Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Overview of Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign

Matching Software to Projects

Everyone and their grandma knows that Photoshop is, and most people have heard of Illustrator and Flash, but other Adobe software, such as InDesign and Dreamweaver remain in the depths of obscurity all most but those familiar with multimedia software.  What is the point of all these different random sets of software, and when would it be best to use one over the other?  If someone wants to make a poster, would it be better to use InDesign or Illustrator?  What about Photoshop?  This blog topic seeks to explain the very basic differences between Adobe's big names and help readers easily match projects to the software most appropriate. Differences will be compared slowly in a series of blog posts about common tools, their differences, and then different tools and their advantages over each other.  Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign will be the main focuses of this project.

This article will serve as an overview to explain the best uses for the three different software outlined above.  Though some of their uses are interchangeable, each software has things it is more specifically designed to do.  

Photoshop - Drawing and Photo-editing
Illustrator - Drawing an Graphic Design
InDesign - Layout and Design


There are a ton of things that one can do in photoshop, but the processes during which it shines most are definitely drawing and photo manipulation. 

You'll recall the great deal of variation in Photoshop's pen tool discussed in the Pen Tool article from this same series. 

Photoshop comes prepared with a wide variety of brushes, most of which you can modify the size and hardness of.  And as if the brushes pictured above weren't enough, there are a great variety of different brushes you can access through the arrow button on the top left of the brush box.

Further, you can even save the customized brushes based off modifications you have made to existing brushes.  From the toolbar, access Window > Brush and this will open a window that allows you to customize your brushes further.

There are quite a variety of brushes can be modified.  You can even turn a simple brush like the one pictured to the left into something dynamic like the brush set on the right.  Once you have a brush you like, you can save it from the initial brush drop down menu.  Just click the square button at the top left and a window will pop-up and prompt you to name your new brush.

There are even a variety of places online where you can download new photoshop brushes.  myPHOTOSHOP BRUSHES.com and Brusheezy are but two examples.  Though some places will need payment in exchange, many websites and artists give out exceptional brushes for free.

Though the Pen Tool alone seems a to make Photoshop fantastic, let's go over the tools that gave Photoshop its name and made it into a great software for photo manipulation.

Perhaps the most useful and easiest photo manipulation tool in Photoshop's arsenal is the Adjustments window, which can be accessed via Window > Adjustments.  From here, you can easily edit a photo's Hue/Saturation, Brightness/Contrast, Color, etc.  

The handy thing about working from this window is that every time a new adjustment is done to the photo, it is added as a layer, so you can easily undo recent edits and compare different variations. 

In this situation, I added three different adjustments. 

Though the differences don't seem to be that drastic here, they can be substantial when making photos more dynamic and interesting and change moods entirely.  And all this can be done with only a few simple clicks.

There are also a lot of fantastic tools for actually modifying images (that's where that famous "that was definitely photoshoped" comes in).  These include great tools like the clone tool, spot healing brush tool, etc.  

For a great series of easy to understand tutorials, check out the Adobe TV website.


Illustrator's strength lies in its ability to draw and create graphics.  As covered in the vectors article, this means that once your graphic has been created, it can be increased almost infinitely without worry of a decrease in quality, aka pixelation.  This means that it is ideal for creating posters that need to be in a variety of sizes.  Illustrator also shines in the creation of closed shapes.  That is, one can easily create geometric shapes and modify them substantially.

Using the pen tool, it's quite easy to make straight lines (see left), and if those lines are connected, they can be filled to form shapes, such as this right triangle.

If we then choose the pencil tool, and draw along the edge of the shape, we can very easily change the shape into anything we desire, while still keeping it a singular object.

Once we have an object, we can edit its appearance, which is where some of the real fun of Illustrator begins.  The Appearance tab can be opened by going to Window > Appearance.  Notice that this simple shape already has a stroke and a fill.  We can modify these, or create new ones.

Just by adding strokes and increasing their sizes, I was able to make a very different shape than I had before.  From here I can make a wide variety of changes to this shape.

Making sure to select whatever part I want to edit (click Path in theAppearances tab in order to select the entire object), I can then go to the Effect dropdown menu.  This allows me to apply a variety of changes to the object.

I can roughen it by going to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen.

I can warp it by going to Effect > Warp > Arc.

I can even add round corners by going to  Effect > Stylize > Round Corners.  

You can even create multiple copies using the transform effect.  There are a ton of great effects and tools in Illustrator, and you'll have to do some digging to discover them for yourself.  Also for check outAdobe TV for a series of great easy to follow tutorials! 

In Design

When it comes to putting together books and pamphlets, InDesign is the way to go.  InDesign has a series of useful features that allow you to focus more on the layout of what you're doing than the actual individual elements.

Much of InDesign is set up to prepare an item for printing.  Notice the pink and purple lines.  These are set up to show you were the margins of your page are.

If you click the Rectangular Frame Tool, you can create a space where objects can be placed, for example, pictures or text.  Objects will not flow out of our rectangular frame, but stay neatly inside, so that you always format things exactly.


