Review


Kelby Training
Date: August 20, 2010

Review: Kelby Training Live

On Wednesday I attended my first professional seminar. It was the Down & Dirty Tricks with Photoshop seminar by Kelby Training Live. I was really excited about it. Granted, I’d never attended a seminar before, so wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but the brochure and the website, and the reviews I read, made it seem like it would be not only worthwhile, but a lot of fun. I definitely consider myself an advanced Photoshop user, but Kelby Training advertised this seminar as for everyone, so I hoped to still come away with some handy new techniques and tricks.

You can probably tell from my tone thus far that I was disappointed, and I was. It’s not that the class wasn’t good – but it definitely should’ve been marked as for beginners or novices, not anyone who already knows Photoshop really well. The instructor was engaging and easy to follow, and if I hadn’t known Photoshop at all, it would’ve been great. I did learn a few keyboard shortcuts, but even those I’m not sure how often I’ll use. There was an entire section on typography terms (what is kerning, and leading, etc.) that was a waste of time for anybody with even a modicum of design experience.

The most that can be said for my personal experience at this seminar is that it has really made me want to upgrade to CS5. Otherwise, I’m out a full day and some money, and my high expections.



Date: August 15, 2010

Unsung Toolbar Heroes

It should be noted for the record that I am using the Adobe Creative Suite 3 of programs. I have not yet upgraded to 4 or 5 because it is a) expensive and b) Adobe seems to crank out new versions at warp speed even if it’s unnecessary. BUT, that aside, it is a wonderful batch of programs that they’ve developed, version number aside, and I wanted to take a moment to highlight what I think are some of their more brilliant tools.  So here are my favorite unsung toolbar heroes, one from each of the design programs I work in.

  1. Pathfinder (Adobe Illustrator) – Holy moly, my work life has been a whole lot easier since I discovered this toolbar. Just for logo work alone, this is a lifesaver. Cut-outs? No problem! Merging shapes into one seamless whole? Piece of cake! If you need to somehow combine two or more different shapes, this is the quickest (and best) way to do it.
  2. Quick Mask Mode (Adobe Photoshop) – This is something that should be covered in the first week of Photoshop, yet is something all too often overlooked until much later, or missed altogether. When you’re dealing with selections and outlining complex shapes, Quick Mask Mode is invaluable. If the lasso or magnetic lasso isn’t cutting it, get a rough selection, then switch to Quick Mask Mode. It allows you to edit your selection by using the paintbrush tool, which is much more exact for cleaning up edges. Once you have what you want colored in, switch back to regular mode, and your nice, new selection is ready for whatever you need to do with it.
  3. Step & Repeat (Adobe InDesign) – Design is a field where patterns and [tasteful] repetition crop up a lot, but it can be a pain to create a large pattern or repeating element from one single piece – especially when they have to line up perfectly. Step & Repeat helps with that. Select whatever you want to repeat, use this tool, tell it how many times to repeat and how much to offset each repetition on the XY axis, and voila! Instant pattern. Why Illustrator doesn’t also have this tool, I don’t know.

What are your favorite tools?



Date: March 13, 2009

IE6: The End Times

Any one who knows a web programmer even remotely well will probably have heard a rant about the Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) browser at some point. If you are a programmer yourself, you’ve likely been the voice of numerous such rants yourself. I certainly have. You build a beautiful site, it looks perfect in every major browser – even IE7, which has it’s own ‘special’ quirks. But IE6, for some unfathomable reason, refuses to recognize one little style or div tag, and suddenly it looks like your site got hit by a virtual grenade and is splattered in a haphazard fashion all over the screen. It’s a mess and fixing it, more often that not, results in the site looking bad in every other browser. So you have to do these complex, inefficient hacks on your own code just to get it looking good everywhere. This of course takes a considerable amount of time, as you can’t always tell right off which small tag is the one causing the problem, let alone hash out the work-around. It would be much easier just to ignore IE6 as a browser and focus on the other (better) ones, but for a long time that wasn’t possible as a good percentage of web users still used IE6 (people with computers too old to handle a newer version of Windows, or people with illegal copies of Windows XP who couldn’t upgrade to IE7 without a serial number).

