Posted on 1 Comment

How to Install and use Photoshop Brushes (.abr files)

You’ve just grabbed yourself a sweet texture pack (if it’s not this one, then you’re missing out) and you’re excited to get going, but wait – what on earth is an .ABR file? Well, that’s a Photoshop Brushes file. Installing them is super quick and easy and you’ll be ready in no time. Follow these simple steps to realize your textured dreams.

Locate the .ABR files

You can either find these by their file extension, or by their icon. Depending on what version of Photoshop you have installed, they will look like one of the files below.

 

Install the brushes

You can either drag the .ABR file(s) directly into Photoshop, alternatively, you can go to Edit > Presets > Preset Manager, select Brushes from the dropdown menu, and then add your brushes using the “Load” button.

That’s all folks!

There you have it; You have reached your destination. Hit the letter ‘B’ to activate the Brush Tool and select your brush via the dropdown menu in the toolbar.

If, for whatever reason, you have reached the end of this guide and have just noticed; “Crap, I don’t actually have any brushes, what am I doing here?” Then allow me to introduce you to my Assorted Paint Texture collection, also, I have some free photoshop brushes that you can download here for a test drive 😉

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Install and Use Your New Font in a Few Simple Steps

You’ve just grabbed your new fonts and as you have found your way here, you’re likely wondering what the heck to do next. How do you install your font(s)? What software do you need? What on earth is an .OTF? Well, worry not, in a few moments you’ll have all the answers. The best part is that you do not need to memorize anything, this guide will always be here.

Throughout the guide, I’ll cover the following topics;


What do I need to use your font(s)?

You need a computer, some basic design software, and well, that’s it! After installation (How do I install fonts?) restart your machine and your new font(s) will appear and be ready to use within your chosen software.

Please note: As my fonts are display fonts (see below) you may experience rendering issues within word processors and/or out of date software. If this is the case for you, contact me. There is a fix 🙂

A display typeface is a typeface that is intended for use at large sizes for headings, rather than for extended passages of body text. Display typefaces will often have more eccentric and variable designs than the simple, relatively restrained typefaces generally used for body text.


What on earth is an .otf and a .ttf file?

Oh, the joys of file formats. If you’re new to the gloriously confusing world of design, you have probably already noticed the ridiculous amount of file types thrown about the place.

There are many different formats of fonts that can be installed, however, the most common are .ttf (TrueType) and .otf (OpenType). With OpenType being the newer, more favored format. They will both work on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux machines.


How to Install a font

There are a few ways that fonts can be installed to your machine and below I’ll cover the most common (and easiest) ways to do this on a Windows and Macintosh computer. If you want to look at different types of Font Managers, be sure to check out this article by my friend Chris Spooner.

How to install fonts on a Mac

If you have many fonts to install and/or cannot use FontBook (instructions for using FontBook) then this is the preferred method.

1. Download your new fonts

After you download your new design goods, unzip the file and locate the .otf or .ttf font files. You’ll likely have more than one.

2. Install the fonts

Open the ‘Finder’ window and click on ‘Users’ (or type it in the search box). Open the Users folder and double click on the house icon.

This is the account of the person currently logged in. Now, Double click the Library folder. Double click the Fonts folder. Finally, drag and drop all of the font files into this folder.

How to install fonts on a Mac using FontBook

1.  Download your new fonts

After you download your new design goods, unzip the file and locate the .otf or .ttf font files. You’ll likely have more than one.

2.  Install the fonts

Double click on the font you want to install and click ‘Install’ within the pop-up.

Please Note: When installing fonts with FontBook, you may receive a ‘Validation’ error. This is to be expected when installing detailed fonts such as the ones found within my portfolio. FontBook struggles to validate fonts with high node counts. You can safely ignore this and continue the installation.

These fonts will now be within your Fontbook. After closing and reopening your software of choice, the fonts will now be available to use.

How to install fonts on Windows

1. Download your new fonts

After you download your new design goods, unzip the file and locate the .otf or .ttf font files. You’ll likely have more than one.

2. Install the fonts

Open a new ‘File Explorer’ window and double click Local Disc (Usually C: Drive), double click ‘Windows’ and then ‘Fonts’. Finally, Drag & Drop all of your fonts directly to the ‘Fonts’ window.

Alternatively, you can double click on the font file that you’d like to install and click ‘Install’.


How To Uninstall A Font

If you want to remove a font that you no longer want or need, uninstall it with these easy steps

How to Uninstall a Font on a Mac

  • Open Font Book from the finder window and find the font you want to remove.
  • Right click on that font, and select Remove.

How to Uninstall a Font in Windows

  • Click the Start button, and find the Control Panel. Open Appearance and Personalization, then click Fonts.
  • Find the font that you want to uninstall. Highlight that font, then click Delete from the File menu
Posted on 2 Comments

How to Build Solid Foundations for your Design Business

I’ll kick this off by saying that there is, unfortunately, no secret sauce that will guarantee your business to succeed. We all know that and I know you know that, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves before searching for answers.

In order to start and to continue a career as a freelance creator, or any kind of freelancer for that matter, you need to be prepared to put in the work. You should never be comfortable and you should always be challenging yourself. It’s the only way to take your business to the next level and beyond. If this puts you off, maybe being your own boss isn’t for you (or maybe you will surprise yourself).

Okay, let us set the stage. You’ve just lost/left your job at a design agency and you want to use this moment as an opportunity to pursue a career freelancing. You’ve always loved the idea of working for yourself and to have more control over your work, but where the heck do you start? And are you good enough?

Let us start by focusing on the latter question: ‘Are you good enough?’ This dilemma is one that you will always struggle to answer. We all have self-doubt when things don’t go as planned (and often when we succeed!), it’s perfectly natural. What I do, and it’s something that I’d recommend you try, is to look at the question from a different perspective. Rather than doubt if you’re good enough or not, try asking yourself ‘can I do something for someone that they cannot do for themselves?‘ It’s a very simple question and if the answer is yes, then perfect. At some point in that someone’s life, you will be in demand. So let’s start by making yourself available to them.


1. Create a Portfolio that Shines (More tips here)  

It’s super important, super effective and it’s often your only opportunity to make a first impression, get it right and you’re winning already. If you have existing work, choose carefully. The genre of work that you choose to share within your portfolio is likely going to be what future clients will request from you. Take this opportunity to drive your future down the road with the best view. If you do not have existing work, then use this time to craft some of your best work for your dream (fictional) clients. If you want to be a logo designer, then design logos!

On your portfolio, your best work should be front and center and everything that you are not proud of should be scrapped. Keep the design of your portfolio nice and simple and let your work do the talking. I recommend adding a quick and snappy introduction to who you are and what you do (“Hi, I’m Tom and I handcraft creative design assets”) and an easy way to get in touch (if you use a contact form, always have your email somewhere in case the form fails). In addition to these vital ingredients, you should have a page that allows your visitors to dig a little deeper and to read more about you and your process. This content is great for both potential clients and bloggers.

Side note: One of my businesses is an art and design blog (Inspiration Hut) and there is nothing worse than finding a great designer with zero written content, it makes our job more difficult and we usually will not feature them or their work. Context is key. From personal experience, having my products featured on other websites has opened many doors, in fact, one article brought my work to the attention of Penguin, (the book publisher) which resulted in large custom licenses for a few of my fonts.


If you want to learn more about how to create a portfolio that shines for your online design business, then you might want to check out this article.


2. Get Social! (More tips here)

Competition is tough! You might have a polished portfolio to attack the world with, but so does Tom, Dick, and Harry. You need to stand out from the crowd and to do this, you need to push it through as many avenues as you can. I’d start with contacting art and design blogs, registering to portfolio sites (Behance and Dribbble are fantastic!) and being active on image-based social networks (Instagram and Pinterest are ideal).

Make it as easy as possible for a potential client to find you and to get in touch. Share one thing every day if you can, or at least, every other day. Not just anything, but something of quality and of interest to other designers and potential clients. Share your sketches, your WIPs, and your concepts. Be open and honest and you will slowly be building your brand.

Side note: If a blog refuses to share your work, don’t instantly think that it’s not good enough. We all default to this setting. It could very well be that it’s not ‘shareworthy’ enough. Blogs thrive on traffic. A website redesign for your local dog groomer might not be what tickles the fancy of their audience. Study what articles do well online and brainstorm what share-worthy project you could create. Projects like this will do wonders across the board. They increase the number of links to your social profiles and portfolio. You’ll appear higher in search results and more people are exposed to your work. Win, win, win.


If you want to learn more about how to use social media to build your online business, then you might want to check out this article.


3. Generate Leads 

Okay, so you’ve created a portfolio that you’re proud of. You’ve sent plenty of emails to art and design blogs explaining who you are, what you do, and how you would love to have a specific project shared with their audience. You’ve set yourself up on Behance (Tip: really focus on presentation. Well presented projects can do very well on Behance and it’s a hive for potential. Check out some of the top projects and take note) and you are regularly sharing on your social profiles. All of this is great, however, it’s not enough. You can’t sit back and wait with crossed fingers, it’s time to actively seek new clients.

The next step in my strategy is to generate yourself some leads. A lead is a potential client/consumer that has at some point shown interest in what you do and provided contact information. Typically, a lead is generated through advertising, trade shows, direct mailings and other marketing efforts. So how does this apply to a freelance designer and how do you find a lead. My favorite (and most successful) way to generate leads has been through using what marketers call, ‘Lead magnets’. A lead magnet is exactly what you think it is, it will help attract leads to you and your services.

The best route to take with lead magnets for a freelance designer would be to offer a small part of your services at an irresistible price (or even for free) either locally or online. If it’s local, you may prefer to visit businesses individually or by phone/email (via the phone would be preferential). If you choose to go for it online, create an attractive landing page or website specifically for your offer and send traffic to that page using the techniques that I talk about in step 4. Another way you can approach lead magnets is with content, as explained the last two examples below.

A few examples could include:

  • Lead Magnet – I will create your website for only $200, making it easier for customers to find you online
    • Execution – Make a basic website to cover the clients’ basic needs (I recommend WordPress, it’s super quick to set up, and should only take a couple of days to complete). Follow up with some useful links to resources that explain how they can add content to their new website (the good thing about WordPress, is that there are a ton of resources like this). Use this opportunity to upsell some more design work. A custom theme maybe or, a new Facebook page with a fancy profile and cover image. You could even offer some new stationery to match the website design. This offer is simply the start of a relationship with a new and hopefully returning client.
  • Lead Magnet – I will create your Facebook page for free, so customers can easily find you on Facebook
    • Execution – If you request for the client to fill in a form with fields similar to what Facebook request when making a page, then actually completing this job takes no time at all. If they have an existing logo, add that to the profile image and cover image. Follow up requesting if they would like a website that Facebook and Google can send traffic to or if they wanted a custom profile and cover image (show examples from previous clients – real or fake – to help explain what they could have).
  • Lead Magnet – How to find the perfect designer for your business needs (Short Article + Downloadable Guide)
    • Execution – This will require a bit of time, but if you can write a short article that provides a brief answer to the question, followed by a detailed downloadable guide that requires an email to view. Then after a couple of days, you can get in touch and ask if they have found a designer yet? Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and explain what you can do for them.
  • Lead Magnet – A free step-by-step guide explaining how to create a website for your business (Short Article + Downloadable Guide)
    • Execution – Same situation with the previous example. Follow up email could be ‘Have you created your dream website yet?’ Introduce yourself, explain what you can do for them. Offer examples.

These are some very basic examples – the possibilities are quite literally endless. You simply need to be prepared to give value without receiving anything in return. Lead magnets are great for building your business through gaining the trust of strangers (cold traffic), thus providing you the opportune moment to pitch a sale. The best thing about lead magnets is that you can create them for any genre. For example, if you notice a sudden influx of dog breeder websites, crack on and create a lead magnet for that. Advertise through relevant sources and try to convert your leads.

By generating leads, you are creating possibilities and once you find a good combination of converting strangers into leads, leads into clients and clients into long-term projects then you will have full control over your business and full control over the type of projects you work on.


4. Traffic

Naturally, the next question is going to be ‘how do I get traffic?’ and that is a good question. One that I am going to be covering very soon in another article, in far more detail. But for now, I’ll give you a few tips. If you are sharing regularly, you will naturally be driving traffic to your website. It might be other designers, or it might be potential clients that are simply following the breadcrumbs. So that’s great.

Another way will include a little research. Ask yourself, who is your ideal client and where do they hang out online? The best places to start are forums (or Quora). There’s a thriving forum for every niche and in most niches, there are aspiring and established business owners. Search for questions relating to your subject and be as helpful as possible to as many people as you can (again, be prepared to give value without receiving anything). Name drop a related lead magnet that might help further, or an article you’ve written, or a project you’ve worked on. Be relevant and non-intrusive. Digging around like this will give you ideas for more lead magnets, articles, mock-up projects and more. All this juicy content will help you build your brand and be super targeted for your perfect client.

I mentioned articles, which brings me to my next point, start blogging! The best way to generate traffic to your portfolio/website is through blogging. If you specialize in logo design, why not write a few tutorials on how to create a logo (if someone wants to know how to make one, they might eventually pay someone to do it for them), another idea could be to document your work process on an actual project and share it.

Not only will you provide your clients an insight, but you will also be helping others. By sharing valuable information, you will be perceived as an industry leader and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather work with someone who knows their stuff and proves it, than someone who doesn’t. Every piece of content you publish must have a reason behind it; you write a tutorial to exaggerate your knowledge on a topic and to get traffic, you share free downloads for more traffic and links to your website, you share your process to encourage clients to work with you.


5. Be human

My biggest piece of advice is for you to be yourself! I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again. Competition in our industry is tough. Plenty of people can do what you do and what I do, but the one thing that will never change is that they are not you and they are not me. The relationship you build with a client and their familiarity with you is key and that is what will help you and your business thrive for years to come.


Any questions?

I’m not sitting in a luxury home and I don’t drive a ridiculously priced sports cars. Maybe one day, but not right now. In fact, I’m still doing much of what I described above and only recently have I been doing it successfully. It was only when I had taken a step back and looked at things from a marketers perspective did I realize what and how to improve. With articles like this one, the goal is to help you build your dream business by providing what I learn, as and when I learn it. If you have any questions or feedback, fire away in the comments below!

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Use Social Media Effectively to Build your Online Design Business

Social media should be one of your top priorities when building your online design business. Do it right and you will feel the benefits; more traffic, sales, and followers. The three things that every business wants but many struggles to acquire. 

We live in an age where technology changes as often as our underwear. Literally, anyone can launch a business (whether they succeed or not is an entirely different story) and social media can and will often play a big part of that. You’re here because you’ve realized that, and you want to get started, or you’re struggling to see results. It can be a pain in the backside keeping up with all the new techniques and platforms that are popping up left, right, and center. But fear not, within this article, I hope to provide you with enough confidence and knowledge for you to start strong from the get-go.


What is ‘Social Media’?

Firstly, let’s define what ‘Social Media’ is to give us a clear understanding of the fundamentals. It’s something I always like to do when starting something new, as Picasso would say, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”.

The definition explained – Social media‘ is defined as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”, ‘Social networking‘ is defined as “the use of dedicated websites and applications to interact with other users, or to find people with similar interests to one’s own”. So the pair work hand in hand, social media is simply the platform on which social networking takes place, and by networking with people you build relationships, and from good relationships come trust and loyalty. Two factors that I would use to describe a great customer and client.

What do I share?

  • Your Work – Be it a logo design or a new product, share it. It’s your work.
  • The Work of Others – If you think someone has created something incredible, why not share it. Chances are if you like it. Like minded people will too and they will engage with it and you.
  • Blog Posts – I’ll always be recommending brands and business owners to start a blog. I mentioned blogging in my tips for how you can start your design business article, it’s not only great for traffic to your website, but it provides you with content that you can then incorporate into your social media strategy.
  • Behind the Scenes – Share what you’re currently working on, what your office looks like, a picture of your dog, the arrival of new products, the list goes on.
  • Funny Photos – Call me cliché, but share some funny photos. Not only will they lighten the mood and possibly someone’s day, they can generate great engagement.
  • Quotes – I’m a sucker for a good quote, and so are many other people. Find quotes that are relatable to your industry, and try sharing them.
  • Videos – Videos are becoming increasingly popular, rather than just sharing an image of a sketch of yours, create a time-lapse video of you working. Not only could it be educational, but it provides a great insight.
  • Promotions and Offers – At the end of the day, no matter what the business, the whole point of spending all this time on social media is to build an audience and to raise awareness of what is it that you do. In return, you hope that it will increase your revenue. So, no doubt, at some point you’re going to want to promote what it is that you do or any special offers you might have. Which is perfectly fine. However, I recommend you try to stick it to a minimum ratio of 5:1. That’s 5 of any of the other categories to 1 of your promotions and offers. Too many promotions will lose the interest of your followers.

How do I use it for my business?

Okay, so we know what it is and what we should be sharing (you might have known already, but it’s nice to recap), so let’s talk about the how. Well, each social network has its own demographic, its own ‘rules’ and different things will naturally work better on some than they do others. Below is a list of the networks that I think you should focus on, along with my thoughts on how to use them. Let’s start with the obvious.


Facebook

Everyone uses Facebook, literally everyone. In fact, between March 2015 and April 2015, 72% of online American adults used Facebook. That’s 62% of the entire adult population! The best (and only) way to start on Facebook as a business is to create very own Facebook Page. “A Facebook page is a public profile specifically created for businesses, brands, celebrities, causes, and other organizations. Unlike personal profiles, pages do not gain “friends,” but “fans” – which are people who choose to “like” a page.”

Tips for use

  • You’re in the business of being creative. Make your Facebook page stand out with a creative profile and cover image! A quick google image search for ‘creative facebook covers’ will return a ton of great inspiration.
  • Involve your audience with questions, and reply to comments. Facebook was designed to connect people, and it thrives when used this way.
  • Be versatile and consistent! A consistent flow of interesting and versatile content is what will bring your fans back to your page time and time again. This is pretty important, as your updates will not reach all of your audience (due to Facebook’s algorithm), so you want them to look for you.

Twitter

Twitter is another platform that you should jump on, no matter your business. The audience is as varied as it is on Facebook and the way you use it is fairly similar. The same content can be posted however you are limited to 280 characters per update. The one thing that I particularly love about Twitter is that it has been designed in such a way that it is not considered rude to pitch in on a conversation. Right now, there is no doubt someone asking a question or having a conversation about your niche, don’t be afraid to get involved.

Tips for use

  • Twitter feeds move quickly, and your tweets can often be missed. If you’re sharing a link to your work, a promotion or a blog post, don’t be afraid to share it a few times throughout the day.
  • Use relevant #hashtags – they help Twitter users find tweets that relate to specific topics, thus making your updates more visible and accessible.
  • Get involved! Don’t be afraid to answer questions or to share your advice. Search for relevant #hashtags and jump in.
  • Just like Facebook, you are giving the opportunity to create your own profile image/cover image. Be creative!

Google+

Google opened the doors to Google+ to compete with Facebook back in 2011 (5 years after Facebook went public), and as you might have already guessed, it didn’t do too well. But the power of Google+ doesn’t lie within its community. The main appeal of Google+ is its search engine optimization qualities. By just by being a part of Google+ and sharing links to your content and work, you can help increase your search visibility.

