable to create running heads:

  1. Open your book or long document in InDesign.

  2. In my example, I have a paragraph style called "chapter number" applied to the chapter number and a paragraph style called "chapter title" applied to the chapter title. Make sure your document has a paragraph style(s) applied to the text you want to use to generate the running head.

  3. Select Type > Text Variables > Define. You can either modify the available options or click the "New" button. In this example, I clicked New.

  4. To create the chapter number text variable: I named my text variable "Chapter Numbers" and chose Type: Running Header (Paragraph Style), Style: the paragraph style named chapter number, Use: First on Page. I inserted a colon and and space in the Text After field. Click OK. Click Done.

  5. To create the chapter title text variable: I named my text variable "Chapter Title" and chose Type: Running Header (Paragraph Style), Style: the paragraph style named chapter title, Use: First on Page. Click OK. Click Done.

  6. Go to your master pages and create a new text box for your running heads. Select Type > Text Variables > Insert Variable and choose Chapter Numbers. Select Type > Text Variables > Insert Variable and choose Chapter Title. Apply paragraph and character styles to format your text as desired. Make sure the width of the text box is large enough to fit your longest chapter title.

Creating an Interactive Table of Contents

Here are two ways to create an interactive table of contents in InDesign. By interactive, I mean that by clicking on Chapter 1 or page 11, the pdf document jumps to the beginning of Chapter 1 on page 11.

The easy way
If your document is straight-forward and you are able to auto-generate a table of contents, great! This is the easiest way to create an interactive table of contents, by letting InDesign do it for you:

  1. Once you've complete the layout and style application for your document or book in InDesign, you're ready to automatically generate a table of contents. You will need to have a paragraph style applied to the chapter titles. This style will be used create the table of contents.

  2. Click on Layout > Table of Contents to bring up the Table of Contents dialog box.

  3. Add the chapter titles paragraph styles to the left box. Select an entry style for your table of contents (you can create it later if necessary and re-generate the table of contents).

  4. Still in the Table of Contents dialog box, under Options, make sure the Create PDF Bookmarks box is checked. Click OK.

  5. When exporting a pdf, under the General tab, be sure you check the boxes for Bookmarks, Hyperlinks and Interactive Elements.

The manual way
If for some reason you can't auto generate a table of contents or want to add a "go to page" command to another piece of text unrelated to the table of contents, use these steps to make your text interactive. I'm using hyperlinks because I find them simpler and easier to use than bookmarks.

  1. Open a document in InDesign.

  2. With the text tool select your point of origin text (the text you'd like a user to click to jump to another page). With this text selected, go to the Hyperlink panel fly-out menu and select New Hyperlink.

  3. In the New Hyperlink Dialog box, under the Link To: drop down box, select Page.

  4. Type in the page number you'd like to jump to, set the Appearance Type to Invisible Rectangle and click OK.

  5. Repeat steps 2-4 as needed.

  6. When exporting a pdf, under the General tab, be sure you check the boxes for Bookmarks, Hyperlinks and Interactive Elements.

Controlling a Viewer's Experience of Your PDF

Whether you'd like your pdf to be viewed in book view (two-up continuous with a cover page) or single page view or appear with the Pages Panel, you can make sure that happens every time the pdf is opened. Here's how to control a viewer's experience of your pdf:

  1. Open a pdf in Acrobat. I'm using Acrobat Pro so I'm guessing you probably need Acrobat Pro for this to work.

  2. Select File > Properties or hit Cmd-D to bring up Document Properties.

  3. Click on the Initial View tab.

  4. Now choose whether you want page only or side panels (page, bookmarks, etc) under Navigation tab drop down menu. Choose from single or two-up options under Page drop down menu. Choose from options like fit page, fit width or a zoom percentage in the Magnification drop down menu. Choose any other options as desired.

  5. Save the pdf. Close it and reopen it to confirm your initial view settings have been applied. It will now open with these view setting every time.

I Love Dust Eames Pillow

I like the simple green and white color scheme and vintage typography and graphics on this pillow. From ILoveDust on

Multiple Strokes with the Appearance Panel

Creating multi-layered strokes is easy with the Appearance panel:

  1. Open a new document in Illustrator and draw a shape. Or open a previously created document and select the shape you'd like to stroke.

  2. With your shape selected, add a stroke color, style and weight in the Stroke panel. For this example, choose Align to the Outside (third option) in the Align Stroke portion of the Stroke panel.

  3. In the Appearance panel, choose Add New Stroke from the flyout menu. Choose a stroke color, style and weight. Continue adding strokes as desired.

  4. To adjust the stacking hierarchy of a stroke in the appearance panel, select a stroke and move it up or down. The stacking hierarchy works just like layers, layering strokes on top of each other to create different effects.

  5. To copy the multiple stroke effect from one shape to another, select the original multi-stroked shape. At the top of the Appearance panel, select the thumbnail for that object. Drag that thumbnail onto the new shape to apply the Appearance panel effects.

My Work: IFAS Research Roadmap

The IFAS Research Roadmap is a 12 page newspaper-like publication that summarizes and presents a faculty-driven plan for the future of IFAS Research. I took my design cues from the word "roadmap" in the title and created a road/highway theme. I built the highway scene from 4 different photos, adjusted the color and shadows, added texture and topped it off with a highway crest for the title.