Luckily, this has finally changed. Different web browser statistics show that IE6 usage has dropped to anywhere between 17-25% – meaning only 1 out of every 4 or 5 users to your website will still be using IE6. This is a low enough percentage that web designers are now pushing harder to ignore IE6 bugs, some even refusing to debug for IE6 altogether. A good programmer friend of mine, Jon Bolden, recently did this (see his blog post on it here) and surprisingly, the first client he took this stance on simply said ‘ok’ and they moved on. It’s good to see a client trust a designer on knowing when something is worth fixing and when it isn’t.

I also stumbled upon a recent movement to get IE6 done away with once and for all. BringDownIE6.com says “the premise is simple: Internet Explorer 6 is antiquated, doesn’t support key web standards, and should be phased out.” They wrote a pretty good article detailing both pro and con arguments for phasing out IE6, asking designers and programmers if it’s finally time to “to take IE6 behind the shed and shoot it?”

I’ve also seen a lot more sites start having error or warning messages appear if a user is using IE6 to view a site – a simple banner across the top or a small pop-up. There is even a WordPress plug-in called Shockingly Big IE6 Warning, which will automatically display such warning to users. It has 3 settings: small, which is a banner across the top; big, which is a full-screen notice; and mean, which crashes their IE6 browser. I’ll admit, the last option made me laugh, and I even considered implementing it for a split second.

All in all, it looks like IE6 is facing its End of Days. Even Microsoft will no longer be offering support for it by 2010. But then again, a quick search on Google shows that there were blog posts titled things like ‘The End of IE6′ as far back as 2006, so perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Either way, if you’re still using IE6, do all of us programmers a favor, and switch to a better, updated browser.



Date: February 16, 2009

8 Creative Tools I Crave

A good designer friend of mine is excited this week because he’s getting a new MacBook Pro. This got me thinking about the design tools or general creative aides I find drool-worthy, and would love to have and get excited about. (These are in no particular order of importance or price, just how I thought of them.)

1. The Wacom Cintiq 12WX graphics tablet – Now, I have never owned or even used a graphics tablet before (I know, sad, right?) but I have long wanted one, and this seems to me it would be perfect. Decent size drawing area, yet compact, and shows what you’re working on in the actual drawing area, instead of having your pen working on a blank tablet while your eye is looking at the computer monitor (which I would imagine as a nightmare of coordination).

2. Nikon D90 digital SLR camera – for the heavy duty, blow-you-away-quality pictures. Professional grade, interchangeable lenses, 12.3MP, crazy ISO sensitivity, and all of the other gadjillion features that make Nikon cameras amazing.

3. Nikon Coolpix S550 digital camera – for more portable, less obtrusive photo ventures. 10 MP, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, face-priority mode, red-eye fix, etc. etc., in a convenient point-and-shoot format.

4. Pantone Essentials Plus swatch book collection – for the amount of print work that I do, this would be extremely handy. But why so expensive, Pantone? Paper companies send swatch and sample books for free – get with the program!

5. Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium – I got really lucky when CS3 came out, and actually won a FREE copy of the CS3 Design Premium software package. It seems I just got that, and now there’s a CS4. This will probably be awhile before I get it, as some of the printers I work with still need things in CS2, let alone CS3.

6. Vector Magic fully-licensed Desktop Edition – how many times have I had to recreate a new client’s logo in vector format because they only have .jpgs or .gifs? I suspect this would be a HUGE time-saver.

7. BlackBerry Pearl Flip phone – as much as I hate to admit it, this would be useful, particularly for checking work emails when out and about. However, I insist on a phone with real buttons, none of this touch-screen nonsense. And one that flips closed, as nobody likes to be butt-dialed.

8. Mac Mini w/ nice 20″ or more flat-panel LCD display – why not dream big, right? My current computers are a MacBook Pro laptop, and a clunky old Windows desktop. Would love to have the Mac efficiency and general prettiness on my desktop, too.

How about you? What are some of the tools or gadgets out there that have your creativity drooling?