You used to be able to set up ‘Google Authorship’ to increase your organic traffic even further, however, they have scrapped that (for now). You can share the same content here than you do on Facebook, however, the audience on Google+ is fairly formal in comparison and hashtags (unlike on Facebook) have far more power. So with all that said, if you’re on Twitter and Facebook, get on board with Google+.

Tips for use

  • Posting public updates (unless you have a lot of followers) will fail to gain much attention. However, try searching for niche-specific communities (Google+ version of forums) to join, and share your thoughts and updates there (while updating your personal profile). Can’t find one? Try to create your own!
  • If you want to share a long update on Twitter, write and publish it on Google+ and share the link to Twitter. Long updates are received pretty well on Google+ as opposed to most social networks, and any Google+ fans on your Twitter are then exposed to your profile.
  • Use *bold* _italic_ and -strikethrough- (-word-) text to help your updates stand out.
  • Go all out on your profile page – when I receive a business-related email from someone who I notice has a Google+ profile, I’ll go and check it out. If it’s populated and full of information with links to validate this person and their business, I feel far more confident going forward.

Instagram

Instagram is perfect for anything visual, and us being in the business of design, is where we want to be. Instagram is a mobile application and while you can post links in your comments and descriptions, they are not clickable. The user will have to copy and paste into a browser, so try and keep links short or use a custom link shortener. Instagram provides you a great opportunity to experiment and be creative, share what you’re doing, start contests, show behind the scenes and, more importantly, share your best ‘Instagram’ worthy work. Don’t be afraid to get personal and let your personality shine. These posts can do really well and allow you to be more relatable.

Tips for use

  • Embed your Instagram Photos on your blog/website, this will drive traffic to your Instagram account and is another great way to grow your following. (To do this: Find your image via Instagram on the Web, click the menu button (three horizontal dots) and choose View Photo Page, then open the menu button again and select the Embed option.)
  • Sync Instagram with Twitter and Facebook for automatic updates. Save yourself some time by updating all 3 of your social profiles at once! Instagram images work great on Twitter and Facebook and can help grow your following.
  • Hashtag carefully – Don’t go over the top with hashtags, even though the limit is a whopping 30 hashtags, using the full amount looks spammy and can piss off your followers.
  • Write an informative profile description, with a link to your portfolio. Surprisingly, some people make zero effort in their info section. Which is crazy, as it’s often the first thing people see.
  • To be a great ‘Instagrammer’ is an art form. See what the popular users are publishing in your niché to learn what works (hashtags, style, descriptions etc).

YouTube

Google takes full advantage of its power and treats its own very well. Usually, when you search with Google, you’ll notice that the YouTube videos are killing it on top! You can use this opportunity by targeting keywords and questions that are popular in your niche with video. For example, part of my job is to design and sell fonts. A common question is how to install fonts? or how to access the stylistic alternatives? I could create a series of videos answering these, It could certainly bring more exposure to me and my brand. You could also create time-lapse videos of you working, publish video tutorials, or share your knowledge. It can be a great source of traffic when used correctly.

Tips for use

  • Target questions from within your niché and answer them.
  • At the end of the day you want more subscribers, so at the end of every video (and possibly throughout) remember to include a subscribe button.
  • Be yourself. Let your personality shine through, and make your videos exciting and engaging.
  • Create content that you really care about.

Pinterest

Another platform that I highly recommend for anyone in the business of design. Users can ‘pin’ and ‘re-pin’ images to their personal (and shared) Pinterest boards and the boards are categorized by topic, which enables the whole of Pinterest to be super organized and a great tool to use when researching how to use it. We can instantly see what the most popular style of content in each category looks like, and find common grounds between them. Try finding a category that closely relates to your work, and check out what’s working. There’s no limit to how often you should post on Pinterest, especially as Pinterest displays the most recent pins first, the more you post or re-pin, the better it is for your exposure.

Tips for use 

  • If you are selling products, always include a price tag on Pinterest.
  • Find popular pin group boards to join and pin your best content there. Unfortunately, there is no search function for Pinterest group boards, however, you can use this free tool – PinGroupie.
  • Cross-promote your pins and your presence on Pinterest by sharing to your other social profiles.
  • Create your own themed boards on topics that you find interesting. Don’t be afraid to use Pinterest for personal hobbies as well as your professional life, just keep it on separate boards.
  • The ladies dominate Pinterest! With a female/male ratio of 4:1, so keep that in mind when designing your pins.

Be yourself

You can read hundreds of articles and have folders full of reports that tell you the perfect times to share and what hashtags to use when it’s raining. But at the end of the day, the first thing you need to do is start and if you start right your skills as a social marketer will naturally grow and then you can start fine tuning your strategy.

