If you’ve been in the design industry any length of time, you know that everyone has their own way of working. While this is OK to some degree, there should be some standardization out there when it comes to the actual practice of design in a digital environment.
Here are 11 things I have run into over the past tean years or so years as a print designer, working with other people’s files. Now that I’m a freelancer doing mostly logo and front-end web design, I don’t run into these problems so much, but I’ll share this with you anyway. You’d be surprised how many “veteran” designers don’t pay attention to these sort of things. Then again, maybe I’m just being persnickety.
- Name Photoshop layers. “Layer 52 copy 3” doesn’t really help me much when I’m looking at a file that I didn’t create. Even “Starburst copy 3” is more descriptive.
- Name files logically. “DisneyLogo1C.eps” is more descriptive than “logo.eps”
- Group your layers. It makes editing easier. Group elements common to one thing. If you’ve drawn several people in Illustrator, group each person.
- It’s OK to use vectors in Photoshop. In fact, I recommend it, especially if something keeps changing size. It keeps the edges clean and sharp. Use a Shape Layer or a Smart Object imported from Illustrator.
- Use hard returns and soft returns appropriately. A hard return is used for starting a new paragraph. A soft return is for line breaks. It’s almost always created by pressing Shift-Return (or Enter).
- Don’t lead single lines. Use the styles to add space to the bottom or top of the line instead of adding leading. Also, blank lines aren’t as “clean” as you think. If you have to put more than one “space” element in a row, you’re doing it wrong. (This applies to hard returns, spaces, or any other whitespace character.)
- Use stylesheets. It makes it much easier to make global changes, and it forces you to think through some sort of systematic approach where certain repeated elements are consistent. It establishes a hierarchy. Try learning CSS while you’re at it. You’ll be surprised at the overlap between print and interactive.
- Embrace the grid and the idea of a scale. Create a logical hierarchy and don’t place everything all willy-nilly. Once you get that in place, then you can break the grid.
- Use proper bleeds. An eighth of an inch works for pretty much everything, unless you’re printing something large or on cardstock. Then .25″ bleed is safe. If you’re doing a banner, consult your printer to find out how much bleed you need. And do that in Illustrator so your file won’t take up half your hard drive.
- QuarkXPress — don’t use it. Especially if the calendar says it’s after 2002 (when InDesign CS came out).
- Layers are for PSDs, not TIFs. There’s some debate over this, but I stick with flat TIFs and layered PSDs for a number of reasons. Sure, TIF is a more open format than PSD, but not everything can read a layered TIF. Plus, it’s easy to accidentally flatten a TIF and lose your work. Plus, TIF was never meant to be layered.
And here’s one more tip: Organize your type creatively and logically. Go beyond the usual standard categories and think of their actual usage: fancy/elegant/casual/corporate/funky. Or group them by license: print/web.