The Secret of Good Forms

There are those who are bored to tears by the thought of designing a form and those who love the fussy challenge of creating a good, clear, usable document. Forms are seriously underrated in the world of graphic design.

Of the four basic design principles (contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity), the secret to a good-looking form is alignment. Lack of alignment is the single biggest failure that makes a form appear unclear to the user. The other principles are also very important, as in any design, particularly contrast to help direct the user through the form, proximity to keep groups of related pieces of information together, and repetition to tie it all together. But alignment is the key.The top example uses interesting typefaces and calls out the major features in bold for clarity in communication and visual contrast and repetition, but it doesn’t look as clean and clear as it could.In the lower example, elements are aligned, which naturally presents a cleaner look. Cleaner (usually) communicates better. Also, the spacing was adjusted so that the elements that belong together (like those two lines of “suggested donations”) are closer together, and the separate elements have a wee bit of extra space between them (following the principle of proximity). good formsgood forms

Resizing Multiple Layers at One Time

Here’s a real timesaving tip for Photoshop that enables you to resize objects or text on multiple layers all at the same time. Just link together the layers you want to resize, then press Command-T (Macintosh) or Control-T (Windows) to bring up the Free Transform bounding box. Hold the Shift key (to constrain proportions), then grab any of the bounding box handles and drag. As you drag, all of the linked layers will resize at the same time.

resizing multiple layers

Understanding Compound Paths

Illustrator lets you carve holes inside a path. You can then see through these holes to objects and colors that lie behind the path. A path with holes in it is called a compound path. If you convert a letter such as B or O into outlines, the letter is automatically converted into a compound path. To make a compound path, do the following:

  1. Draw two shapes. Make one smaller than the other. You can use any tool to draw either shape, and the paths can be open or closed.
  2. Select both shapes and choose Object>Compound Paths>Make. Where the two shapes overlap, the compound path is transparent. Where the shapes don’t overlap, the path is filled.
  3. Edit the individual shapes in the compound path with the direct selection tool. After you combine two or more shapes into a compound path, select the entire path by clicking on it with the arrow tool. If you want to select a point or segment belonging to one of the subpaths — that’s the official name for the shapes inside a compound path — press Command-Shift-A (Mac) or Control-Shift-A (Windows) to deselect the path, and click an element with the direct selection tool. You can then manipulate points, segments, and control handles as usual.

At this point you might ask, “Why do you need a path with a hole in it? Why not just stick the smaller path in front of the bigger path and fill in the smaller path with the background color?” Two reasons:

  • First, the background may contain lots of different colors. The “B” on the left is a proper compound path, allowing us to see through the holes to anything behind it.
  • Second, working with opaque paths limits your flexibility. Even if you can get away with filling an interior path with a flat color, you’ll have to change that color any time you change the background or move the objects against a new background. But with a compound path, you can move the object against any background without changing a thing. You can even add effects like drop shadows without modifying the compound path one iota. It’s flexibility at its finest.
compound paths

Now, as we said, Illustrator automatically turns letters into compound paths. But you may want to create additional compound paths of your own. Doughnuts, ladders, eyeglasses, windows, and ski masks are just a few of the many items that lend themselves to compound paths.

Straightening a Crooked Photo

Let’s face it. We’re not all expert photographers. Occasionally, a photo comes out a little more crooked than we’d like. You probably already know how useful Photoshop’s crop tool can be for trimming undesired elements from your photos, but did you know you can use it to straighten a crooked image, as well? Here’s how:

1.Select the Crop tool from the tools palette.

2.Click and drag the cursor across the portion of the image you wish to use.

3.Move your mouse outside the selected area. The cursor will turn into a double-sided arrow, connected by a curved line.

4.Press and hold down the mouse button (left mouse button on the PC) and move your mouse. The selected area of the photo will rotate in whatever direction you move.

5.Once you’ve rotated the selection enough to make up for the photo’s crookedness, release the mouse.

6.Press Enter, or double-click inside the selected area. The image will be cropped accordingly and rotated to bring it straight.

Graphics File Naming System

One of the least glamorous but potentially most time and frustration saving habits you can acquire is to adopt a good file naming system and then use it consistently. A good file naming system can save you hours of time when you are trying to find an image. This is particularly true if you tend to save several versions of a file.

graphics fileA complete graphic file name should include: item name, color mode, resolution, and file format. An example would be Trees_CMYK_200.psd. This type of attention to detail in file naming, while perhaps a bit cumbersome, will make your file management and location chores much easier. In addition, it will make it easier to identify your graphic images.

Right on Spot: Maximizing Spot Color Value in Adobe InDesign

We love color, and we know you do, too. While budgets don’t always allow for four-color work, two-color printing projects don’t have to look drab or dull. Adobe InDesign allows you to define a whole range of swatches based on any two ink colors, providing you with the options you need to make your project look great.

So how do you go about using this feature? Here are the steps to take:

  1. Open the Swatches palate and bring up its flyout menu. (Click the arrow in the upper right-hand corner to do this.)

new color swatch

    1. Select New Color Swatch.


    1. Create a color swatch for each of the colors you will be using in your design. (Choose Spot from the Color Type menu.)


  1. Once both swatches are created, go to the Swatches flyout menu again, and select New Mixed Ink Group.

new mixed ink group

    1. Click in the gray boxes to the left of your two swatches.


    1. Give each color an initial value (we recommend starting with 0%), a repeat value (equal to the number of steps you’d like the program to take to reach 100%), and the increment you’d like the value to rise with each of those steps.Keep in mind that the final percentage cannot exceed 100%. That means if you start with 0% and choose a repeat value of 10, your increments would have to be 10% or less. Or, if you start with 0% and choose a repeat value of 4, your increments could go as high as 25%.


  1. Once you’ve set your values for both ink colors, hit Preview Swatches. A list of swatch colors using varying percentages of each ink will then appear. Use these in your layout to add variations of color without worrying about adding another color of ink to the project.

new mixed ink group

Text-Formatting Shortcuts for Illustrator

Puppy with LaptopYou like to save time, right? And you care about puppies, true?In design (or any business), time is money. Anything that can save a few seconds and eliminate tedium is a good thing. Shortcut key combinations do both.Of course, designers typically fall into one of three camps when it comes to using shortcut key combinations. The first group use them religiously. The second prefer the mouse. The third would use shortcut combinations… if only they could remember them. If you fall into that third category, here’s a list of text-formatting shortcut key combinations built into Adobe Illustrator:Effect

Increase type size incrementally
Decrease type size incrementally
Increase leading incrementally
Decrease leading incrementally
Increase baseline shift incrementally
Decrease baseline shift incrementally
Increase kerning/tracking incrementally
Decrease kerning/tracking incrementally
Restore kerning to Metrics and tracking to 0
Toggle automatic hyphenation
Left-align paragraph
Right-align paragraph
Center paragraph
Justify paragraph (except last line)
Justify paragraph (including last line)





So what does any of this have to do with puppies? Nothing really. We were just curious.

Using Clipping Paths in InDesign CS5

Imagine a world where everything had to fit nice and neatly into its own little box, with four sides, four corners, and… wait. Scratch that. Boring idea. Fortunately, our world is not boxed-in. Instead, it’s filled with distinct angles, free-flowing curves, unusual shapes, and out-of-the-box edges that make life anything but ordinary. So why do so many designers limit themselves to rectangular images when designing projects in Adobe InDesign?

Because raster images have to be rectangular, you say. It’s part of the software.

True, yes, but not a good excuse – especially when clipping paths are so readily available and easy enough to use.

Clipping paths allow you to hide the part of an image you don’t want to appear on the page. Anything inside the clipping path will be visible, but anything outside of it will be transparent. That’s right. Transparent. As in invisible, unseen, and – most important – able to let other page elements flow over top without getting hidden from view.

So where have clipping paths been my whole life, and how can I get started? Glad you asked.

Clipping Path Step 1

Getting Started

The easiest way to add a clipping path to an image is to create the path in Photoshop, then import the image into InDesign with the clipping path already in place. Use the Path tool in Photoshop to create the path, save the image as a TIFF, EPS, or PSD file, and import it into InDesign (File > Place). Select Apply Photoshop Clipping Path on the Import Options dialog box. InDesign will then clip the image accordingly.

Refining the Path

After importing the image, you can alter its clipping path fairly easily. Just select the image you want to refine using the direct selection tool. The clipping path you imported will appear. Click and drag on any points along this path to reshape the image and refine the edge. As you alter the clipping path, additional details from the original image will be hidden or revealed.

Clipping Path Step 2

Converting the Path to a Frame

Once you’re finished fine-tuning your path, you can convert it to a standard frame by choosing Object > Clipping Path > Convert Path to Frame. This will lock the path in place for you.

Choose Your Own Path

InDesign will let you choose any path created in Photoshop as the clipping path. To choose a path, highlight the placed image and choose Object > Clipping Path > Options. Select the Photoshop Path option from the Type menu in the dialog box that appears, then choose a path from the list. Preview your selection, and select OK when you’re satisfied.

Stop letting InDesign’s restrictions for image dimensions paint you in a corner (or put you in a corner, like Jerry Orbach did to Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing). Break free with clipping paths – the Patrick Swayze of InDesign tools. (Cue “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” then fade to black.)

Fix Distorted Photos with Photoshop’s Lens Correction Filter

Lens Correction Filter

You’ve taken what you thought was the perfect photo, only to discover that the lens on your camera has distorted the image in some way. Objects appear to be bending or bowing. The perspective is skewed. Or maybe the corners are dark. Whatever the situation, the Photoshop Lens Correction filter may be able to help.

As its name implies, the Lens Correction filter makes minor alterations to your photos in order to fix problems caused by the limitations of your camera’s lens. Issues such as blurriness, improper focus, or a thumb blocking half the picture are not covered. However, perspective issues caused by poor camera angle are.

Lens correction was available in previous versions of Photoshop, but with CS5, Adobe added auto-correction capabilities that use actual data from your camera’s lens to correct most minor problems quickly and effortlessly, without any real human intervention. (Yes, the machines are getting smarter; be afraid.)

The Lens Correction filter works with 8-bit and 16-bit RGB and grayscale images only. Raw images or those with metadata work best. To get started select Filter > Lens Correction. Photoshop will display a status bar and update its database of lens profiles.

Adobe provides built-in profiles for a wide assortment of cameras and lenses that make it easier to get very precise and accurate filtering results. Dropdowns are available for camera make, camera model, and lens information.

If your particular camera or lens is missing, don’t worry. An online search tool allows you to find additional cameras and lenses not included with the software. If you prefer to create your own profile, you can do that, too. Just enter your camera’s specs into the online profile creator tool. Profiles obtained or created in this manner can then be added to the list for future reference.

The filter’s auto-correction features include geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignette (that darkening of the corners mentioned above). Unfortunately, “subtract 10 pounds” and “make 10 years younger” are not options (yet). Checkboxes make it easy to choose the settings appropriate for you. An Auto Scale Image option tells Photoshop what to do in case changes will affect the photo’s canvas size. Choices include filling additional space with a white, black, or transparent background, or enlarging the image to fill the space.

Custom correction settings are also available, in case you want to fine-tune your results.

Nobody’s perfect – and neither is your camera lens. The Lens Correction filter helps to counteract some of these imperfections.