Posted on 1 Comment

How to Create an Online Portfolio that Shines for your Freelance Design Business

I used to hate designing for myself. After a few weeks of creating any website or design, I’d get bored of it so quickly and honestly, it drove me nuts. I’d put it down to being a fussy perfectionist, but it just wasn’t true. On a number of occasions, I’d scrap perfectly functioning websites to chase new ideas only to realize that my new ideas sucked and were overcomplicated. No matter what the scenario, I eventually found myself in the same place. Numerous sheets of paper spread across the desk; brainstorming.

By reminding myself of what it is that I’m actually trying to achieve, I’m able to effectively look at the bigger picture without homing in on small (and during those early stages, irrelevant) details. Today, that is how I start all of my projects. I may still be a fussy perfectionist, but I now consider that an advantage. So before jumping into the deep end, let us start by taking a step back to remind ourselves of the fundamentals.


The 3 Fundamentals of an Online Portfolio

Your portfolio is often your first (and only) impression – By taking into consideration that the average attention span of a human has dropped from 12 seconds (2000) to 8.25 seconds (2015 – that’s less than a goldfish!) and the fact that your website will no doubt take a few seconds to load (or longer!), your first impression needs to pack a punch in order to convert at its full potential. Allow your finest work to take center stage and keep the design of the site simple and easy to navigate. Some may consider this as a personal preference, but I truly think that unless the design of the portfolio itself showcases your full potential (web designers, I’m looking at you) without any of your work in sight, then it’s probably best to keep it clean.

Your portfolio is meant to showcase your work and your knowledge – Pick only your best work, having 3-4 projects that you’re proud of is far better than having 12 average projects; your portfolio is only as good as your least attractive project. Describe the brief and your thought process behind each of the projects – try to stay away from one-liners – be descriptive. Use this as an opportunity to show your knowledge, professionalism, and passion for your work.

Your portfolio should convert visitors to clients and help you build your brand – Include a simple and clear way to get in touch with you and write about yourself on a separate page with links to your social profiles. Not only do clients like digging around, but publishers do too. From a publishers point of view, unless you don’t want your work shared around the internet (in today’s world, I have no idea why you wouldn’t), reframe from plastering your images with huge watermarks. It can close a lot of doors for you.


Your Work

It goes without saying that your work is the most important aspect of your portfolio. However, your portfolio isn’t just another client. It doesn’t want plain backgrounds or a standalone logo or a really long image of a web design. You need to approach the presentation of your work in a similar way to how you created the work itself.

The good news is that there are plenty of resources that will help you out, from mockup PSD files to free stock photography. If you need some inspiration, check out the portfolio examples I’ve listed at the end of this article, I particularly like this project by Adhemas Batista. Going the extra mile to present your work will not only impress clients but enable your projects to become more ‘shareworthy’. This will ultimately bring in more traffic, generate more word-of-mouth, and really help you in the short and long term.

Before you start uploading all your work, remember that your portfolio is only as good as your least successful project and that the genre of work that you upload is likely going to be what future clients request from you. So if you’re keen to focus on one particular subject, be it logo design, then focus on uploading the best freaking logos you can make

Side note: I often play around with the presentation of certain products, and when I nail the presentation I always see an increase in sales. This will work for clients, publishers and your future followers too.


Choose a Platform

If you’re a web professional, you’re already going to have a fairly clear understanding of what is available and what you can do with it. If you’re a little confused, I don’t blame you. The moment you start searching how to create a portfolio, not only are you bombarded with options but adverts too, all claiming to be the best. I’m not going to review any, too many websites have already done that (this one is probably the best), but I will divert your attention to a few that I feel deserve it.

WordPress

WordPress is my number one recommendation, I use it for this site, for tomchalky.com, and for inspirationhut.net. While it requires some experience and a bit of knowledge, once you start getting stuck in, you’ll not only have full control over your portfolio and an internet full of resources to help you, you’ll also be able to make websites for your clients in no time.

SquareSpace

 My second recommendation is SquareSpace, it requires far less effort than WordPress and the end result can be just as awesome, and as customizable. With everything you need, built right into the platform. From detailed analytics to SEO and from pre-made templates to 24/7 support. Plus, they host it for you.

Cargo Collective

Cargo Collective doesn’t receive much recognition, and that’s probably down to their non-mainstream approach. I think that in order to provide you a versatile list, I need to include Cargo and in all honesty, I love their style. It’s super easy to set up a Cargo website and really straightforward to use, also, their target audience is creators, so their platform has been created with you in mind. The only downside is that you need to apply for an account and you are restricted when it comes to design – however, their available templates are very modern and great for artists.

Wix

Wix is another option that I’m really keen to mention. They’re one of the leading players in the website building market; and certainly one to check out. They have a whole bunch of pre-made themes that have been tailor-made for designers, and there are plenty of customizable options available to you. Alongside hundreds of applications that can further extend your site.


Some Inspiration

There are some really talented people out there, and plenty you can learn from them. Below you’ll find that I have compiled a small yet powerful collection of portfolios that really kick ass. I’ll admit, the work is fantastic. But strip all of it back, the portfolios fulfill all of their fundamental purposes.

Adhemas Batista – Adhemas’ portfolio, while simple in style, lets the work do all the talking. The surroundings (logo, icons, links) do not overpower the work in any way. The descriptions for each project is substantial, and his presentation is spot on.

Robby Leonardi – Robby’s portfolio is probably one of the best-animated portfolios I have ever seen. Just check out his interactive resume, it’s mind-blowing. This is one of the best examples I can provide for going all in with your portfolio design. Allowing the site itself to showcase how creative you really are.

Steven Bonner – Another great example of a portfolio that lets the work speak for itself. Simple, yet effective!

Hello Monday – ‘Hello Monday’ are a digital creative agency, so while their site is going to represent the work of a team and not that of an individual. I really wanted to include their site in my small list. It’s a joy to navigate, it shows off their digital talent and attention to detail beautifully.


Extra Tips

As long as you cover the fundamentals with your portfolio, you will already have a site that will serve you and your work well. However, there are a few more things that will help improve your portfolio even more that I want to add before you sign off.

Be organized

If you juggle a lot of projects and you’re constantly busy with clients, updating your portfolio can itself become quite the task. Try to streamline your process by creating templates and checklists. Also, if you have a lot of work on your portfolio make it easy for visitors to navigate with appropriate titles, tags, and categories. Not only will this improve your page views but can be useful for clients and publishers when referring to your work.

Every page should have a purpose

Encourage action from your visitors. Do you want them to get in touch with you? Subscribe to your mailing list? Follow your social profiles? Try and design your pages to encourage these kinds of actions. Even a simple ‘Want to create something awesome? Let’s chat. I’m available’ section below your projects can do the trick.

Testimonials

I hardly ever purchase anything online without reviews. This includes courses, services, and resources. If you can, add a testimonial page. Even better, add the appropriate testimonial to the project page. Be sure to include links to the reviewers website or social profile; people like to check that you’re not bluffing.

Get social!

Competition is tough! You might have a polished portfolio to attack the world with, but so does Tom, Dick, and Harry. You need to stand out from the crowd and to do this, you need to push it through as many avenues as you can. I’d start with contacting art and design blogs, registering to portfolio sites (BehanceDribbbleDeviantArt and Flickr are fantastic!) and being active on social networks. Particularly the image-based networks (Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr).

Start Blogging!

Search engines love blogs, your visitors love blogs, and so do clients. It’s also a fantastic way to drive traffic to your work. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on topics surrounding your industry, works in progress, sketches, or anything else that you feel will make your reader happy.

Any questions?

With articles like this one, the goal is to help you build your dream business by providing what I learn, as and when I learn it. If you have any questions, please comment below.

Posted on 2 Comments

How to Create your Own Watercolor Photoshop Brushes (Free Brush Pack Inside)

If you are looking to create your own Watercolor Photoshop Brushes but have no idea where to start, then you’re in the right place. It’s surprisingly simple and good fun once you get into the swing of things.

With the inevitable desire for all things handmade in our digital world, the request for Watercolor Photoshop Brushes and the alike have boomed (just look at the google trend). It’s the same story with Handcrafted Fonts and Hand Lettering! And where there is demand, there are people that supply (Psst…Take a look at my Assorted Paint Texture Collection). Whether you’re a professional or hobbyist, this tutorial will provide you with all you need to know to successfully create your own high-quality pack of watercolor brushes for Photoshop.

1. Scan your watercolor pieces using the highest resolution possible. There is no reason why I used colored watercolor, in fact, I recommend you use black for a better contrast. Tip: Solid black paint will not provide much texture when converted. Usually, a nice wash works best, you can always duplicate your layer to strengthen the contrast when desired.

2. Convert the scan to Black and White (Image > Adjustments > Black + White > Auto > OK)

3. Using the Brightness/Contrast options (Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast) make the background as white as possible using the sliders while keeping the detail of the watercolor as high as possible.

4. Using the Lasso Tool (L) from the main toolbar, select one of the pieces and Edit > Copy (Ctrl + C).

5. Make a new document, the dimensions of the copied piece will automatically be the dimensions of the new document. Paste the watercolor (Edit > Paste) and select Edit > Define Brush Preset. If you see a box appear, follow step 6. If the Define Brush Preset option is grayed out, then your document is larger than the maximum brush size for your version of Photoshop. Newer versions allow brushes up to 5000×5000 pixels, older versions allow 2500×2500 pixels. Ensure that your image falls within these dimensions by changing the image size (Image > Image Size). Try re-sizing the largest dimension to 5000px, if it is still grayed out, re-size again to 2500px.

6. Type your desired Preset name (This will not be the name for your Watercolor Photoshop Brushes, just this particular preset), and click OK. Repeat from step 4 for each watercolor piece.

7. Once you have completed creating all of your brush presets, open your preset manager by selecting your Brush tool. You can find the preset manager by clicking on the drop-down arrow to the right of the currently selected brush preset, clicking the settings in the top right of the box, then Preset Manager.

