Aug 182017

While the style and finish of manga art is relatively minimalist in comparison to other types of comics, this apparent simplicity is deceptive. Every line is a choice made by the artist – the thinking is to never use 10 strokes to depict something if just a single, well-placed one would suffice. 

This principle of concentrating on the essentials permeates throughout manga art creation. Every panel is an exercise in choice: size, zoom, camera angle, speech bubble positioning, and type of background. Every page works as a whole to control the reader’s experience, particularly in pacing.

These 15 tips will help you create an authentic manga comic strip. Let's get started!

01. Pace yourself

Aim for fewer panels spread over more pages

When you’re writing for manga, remember it flows faster and sparser than other types of comics. It spreads across more pages with fewer panels per page. There is variation between the types of manga; Seinen manga, aimed at adult males, will be more densely packed than Shoujo manga, which is read by young girls. But as a guide, aim for a maximum of three speech bubbles per panel, an average of five panels per page, and around four pages per scene.

02. Consider your reading direction

Traditionally, manga is read from the top right to bottom left

Manga originates from Japan, and Japanese traditionally reads vertically from top-to-bottom before going right-to-left. So for any manga originally published in Japanese, you start reading from the top right corner and finish in the bottom left. If it’s been translated into English, you’ll often find it remains this way. But if you’re writing in English from the start, there’s no need to do this, so it’s up to you! Decide on your reading direction and stick to it.

03. Group your panels

Use gutters to link certain panels

Most manga have panels of different sizes and shapes that change from page to page. There are no arrows or numbering to guide the reader, so you must group the panels clearly to make it obvious they must read one bunch of panels before moving on. Separate one group from another by increasing the space between the panels (the panel gutter). Then make sure that any small panel gutters inside a group don’t line up with any panel gutters in another group.

04. Explore abstract layouts

Characters don't need to be confined to their panels

Manga doesn’t just stick to traditional boxes in rows. It often employs dynamic panel layouts that stretch across the height or width of the whole page, along with diagonal lines and irregular shapes. Sometimes boxes aren’t even used at all, with hazy patterns used as outlines, or the character breaks out of the panel. Panels can even fade in and out as part of the storytelling. 

The difficulty is ensuring that regardless of layout, the panel order remains clear. Try reading some manga to find lots more examples to play with.

05. Showcase different viewpoints

Showcase different angles and zoom levels

Manga is known for its cinematic feel. Every panel is like an action movie, where the camera cuts from a close-up of eyes, to a two-shot profile of a conversation, to a bird’s-eye view of the characters, then a low-to-high angle as a stiletto heel clicks onto the floor. Really make an effort to showcase different camera angles and zooms in your story.

06. Make it dynamic

Manga often features blurred limbs and background speedlines

Manga is a dynamic form of storytelling; when a character is in a full-blown fight, they really look like as though they’re moving, even flying out of the page. Unlike superhero comics that have fully inked characters and points of impact, manga favours limbs that blur with motion, backgrounds that become speedlines, channelling and enhancing the direction of the motion and highlighting the point of impact with emphasis lines originating from it. Most of this is done through inking, but can be done with screentone, too.

07. Match background to mood

These background flowers hint at a budding romance

One key difference between manga and other types of comic is the use of abstract backgrounds to match the atmosphere and the emotions of the characters. Once the scene has had an establishing shot of the physical surroundings, the backgrounds can be anything: lacework and flowers to signify a budding romance; flames if someone is full of burning rage; black shadows and swirling knots to convey inner turmoil; or cookies and cakes when a character is irresistibly cute! This is particularly popular in Shoujo and Josei manga, which is aimed at girls and women.

08. Don't rely on speech bubble tails

Speech bubble placement is used to indicate who is speaking

Japanese people traditionally read top-to-bottom and then right-to-left. To accommodate this, manga speech bubbles are much taller than in Western comics. They’re also roomy, with lots of space around the lettering. Another key feature is the tails denoting the speaker – these are either very small or non-existent. Rather than relying on tails, the speech bubbles are positioned near the speaker’s head – use those camera angles wisely! Japanese dialogue also tends to make it clear who’s speaking, due to special verb endings and slang.

