Last week, in the “Ask Rachel” series, I tackle how to stay motivated and organize your day to get all the thins done. The same reader also asked:
How did you progress with your photoshop (or which ever software you use) skills? I graduated college in 2015 with a communications degree and I would like to learn more about graphic design without enrolling into a masters degree program and getting further into debt. I feel I have more soft skills than technical skills which prohibits me from applying to jobs I see.
Teaching one’s self photography and how to get started with graphic design are some of the biggest questions I actually get IRL, so I am excited to talk about this on the blog. Overall, I’ve done all of my own graphic design. I had an intern that helped with e-course slides and my old Instagram/Twitter quote graphics, but the bulk of everything TCM related you see is all me!
Before I jump into the DIY of graphic design and editing, I want to say that I DO believe in hiring designers when appropriate. When moving my site from SquareSpace to WordPress, I looked into hiring a designer. However, all the designers I contacted were $5,000+. Eventually I will be 100% okay with investing that type of coin into my design, however, I hadn’t even had my first blogiversary yet.
If you are going to invest in a designer, invest in someone truly unique so your site won’t look like every other one out there. I find that a lot of lower priced designers will just buy and install a template and add a few tweaks, which is easy to do on your own! You should also invest in someone if you are truly horrible at design and don’t want to learn/deal with it. I prefer to teach myself (and my clients) so neither are tied to a designer to make minor tweaks in the future.
But I digress, this isn’t about web design, this is about graphic design (even though there’s some overlap!).
How I Taught Myself Graphic Design
And how you can get started with graphic design too!
I started with Canva. They have tons of templates for different layouts and I used those as my jumping off point. I also scoured Pinterest to see which pins were trending. I would try to replicate things I saw on Pinterest in Canva. Playing with different fonts, shapes, and angles.
Overtime I progressed from Canva to Photoshop. I don’t use Photoshop regularly for graphic design (since it’s slow on my Mac and all my templates and designs are accessible from anywhere with Canva). But I used it for all my wedding invites, printed decor, and menus:
Photoshop gives you more control and clarity than Canva. Their gridlines make it easier to line things up just right, and you can add more custom font elements, and it feels more polished IMO. For learning photoshop I primarily watched youtube videos! Occasionally I would ask a photographer friend of mine if something just wasn’t clicking, but Youtube was a life saver!
The key with both of these platforms though is what you bring to it.
Both Photoshop and Canva are kind of pointless if you don’t bring your own elements to it, IMO. Don’t get me wrong, you will still be able to do quite a lot on the platforms, but it will probably feel generic and like every body else’s stuff. Photoshop doesn’t have graphics or icons to insert into the template like Canva does. However, Canva’s search feature is terrible and their elements are often reused so often on-line (because most are free or just $1) that it can feel contrived after a while.
What really up levels graphic design are finding unique elements. I recommend exploring:
Hand drawn effects.
I have no experience actually doing this, but I know Adobe Illustrator has the capability to give you a hand drawn effect on graphics. There are tons of videos out there to help with this.
Purchasable Downloads & Freebies.
I love Creative Market. Each week you get 6 free design element options delivered to your inbox! Everything from fonts, to stock photos, to logos, to water color elements, and more! They have a ton of purchasable/downloadable options as well (it’s where I bought the font to do my wedding stuff!).
As well as the initial bird and font in my first logo:
Graphic Burger has a ton of options (paid and free) too. Their elements are typically a little more business or professional centered. For instance, they have a lot of product mock up options.
One thing to look out for when purchasing/downloading elements from sites, is compatibility! Check if the download comes as a .jpg, .psd, .txt, etc. file and ensure you have access to software that can open the file type!
For additional help, I also love Brit + Co’s classes! They have paid and free classes on SO many topics. Everything from social media, to photo/editing/graphics, to weaving and interior design! It’s a maker’s paradise!
Color is another major design element, so I wanted to talk about another free tool that helped me: color picker plugin for Google Chrome! I am sure there are tons out there, but if you ever stumble across a great color you want to incorporate into a design, you’ll want this on hand. Essentially just install the plugin to your web browser, and move the eye dropper over the color. You’ll get the hex code and can easily plug that into whichever platform you are using!
With any skill, hard or soft, it takes practice to refine! Make sure to ask for feedback, or compare the finished product to trending images on Pinterest or google. Some action steps to play with:
Fonts: Mix fonts as well as weights, styles, and sizes
Angles: Practice tilting, pulling, flipping, and zooming your images or elements
Spacing: Play with line height of text, white space, borders, margins, and so on. Spacing is a major hot point for me. I like things to be easy to read on various platforms and never feel smooshed.
Colors: Experiment with the gradient, shade, and transparency of colors. Simply tweaks can change the entire feel of a graphic!
Lastly, if want a little motivation here’s how things progressed for me: