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10 steps to improving your Photoshop skills

Photoshop is an incredible tool for graphic design, but there is certainly a lot to learn for new designers and for those with experience there is always more to master. If you are currently a designer and want to improve your skills, you are likely to find that time is a major constraint on improving your skills.

In this case, you need to develop a plan to gradually improve your skills in the time you have. If you are an aspiring designer, you may have no idea where to start in order to achieve the success of some of the Photoshop masters we see online. In this article, we're going to look at ten steps you can take to gradually build your skills with readily available resources.

1. Follow the tutorials

Psdtuts + is obviously geared towards providing excellent quality to readers. As with Psdtuts +, there are a growing number of other websites and blogs that regularly publish Photoshop tutorials. All of these websites are valuable resources for improving your skills, whether you want to develop specific skills or just want to improve in general.

To take advantage of the tutorial websites available, subscribe to some that you like best so you don't miss out on new posts. You can also bookmark other learning websites in case you want to find them in the future). With the amount of content published, you can never go through every tutorial, and you probably won't be interested in it anyway.

Try to get used to picking one or two a week to try on your own. For most of us, learning is much easier when we actually do something ourselves. Hence, working through the tutorials is more important than browsing. Using Google Reader allows you to mark the tutorials that interest you most so that you can easily find them when you have some time.

About six months ago, Collis posted a list of his favorite tutorial sites including: Tutorial9, PS Hero, Tutzor, PhotoshopStar, Tutorial Dog, Abduzeedo, PhotoshopGUIDesign, Worth1000, Digital Grin, and Photoshop Support. In addition to the Collis list, PSD Learning, PSDFAN, PhotoshopTutorials.ws, and Photoshop Essentials also offer good resources.

2nd experiment

The best way to learn something new is to experience it for yourself. While following tutorials can be incredibly helpful, you should also take some time to simply experiment on yourself to see what you can create. You can try to apply things you've learned from tutorials, or you can just experiment with things you're not familiar with. Photoshop has so many different features, functions, and settings that you really need to familiarize yourself with them to see their potential.

You can let your creativity run free through freeform experiments and become familiar with Photoshop. To always be able to put into practice the lessons you learn from others in real life scenarios, you need to be able to experiment and adapt a little. While there are some tutorials out there that will tell you exactly what to do, they will likely teach you a skill or technique that you can use on your own projects. However, you need to customize them to suit your specific needs.

As you experiment, find something that works best for you to learn new things. I enjoy working with large pictures by experimenting with wallpaper design because the big canvas opens up all sorts of possibilities and you can go in just about any direction you want.

3. Start with the basics

There is so much to learn with Photoshop, and so many ways, that it is imperative to familiarize yourself with the basics and basics before going too far. As with anything else, the foundation of your Photoshop knowledge is critical to the end result. If you're new to trying to join advanced tutorials, take some time to familiarize yourself with the basics.

Elite by Design released an excellent three-part series on How to Master Photoshop in Just One Week a few months ago. The first part of this series begins with some tutorials on all of the basics of Photoshop, including the user interface, tools, shortcuts, and more. Once you are familiar with these elements, it will be much easier to do so when you need to work on something more complex later. Part two of the series covers topics such as typography, web components, and photo manipulation. Part three covers more advanced tutorials.

On the subject of the basics, Psdtuts + has a few resources including: A Comprehensive Introduction to Photoshop Selections, Tools and Tips: Photoshop Actions, Tools and Tips, Smart Objects and Smart Filters, Tools and Tips, Photoshop Brushes, and 30+ useful resources for improving your Photoshop efficiency.

4. Participate in groups and get feedback

After you've learned by following tutorials and experimenting yourself, it can be helpful to receive feedback and constructive criticism from other designers. There are groups of graphic designers everywhere who can be excellent sources of feedback. Psdtuts + has its own Flickr group for this purpose, and a number of other design blogs have groups of their own as well. Additionally, there are hundreds of Flickr groups for designers that aren't associated with a specific blog or website.

The Psdtuts + Flickr group is very active with over 11,000 items and 4,000 members. Groups like this are great places to share your work with other designers who are also interested in improving their own skills. You can get involved by giving other people feedback on their work, and you are likely to get more feedback on your own work. If you're interested in a place where it's convenient to share your experimental work in order to continue the learning process, try some Flickr groups.

Other Flickr groups worth checking out include Abduzeedo, Go Media, Fuel Your Creativity, My Ink Blog, and Design Shard.

5. Blog about Photoshop or Design

As you try to improve your Photoshop skills, blogging on the subject will help you stay active in your activities and will force you to keep learning. Working on the content for your blog will be a great educational experience. Not all blogs are run by experts on the subject, and most likely not. Many blog readers like to follow a blogger who is really moving forward, and many of your readers will go through similar situations in their own learning.