8. Select your lovely brushes while holding Ctrl (or Cmd) and click Save Set. A box will appear and this is how you save your brush pack. The name you choose now will be the name for your finished Brush set. That’s it!

Thank-you for following the tutorial, if you found this useful be sure to share and comment below with your finished pack. I’d love to check them out. Click on the image below to download my brush pack for free.

I offer a bunch of Free brush packs over on Inspiration Hut (An art and design blog that I run with Abbie). Grab them all using the big sign up form on the homepage 🙂

Posted on 2 Comments

How to Create Watercolor Typography In Photoshop (Free Brushes Inside)

Within this tutorial, you will learn the most effective way to create watercolor typography in Photoshop using free resources created by yours truly. By following the very simple steps below you will transform your type into a lettering piece that looks hand painted. Before we start, I will be using this watercolor brush pack that I published to Inspiration Hut and the Petal Brush font from my Free Font Bundle.

1. Make a new document (I’ve used 800px x 600px). Select the Type Tool and type with your chosen font. This works with most style fonts, but for extra effect, I’ve selected my Petal brush font.

2. Right-click on your Text layer in the layers panel (the ‘T’ icon, not the text) and click ‘Select Pixels‘ (or Ctrl + Click on Layer). This will make a selection around your type. Make a new layer and hide the text layer just like the example below.

3. Selected the new layer and load your chosen Watercolor Brush pack. If you are using the same pack as I, please keep in mind that they were designed to work better with large artwork. So re-size your preferred preset to roughly fit 3-4 letters, by doing this, the quality improves drastically. Experiment with different presets and sizes until you’re happy with the results. Here is my result with the No.74 brush preset and a size of 600px (hover over the individual presets to see the number of the brush).

4. For the finishing touches, I duplicated the watercolor layer to increase the contrast and sharpened (Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen, then, Edit > Fade Sharpen > 40% > OK) the result. I also added a brush in the background on a new layer for an extra effect.

Now that we’ve nailed the basics – repeat the process and don’t be afraid to use color like I have in the example below. The splats were actually taken from a font that I designed (the Hamilton font family for Design Cuts)

More Examples – These examples were created using my Tallow Font Family and my Watercolor Brush Pack (No.1). My premium brush packs were created after learning a more effective way of converting artwork for digital use, so they are of a much higher quality than my free packs.

Useful Resource List :

Posted on 8 Comments

How to Remove the Background from a Sketch or Custom Lettering

This little trick is the easiest, most effective way to remove backgrounds from your sketches, custom lettering pieces, illustrations, and so much more. The quality of the end result is so good, that I use this solution to remove the background from the textures, fonts, and illustrations that I sell. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to use a custom lettering piece that I drew up real quick.

1. Firstly, let’s get your image scanned. Ideally, you’d want to use a DPI of 300 or higher. However, I have used this technique many times with nothing but an iPad camera (so it’s ideal for quick pratice pieces). Here is my very rough lettering piece. Far from perfect, but that doesn’t matter! (read the tip below).

*Tip – You don’t have to nail your finished piece on paper. Everything can be edited. Don’t throw pieces away because your lowercase ‘a’ looks a little shitty, just carry on scribbling underneath. I’ve found that by doing this I become less frustrated and more creative with my work. Also, you can see that I have the tendency to create little extras surrounding my type. They might come in handy, you never know!

2. Change your image to Black and White (alt+shift+ctrl+b) by selecting Image > Adjustments > Black & White. You can leave the settings as they are, or do what I do, click auto then OK.

3. Navigate to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. Tick the ‘Use Legacy‘ option, and play around with the sliders until the background is as white as possible and that the texture of the piece is to your choice. The soft style I’ve gone for below will allow for some of the photo to show through (or whatever you place behind).

If you want a solid fill, your contrast will usually be much higher than your brightness. Again, the numbers do not have to be exact. Once you’re happy, click OK.

4. The next thing you want to do is copy your image. Navigate to Select > All (Ctrl + A), then, Edit > Copy (Ctrl + C). Now that you have your image copied, select the ‘Edit in Quick Mask Mode‘ (Q). Then Edit > Paste. You will now have something that looks like the image below.

At this point, turn off the quick mask mode by selecting it again (or Q again). You’ll now notice that you have the inverted selection of your artwork. Now, Make a new layer (Layer > New > Layer), inverse your selection (Select > Inverse) and fill the selection with your desired color using the paint bucket tool (G) in the new layer. Delete the Background layer, and you will be left with something like this.

5. Technically that’s it, but I’ll finish this piece. I’ve grabbed a good’ol unsplash.com stock image and placed my lettering on top (I duplicated the lettering layer, and offset the bottom of the two layers, then changed the color to a dark grey to create the shadow effect).

While the outcome looks pretty cool, there are a few issues with the lettering (specifically the letter spacing and sizes), I also want to incorporate one of the circles. This is where the joys of digital can help. Below, I reshaped the S, E, T, and C along with a few bits and pieces. Bish bash bosh, the finished piece.

Useful resource list: