The 10 commandments of Photoshop etiquette

Follow these rules and colleagues will love you. Disobey them and invite their wrath!

As a designer, chances are you use Photoshop as part of your Creative Cloud package (although there are alternatives to Photoshop available). And at some point in your career you will have a job or project where the end goal is to to pass your Photoshop files onto someone else.

Many of us have been on the receiving end of that relationship. And many of us will remember a time when we've opened up that PSD file and thought: What the hell?

So if you want to avoid damaging client relationships and getting yourself a bad rep within the design community, you need to understand, and follow, these basic Photoshop etiquette rules.

01. Name your layers

Photoshop etiquette

The first rule of Photoshop club: name your layers

As boring and mundane as it sounds: name your layers. This is the most basic rule of them all – even if it's a simple, descriptive name such as 'Arrow'. There's nothing worse then trying to find a certain layer within a file containing countless duplicates of 'Layer Copy'.

Once labelled, organise these layers into group folders, allowing you to move and show/hide various large sections with ease. Layers such as backgrounds or other solid elements that you wish to be preserved should be locked to ensure they don't get clipped or moved accidentally.

Once you've completed your task it's always worth having a quick glance over your file to filter out and delete any unnecessary empty layers (a good way to check if a layer is empty is pressing cmd+T). You'd be surprised how many crop up.

02. Structure your files logically

Establish a simple naming convention that not only works for you, but would also make sense if your granny had to read it. Naming conventions such as 'New', 'Latest' or 'Website-Final' won't cut it (I can almost guarantee that it won't be the 'final'). 

An example of a good naming structure could be: 'Name_Type_Size_Version'. Why this structure? The company name is the first thing you see to identify the brand of the file. 'Type' illustrates what the file is intended for (Website, Email, etc). 'Size' is only applicable in certain cases such as banners, whereby you will have various sizes (for example: 120x600 or 300x250), and finally 'Version', which could be simplified to 'v2', 'v3' and so on, can be applied when making revisions to the original file. It's good practice to save each progression as another file, in case you need to refer back to previous versions.

Including these variables in the file name is a smarter way to organise your files and will definitely eliminate any future confusion. Also read: How to structure your Photoshop files.

03. Mask once

This refers back to point 01 and grouping layers: why apply 10 masks on 10 layers when you can group the lot and mask once? Work smarter, not harder!

04. Save your paths

The Pen tool to a designer is like the lightsaber to a Jedi. The better you are at using it, the more powerful your skills become. So once you're done spending hours making the perfect clipping path, be sure to save it, otherwise you risk having to do it again later in the job.

05. Don't stretch text or images

Photoshop etiquette

Keep a sense of proportion; avoid the temptation to stretch

Never stretch buttons or vector shapes out of proportion; especially ones with rounded corners. Always redraw them to ensure you get the correct and consistent shape and style. Don't stretch images either; scale (down, never up) and transform but don't stretch out of proportion. 

The same applies to fonts; kern, track and scale but whatever you do, absolutely do not stretch. Never. It's very unprofessional.

Using smart filters where possible will ensure vector shapes can be made bigger and smaller with no distortions. It's handy to bear this in mind when designing for mobile and Retina displays.

06. Snap to something

One sign of a good designer is alignment, so switch on those rulers and get snapping: Snap to grid. Snap to Pixel. Snap to Layer. Snap to something! This ensures both that your designs are pixel-perfect and that all elements within them are easy on the eye.

07. Apply effects gracefully

Avoid the temptation to apply Color Overlay, Drop Shadow, Bevel, Outer Glow and Strokes to each and every element of your design. It's a tool job – know the difference between each one and when to use it. The main objective should be to use effects that complement the design and elevate your user experience. Subtlety is the key.

If you're applying the same effect on numerous elements then its always worth copy/pasting the layer styles to ensure the effects are exactly the same. Also, be aware of the Global Lighting option and when this needs to be applied. When in doubt, turn it off, so you can customise each element and effect to your liking. Otherwise one day you'll be wondering who changed all the styles in your design.

08. Collect up unused styles and images

Photoshop etiquette

Unused styles and images may come in handy later, so keep them organised

After experimenting with various styles or images, it's good practice to put all these unused elements into one folder titled something like 'Unused'. Have it switched off at the bottom of the original file (it can be deleted on copied revisions thereafter to keep file size down).

This rule is an exception to the general rule about removing unused layers. It follows the same logic as keeping various little elements such as icons and small imagery handy just in case you need to make quick changes or additions.

09. Proofread your designs

Most designers are bad at spelling, so check your text and grammar thoroughly. Ensure everything is spellchecked (and that includes the brief and copy provided) so your work can clearly be read and understood.

10. Make everything easy to find

Once you're all done with your design, be sure to store it in a relevant location with all stock imagery, web files and so on nearby – not in a random folder called 'design files' or 'misc'. You'll probably never find it again, and others certainly won't.

Conclusion

All these Photoshop etiquette rules may seem like a pain, especially when you're used to working in your own way. But if you get into the habit of sticking to them, they'll save you a great deal more pain in the long run. Every little helps. And these rules are a good first step.

For more on Photoshop Etiquette, check out the fine website created by Dan Rose, PhotoshopEtiquette.com, which provided much of the inspiration for this article.

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