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The Road to Web designing

Art Illustrations

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24 September 2010

Master grid-based web design in Photoshop

Grid-based design has long been a staple of print design, but web layout tends to be more haphazard, largely driven by gut instinct and restrictions imposed by specifically defined pieces of content such as adverts.

With technology evolving rapidly, screens are larger and web technologies more powerful, which means designers can now successfully bring much of their grid-based knowledge to the internet, resulting in more balanced, versatile, and pleasing online layouts.

In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to create a grid-based layout for a website. As most Digital Arts readers are comfortable using Photoshop, we’ll be working in that program.

Since the process of creating a website depends largely on the content and format dictated by your client, this is less step-by-step than many of our tutorials – instead, it’s a point-by-point introduction to adapting the principles of grid-based designs for online projects.

Still, by the time you’ve finished the task, you should have created a grid-based project. On the CD is a blank grid for you to use, the Photoshop document from step 10, and a completed web version of the design.

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Step 1
Web units are pixel-based, so forget about points and millimetres. In Photoshop, go to Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices, and set a gridline to appear every 20 pixels, with two subdivisions. Goto Window > Info, open the Options menu and set the ruler units to Pixels. Also set one of the colour readouts to Web Color.

Step 2
Create a new document, 1,100 pixels wide and at screen resolution. Initially, make the grid visible (View > Show > Grid), drag a marquee 940 pixels wide, and drag the guides to the vertical edges. This area is the site container or ‘wrapper’.

Step 3
Create a layer group, and name it ‘grid overlay’. Within this, create a new layer, ‘columns’. Create a selection 60 pixels wide and the height of your canvas, and fill it with a vivid colour, such as red (Shift + F5). Move the marquee 20 pixels to the right of the coloured area and add another column. Repeat a few more times.

Step 4
Create another layer, naming it ‘gutters’, and fill the 20-pixel gaps with yellow. Drag a ruler to each gutter edge. If you like, add gutters to each side of the wrapper. You now have a flexible vertical grid, visible through guides or by using the ‘grid overlay’ layer set as a semi-transparent overlay. This starting point is on your CD, saved as grid-template.psd.

Step 5
A 12-column web page layout such as the one we’ve created here is flexible. It can be divided into quarters, thirds, and halves, and those splits can be divided again. For many websites you’ll design, an 8:4 split is suitable for the main content area and sidebar; four columns and three gutters are 300 pixels wide – the perfect fit for a standard 300x250 pixel ad slot.

Step 6
When placing elements, stick to the grid. Here, the logo spans three columns, as does the search field. In the design shown, the first column is blank, which draws attention to the ‘indented’ content. The main content area is six columns wide, with a column’s gap prior to the four-column sidebar.

Step 7
Always use web-safe fonts for body copy and headings. You can find overviews of safe fonts at and at Remember that fonts never look the same in Photoshop and browsers.

To get a more accurate reflection of how words are rendered in browers, go to the Paragraph panel and disable hyphenation. Now set your leading to your grid height (or a multiple thereof, if you prefer) throughout.

Step 8
When building vertically, use multiples of your grid size for component sizes and page sections, and align things using guides. Don’t get too hung up on trying to align objects from different major page components (such as main content and sidebar), perfectly.

Maintaining a vertical grid in web design is actually pretty difficult unless you’re extremely fastidious regarding vertical image heights and apply restrictions to every single one of the content boxes.

Step 9
When adding simple borders to images, use internal single-colour strokes. If sticking to the vertical grid, image heights must be a multiple of your grid size. Differentiate captions from body copy with italics or visual indicators. Placing an indicator on the other side of the nearest gutter draws a user’s attention.

Step 10
Save layouts as PSDs and make copies for exporting. (Exports often need you to flatten an image, and it’s easy to accidentally overwrite a layered file.) When exporting, think modular – don’t just slice a design into rectangles. For semi-transparent components, copy them to a new document and use File > Save for Web & Devices to save them as PNG-24 files.

Step 11
For a horizontally tiling section, such as the background gradient, flatten the image, copy a narrow section (here, down to the point where the gradient becomes a solid colour) and in the Save for Web & Devices dialog save it as a lossless GIF or PNG. Note the hex value (in the Info panel) of the solid background colour, since that will be used in CSS.

