10 Video Tools Designers will Love

[Note. Take a second look at this gem from the archives.]

The mass popularity of video presents opportunities for graphic designers to dabble into video editing. Even if you’re not going to do video editing professionally, learn enough to make it part of your skill set, because video is likely to rule the future. Get started or become a pro with the following 10 video tools for graphic designers.

1. Adobe After Effects

Adobe After Effects is often considered the de facto program for video effects, titling and compositing. The cons? It is not user friendly for those with no video editing experience, and the learning curve is steep.

Adobe After Effects

2. BorisFX

BorisFX is a plug-in suite that takes basic video editing programs to the next level. Superior keying and compositing tools adds another dimension to a basic editing platform, allowing you to do more with graphics and fonts. More importantly for novices, it simplifies effects so you can quickly add a professional touch to your videos.

BorisFX

3. Motion

Motion is the effects program that works in conjunction with Final Cut Pro ñ in other words, it is Apple’s answer to Adobe After Effects.

Motion

4. Adobe Photoshop

How does Photoshop fit into this equation? Not only can you alter video files, but you can also share work seamlessly with other Adobe programs such as Premiere Pro and After Effects. Photoshop puts most designers on familiar ground.

Adobe Photoshop

5. Smoke

You want high-grade, super-impressive special effects? Look no further than Smoke, available only for the Mac.

Smoke

6. Toon Boom

Toon Boom allows you to make quick and easy animations that maintain a premium appearance, without a steep learning curve.

Toon Boom

7. 3Ds Max

With industry-leading 3Ds Max, the only thing youíre limited by is your imagination.

3Ds Max

8. Adobe Premiere

Adobe Premiere is a fairly basic editing program, but when you combine it with the power of Adobe Creative Suite, it is so much more. Working in conjunction with Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects, you’ll have all you’ll ever need to create high-quality graphics and compositing in one package.

Adobe Premiere

9. Final Cut Pro

Much like Premiere, Final Cut Pro is a basic editing program, but with a decidedly Apple twist. It was a long-time industry standard for video editing; combing graphics, titling and compositing with ease.

Final Cut Pro

10. Ultimatte

Ultimatte started out as keying software, but then transitioned into hardware. If you are serious about compositing and getting the cleanest possible work on green or blue screens, then Ultimatte is a must-have tool.

Ultimatte

Guest Author Brian Morris writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company. Follow PsPrint on Twitter @PsPrint and Facebook.

10 New Photoshop Freebies

One of the greatest things about the field of graphic design is that so many talented professionals are willing to share their work with one another. This is especially true for Photoshop, arguably the most popular graphic design software on the planet. Photoshop freebies make it easy to improve your efficiency and productivity as a designer, thereby helping you make more money in less time. Here are 10 new Photoshop freebies you should add to your stable today.

1. Flaticon.com Photoshop Plugin

I think you’ll come to regard this as one of the best Photoshop plugins you ever install. The Flaticon.com Photoshop plugin gives you access to more than 14,000 free icons, searchable from right within Photoshop!

Flaticon

2. Retinize It

Retinize It is a Photoshop plugin that slices your designs to make them Retina-ready. Take advantage of the most advanced screen display technology by ensuring your websites and iOS apps are Retina-ready with this free plugin.

retinize

3. Camouflage Patterns for Photoshop

Go full camo with this set of 10 free camouflage patterns for Photoshop, created by user Tijo and posted on Brusheezy.

camo

4. Vanilla Cream UI Kit PSD

One of the most aesthetically pleasing UI kits on the web is available as a free PSD download! This UI kit includes elements for blogs, forms, filters, buttons and more.

vanilla

5. Color Swap and Monochrome Photoshop Actions

Michelle Kane continues to offer outstanding, premium-quality Photoshop freebies on her website. The color swap action lets you instantly and effortlessly change background colors, while the monochrome action gives your grayscales a professional finish.  Other Photoshop freebies are also available

michelle kane

6. Instagram Vintage Pro Photoshop Action

Give your images the vintage look Instagram users love with this action by DeviantArt user Friabrisa.

vintage pro

7. HDR Photoshop Action

This Photoshop freebie is a sample from the commercial Faux HDR Actions suite, and will give your photos a premium HDR photography appeal out-of-the-box.

free HDR

8. Fall Foliage Photoshop Brushes

From the Creature Comforts blog comes this set of 23 high-quality fall foliage Photoshop brushes that look absolutely beautiful when finished with a watercolor effect.

fall brushes

9. Photoshop Skin Smoothing Action

Fundy presents this free Photoshop skin smoothing action, available for instant download from their website. Soften your portrait subjects for beautiful glamor shots and more.

skin smoother

10. High-resolution Photoshop Watercolor Brushes

Digitally paint watercolor masterpieces with this set of 38 free watercolor brushes by Brusheezy contributor Sandy.

watercolor brushes

Guest Author Brian Morris writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company. Follow PsPrint on Twitter @PsPrint.

