The 10 commandments of Photoshop etiquette

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

As a designer, you will use Photoshop or at least come into contact with Adobe's photo editing software even if you personally use one of the alternatives to Photoshop. 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 there's come 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 basic 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 accidently.

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 work if your granny had to read it. Naming conventions such as 'New', 'Latest' or ''Website-Final' won't cut it and 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 simplied to 'v2', 'v3', etc, can be applied when making revisions to the original file. It's good practice to save progress as another file, so you never overwrite previous revisions in case you need to refer back to them.

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

03. Mask once

This refers back to point 02 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 can use it, the more powerful your skills become. So once you're done spending hours making the perfect clipping path be sure to save them all, otherwise you risk doing 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.

Never stretch images either; scale (down, never up) and transform but don't stretch out of proportion. The same applies for 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; handy to bear in mind when designing for mobile and retina displays.

06. Align your elements

A 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 your design are easy on the eye.

07. Apply effects gracefully

Avoid the temptation to apply Color Overlay, Drop Shadow, Bevel, Outer Glow and Strokes onto 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 customize 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. Proof-read 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 you iron out any further kinks and your work can clearly be read and understood.

Try not to use text speak. Make it clear so your granny could read and understand it.

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 this acts as 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.

Words: Kultar Singh Ruprai

Kultar Singh Ruprai is a creative multimedia designer based in the UK with over eight years' commercial experience and a passion for graphic design, web design and thinking outside the box.

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