09. Get creative with your speech bubbles

Don't confine yourself to a bubble shape

Speech bubbles in manga are a lot more organic than in other types of comics. They’re almost always hand drawn, slightly irregular in shape. Joined speech bubbles are combined rather than linked by a thin line. When one character talks over another, it’s depicted literally, with each speech bubble overlapping. While shouting is depicted with a more conventional spiky outline, thought bubbles aren’t drawn as clouds; more often they’re surrounded by a haze, either drawn or made out of screen tone.

10. Apply screentone

Simply screentone on top of your lines and then cut away the excess.

Manga uses screentone as its black and white. To do this, start by preparing your line art – it has to be in pure black and white without any greys, so scan at a minimum of 600dpi. Then threshold-to-convert every pixel into either black or white. The same must apply to your desired screentone: each pixel must be black or white/transparent.

Copy then paste the screentone on a layer above the line art, enough to cover the lines and more. If your screentone isn’t transparent, for example, on a white background, then set the layer to Multiply so you can see the lines underneath.

Finally, remove unwanted areas of the screentone. There are many ways to do this: you can select with a Lasso/Magic Wand tool and cut, use the Eraser in Pencil mode, or use a Layer Mask with a hard-edged brush so that no greys are introduced.

Next page: 5 more tips for creating an authentic manga comic strip

11. Explore screentone effects

Screentone is not just for shading

There are many things you can do with screentone besides just sticking it down for shading. Add white pencil over both lines and screentone for traditional white painted highlights. Try soft, burnished highlights by using an Eraser set to Dissolve. Use screentone just over the lines to give the art a blurry feeling. You can increase the contrast in your shadows by layering different screentones on top of each other, but be careful: you may get moiré if you use different densities or if you align them incorrectly.

12. Use Japanese sound effects

Onomatopoeia is different (and often more realistic) in Japanese

Japanese sound effects are incredibly diverse, using all manner of consonant and vowel combinations to describe crashes, thumps and slices. Pronunciations often more realistic than in English like 'roar' (GA-O-!) or 'slam' (pa-tan!). What’s unique to Japanese onomatopoeia are sound effects for abstract concepts ('shiiin' for a stare, or silence), facial expressions ('niko' for a smile) or even temperature ('poka poka' for warmth). They are an integral part of the artwork, so are hand-drawn at the point of inking, in an appropriate style.

13. Add visual grammar

Background sparks or sweat drops indicate the character's mood

Many symbols are used in comics to enhance the viewer’s understanding of what the characters are feeling, like punctuation marks for pictures. Perhaps a love heart to show romantic intentions, or a light bulb when someone has a bright idea. 

Manga has some unique examples: a drop of sweat for nervousness or embarrassment, a hash mark on the forehead when someone is angry (mimicking raised veins), and little spirit wisps gathering when someone is feeling depressed.

14. Try out chibi

Chibi figures are cute, squashed down versions of a character

A chibi is a cute, squishy, mini-version of a person, squished down to just three to four head lengths tall, with a large head and a chubby body. Shoulders are rounded off, hips are wider, hands and feet become stubby. 

Although these characteristics are childlike, remember that you’re not actually drawing a child! An adult chibi should still look like an adult, just highly stylised. In manga, characters are often portrayed as chibis when the story takes a lighthearted turn, for comic effect. Spot all the examples throughout this article!

15. Emphasise emotion with anthropomorphism

Cat-like features indicate this character is being sly

Another popular technique used in manga is ‘kemonomimi’, which literally means animal ears. For instance, if someone is being as sly as a cat, you can draw her with feline features like cat ears and a tail. You can even go further with cat eyes that have slit-pupils, and using the shape of cat’s mouth. Why not draw a disappointed guy as a sad puppy dog? A fierce mother as a dragon? Like chibi, it can be used for effect in specific scenes, but it’s also popular as a character design for fantasy stories.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 149. Buy it here.

