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Repetitive tasks can quickly become tedious. As a designer, you probably often find yourself designing the same elements over and over from scratch. STOP!
Wasting time is so old-fashioned. It also means you're wasting money! So, let's review some ways that you can automate and systematize your Photoshop workflow. And be sure to download the project base for all of your new designs!
File Tree & Re-usable Project Base
The first step in systematizing your workflow is to organize your files. Identify all common elements you use within your designs.
You may come to a list such as the following:
- Home Page template
- About Page
- Contact Page
- Services Page
The Project Base
Consider how your final deliverables are used. If they are shipped to a coding business, be as organized and thorough as possible, including notes and fonts where applicable.
You can ensure that you have perfectly organized themes by creating a package that allows you to "fill in the blanks", so to speak. Simply copy this folder, assign it to the project by renaming it to the project and get working. This is a very simple and efficient way to work, and means that websites you built four years ago can easily be edited, because everything is packed into its very own place.
In the zip file, you'll find a simple re-useable template starting point. This file contains elements such as dividers, buttons and a pre-gridded template to speed up your design workflow.
See how simple starting a new project is now? It may take a couple of minutes to set-up, but the time saved later is more time for you to be doing what you love best - designing!
Now that we have a solid base to build upon, we can starting filling out our 'boiler-plater' with specific files and concepts.
The sample template will allow you to create a page of your most used elements, ready for quick inclusion in your latest project.
If you're a web designer in particular, you'll find that a lot of your projects, even those different in every possible way - use and re-use common elements.
Begin by building a few re-usable templates. Don't worry about which elements you wish to include just yet, because you can always go back and look at your previous projects and analyze more popular features - then re-create them here.
Personally, I use just one template. I have a home page (this contains elements such as news bulletins, blog post stylings, menus, logos and call to actions). I can modify this template to suit blog pages, buy it now forms and more.
The page also has a 960.gs pre-applied. This has been included for download at the end of the article, in the template boilerplate.
Once you're set-up with this concept, you can build designs very quickly. However, you should definitely consider developing your own, and tailor it to your clients and team. You could go further by adding icons, search elements and online store related items - anything to suit your client base.
Grouping & Organizing
The above image demonstrates the tangible difference between an organized layer palette, and a messy one!
When you're in a real creative flow, it can be difficult to stop and start naming and grouping layers. Photoshop doesn't really help in this area by default either!
So, take the time as you go to name and group layers. This will help you later when coding the design, or if you ship if off for coding elsewhere.
Name each layer, and try to use a descriptive and short word - such as 'menu' for the navigation. Group specific areas, such as the header or a contact form.
This has a two-fold benefit.
- You can toggle whole areas (or the whole design) on or off in order to work on the background or other elements.
- You can move sections of a design without the need for moving each element. This can save hours per project!
So, take the time to stop every five minutes or so, and name and group each element. You'll be glad you did!
Make good use of the select tool! You can toggle the select mode between layers and groups. This facilitates mass updating and re-aligning designs, so don't forget it!
If you don't use actions in your work-flow, then you should begin using them immediately.
Photoshop actions are entirely configurable lists of actions Photoshop should carry out automatically. You can create your own, or choose from the bounty available online. If you work on Photographs for example, and have 400 pictures to edit and resize, this would take a long time. Instead, you can create an action that adjusts the contrast, alters the size and then saves the file in .jpg format, blasting through 400 files in seconds! You must use actions!
If you do not have the knowledge, or experience to create your own actions, GraphicRiver has a large selection of actions available for purchase from $1!
The actions on sale range from simple photo effects to this action which can add various pre-formatted text sections such as contact details or blog posts in seconds.
Start using Actions and you will notice a significant increase in your productivity and reduce the amount of times you need to repeat monotonous tasks over and over.
Creating and Using an Action
Making your own action is easy. As an example, we'll create a simple action to re-size several images at once, then save them.
First off, you need to hit the new action button, on the actions palette.
You shouldn't need to change any settings as standard, bar changing the name for better organization. Photoshop is now recording your actions. So, all you need to do is re-size the image. Go to image size, and alter the dimensions. The action will change any image to these dimensions. Then hit save.
Finally, press stop on the action palette.
Now, when you press play on the action you've created, Photoshop will follow the list of defined actions on your image. Although very simple, an action such as this one could save you hours of monotonous resizing photos and images. This is only a very simple look at actions. They can do so much more, so take your time to get to know them and really use them. The beauty of them is in how you can record basically any action in Photoshop - selecting, changing styles, transforming, re-sizing and saving.
iPhone & UI Design
Do you work with user interfaces? If so, you really need to download a GUI element pack for Photoshop.
There are many available for most popular operating systems and mobile platforms.
For example, if you work with the iPhone, you can download the iPhone GUI pack that contains all elements available in the iPhone interface library, and then simply start designing your app. Simple, quick and much easier than attempting to create these from scratch.
Android GUI Kit
Teehan Lax Kits
The agency, Teehan Lax have several high quality, life-like UI kits. These are great for building an iphone app sales site, or designing the actual UI of an app. Kits are available for the iPhone, Palm Pre and Browsers.
I hope we've given you some tips that you can use to improve your productivity and efficiency. Photoshop is a wonderful tool, but, if we're not careful, we can find ourselves repeating the sames tasks over and over. So be sure to implement the above tips and start saving time, money and your sanity!
Do you have any Photoshop time-saving tips? Have any ideas on other tasks that could be automated to save time and repetition? Feel free to share them with the community via the comments.