Tips for Speedy and Efficient Graphic Design - Part 2

So you want to be a faster graphic designer? More tips for speed:

Clean Up Your Text Before You Start Designing
It's such a pleasure (and it's more efficient) to design with clean text but let's face it: designers rarely receive perfectly ready and clean text. There's always some issue: the bullets don't convert properly, the hyperlinks cause issues, there's all sorts of invisible trash (extra spaces, paragraph marks, tabs, etc.). For those pesky hyperlinks from Microsoft Word: Select all of the text in Word and hit Cmd-6 which strips out all of the hyperlinks (and hyperlink formatting!). In InDesign, use Find & Replace to get rid of the invisible extras: double spaces, extra paragraph marks, tabs and other document trash before you start designing. It will be that much easier to hit the ground running with your design.

Master Selecting Objects and Selecting Tools
(InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator)
Do you know the quickest way to switch from inside a text box to the Selection tool in InDesign? (Hint: hit Escape.) Can you draw and modify a shape in Illustrator without ever selecting a tool with the mouse? Learn the keyboard shortcuts to all of the tools and be able to select, move and modify an object using keyboard shortcuts whenever possible. Those little side trips to the menus and toolbar really add up over the course of a day.

Organize Your Files (Computer & Paper)
It doesn't matter if your desk looks perfect or if it looks like a cyclone hit it. The true measure of organization is function: if you can find a document or file you need in 10 seconds or less, you're doing great. If you can't find your files that fast, you might need a better system. My main organization inspiration comes from Julie Morgenstern's books and Zen Habits. I analyzed my own workflow and tested out different methods until I found the one that worked best for me.

Think Like a Race Car Driver
Race car drivers drive safely at dangerously high speeds (at least most of the time). How do they do it? Training, practice, focus. The same principles apply to designing faster:

  1. Training. Know your design programs backwards and forwards. The more familiar you are with the programs, the less time you spend figuring out how to do something. You just do it.

  2. Practice. Practice, practice and more practice. The more you do something, the better you get at it (at least usually). Also remember to practice skills that don't get used daily in your job. For example, if you rarely work in Illustrator, do something for yourself for fun in Illustrator to keep you skills from getting rusty.

  3. Focus. The research is becoming clearer and clearer: multi-tasking doesn't make you more efficient, it does exactly the opposite. Intense focus for periods of time, focusing only on a single task and ignoring distractions like email and phone calls, is a more efficient and productive way of getting things done. It's also more pleasant! So do whatever you can to help you find that single focus.

Tips for Speedy and Efficient Graphic Design - Part 1

Speedy design is a bit of an oxymoron. It's important to be able to design quickly and efficiently but you also need enough space and leisure to be able to explore and generate quality ideas. Here are some tips for speedy and efficient graphic design when you already have that quality idea:

Keyboard Shortcuts
(Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator)
"The first thing I do when I walk in is pick up the mouse and turn it upside down." I heard these words from a design efficiency expert years ago at a design conference and they've stuck with me deeply ever since. The message: the mouse is the slowest tool in your repertoire. If you want to be fast, you have learn (and use!) keyboard shortcuts. If a common command you use doesn't have a keyboard shortcut, assign your own custom keyboard shortcut. Make it a game to avoid the menus. Here are keyboard shortcut guides for Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator.

(Photoshop, InDesign)
Take the time to create templates (or download templates) for whatever you create a lot of and/or have as a recurring projects. Create the templates in the programs you commonly work in. For example, if you often use Photoshop and InDesign on brochure projects, create brochure tri-fold.psd and brochure tri-fold.indt. Make your template file the right size, adjust margins, add guides and bleeds, add basic text styles, etc. I recommend locking your template files (make them read only) and your templates folder so you won't accidently overwrite your original template files.

Actions are awesome. I don't know how I could be a designer without Photoshop actions, especially batch processing (File > Automate > Batch) using actions. I use actions for everyday operations like converting to 300 ppi CMYK and saving as tif or converting to grayscale. Whatever I find myself doing often, I create an action. I also use actions for project specific tasks like applying a special sepia photo effect or adding photo edges. For even more speed, I assign keyboard shortcuts to my most commonly used actions.

Paragraph and Character Styles
Paragraph and character styles are powerful, flexible, easy to apply and vitally necessary for most InDesign projects. For ease of use, create folders for your styles and organize them by hierarchy (ie. organize them in the order that you apply them in the text: headers first, then subheads, text, bulleted lists, numbered list and the rest). For greater speed, I apply keyboard shortcuts to my styles so header might be Cmd + 1 and subhead Cmd + 2.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Mother and Baby Owl

This illustration is just too adorable! Love the coloring, patterns on the owls and the lovely owly eyes. From Etsy seller carambatack.

My Work: Sri Nama by Bada Haridas

The music on Sri Nama, the latest album from Bada Haridas, is beautiful. Some tracks are more energetic with a slightly rougher "live" feel and other tracks are warm and mellow. I created a richly textured design that represented the music on this album and the devotional mood of Bada Haridas's kirtan. Listen at