Step 12
For images with a border in the layout document, export the images as JPEGs, and without their borders. (If you keep the borders on while making the JPEGs, they’ll look muddy. Adding the borders later in CSS means you’ll get crisp, solid results.) One other tip, to balance file size and quality, a quality setting of 60 is a good starting point.

Step 13
This step’s a doosie: build the web page! To help you along, the web page based on this layout is on the CD, so you can play around with it. Use web standards (divs for structure, CSS for styles), and don’t be precious about replicating the layout exactly, nor in getting identical results across browsers and platforms – be happy with similar.

Step 14
To retain a tight vertical grid, temporarily replace your site’s background in CSS with a grid tile, as shown. This will show whether things are lining up and any adjustments that need to be made. In grids.css from the CD files, uncomment the second ‘background’ property within the ‘body’ rule to see the grid.

Craig Grannell

21 September 2010

Classic effects reimagined - Vintage halftones

We continue our series looking at how you can create stylish and innovative effects with some of Photoshop’s most overused filters. In this tutorial, Fabio Sasso will show you how to put together an inspired vintage design playing with the Color Halftone filter.

Halftones are collections of dots that, from a distance, appear to merge into shades between the colour of the dots and the background. They were first used for printing in the 19th Century to allow newspapers to show shades of grey, and have been popular ever since. Currently, halftones are often used for creating screenprinted projects, T-shirts, stickers and posters to make the most of a small number of inks – but the dots used are often so small that its use isn’t apparent.

In the past, larger dots were used that were more obvious to the reader, so the use of digital-created halftones can bring a retro feel that harks back to the newspapers and comics of your childhood. Applying the Color Halftone filters to a whole image could look cheesy, so here Fabio shows that by using it sparingly around a 50s-style photograph, you can achieve stylish results.

Step 1 Open Photoshop and create a new A4 document at 300dpi. Then import a stock photo of a modern pinup, the one I used was courtesy of Shutterstock and you can get it

After that with the Magic Wand tool (W) select the white background, and with the new Refine tool in Photoshop CS5, extract it precisely. It wouldn’t be exactly necessary to delete the background because that will be done late in the tutorial, but this will be necessary to create the masks we will use. Duplicate this layer, changing their names to ‘Girl 1’ and, below it, ‘Girl 2’ (imaginative, huh) because we will need extra copies to layer the effect over the model shot.

Step 2 Select ‘Girl 1’ this and go to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. Use a Max Radius of 12, and for a 100° Angle. Notice the Color Halftone filter works well for large images, if you are working with a small image I suggest you should try the Image > Mode > Bitmap with Halftone and Round for the settings. It has pretty much the same effect.

Step 3 In order to make the effect unique, let’s do something unusual to it. First desaturate the image so go to Image > Adjustment > Hue and Saturation and reduce the Saturation to 0. After that, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. Change the Black Input triangle to 99 and the White Input to 205.

Step 4 Add a new layer, change its name to ‘Brown’ and fill it with a dark brownish grey (#5a5855). Put this new layer behind ‘Girl 1’. Select the white area of the ‘Girl 1’ layer and delete it. You will have just the black dots. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Invert. Now you will have only white dots on your image.

Step 5 Group the ‘Girl 1’ layer (Cmd/Ctrl + G) to create a folder with one layer inside it and change the folder’s blending mode to Color Dodge. You will now have a folder with one layer inside it. Select the ‘Girl 1’ layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Use a radius of 2.5 pixels here. Because of the Color Dodge, you will get a light effect.

Step 6 Select the ‘Brown’ layer and the folder with the ‘Girl 1’ layer and select Layer > Merge Layers. Now you will be left with just one layer. Go to Image > Adjustment > Levels. Increase the Black Input triangle to 140 and change the White Input to 215.

Why we did all of this? With the Blur and Color Dodge, we make the dots that were closest to one another get blended. Then with the levels here we make them solid again. These create a more organic effect, a little bit like molecules.