When you know you want to put text in a certain area, but don't have the text on hand or haven't written it yet, you can use the handy Fill with Placeholder text tool, so that you can see how much text you can fit into the box and test out sizes.  As you'll remember from the Text Tool Article in this same series, you can link text between multiple text boxes.  This allows you to do things like continue a story from page to page. 

InDesign is most practical for layout.  For a great series of tutorials on InDesign, check out Adobe TV!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Music Management Software: Alternatives to iTunes

Photo: Tomahawk

by Callan Carow

Although it is perfectly acceptable to listen to your music through iTunes, there are times when we all might crave something a little different. If you're tired of iTunes' constant updates and occasional glitches, or if you need other features from your music-listening experience, here are ten alternatives (in no particular order) to check out:

1. Ecoute
Ecoute, free for both OS X and iOS, automatically syncs with your iTunes library and offers an iTunes-like interface (albeit a bit cleaner). Though it's not a big switch, Ecoute does offer more ways of sorting your music, and the interface can be resized to fit your taste. If you're just looking for a nice, simple, all-around alternative to iTunes, Ecoute is probably your best bet.

2. Tomahawk
Available for Windows, OS X, and Linux, Tomahawk is a free app that integrates all of your music libraries (including Soundcloud, Grooveshark, YouTube, Spotify Premium, and Last.fm) into one place. Although it doesn't have the most appealing interface, it does have some other interesting features, like the ability to connect and see friends' music libraries via Google, Twitter, and other social media sites.

3. Swinsian
Swinsian is an OS X app with a fast, easy-to-use, iTunes-like interface that is able to support many different audio formats. However, importing your music from iTunes can be tricky, and the app costs $19.99 after a free 30-day trial.

4. Fidelia
Fidelia, as the name suggests, is all about providing high quality sound (like using an HD TV for HD channels, it lets you take advantage of high-quality recordings). The app, which is available for iOS and OS X, also easily integrates with iTunes, accepts a variety of formats, and has a cool visual interface that mimics a stereo. But you'll pay $19.99 after the free 15-day trial, so it's only worth it if you really care about sound quality.

5. Vox
Vox, a free app for OS X, is clean, pretty, and on the minimalist side. It appears as a simple sidebar on your screen, so it's good if you don't want your music getting in the way as you work. However, it may not be ideal if you want a lot of control over organizing and managing a large music library, and it takes a bit of practice to get used to the interface.

6. Sonora
Sonora, free and available for OS X, is another clean, streamlined, minimal alternative to iTunes. Sonora also lets you connect to Facebook and Twitter for a social experience, but the app is still in its beta phase, so you'll likely encounter some bugs (and possibly some trouble with importing large libraries).

7. doubleTwist
Although available for OS X and Windows, free app doubleTwist is particularly good for Android users. It helps sync your music libraries between devices via a Wi-fi connection, and also allows you to play and manage music, videos, and photos. If you're just looking for a music app for your computer, however, doubleTwist doesn't offer as many useful features as other apps.

8. Vinyls
Looking for something a little...different? Try Vinyls for OS X, an app which turns each piece of album artwork into an image of a vinyl record. It's one way to switch up your browsing experience, plus it's easy to sync with your iTunes library. But this interface won't be for everyone, so be sure to try the free 20-day trial before you commit (the app is normally $14.99).

9. Enqueue
Enqueue for OS X looks much like older versions of iTunes, but with some added features. It's fast, it supports many different audio formats, and it has an easy-to-use queue so you can play exactly what you want to listen to. However, it can be tricky to import your music from iTunes, and the app comes with a price tag of $9.99.

10. Rdio
If you haven't already heard of Rdio, it works much like Spotify, with many of the same features. The app is free with no ads, though like Spotify, certain features require a monthly subscription (but they do have a nice student discount). There's also a nice iOS app, making it easy to sync between your devices. The drawbacks are that the free version has monthly listening limits, and there's not as much content as Spotify (yet).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top Ten Most Useful Keyboard Shortcuts

The wonderful world of keyboard shortcuts is now at your fingertips—literally! The list below provides keyboard shortcuts which are the most handy for everyday computer use. These basic shortcuts are easy to use and will drastically speed up how you move around your computer. The shortcut keys below are based on PC keys, so if you are a Mac user, you will need to press “Command” when it states “Ctrl.” There are two exceptions, which are marked in the table.