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Aug 182017

The value of flexible vectors isn't lost on web designers. They know it's one of the most important assets they have for their designs. Create perfect vectors for any project with the help of Super Vectorizer 2. It's on sale now for 68% off the retail price.

Super Vectorizer 2 has streamlined the vector-tracing process, taking out the tedious portions of the task and making it a snap to quickly create these valuable assets. This app can automatically convert bitmap, JPEG, GIF, and PNG images to clean and scalable vector graphics like AI, SVG, DXF, and PDF. It makes use of a powerful image-quantisation algorithm and enhanced tracing to make it easy to adapt images into design work.

Super Vectorizer 2 usually retails for $60, but you can get it on sale now for just $19 (approx £15). That's a saving of 68% off the retail price for a powerful tool for designers, so grab this deal today!

Aug 182017

Microsoft's newest Surface Pro is undoubtedly a very tempting machine for designers and creative professionals. It’s compact, light, powerful and looks the part. So naturally we wanted to review the Surface Pro for designers and creatives, to find out how it performs as a design tool and whether it can rival Apple's iPad Pro.

Surface Pro overview

The Surface Pro has a fantastic pen for sketching, and its dual form factor means you can use it as a laptop or tablet.

It’s hugely expensive for the top-end machine, but for sketching work you can get away with a much lower spec. (Although you do have to pay extra for the Surface Pen and Type Cover with all models.)

With a 12.3-inch screen, the Surface Pro is a very comfortable size, and when paired with the Type Cover it feels very much like a traditional sketchbook when you carry it around – albeit one that's coated in fabric, like the Surface Laptop. It's also extremely light, at around 770g, and thin at 8.5mm.

The Surface Pro's screen itself has a resolution of 2736x1824 pixels at 267ppi. And like all Surface devices, it’s extremely sharp.

The Surface Pro's new kickstand enables better sketching angles

There are a few other tweaks on the new Surface Pro. It’s a little less angular than the Surface Pro 4; and the i5 models are completely fanless, so they operate silently (on the i7 there’s a hybrid cooling system). 

Battery life is also said to be improved to 13.5 hours, and we got a day’s solid usage out of the Pro after a mix of sketching, watching video, browsing and, indeed, writing this review.

But perhaps the most interesting addition is the improved kickstand and hinge. We know, sounds fascinating, right? But now you can lower the kickstand to almost flat – giving you a great angle for sketching work.

And sketching with the new Surface Pen feels very natural indeed.

Surface Pro with the Surface Pen

Microsoft has improved the Surface Pen, giving it 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity – and it feels better all round to draw with. 

There’s pretty much no lag when using the likes of Photoshop or Illustrator (although we were using the Core i7 model with 16GB RAM and Intel Iris Plus Graphics for this review, which is blazingly fast all round). 

We just can’t understand, though, why you don’t get a Surface Pen in the box, rather than having to pay an extra £100/US$100. Especially if you’re buying a Surface Pro Core i7 model, which could set you back up to £2,700/US$2,700 for the top model.

The Surface Pro's Signature Type Cover turns it into a laptop

For the Surface Pro to be a true hybrid machine, you’ll need a Type Cover (the clip-on keyboard) as well, which will add another £125/US$130 to the overall cost. The Signature Type Cover is very nice though – protecting your Surface Pro in Alcantara fabric (which we’re told is hard-wearing and easy to clean).

Using it as a laptop on your lap isn’t the easiest, though, as you’re relying on the kickstand to rest on your legs. But it’s much more comfortable at a desk.

There are also a couple of nice colours available for the Type Cover. We had a nice cobalt Blue and it felt very high quality indeed, with backlit keys, a glass trackpad and a nice action on the mechanical keys. So as well as being nice to sketch on, it’s nice to type on.

The Surface Pro is fun to sketch on and to type on

The Surface Pro is also compatible with the Surface Dial – costing another £90/US$100 – which enables you to control specific functionality in different apps (although Adobe apps aren’t supported yet).

Surface Pro vs iPad Pro

Of course, there are going to be comparisons drawn between the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro, when paired with the excellent Apple Pencil, is a phenomenal digital sketchbook. But, although it runs iOS versions of Adobe tools from which your work can be synced back to your desktop Creative Cloud software, it isn’t the same thing as having full versions of Photoshop and Illustrator on the go. 

Microsoft's Surface Pro runs Windows 10 so you can install your Creative Cloud software – and choose to work with apps in standard or Touch Input modes.

The Surface Pro runs Windows 10

Surface Pro performance

If you’re working on complex illustrations, you’ll need to splash out on a more powerful model than the base £800/US$800 Surface Pro, as this cheapest model only has a Core m3 CPU, 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. But for concepting and sketching, as we’ve said, the base model will be more than enough.

Moving up through the models, you can choose between an i5 (starting at £980/US$1,000 with 4GB RAM/128GB SSD) and i7 (starting at £1,550/US$1,600) with 8GB RAM/256GB SSD). 

This soon becomes a MacBook Pro-like investment. In fact, for the price of the top-end Surface Pro you could get a 13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro and a 12.9-inch 256GB iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

As a result, we can’t really recommend the top-end system for creatives – it just costs too much and doesn’t have enough flexibility in its ports (there’s only one USB, a MicroSD slot and a Mini DisplayPort).

The base model, however, is very attractive as a digital sketchbook that can also run all of your desktop apps.

Surface Pro for designers

We love the Surface range of devices – they represent a significant leap forward for Microsoft and offer a viable alternative to Macs. But, the top-end models are just too expensive for us to recommend.

The lower-end models are a much better option – especially if you simply want a portable digital sketchbook that can double as a mid-spec laptop. All-in-all the Surface Pro is a slick machine, and its accessories (although sold separately) make it even more attractive.

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Aug 182017

The makers of UXPin have released a free Material Design UI kit: a set of 140 handcrafted UI elements and 35 hi-fidelity screens. The kit also includes Material icons, layered files, and Google fonts.

The library includes everything from headers and footers to contacts, galleries, calendars and more, all neatly organised into folders for ease of use. Everything is available in three formats – Photoshop, Sketch and Illustrator – making it simple to slot into your design workflow.

All elements come in 3x resolution and can be used with Photoshop, Sketch or Illustrator

All UI elements are available at 3x resolution and are Guideline-compatible. Of course, the kit is also available for use in UXPin, a full-stack UX design platform for prototyping, design systems, and automatic documentation.

Material Design is Google's unified design language, based around cards, grid-based layout, responsive animations and clever use of depth effects. Since its release in 2014, the system has boomed in popularity.

Download the UI kit here.

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Aug 182017

Given that UX is all about simple usability and accessibility, it’s not surprising UX designers often opt for minimal, monochrome designs when it comes to business cards.

The problem is, the simple approach runs the risk of just looking boring when applied to a business card. And given that most people don’t really have room in their wallets anyway, why give them another reason to ditch your card the moment you’re out of sight?

Instead, these UX designers have all designed business cards that potential clients and collaborators are very likely to hang on to...

01. Masanori Mitsuhashi

Mitsuhashi has turned a simple doodle into an elegant business card design

Masanori Mitsuhashi is a UX designer based in Tokyo, Japan. He currently works for Goodpatch, a global UI design company with studios in Tokyo and Berlin. Here, Mitsuhashi has used an elegant yet fun doodle to bring his design to life, and it works a treat. 

Printed on a traditional Japanese paper known as Washi, this is a delightful business card you’d be loathe to get rid of, however full your wallet was.

02. Sarah Nohe

The ‘user survey’ on Nohe’s business card is beautifully tongue-in-cheek

Sarah Nohe is UX designer currently working for Nebular in Florida. She used to be an anthropologist, and when she moved to her current profession, she obviously needed new business cards. Given that her new calling was focused on considering the user, she decided to put that principle into practice when designing them. 