Step 7 Go to Image > Adjustment > Invert. Then select the Magic Wand tool (W) and select the white area. To get all the whites go to Select > Similar and delete the white area. Duplicate this layer and go again to Image > Adjustments > Invert. You will have two layers, one with black dots and another one with white dots. Call these layers ‘Black Dots’ and ‘White Dots’.

Step 8 We’ll now use masks so as to apply the effect sparingly. Order the layers as shown (left). For the ‘Black Dots’ and ‘White Dots’ layers, select the area of the girl using the ‘Girl 2’ layer for reference (as detailed in Step 1) and select Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection. Now every time you want to make a part of the layer visible, you can paint over the mask to reveal it.

I recommend that you make a pixel selection of the dots before painting the masks as well. To do this, right-click with the mouse over the thumbnail of the layer with the halftone girl and hit Select Pixels.

Step 9 First make some white dots visible, then make some black dots visible, always painting over the mask. After that with the pixels selected, hide some areas of the girl’s photo again using masks.

Step 10 To complete the retro effects, I’m going to use a paper texture. The one I used can be found at Import the texture, place it at the bottom of the layer stack and label it ‘Texture 1’. With this layer selected, create a selection of the girl. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Go toLayer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection, and make just the area you selected visible. Select the mask of this layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Use a radius of 50 pixels.

Step 11 With the ‘Texture 1’ layer selected, go again toFilter > Color Halftone. Use a Max Radius of 12 pixels and an Angle of 100 for all channels. Then, go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate, and Image > Adjustments > Levels. Increase the Black Input triangle and reduce the White Input to get rid of the midtones.

Step 12 Import another texture. The one I used can be found at Put this texture on top of all the other layers. Change the Blend mode to Multiply with 30% Opacity. After that go to Image > Adjustments > Hue and Saturation. Reduce the Saturation to -70, the go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. Change the Black input to 120 and the White to 212, and the Greys input to 1.18.

Step 13 Now just add some text. In order to create a stylish composition, I placed the word Halftone with the top half using Helvetica for the font and the bottom half using Times, then I applied the Color Halftone to the bottom part.

Fabio Sasso

18 September 2010

Create stunning art using seamless layer masking

Give your fantasy images extra pop using advanced compositing techniques, layer masking and custom brushes.

It’s almost impossible to look at this image and not feel perked up: perhaps it’s the vibrant colour palette, the ingenuity of the original concept, and the polished effect that Vince Fraser achieves.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create an astonishing image where the character appears to be gently breaking apart, using simple but effective techniques in Photoshop.

One of Photoshop’s great capabilities that is most often overlooked is the layer mask: when use correctly, layer masks can help you blend images seamlessly, giving a professional finish. You’ll learn how to combine layer masks with brushes and adjustment layers to add in subtle elements that complement the image.

Step 1
Download the free sunflower field image, and remove the sky using the Pen tool. Open Malta sky.jpg from the cover CD and copy and paste in the sunflowers. Resize and reposition them accordingly, and increase the canvas size so it’s twice as broad as before. Add a colour balance adjustment layer (Layer > Adjustment Layer > Color Balance) with the settings shown here. Merge all layers (Cmd/ Ctrl + E) then duplicate this, flip the duplicate horizontally, and align so that the layers meet at the centre. Merge all the layers again.

Step 2
Open sunflower model.jpg from the project files (which can be downloaded from the right). This image was kindly provided by Abi Oshodi, and you should use it for this tutorial only. Make a selection around the portrait using the Pen tool (P) or Magic Wand (W). Zoom in to about 200% to get a clearer view.

Step 3
Once you’ve made the selection, right-click (Ctrl + click) on the layer and rasterize it (Layer > Rasterize), then select it using the Magic Wand. With the selection active, click on the original layer with the woman cutout, and paste the selection of the model onto the background image. Position the model; you may need to scale her up or down slightly (Edit > Transform > Scale).

Step 4
Rename the layer with the model shot ‘summer model’, then add a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All). Now grab the Brush tool (B) and select a leaf brush from the default library settings (click on the brush icon in the top bar, then on the triangle in a circle to bring up a menu. Select Presets, then select Brushes from the Preset Type drop-down menu). Select a leaf brush, and the following settings: diameter – 90 pixels; opacity – 100%; Flow – 100%. In the Brush Presets menu, ensure that Shape Dynamics and Smoothing are both ticked, set the Size Jitter to 50% and Roundness Jitter to 50%, and select Pen Pressure from the Control dropdown menu. Vary the diameter of the brush between 30 and 90 pixels to vary the pattern.

Step 5
To add more depth, we’re going to give the impression parts of the model’s headdress are breaking away in the distance, by painting in the layer mask area using the leaf brush. Make random single strokes cutting away parts of the headdress to the left of the model; use the screenshot for reference. Remember to click on the layer mask symbol so that it’s active and set the colour of the mask brush to black so that strokes are clearly visible in the layer mask.

Step 6
Next, duplicate the background layer and add a Gaussian blur: select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and enter a radius value of 35.4 pixels. Add a layer mask (Layer > Layer mask > Reveal All) and using a large soft brush (200-300 pixels diameter, varying the opacity between 20% and 40%) paint into the active mask area using a black brush. I’ve highlighted a rough guide in this screenshot to show the areas that should be left white using the Lasso tool (L).

Step 7
It’s time to add some more brush effects: select a large, soft, dark red brush, then double-click on the foreground colour swatch at the bottom of the tools palette and enter the value #53080d in the colour picker. Now change the brush diameter to around 300 pixels with 20% opacity, and make some random marks behind the left side of the model where the headdress is breaking away. Next, add a Gaussian blur (see step 5) with a radius of 8.9 pixels, with the blending mode set to Overlay.

Step 8
Create a new layer, and repeat the process from step 7 with the same brush, making random spray marks – this time concentrate on just behind the right-hand side of the model. Keep the brush’s opacity low – around 20% - and slowly build up the colour. Set the blending mode to Overlay. Repeat this twice more on new layers, with a white brush layer’s blending mode set to Screen, rather than Overlay. Make sure these layers are all below the ‘summer model’ layer.

Step 9
Create a new layer, and using the same leaf brush as before, start painting leaves, choosing an orange (I used #ff8f07). Again, take care to vary the brush size and opacity levels – use the larger brush sizes nearest to the headdress, and smaller ones further into the distance. Then add a Gaussian blur to the flowers (see step 5), with a radius of 10.1 pixels, setting the blending mode to Screen. Again, make sure this layer is below the ‘summer model’ layer.

Step 10
Return to the original ‘summer model’ layer, then right-click (Ctrl + click) on the layer mask and select Disable Layer Mask. This will show you the full headdress, as before. Using the rectangular Marquee tool (M), click and drag a selection similar to that shown here. Copy and paste your selection into a new layer. You can now enable the layer mask for the ‘summer model’ layer that we disabled at the start of the step.

Step 11
Using the Distort tool (Edit > Transform > Distort), stretch the new layer until it resembles this screenshot by pulling at the vertices. Remember to cover the model’s body slightly, as this will be important in the next step.

Step 12
Now we’re going to give the impression that parts of the model’s headdress are breaking away and becoming leaves. Repeat the same technique described in step 4: add a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All) to the layer, and paint in the mask area using the same leaf brush. Vary the brush size between 20 and 70 pixels. Again, don’t forget to use a white brush in order to see anything in the mask area. You may need to experiment a little with the brush size to get the precise effect. Match the parameters in this screenshot – you can also add jitter to the size and angle. Adding scattering also breaks up the regularity. It’s crucial that you don’t interfere with the actual layer – only work on the mask.

Step 13
Using the same principle as in step 12, sample a portion of hair from a different part of the headdress and copy and paste it into a new layer. Stretch it using the Distort tool (see step 10), stretching it into a rectangular shape to cover a larger area. We add another layer mask to the layer (see step 11) but this time hide everything. With the mask selected, use the same leaf brush as before and paint strokes, varying the size as discussed in step 12. Repeat this process with a new layer but leave the layer mode at 100%. Tweak the settings until you’re satisfied. Adding more layers will give the illustration extra depth.

