Creating any form of toy ideation sketch, whether it is conventional or digital, calls for a mix of creative vision alongside technical knowhow. This post will give you a few quick tricks to make your files leaner and meaner without pulling you out of the creative zone. The information, although a bit technical, will be useful within the various sectors of the toy industry, especially those in retail who generally stay up to date with industry standard programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator CS6.
The first trick will help you navigate through a messy Photoshop file given by a client, licensor or one of your own team members—grrrrrrr. Most of these files will have a million and one un-named image layers with no groupings or any form of organizational structure. This makes editing a file more time consuming since logo layers are often mixed up within image layers, etc.
To cut through the clutter, you can navigate through the file using a short-cut key command to find any layer that needs adjusting. Simply point at the area you need to work on and then click down holding the keys—Command/Option (Mac OS). A pop-up dialog box will appear naming the layer and also showing the path if it is clustered within a group. I will not include the Windows key command because it is an inferior system and I’m snooty—so there.
Some people who would rather be checking the latest stats on Sports Central may question the merits of preparing an organized file, but in the fast paced arena of toy design, image files will most likely be repurposed for other needs such as presentations, videos and the various forms of packaging, etc. To meet these demands, you’ll need to quickly pick and choose specific groups of layers such as logos and individual portions of an image to drag and drop into other documents.
To save time and money, a layer hierarchy must be employed, especially when you get into more complex digital images and 3D applications. It's pretty easy these days since everyone in the creative department should know how to group image layers unless, of course, you have been on a highly secretive mission piloting a rocket ship through outer space for the last twenty years, in which case, let me be the first to welcome you back to planet earth. I digress.
Anyway, to create layers in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator CS6, all you need to do is select the layers you want to group (Command Shift) and go to the Layers pull down menu and choose Group from Layers . . . and the dishes are done. Truth be told, however, most designers (including myself) usually create their images during a haphazard explosion of creative frenzy, then once the smoke clears, clean up the files later on when there’s time to catch your breath.
So, a strategy I learned from artists in the gaming industry is to use a simple grouping system as you develop your image, creating a specific group for every progressive stage of the image construction. This process allows for layer organization to be built into the creative process without pulling you out of the zone.
For example, in CS6 create a new Layer Group and name it Rough Sketch, then add layers to that group as you draw out the rough sketch. Once you are ready for the next stage of development, simply add another Layer Group and name it Line Art, creating as many layers as needed to build up to the final line art. Just keep adding other groups as you progress, such as tonal shading and final color rendering.
This down and dirty workflow is really fast and keeps you in the creative mind-set throughout the entire process. When you are done with your image, the file already has everything saved in an organized manor and you can refine the groups even more if you so desire. I most often use a master file that already has several pre-named Layer Groups in place so I can simply build the image document within those groupings.
Now, in addition to this, another little trick built into CS6 is to color tag individual layers and groups. To do this, simply option click a layer and choose a color tag when the pop-up dialog box appears. Now that was really fast wasn’t it? You can actually save even more time by selecting a color tag in the pop-up menu when you create a new layer.
This strategy is ideal for designers building digital rough sketches because the process allows for fast and easy highlighting of important elements. For instance, I usually color code my rough sketch layers with yellow tags, my final art layers are then tagged red, etc. As you build your image, you can easily go back to quickly group layers together by using these visual cues knowing where each layer belongs without needing to take the time to name them.
Digital media has made it painless to be creative and organized at the same time providing for a well-implemented workflow without taking you out of the creative zone. I hope you take advantage of these tips and also have fun continuing your learning and professional growth. Remember, your worst enemy is mediocrity, so make the daily choice to live up to your full potential—not only for your own reputation but for your company’s as well.