As she recounts in this blog post, she decided she’d try to generate some ‘user feedback’ by including a tongue-in-cheek user survey on the back of the cards. In a field where people often take themselves very seriously, this clever and humorous business card is a welcome breath of fresh air.

03. Lo Min Ming

Min Ming’s business card is rocking the denim look

Based in California, Lo Min Ming is a designer and engineer at Dropbox, and the co-founder of Pixelapse, a visual version control platform. He’s all about combining the functionality of UX with aesthetic appeal, and this denim themed business card certainly fits into that mould. 

It’s not actually made of denim, though, but was printed on textured paper. “I arranged the letters (especially the 'G') in such a way that it would still be strong enough after the die-cut,” he explains.

04. Ueno

Ueno offers this colourful and quirky card to its clients

Ueno is a global digital agency offering web and UX design to clients including Airbnb, Medium, Cisco, Lonely Planet, Google, Reuters, Fitbit and Dropbox. These original and attractive business cards are bright, colourful and nicely convey the agency's quirky sense of humour.

05. Gustavo Youngberg

Youngberg’s cards show how a simple design can go a long way

Gustavo Youngberg is a graphic and web designer in the San Francisco Bay area specialising in brand identity, web design, and UX design. He’s currently working as a senior digital specialist at real estate consultants Cushman & Wakefield.

These cool business cards show how you don’t need to spend a lot of time and money on extravagant printing techniques, just a good, solid design. Youngberg got these cards printed by Moo using it Luxe Business service. “Love the quality and workmanship of their paper products and packaging,” he says. “The colours pop and their black is true. Love it.”

06. Adnan Puzic

Even from across the room, you won’t miss these bright and colourful business cards

Adrian Puzic is a UI/UX designer based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. New for 2017, his latest business cards are beautifully clean, bright and bold, and feature embossed elements. 

We particularly like the signature-style script lettering, which helps to distinguish these designs in an arena where bland and functional typography is the norm.

07. Marcelo Graciolli

Marcelo Graciolli is a Brazilian UI/UX designer with 12 years’ experience in the web industry. Now based in London, he specialises in email marketing. In the gallery above you can see the front and back of his new business cards, which use colourful graphics to display what it is he does simply and delightfully. 

He’s clearly keen to get you to visit his Instagram page, and we love how the eye-drawing device on the front side gets the message across.

08. Max De Mooij

These business cards are about the recipient as well

Max de Mooij is based in Amsterdam, where he works for software company Recognize. As a UX designer, he wanted his business cards to leave a positive experience (what he calls “a delighter”) on the person he hands them out to. 

“So I left some space on the back where I can write someone's name on,” he explains. “The card's back then says: "Great to meet you, John!". That way, my business card is more personal, and not just about me. It emphasises the connection between you and me.”

Aug 172017

Putting people in the creative industries to work in an office, during set hours, has never felt right. Why don't more full-time employed creatives work remotely?

Like some kind of Industrial Revolution hangover, working in offices can feel restrictive and uncomfortable, as if employers are saying to staff: “You don’t enjoy working, so I’m going to make you. And to make sure I can make you, I’m going to make you come to this same place at this same time every day”.

But having an aversion to work has never applied to creative people. Creatives enjoy the challenges thrown at them, enjoy solving problems, enjoy crafting a design. They enjoy their work and resent being made to feel like they don’t.

Conversely, if people are made to feel enabled and trusted to succeed, they are far more likely to. Remote working can give individuals the freedom to work in ways that suit them.

The more balanced, rounded, inspired and experienced we all are, the better we’ll be at our work. Remote working can also allow people the prospect of working alongside the best design practitioners in the world, not just the best in the office.

Work more creatively

Brown&co says it's a new kind of agency

This is why nine months ago, Dave Brown, David Bicknell (Bic) and I decided to start a branding agency, Brown & Co, using an outsource model.

The agency is based on the principle that if people can operate in ways individually tailored to them, if they feel encouraged to achieve a healthy work-balance, if they are able to work without distraction at home (while joined up online) then they will ultimately do better work, more efficiently.

To further fly in the face of industry convention, Brown & Co also only measures collaborators on output, rather than hours, and clients pay for the same (shock and horror), without the overheads of a large full-time staff in an office.

Save more time for life

Working at any time, from anywhere, enables more creativity

A fit-for-purpose, built-on-demand team of specialists allows for maximum output with agility and flexibility, so we can all work more easily toward extremely challenging deadlines and at a lower price point. 

Productivity (defined simply as ‘inspiration with discipline’) is high at the minute. The collaborators are working more often in places and ways that inspire them, while not being subject to a ‘distraction factory’ (as the founders like to call the modern office environment). This has resulted in great work being produced, while creatives feel happier, healthier and freer than in years.

One collaborator is even fulfilling her dreams of travelling while earning. It’s an exciting opportunity to connect with different cultures, broadening experiences, deepening her empathy, and potentially encouraging her to think more openly about brand challenges and solutions.

Opportunities like this leave collaborators feeling more balanced, more in touch and more productive – but does it translate into better work?

Get creative results

It's no great surprise that happier people produce better designs

It’s been six months since Brown & Co opened its metaphorical doors, and with large projects on two major international brands, this great experiment is working well.

We’ve already been told on more than one occasion by different multinational clients that ours is "some of the best work we’ve ever seen", and done in "miraculous timeframes".

It seems the work we are producing is living up to its promise, and that can only really be as the result of working differently and attracting better people by working differently – in ways that people work best, and in ways they enjoy. 

Of course, this challenges the old school thinkers who say if you leave people to their own devices nothing ever gets done, and that you can’t do good creative work unless you’re all sitting physically together in the same room.

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Aug 172017

What to research before designing a logo

Getting your research right is key to logo design success

Research in any area of design is essential, none more so than logo design. Research allows you to fully understand the problem at hand, which in turn enables you to design a solution that can be presented with confidence, having the knowledge needed to back up your decisions.

A well-researched project is one that's very likely to be agreed by the client quickly (if not first time), and one that's likely to succeed in the real world. In comparison, a poorly researched project is likely to be rejected because the designer has failed to understand the problems faced.

You can't just guess the logo that a client requires. Research is your opportunity to discover what you need to design, why you need to design it, and how it will be used. It also makes it easier to discover a solution, as the knowledge learned should inevitably steer the direction of the design.

There's no such thing as having too much information, especially if you're designing a logo for a product or service you're not familiar with. You need to ask questions, but don't simply rely on what the client tells you – be prepared to dig deeper, reading industry blogs and information to gain a true understanding of the product and service.

But what topics should you research? Here are five key questions and areas to focus preliminary research on before designing a logo.

01. Why does the company need a new logo?

Before designing the logo it's essential you understand the real reason you're designing the logo. If it's a new company the answer to this question is self-evident. But if the logo is a redesign, this is a whole different story.

If the company is young it may have designed the logo in-house or had it designed on the cheap and now it simply needs a refresh. A more established business will, however, redesign its identity to signify change.

What to research before designing a logo

Get the reasons behind the design fixed in advance

Change can come in many forms: new ownership, new management, new product or service, or a new ethos. Be it a merger, a change to the way things are done, or a new brand statement, ensure you understand all you can about the current situation and the goals of the business moving forward. This will decide if you need to simply evolve the current design, or take it in a whole different direction altogether.

02. What does the company do?

It's somewhat obvious, but you need to know what the company does and why. Find out the history of the company, the products or services it offers, and the problem(s) it solves.

Look to understand the company's values. What message is the client trying to communicate with its target audience, and how does it want customers to feel when they engage with the brand? This will often heavily influence the attitude of the design.

03. Who are the target audience?

You must know the audience the business will be targeting so that you can design a logo that will attract them.

What to research before designing a logo

You must research the target market for your logo

Some companies will be able to describe their exact audience, while some smaller companies will not be sure, or may ask to target everyone. In these cases, ask the client to describe its ideal customer.

Understand the demographics of the audience: their age, gender, location, income level, lifestyle and behaviour. Understand their needs and the problems they are experiencing to require the products or services of the company you're designing for.

04. What are the company's long-term goals?

A logo should stand the test of time, so expect the logo you're designing to still be in use in five to 10 years' time. For that reason you must understand not only where the company is today, but what its long-term goals and ambitions are. 

For example, if a company currently offers only one service, but plans to extend its offering at a later date, it's essential you are aware of this so that you can factor this into your design.

A valuable exercise is to ask the client to describe where it sees itself in five years' time. This will allow you to get a realistic picture of it foreseeable plans and long-term ambitions.

05. Who is the competition?

Knowing about the competition is valuable, as you can learn what identities the audience will already be familiar with in the sector. This information will also ensure you avoid unintentionally mimicking an already known brand.

Pinpointing competitors isn't always an easy task. Sometimes the client will tell you who it believes it's in competition with, but its own assessment may be way off. Combine the information it provides with your own research. Look at the identities of direct competitors (those that offer the same product or service to the same audience) as well as indirect (those that offer a similar product or service).

Your goal is to design a logo that separates the company from its competition rather than to replicate an existing design. It's a valuable exercise to keep a visual record of both the competitor's logos and identities to reference your designs against at a later date.

Research is a powerful tool, which will make you a better designer and a more knowledgeable person.

More of our great design posts:

Aug 172017

Adobe has unveiled a new series of weekly video tutorials featuring top artists from around the world. The Art Makers: How Did They Do That? collection sees artists guide viewers through their workflows in Photoshop, Illustrator and Animate, giving key insights into how they produce their unique styles.

The initial collection of videos features Dutch artist Lois van Baarle (aka 'Loish') creating a portrait called Red, beginning by making rough sketches from a stylus and tablet and building the piece using different Photoshop brushes. She does all of her digital painting on one layer, despite changing brush shapes, brush thickness and colour. Loish's video tutorial is accompanied by written steps on the Adobe site.

Loish's finished Red portrait

Adobe hopes the videos will inspire creatives to give new techniques and tools a try. It says: "Feed your (inspiration) with this series that profiles art makers from around the world. See how they sweat the details, applying their own techniques to create images, illustrations, and animations using common and not-so-common features in Adobe Creative Cloud apps."

Another of the videos features Egyptian artist Amr Elshamy creating his Round Things artwork, which you might recognise from the latest Photoshop CC splash screen. Elshamy used Photoshop CC's Polar Coordinates distortion filter to turn a photograph of a mountain range into his unique finished image.

Elsewhere, Italian artist Daniele De Nigris creates geometric tile patterns in Illustrator, creating the image that was used for the Adobe Animate CC 2017 splash screen. 

Plus American designer and illustrator Molly Scannell makes a powerful sliced collage in Photoshop; Turkish photographer and designer Şakir Yildirim makes a surreal image in Photoshop; and French-born Toronto-based illustrator and animator Emilie Muszczak makes a colourful animated self-portrait in Photoshop and Animate.

Emilie Muszczak's animated self-portrait

The series is featured online on Adobe’s Create Magazine, and on Adobe's Art Makers YouTube playlist, which it says will be updated weekly with new content.

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Aug 172017

Microsoft's Surface Laptop is perhaps the least exciting of the Surface range for creative professionals. It’s virtually a direct competitor to the Apple MacBook; offering very similar specs, but with the addition of a touchscreen – which can of course be used with the (sold separately) Surface Pen.

Before you open it up, the Surface Laptop feels very much like the Surface Book, only slimmer, a little more tapered and a bit lighter. Its edges are relatively angular, but it feels like a great piece of industrial design. 

Open it up, though, and you’re presented with something a little different. The entire keyboard area is made of fabric.

Surface Laptop build

Admittedly, it’s not any old fabric – it isn't like working on a laptop covered in your grandma’s pyjamas. This is Alcantara fabric: the same kind of strokable, stain-resistant covering used on luxury car seats. The best way to describe it is ‘faux suede’.

It does feel a little odd at first, but it's strangely pleasing and tactile. Using it for long periods of time is comfortable, as it’s softer than the metal on the Surface Book and MacBook. The fabric layer tapers off slightly towards the edge of the laptop, adding to the ergonomics when your palms are rested on it.

The keyboard has another trick up its sleeve – it’s also the speaker. To save space for grilles and to make the Surface Laptop as thin and lightweight as possible, the ‘Omnisonic’ speakers are below the keyboard. 

And the Surface Laptop has impressive audio quality. It wasn’t at all muffled, as we had half-expected.

The Surface Laptop is touchscreen, but unlike the Surface Pro or Surface Book, it isn’t a hybrid – you can’t remove the screen to use it as a tablet. Sure, you can still sketch on the screen using the Surface Pen (£100 extra) in any creative app, or take notes in Windows Ink, but the traditional laptop form factor doesn’t exactly lend itself to this way of working for longer amounts of time.

Surface Laptop specs

The specs of the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop aren’t too shabby across the board. But like all of Microsoft’s Surface machines, price rises dramatically when you start getting into what a creative pro needs for daily design work.

The Core i7 with 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and Intel Iris graphics comes in at £2,150. That's a considerable amount of cash – just £200 less than a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (which has a Core i7 with a smaller SSD but with Thunderbolt 3 ports). 

The mid-range Surface Laptop competes directly with the same-priced MacBook, although the Surface has a 1.5-inch larger screen, a USB port and a Mini DisplayPort (rather than just a USB-C).

So it’s a little tricky to decipher who the Surface Laptop is for. Is it a student machine? Is it a daily laptop? Is it a creative machine? Well, depending on the configuration, it could be any of these.

The base spec machine seems like excellent value – and you get a laptop that looks ace and will perform well. But for over £2,000 for a top-end model, we’ll take a Surface Book with Performance Base and NVIDIA graphics. All day long.

And we’d definitely take the i5/128GB SSD/8GB RAM Surface Book at £1,449 over the £1,249 Surface Laptop with a larger 256GB SSD (but lesser screen – see below) at the same price – simply due to the fact you can detach the screen on the Surface Book and use it as a digital sketchpad.

Surface Laptop touchscreen

So the Surface Laptop screen. Like the rest of the Surface range, it's excellent – bright, sharp and, as a touchscreen, very responsive. At 2256x1504 pixels at 201ppi, it’s a little behind the stunning screen of the Surface Book (3000x2000 pixels at 267ppi) and that of the 12.3-inch Surface Pro (2736x1824 at 267ppi). 

The ppi isn’t noticeable in daily use – you’re never going to make out a pixel on these screens. But those after more real estate will favour the larger resolution of both the Surface Book and Pro.

Microsoft quotes the Surface Laptop at 14.5-hours battery life. And like with the Surface Pro, we got a whole day out of the Laptop, with a combination of video, browsing, a bit of sketching, some tweeting and a bit of layout work in InDesign.

Surface Laptop performance

The Surface Laptop comes with Windows 10 S – meaning you can only install apps from the Windows Store (essentially to increase security). Obviously this is a major consideration for creative pros when Adobe’s products are not on there. You can, until March 2018, easily upgrade to the full version of Windows 10 for free.

There’s nothing at all wrong with the Surface Laptop. It’s a slim, very light (1.25kg), great-looking, well-built machine with a lovely tactile keyboard and a great screen. And we love the four different colours it comes in – the Cobalt Blue is particularly nice. 

But if you're looking for versatility, the hybrid Surface Pro and Surface Book offer more for creative professionals.

Aug 172017

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