Once your skills have developed at some point, you may also want to check out the opportunities that are available for other design blogs as well. Many of the larger blogs pay writers for their work, and blogs of all sizes are available for free guest posts that they can trade in for a link to your own blog. Writing for your own blog gives you the freedom to work on developing any skill, but writing for others will get you ahead in other ways. In most cases, if you get paid for your posts, you must do quality work in order to get published. This means that you will have to keep expanding and learning new things in order to develop the content. Blogging for other blogs can be difficult, but it is a tremendous growth opportunity if you are willing to put the effort into the work.

Psdtuts + accepts unsolicited articles / tutorials and some other websites are actively searching for authors as well. Other websites and blogs looking for graphic design content include GoMediaZine, CreativePro, and SitePoint.

6. Subscribe to online galleries

Online galleries showing exceptional work by various artists are an excellent source of design inspiration. This inspiration will come in handy when you want to experiment yourself and get impressive results. Galleries are great because you can quickly scroll through a large number of items. You can also subscribe to receive constant updates.

There are galleries for different purposes. If your work in Photoshop is primarily about web design, you may want to subscribe to some web design or CSS galleries. Top web design galleries include Best Web Gallery, CSS Mania, CSS Drive, and CSS Elite. If your focus is on other types of design, be sure to look for galleries that specialize in that particular aspect. Some good examples are Design Flavr, UCreative, FAVEUP, Logo Pond, and Design Snips.

In addition to online galleries, social networking sites where members can post a portfolio can also be great sources of inspiration. They can be a resource for publishing your own work as well as viewing the work of others. Top sites in this category include Behance, Carbonmade, and DeviantART.

7. Find an expert to follow

No matter what field you are in, following an expert and learning from an expert can be of great benefit, and graphic design is no different. If you are hoping to become a great designer, you can find someone you admire and take care of their career and work. Fortunately, in an area that is often closely related to technology, it is easy to find experts online and learn about their work, read their blog and read interviews with them.

Psdtuts + frequently publishes informative interviews with accomplished designers. These interviews provide insight into their life and career that may help you in your own work. If you already have someone you admire, subscribe to their blog if they have one, find them on social networking sites, keep an eye on their portfolio and keep track of your career.

If you haven't got anyone on your mind at this point, watch out for the work you like on the Flickr groups you visit, see what caught your eye in design galleries, or look for a specific tutorial writer who has a style that you like. In some cases, you can get in touch with this person through their website or through profiles on network pages, or you can simply choose to quietly watch and learn from a distance.

8. Read Design Magazine

When you find yourself in an area where there are so many online resources available, it's easy to forget about all of the great offline resources that are available to you. Browsing designer portfolios and subscribing to online galleries are a great source of inspiration. You may not read traditional print magazines.

In addition to being inspirational, articles in design magazines are often a little different from the type of content you typically find on blogs. If you want a well-rounded educational experience, find a few design magazines and see what appeals to you. Of course, every magazine has a different focus or approach. So take a look around to find a good match for your interests.

A few months ago, You the Designer published a list of 10 Amazing Graphic Design Magazines over a two-part series (see parts one and two) of magazines worth checking out.

9. Try to replicate the work of others

A proven way to learn is to try to replicate the work of other designers. I am not suggesting that you rip off other designers by selling this work or having it recognized as your own (which is unfortunately all too common, especially online). I suggest that in your own experimental work, which is for educational purposes only, you take an exemplary piece from another designer and do your best to copy it. If it is only used for your own educational purposes and is not sold or given away, it is perfectly acceptable. Unless you dramatically change and personalize this design, you shouldn't add it to your portfolio either.

In my own effort to learn web design, I started with a finished product from another designer and tried to achieve the same layout or a different aspect of the design. This was a valuable learning experience that helped figure out how to achieve things that work in real life scenarios. The same can be done regardless of the type of design you're working on. For example, find some album cover designs that you like and try recreating them.

You are working towards the goal of creating a design that has already proven itself as the end product. Not only will you hopefully learn some new techniques in Photoshop, but you'll also learn some general principles of good design that apply to any job you do.

10. Participate in design competitions

When you are comfortable with your own progress in learning Photoshop, you may want to challenge yourself and have fun at the same time by entering a design competition. For the most part, there are some potential prizes and you will be motivated to reach your true potential. Also, you can often see the work of other designers in the competition who will inspire you and give you an opportunity to assess your own skills and progress.

While the goal of entering a competition may be to win something, you will still benefit from entering it. It gives you the opportunity to create something special to be judged by others. In some cases, you may get valuable feedback and see where you stand compared to other designers.

Psdtuts + has run several contests in the past including the Solve Poverty Design Contest, the AudioJungle Background Contest, and the Flickr Group Contest. Other blogs like You the Designer also had design competitions.

What is your learning strategy?

What do you do to learn more about Photoshop and graphic design in general? If you are a seasoned designer, what approach has helped you get where you are today and what are you doing to learn new things all the time?

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