Quick Look
New Browser/Document
Depending on which program you’re in, this will open a new browser or a new document.
New Tab
This will open a new tab in the browser you’re currently in. Very handy.  
Ctrl+Tab (Ctrl+Tab)
Switch Tabs
While opened in a browser, this allows you to toggle between opened tabs, in the right-ward direction. This helps with multi-tasking and speed in general. (Reverse direction: Shift+Ctrl+Tab)
Alt+Tab (Com+Tab)
Switch b/w programs
This is my most-used keyboard shortcut. This allows you to do fast switches between the currently viewed program and other programs you have recently opened. If you hold down the Alt key and press Tab, you can see a list of all the currently opened programs that you can tab over to. (Reverse: Shift+Alt+Tab; Mac: Shift+Com+Tab)                 
Find Bar
This pulls up the find bar in whatever program you’re in. This allows you to search for any word/phrase in the program and jump directly to it.
Print Page
This will print whichever page is open in your browser (also the command for Microsoft Office). Keep in mind it will print all the page details, including ads or the small print at the bottom.
Save Page
This saves whichever page you are on, in a browser or Microsoft Office.
Select, spacebar
Quick Preview
When looking at files in Finder or File Explorer, select the images you want to see and simply press the spacebar. This will open the files in the easiest preview possible.
This will copy any text you’ve highlighted.
This will past any text you’ve copied into the place you click in.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Steam: The Netflix of Gaming

Do you ever wish that there was a Netflix Instant for video games? Well, the online video game platform Steam comes pretty close. Steam is a product of the Valve Corporation, maker of games like Half-Life (1998) and Portal (2007). After downloading Steam for free, it allows you access to over 2,000 video games that you can play on your computer or mobile device instantly. 

How does it work?

First, you have to install Steam, which you can find for free on the website. It's available for PC, Mac, and Linux, and can also be downloaded as an app for iPhone or Android, or even on your TV.
Once it's installed, simply visit the website to download games and play them instantly. Most games are for sale at varying price points, but there is also a large selection of free games available. 

Other features of Steam

Steam offers a few other dimensions to its experience besides just downloading and playing games. First is the Community, which allows you to form groups and chat with other players, as well as share artwork, screenshots, and guides. The second feature is the Workshop, with which you can create, add, and share original content for different games. 

If you're a hardcore gamer, Steam will give you easy access to hundreds of video games (including early access to some new ones), plus the option to interact with other gamers and create your own content. If you're a casual gamer or just looking to pass some time, Steam's easy to use format and collection of free games are also worth checking out. 

Happy gaming!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Photoshop Quick Editing Tips

The biggest problem with Photoshop’s tools is that it is very easy to over-use them, creating images that look unnatural. Overall rules to follow: be as detailed in your editing as possible (as in make minute adjustments to the image, rather than broad, all-image adjustments) and don’t overuse a tool. Here are a few simple suggestions for how to greatly improve your photo-editing techniques:

Original Image:

The curve adjustment is one of my favorite Photoshop tools. Manipulating image contrast is one of the easiest ways to add clarity, definition, and appeal to your photo; it should be the first step in editing photos, simply because it is so impactful. That being said, there is a right and wrong way to do this. The wrong way: the Brightness/Contrast or Levels control; the right way: Curves.
All you have to do with curves is make a nice, usually fairly unexaggerated S-shaped curve with the diagonal line the Curves tool presents you. Even just a slight, simple curve will drastically make the image more visually appealing.


Hue/Saturation is a tool that online-ers love to take full advantage of…to the point of making the image look completely unnatural and very tainted. So, the bottom line for this tool is don’t over use. Sure the bright colors are appealing to the eye at first, but don’t forget to take a step back and scan over the image to check if it is too abnormal-looking. Viewers tend to dislike photos that are clearly manipulated. Therefore, the key is to simply enhance the colors, letting them pop a little bit. Cameras usually are unable to fully capture the brightness of colors in real life; color-manipulation should restore the colors back to their original state.
The tool to use is Hue/Saturation. To quickly break up the aspects of this tool: the Hue meter manipulates the properties of the colors; Saturation manipulates the intensity of the color; don’t even worry about Lightness.

Bad Edit:

This is on the Master (affects all colors in image).  All I did was pull the saturation way over to the right.

Good Edits:

Here I isolated the color-fixing to just Reds (from the drop-down menu) and increased it a little bit.
Here I manipulated just the Yellows and decreased some of those bright background yellows.

Crop Tool:
This is a powerful and incredibly simple task. If the image doesn’t look quite right, this is a great way to play around with the image dimensions to find the best fit for what you envision for your image.
All you have to do is drag the dimensions to where you want them to lay, then hit enter. Remember that you can hit command/control+Z to revert back to the original version. This is useful for changing how much head room a person has, how much sky is in the image, or making subjects more off-center.

New area selected:

After you hit enter, this is the new image:

Dust, Specks, and Quick Edits:
If you scanned film photos and have dust or specks in the image, then there are a few tools that can help get them out of it without disturbing the overall image. The options include the Spot Healing Brush, the Brush Tool, and the Clone Stamp Tool. All three tools are useful; it just depends on what best fits. My recommendation for this is to choose the one that best helps you reach the desired outcome.

Black and White Images:
People love to throw images into black and white because frankly, it looks cool, and can make a so-so image stand out. By using image adjustments, Photoshop can help you make a very generic B&W transformation of your image, however it does not allow for very good fine tuning. If you have an audience that won’t notice the difference between good and bad B&W filters, then go ahead and use the filter Photoshop provides; if you want a quality filter, then try downloading programs like Silver Efex Pro to help you do a great job. It will look as real as film photography.

What not to do…

…so it doesn’t look like this: