When to use Photoshop?

Thanks to their specialized methods, painting programs and drawing programs fulfill distinct and divergent purposes. Photoshop and other painting programs are best suited to creating and editing the following kinds of artwork:

  • Scanned photos, including photographic collages and embellishments that originate from scans
  • Images captured with any type of digital camera
  • Still frames scanned from videotape or film
  • Realistic artwork that relies on the play between naturalistic highlights, midranges, and shadows
  • Impressionistic-type artwork and other images created for purely personal or aesthetic purposes
  • Logos and other display type featuring soft edges, reflections, or tapering shadows
  • Special effects that require the use of filters and color enhancements you simply can’t achieve in a drawing program

You’re probably better off using Illustrator, CorelDraw, or some other drawing program if you’re interested in creating more stylized artwork, such as the following:

  • Poster art and other high-contrast graphics that heighten the appearance of reality
  • Architectural plans, product designs, or other precise line drawings
  • Business graphics, such as charts and other “infographics” that reflect data or show how things work
  • Traditional logos and text effects that require crisp, ultrasmooth edges
  • Brochures, flyers, and other single-page documents that mingle artwork, logos, and standard-sized text (such as the text you’re reading now)

If you’re serious about computer graphics, you should own at least one painting program and one drawing program. If I had to rely exclusively on two graphics applications, I would probably choose Photoshop and Illustrator.

Adobe has done a fine job of establishing symmetry between the two programs, so that they share common interface elements and keyboard shortcuts. Learn one and the other makes a lot more sense.

If your aspirations go beyond image editing into the larger world of computerassisted design, you’ll soon learn that Photoshop is just one cog in a mighty wheel of programs used to create artwork, printed documents, and presentations.

The natural-media paint program Corel Painter emulates real-world tools such as charcoal, chalk, felt-tip markers, calligraphic pen nibs, and camel-hair brushes as deftly as a synthesizer mimics a thunderstorm. Three-dimensional drawing applications enable you to create hyper-realistic objects with depth, lighting, shadows, surface textures, reflections, refractions you name it.

These applications can import images created in Photoshop as well as export images you can then enhance and adjust with Photoshop. Page-layout programs such as Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress let you integrate images into newsletters, reports, books (such as this one), and just about any other kind of document you can imagine.

If you prefer to transfer your message to slides, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint to add impact to your images through the use of charts and diagrams. Or publish an electronic document to the Web using AdobeAcrobat. With Adobe Premiere and After Effects, you can merge images with video sequences recorded in the QuickTime format.

You even can edit individual frames in Premiere movies with Photoshop. Macromedia’s Director Shockwave Studio makes it possible to combine images with animation, QuickTime movies, and sound to create multimedia presentations you can show on screen or record on videotape.

Finally, you can publish your images over the World Wide Web. You can code HTML and JavaScript in any word processor, or mock up pages in a page editor such as Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver.

You can even integrate images into simple GIF animations using any number of shareware programs available over the Internet. In fact, the Web is single-handedly breathing new life and respectability into low-resolution images.

All the programs I mentioned previously are well-known industry standards. But they also cost money sometimes lots of money and they take time to learn. The number of programs you decide to purchase and how you use them is up to you. The following list outlines a few specific ways to use Photoshop alone and in tandem with other products:

After scanning and adjusting an image inside Photoshop, use InDesign or QuarkXPress to place the image into your monthly newsletter and then print the document from the page-layout program.

After putting the finishing touches on a lovely tropical vista inside Photoshop, import the image for use as an eye-catching background inside PowerPoint. Then save the document as a self-running screen presentation or print it to overhead transparencies or slides from the presentation program.

Capture an on-screen image by pressing the Print Screen key or using a screen capture utility. Then create a new image in Photoshop and paste the screen image from the Clipboard. That’s how the screens in this book were produced.

  • If you want to annotate the image, import it into Illustrator or CorelDraw, add arrows and labels as desired, and print it from the drawing program.
  • Paint an original image inside Photoshop using a pressure-sensitive tablet. Use the image as artwork in a document created in a page-layout program or print it directly from Photoshop.
  • Snap a photo with a digital photograph. As I write this, the best midrange cameras come from Olympus, Nikon, and Kodak. Correct the focus and brightness in Photoshop. Then add the photo to your personal Web site or print it out from a color printer.
  • Scan a surface texture such as wood or marble into Photoshop and edit it to create a fluid repeating pattern. Import the image for use as a texture map in a three-dimensional drawing program. Render the 3D graphic to an image file, open the image inside Photoshop, and retouch as needed.
  • Create a repeating pattern, save it as a BMP file, and apply it to the Windows desktop using the Display control panel.
  • Take a problematic drawing that keeps generating errors and save it as an EPS file. Then open the file inside Photoshop to render it as a high-resolution bitmap. Place the image in a document created in a page-layout program or print it directly from Photoshop.
  • Start an illustration in a drawing program and save it as an EPS file. Open the file in Photoshop and use the program’s unique tools to add textures and tones that are difficult or impossible to create in a vector-based drawing program.
  • Record a QuickTime movie in Premiere and export it to the FilmStrip format. Open the file inside Photoshop and edit it one frame at a time by drawing on the frame or applying filters. Finally, open the altered FilmStrip file in Premiere and convert it back to the QuickTime format.

Obviously, few folks have the money to buy all these products and even fewer have the energy or inclination to implement every one of these ideas. But quite honestly, these are just a handful of projects I can list off the top of my head.

There must be hundreds of uses for Photoshop that involve no outside applications whatsoever. In fact, so far as I’ve been able to figure, there’s no end to the number of design jobs you can handle in whole or in part using Photoshop.

Photoshop is a versatile and essential product for any designer or artist who owns a personal computer. Simply put, this is the software around which virtually every other computer-graphics program revolves. I, for one, wouldn’t remove Photoshop from my hard drive for a thousand bucks.