Oh no, not another one of THOSE articles!
Yes! Actually, we need all of the steps and help we can get in making sure we don’t get a bad reputation as designers. Web, Print, Illustration and Typographic designers often work with files created by other designers. These ‘others’ could be current coworkers, past coworkers, freelancers or employees of large firms.
We’ve all worked with other people’s files, and we’ve all pulled our hair out at mistakes and laziness perpetrated by other designers. This isn’t always the case, but every once in a while we come across THAT file. You know, the one we hate working on, and often times have to re-create from scratch just to make sense of it.
When we receive those files, we tend to delve out large amounts of frustration, anger and hatred towards ‘that person who calls themself a designer’ and mumble to ourselves about strangling them with their own pixels as we attempt to navigate their labyrinth of layers, paths and illogical choices within the file.
Don’t be ‘that designer!’
In this article we will be focusing on Photoshop and Illustrator file organizing and saving practices. The following are pretty basic guidelines on how to save files properly, and how to organize and keep track of important data and design elements.
Step 1: Keep it Simple
As professionals, when we design files from scratch we usually group items and paths into layers. Sometimes we use sublayers and groups. In Photoshop, it is especially helpful to group similar items and special effects. This cuts down time needed to sort through elements in a file. This is especially true in complex files with multiple effects, masks, and so on. This gives the receiving party (the person who will get your file) a sense of bearing. There is also an assumed sense of aptitude with the receiving party. In other words, you assume the receiver has more than a passing knowledge of photoshop. This gives others the sense that you not only know what you are doing, but that you are kind enough to help them by speeding up their design process.
For Illustrator, the complexity of organization MUST be proportional to the complexity of the art. For instance, if you create a half-page ad for a newspaper with a logo, image and text, there should only be three layers. Not one layer with two sublayers. The rule of thumb is that each major element has its own layer.
I’ve worked in multiple publication companies, including a daily newspaper, weekly newspaper and monthly magazine. If we received a half-page ad with multiple sub-layers, it would not be well received and we would have a chat with the sender about their organization skills.
If your design is VERY complex, you can use multiple organized sublayers, but ONLY as many sublayers as are absolutely necessary.
This type of organization allows other illustrators to quickly navigate through your design elements. Do not create a layer for every single box or letter in a file if they are not a major design element. There are too many designers who do this. Whoever the unfortunate victim of that practice will be, they will hate the originator of that file. In the industry, such practices are not tolerated and can reflect poorly on the person who does this, and the company they work for.
Let’s take a look at these three examples.
Good layers will be organized according to major design element. They will have names and look very sleek.
Each layer will show the items within that layer as sublayers, by default. However, taking sublayer from the box layer one layer and placing it inside a text layer (example 3) shows an uneducated view of Illustrator. It’s rare that something like this will happen, and if it does, those sublayers had better have some strong connection, or it’s chaos. Not naming layers is the difference between being taken seriously as a designer and being treated like an amateur, degree or not.
So then, keeping it simple and organized will cause other designers to LOVE you, and your respect level will be over 9000.
2. Saving your files appropriately by asking the right questions
Whenever you save files, make sure your names are clearly understandable, and have dates on them.
Let’s say we work at a company called “Really Awesome Shoes.” We’re the graphic design team. The owner comes in and excitedly tells us that we’re running a half-page ad in the Sunday edition of the local newspaper. He then tells us to make something and send it over.
Good idea: Call the newspaper, and ask for the specs.
Bad idea: Google ‘newspaper ads’ and make something according to the search results.
Understanding the differences in these processes is crucial to our reputation as designers.
The best way to fail this scenario: We get the ad done, notice that our mode is in RGB, but save it anyway as a round-about size, as a JPEG, 72 DPI. We then name it “RllysmshoosFinalFinal-FINAL222Final2.jpg” and send it over.
This is a bad idea because everything above is so wrong that if actually done, we deserve to be fired.
1. We must always contact the receiving company and ask for their specs. There is NEVER an exception to this rule.
2. All print files must be saved in the CMYK mode, and have a resolution of AT LEAST 300dpi. Never, ever, EVER should we send anyone a JPEG. Ever.
3. When we send the files, we must send it in the format they request. Most of the time it will be in PSD or EPS formate. Sometimes in .AI format if the designer wishes to make changes.
4. “RllysmshoosFinalFinal-FINAL222Final2.jpg” is a horrific way of naming a file. This practice is unprofessional at best, and lazy at worst. Design is hectic and can be rushed sometimes, but if we begin a new file, we should try to name it before we start any design.
When the dialogue box opens for a new document, name the file for the client or project, and then put the date. Then, if we forget to name the file later and send it over as ‘ReallyAwesomeShoes-7-10-12.eps,’ it is still acceptable as the receiving designer will assume we have multiple versions on multiple dates. This also comes in handy if our boss walks up to us in six months and says ‘Remember that July ad with the red shoes?” Then we go back to your July ads, and there it is!
The best way to end the scenario:
Calling for the specs, saving the file correctly in CMYK mode at 300dpi (at least) and naming it “ReallyAwesomeShoes-7-10-12.eps.” The receiving designer will thank you.
About Illustrator files and Spot Colors:
If you are saving an image with spot colors, it is imperative to let the receiving designer know WHAT the spot color’s designation is and WHERE the spot color is located. If any images are included in the Illustrator file, we must embed them or the receiving designer will see nothing but a blank spot where the photo should be. Also make sure to expand all of your fonts, in case the receiving designer doesn’t have them. This is especially true for all unusual fonts.
Step 3: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Make sure you are always available for other designers to contact you with questions or requests. If that is not possible, leave notes outside of the illustrator crop area, or on a layer than can be locked and hidden. This is one of the best practices for complex files. Listing the font, size and even kerning of text is useful if you know more than 5 people are going to be using your work.
Sometimes, written instructions in emails are passed over, so it is a VERY good idea to have some sort of direction or instruction within the file itself.