Step 14
Create a new layer and start painting using your leaf brush (I used #6c061c), again varying the brush size and opacity level as before. Then apply a Gaussian blur with a radius of around 10.1 pixels to the leaves, setting the blur’s blending mode to Overlay. Again, make sure this layer is below the ‘summer model’ layer.

Step 15
This is the point where you tweak your image to make it exactly to your liking. Add some adjustment layers to create highlights, shadows and colour tweaks. Here are three different adjustments, with the brushed areas highlighted in the mask area. In the first (above), I adjusted the levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) of an area of the model’s shoulder to create a deeper shadow. In the second (left), I tweaked the output levels of some of the highlights surrounding the model to make her glow more, and in the third (below), I adjusted the hue and saturation to make the image redder.

Vince Fraser

15 September 2010

Draw and shade with digital pencils for a comic-book look

Graphic novels provide a great source of inspiration to illustrators, and within the myriad styles used by comic artists there are many that offer intriguing creative possibilities. Here Douglas A Sirois shows you how to produce a page that mimics the pencil-drawn styles of artists such as Michael Zulli.

You’ll learn how to turn thumbnails into sketches, develop perspectives for each panel, evolve your characters and create a hand-drawn feel to your work.

Next month, Douglas will show you how to apply pen effects over this artwork to create a more traditional line art-based comic page – so watch out for our October issue, out September 2.

You can download the current trial of Corel Painter from here.

Step 1 Develop two to three small thumbnails of each page to figure out composition and panel layout. These should be 3-4 inches tall, with minimal detail and drawn quickly just to get your initial ideas down. Remember that there is always more than one way to do anything. Make each thumbnail an exploration of different points of view. For the thumbnail process, the Thick and Thin Pencil is very good at capturing quick sketches with variations of line weight.

Step 2 Once you have a page design that you are happy with, enlarge it. To do this, make a selection around the page, then in the top menu select Edit > Free Transform. Grab one corner point, hold down Shift and stretch the points until the image enlarges to fill the canvas.

Create a new layer and roughly sketch your page panels. Here is a good opportunity to tweak objects and forms with each panel composition. You are not creating full detail here, but neatly translating your thumbnails into more cohesive layouts and plan where your darkest shadows will be. This will help move the viewer’s eye through the page more effectively.

For the rough sketch of the page, Painter 11’s new Real 2B Pencil tool does a great job at capturing the essence of a sketch. It is easy to shade in areas when you angle your stylus on your graphics tablet.

Step 3 Developing perspectives within each panel is important because here you get to play set designer as your characters need to exist somewhere in some setting.

Start to develop the correct perspectives seen in each panel – each panel should represent a different point of view to make your page more dynamic and help move the reader’s eyes easily through the page. The perspective lines are actually to be used to direct the eye to the next panel. To create these perspective lines, use the Fine Point pen number 10 sized to 1.5 and select the straight-line stroke mode (V). Create straight lines that can stretch across the page to help lay out the various perspectives.

Step 4 Research the specific time period and architecture that existed during that time. I used personal photographs of old Western towns to enhance the realism of my setting. The more detail you start to put into the environments at this stage, the more believable and interesting your finished page will look.

Step 5 Create a new layer for the sketches of your characters using the Real 2B Pencil tool. A strong sense of anatomy and anatomical proportions is needed. This is the stage where you work out all of your figures and place them in the correct perspective. This will help with the believability of your figures.

Roughly sketch the forms using spherical shapes and cylindrical parts to help in developing correct proportions for each figure. Development of the figure is most important, leaving off any costumes unless they are very much a part of the character. Focus on getting the anatomy of the character correct as if you’re seeing the figures without clothing.

Step 6 On a new layer, using the Real 2B Pencil again, start to tighten up your final drawing panel by panel. Do this by simplifying your image to make it easier to ink.

The Real 2B Pencil allows the artist to achieve various line weights to help with inking. Line weight helps push and pull the image to make the foreground pop with thicker lines. Use your references to add final details such as wood grain, fold lines on clothing and other details to the environments such as the suggestion of a dirty ground or the worn marks one might find on an old hat.

Douglas A Sirois

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