What A-B Testing Is and Why You Should Do It

When you are running a business, it is important to test your advertising and marketing strategy so that you can develop a better method of reaching your target audience. The primary goal of marketing is getting the name of your company and the products or services that you provide out to the public. The second goal of advertising is tempting your target audience, or the customers that your products are designed to help, to consider purchasing the item or paying for the services. One method of finding the right advertising strategy for your business is A-B testing.

What Is A-B Testing?

Before it is possible to actually apply A-B testing in your business, you must understand what it is and how it works. If you do not know the basics of the testing strategy, then it is hard to use it in a practical manner.

A-B testing is a term that describes a systematic study of different parts of your marketing strategies, website or other tools that you use to gain the attention of your potential clients. MarketingLand.com write about what to test. You have two items or elements that you are comparing in a controlled setting. If you’re looking to test more than one variable, have a look at this post on multivariate data analysis here. The comparable elements or items are labelled as A and B during the systematic test. Another name for the experiment is split testing or controlled randomized tests. It is a literal comparison of two items to find the element, statement or item that is better at attracting potential customers or getting the results that you want.

A-B Testing

A-B testing Image credit: Walter Rumsby

How It Works

Although it seems like a simple experiment, the testing strategy does require a little work to ensure that it is a controlled study. Before you attempt to determine if your new strategy is appropriate for your goals, set your control.

In A-B testing, the control element of the experiment is A. It refers to the original strategy that you employed, such as a button on a company website or a design that you use for the current advertisements that you send in the mail. Depending on your current strategy, the exact item that you are comparing to the new strategy will vary.

The B in an experimental test is the new strategy, item or element, such as a new design on the mailed advertisement or a different design for a website button to encourage visitors to click on the button. The first item acts as a control because you already know how well it is reaching your target audience. The second item is the strategy or change that you are testing for comparison purposes.

Compare the results of each item in the experiment for a set amount of time, such as one to two weeks. After you see if one color choice, design element or phrase on your website or advertisement is better than the other, you can make changes to ensure that your business is making the most out of the ads, website and tools that help you reach your target audience.

Reasons That A-B Testing is Important

Although it is obvious that testing the variables in your advertisements is essential to getting the results that you want, there are several reasons that split testing is recommended for businesses. A company can benefit from testing even the smallest variables on a website, email or even just an ad that you send in the mail.

A key reason to start adding A-B testing to your marketing strategy is the potential improvements to your website, advertisements or other elements of your business. It is not necessary to make everything perfect on the first try. The tests help you determine different ways that you can improve so that your customers are happy with the services that you offer. Even small improvements can make the user experience better.

Another reason to add A-B testing is the impact on profits. A business that makes changes and identifies the items that customers are looking for in a website, email or ad will see an improvement in the amount of profits that come in. Customers like to see changes, particularly if they make the experience more user-friendly or appeal to a personal aesthetic sense.

Although the impact on profits and the improvements to different marketing elements are essential reasons to use A-B testing, the impact on finding the right headlines and writing style is also important. A-B testing is not only related to the aesthetics and small changes. It can also be applied to finding the right language to communicate your products and services to your potential clients. Even if the headlines are similar, some potential clients may respond differently to minor wording changes than others.

The final reason to use A-B testing as part of a business marketing strategy is the real-time data. Instead of relying on reports about other businesses that have similar products or services, A-B testing gathers information about personal clients, blog readers or other individuals who happen across your company website or advertisement. Your customers might not have the same aesthetic sense or interests as the customers of a competing company. What works for that company might not be the best option for your business because of the variation in clients and client relationships that you develop. A-B testing helps you find the tools that work for your business rather than using the elements that work for a different company.

Making the Testing Easier

Although it is important to test your ads, website and wording, it is difficult if your hosting services are slow. Finding a great host is essential if you want your company to see positive changes during the test.

Take the time to find a host service that allows immediate access to your website and does not have any problems with downtime – this post on VirtualHosting.com has a list of hosting reviews you can read through. You do not want your potential customers to struggle to gain access to your website and it can help speed up your A-B testing process so that you can move forward at a faster rate.

Reaching your target audience is the primary goal of testing different products, services and tools. Among the tests that can help you find the right advertising strategy, wording or tools for your business is A-B testing. By using the original design features, element or idea as the control, you are able to establish if the new idea will work for your business or if it is better to make another change for the best results. The immediate data that you gather from your results allows you to find the right combination of colors, wording and design to reach the customers that are buying your products or services.

Guest Author Cormac Reynolds is a writer and a technology buff who writes about hosting and other areas of the web for VirtualHosting.com.  He believes that A/B testing is too overlooked and wishes to showcase the importance of it.

7 Things to Consider Before Starting Your Blog

There may not be a Nobel Prize for Bloggers, but there are plenty of prizes to be won if your blog reaches people, offers great advice and insights and affects lives. Those are, after all, the goals of an effective blog. If you can find a niche, and get specific, chances are that you can develop a winning formula. If you are thinking about starting a blog, here are seven considerations to ensure that your efforts are not wasted:

Passion, Purpose, Personality

While the three “Ps” of blogging might seem obvious, they are perhaps the most important concepts for a beginning blogger to grasp. The mechanics of writing a blog post can be mastered; but your basic reason for blogging must be born of your passion for the subject, your “obsession” with your topic. You will attract readers because you have something of value to offer them. You will keep them returning to your blog because they can relate, they learn something useful, and they recognize that you offer a unique perspective.

Choose Your Name Carefully

Spend some time choosing your domain name, and select your blog name carefully. No matter how cute or clever it is, if it has no relationship to your subject matter, it will not be effective. Your name need not be an award-winner. It should, however, be “good enough” as Henri Junttila of www.WakeUpCloud.com says. The best names are unique, concise, memorable and easy to spell.

Web Hosting

A lot has been written about the relative advantages of free sites and paid sites. The truth is that, unless you simply enjoy seeing your words in print, a blog is an investment. You are investing your time, your energy and your money in a venture that you hope will return benefits to you. If your ultimate goal is to earn a living as a blogger, you may employ different tactics from those of a hobby blogger. Only you can make those decisions.

If, indeed, you intend to make blogging your business, you must first develop a business plan and define your goals. Be clear about them. Gather all the information you can. A good source for comparing hosting sites is www.WhoIsHostingThis.com. When you have the facts, you can make an informed decision, and launch your blog.

Who is hosting this?

Who is hosting this?

Investing In Your Blog

There are myriad ways of investing: Time, energy and money are only a few. But, make no mistake about the facts. Creating a successful blog requires a multi-faceted investment of your talents, commitment that will test your limits, an ongoing effort that may be all-consuming, and time. No successful blogger has ever been an overnight success. And, no successful blogger retains that success without continuing effort.

If you have the grit to succeed in this field, you will continue to learn every day. You will continue to seek out and implement better methods of utilizing your time, being consistent, refining your design, monitoring results, testing reader response, effectively monetizing your blog, and employing social media marketing to expand your reach.

None of it is easy. All of it requires analysis. Much of it requires time, either yours or time you pay for. Some of it requires money, too.

Analytics — Getting Answers

There is an old expression about trying various strategies to see what works: It has to do with throwing strands of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. That is one way to analyze results, to be sure. A better way, however, is to employ proven analytics, institute A/B testing procedures, utilize measurable techniques and monitor the results. If your end goal is to monetize your blog, you need to know what attracts readers, what your readers like, what prompts them to action, what they find exciting and what causes a response, whether positive or negative.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics  Image Credit: Beth Kanter

There are services you can use to track all this information; take www.Moz.com or Google Analytics. It is an essential part of the blogging success that you seek. Otherwise, you could be just writing on the wind. Neil Patel speaks of three ways to increase and retain readership on your blog. They are worth consideration; they are:

  • Survey your readership to determine what they like (or don’t like)
  • Build a community, by making your readers feel a part of something larger
  • Collect emails, to increase your return visitor count

Be Consistent to Build a Following

Most blog analysts mention consistency as a key component of success. Readers, particularly those who are looking for useful information or advice, appreciate routine. If your readers come to expect a recipe every Wednesday, be sure they get one every Wednesday. Likewise, if a popular feature of your blog is a Q&A forum on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, don’t disappoint them. If you publish new posts three times each week, and suddenly miss two weeks in a row because you go on vacation, you may lose loyal readers.

Outreach, Community, Expectations

Remember, that your blog is not all about you. It is, and should be, very much about your readers. It is their needs, their concerns and their actions that have a direct effect on your success. While it is your passion that drives it and your personality that defines it, your blog represents a community of interested participants — or, it should. The best and most successful blogs have an active group of commenters, “sharers” and responders who all have a stake in the continuing success of the venture.

That is what makes starting a blog so exciting. Just as the digital world will continue to change and develop, so will your blog. You will respond to changing times, and to the evolving needs of your visitors and subscribers. Maintain ties with other bloggers in your field; write guest posts; link occasionally to others. Be interested, and interesting. Be involved. Be successful.

Guest author M-J loves blogging and reading other blogs. She is currently studying business part-time and has two children.

10 Steps on the Path to be a Graphic Designer

design is …

The Internet has undoubtedly changed our world and has become a solid source for research, instant information, and a virtually endless stream of new ideas and thoughts. However, while most people have a basic understanding of how to use the Web as a search tool and to perform basic tasks and many can set up basic websites or blogs, the people who create the means for getting the information to you, provide the graphics, define the search engine protocols, and all the other activities that go on beyond the screen are not as numerous as many may think.

Thus anyone looking for Internet career opportunities that go beyond basic web knowledge has many options available to them. There are a variety of opportunities people can pursue, skills they can learn, and ideas they can explore to become more involved in making today’s Internet even more dynamic.

1. Past Accomplishments—Don’t reinvent the wheel: There are a lot of good ideas for using the web. Some have been implemented, some have not. Take time to learn about trusting instincts, determining what needs to be on the web, and what impact the wealth of information on the web will have on the education process.

2. Graphic Design—Remember a picture can equal a thousand words: The old adage about pictures being worth a thousand words has been somewhat misleading. A picture or a good graphic can convey a considerable amount of information. However, both elements are required in a good design.

3. Design Courses—Teach yourself or earn a degree: Like most professions there are differing opinions over whether a person who is self-taught can provide the same quality of work as those designers who have degrees. Regardless of which view you share, there are a number of free or low-investment graphic design courses online that can enhance design skills. By taking these courses you can bolster up your professional portfolio, whether you’ve obtained a degree or not.

4. Typography—The real foundation: Despite any advanced techniques you may learn, please do not overlook learning the basics. Decisions about typography can make or destroy any design, no matter how good or bad it may be. A free course on typography that was developed by MIT is available on About.Com.

5. Designing Logos—Making it great: An inexpensive course is a great investment. With this course you can explore logo artwork that will help you create unique logos for clients and brand images.

6. Photoshop Basics—Learning the secrets: Photoshop is an outstanding program with countless features, however you don’t need all of them. As a part of the PSD Tuts Plus “Sessions” Series, this course will help you improve your designer skills.

7. Talking Type—Logos influence emotion: A $20 course by Skillshare will explore the role that typography plays in designing logos. The course helps to explain how the designer can learn to select the best logo typography for a particular project.

8. Design School—A MFA alternate: The curriculum of the Graphic Design School covers most aspects of graphic and web design. The fees are higher than the other non-degree options—about $2,000. However, such a fee would be less than the cost of earning a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree.

9. Other Options—Picking and choosing: There are other options that are available that may provide the additional training you need to make your current skills more marketable and make you a better designer. It is important to check out these courses and make certain they will provide training that will be useful to you.

10. Other Courses—Quick overview: There are numerous other courses that can help any person improve their design skills, from basics to mastering such programs as Illustrator and Dreamweaver. The important thing to remember is that you have to find the courses. They are on the Internet, but it is up to you to find and select the courses that will best serve your needs as you move from being just another graphics designer, who does a little design work along with his other work, to a master designer, who creates the concepts that other people will remember.

In other words, you have to design the path you want to take to be a top designer.

Guest Author Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

 

Top 10 Online Graphic Design Courses

You can teach a classically-trained graphic designer new tricks

While the graphic design community debates whether it is necessary to obtain a graphic design degree or whether self-taught graphic designers can craft quality designs on par with those of degree-holding designers, you can quietly bolster your graphic design skills and become a better – and more marketable – graphic designer by taking the following 10 free and low-investment online graphic design courses.

Teach Yourself Graphic Design

This PSD Tuts Plus self-study online course teaches the basics of graphic design. Following a standardized curriculum, you’ll learn graphic design theory and the best practices you need to build a strong foundation in design.

Graphic Design Theory?

Published on design authority AIGA’s website, Helen Armstrong’s outstanding article lends perspective into graphic design theory. Once you’ve learned the basics in the PSD Tuts Plus course, you’ll benefit from this alternative viewpoint that delves into what graphic design theory really means, as well as its impact on how you work as a graphic designer.

Digital Typography

If you want to establish yourself as a stellar graphic designer, don’t skimp on learning typography. Your choice of typography can make or break any design, no matter how good or bad it already is. This free course, complete with materials, was developed by MIT and published on About.com.

How to Design a Logo

What goes into a great logo design? Find out the answer to that question as you explore great logo artwork so you can craft your own unique logos and outstanding brand images. This course is $45; an investment that pales in comparison to a single credit hour.

Photoshop Basix

Part of the PSD Tuts Plus “Sessions” series, this course reveals the secrets to mastering Photoshop. The result? You’ll be a more talented designer capable of quick, accurate work; thus, far more marketable.

Logo Design: Let The Type Do The Talking

This $20 Skillshare course explores the role typography plays in logo design, and how you can select the right logo typography to influence emotion.

The Graphic Design School

This complete course curriculum covers nearly every aspect of graphic and web design. Find myriad classes and certificates to achieve, and be instructed by knowledgeable instructors. The fees are higher than other options listed here – around $2,000 – but still far cheaper and quicker than earning an MFA.

Illustrator Training Course

Vector Diary’s four-week Adobe Illustrator course is the perfect way to quickly learn and master the nuances of one of the most popular vector design programs in the world.

HOW Design University

The experts at HOW Design have created a comprehensive graphic design learning program that covers far more than the basics of design. From advanced typography to design business management, you can take online courses designed to make you a more successful designer for around $200 each.

The Complete Guide to Starting a Graphic and Web Design Business From Home

Colorburned’s Gino Orlandi takes you step-by-step through the process of starting a successful design business from home. This course represents an excellent overview of the world of self-employed graphic designers and helps you make important decisions up-front, such as determining what your niche will be so you can market to targeted customers.

What self-study online graphic design courses do you recommend?

Guest Author Brian Morris writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company. Follow PsPrint on Twitter @PsPrint and Facebook.

4 Useful Tools for Testing Page Load Speed

When it comes to maximizing the user experience, the importance of speed cannot be overstated. A slow website, no matter how great the content, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, will test users’ patience. Speaking of which, if there’s one user whose patience you don’t want to test, it is Google.

The search engine giant made it official in 2010 when it announced “we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed.” Indeed, there is a direct correlation between page load speed and time spent on site. All things equal,the faster site will achieve higher rankings. For anyone whose business model depends on high search engine rankings, speed is an absolute must.

Fortunately, there are 4 very useful tools for testing page load speed.

Firebug’s Net Panel

Firebug is a preferred tool for most web developers, and one reason for this this awesome little plugin makes life so much easier when it comes to analyzing almost any aspect of a page, including load time.

To test load time with Firebug, navigate to the page in question. Next, enable the “Net Panel” by selecting the “Net” tab and then clicking “enable.”

enable net tab

Now reload the page and watch as Firebug displays load times sequentially on a graphical timeline, be it for CSS, JavaScript or image files.

page load speeds

You can click the “+” sign to the left of any item to drill down into other sub-processes, such as headers, response, cache, cookies, etc.

plus menu

PageSpeed Firefox Plugin

PageSpeed is a Firefox plugin that extends the functionality of Firebug. Once you’ve installed PageSpeed, access it by opening Firebug and then clicking on the “PageSpeed tab. Next, navigate to the web page in question. Once it has finished loading, click “Analyze Performance.”

page speed

Once the process is complete, you’ll see a list of performance affecting factors, each hyperlinked to a “best practices” help page for developers. A PageSpeed score is assigned to the page as a whole.

page speed score

Click the triangle to the left of each item to expand it.

image012

YSlow, by Yahoo!

YSlow is a tool developed by Yahoo! that suggests analyzes webpages and ways to improve speed. Once installed, the YSlow icon will appear in your Add-Ins bar at the bottom of your browser. Click to launch YSlow.

launch

Once launched, the panel expands. Click “Run Test.”

YSlow

YSlow will crawl the DOM to find all page components, such as images, scripts, CSS stylesheets, and so on. It looks at the HTTP response headers and then crunches page load data according to built-in rules. It then assigns a grade to each rule, in addition to an overall grade for the page. An “Overall performance score” is represented as a numeric value. You can click on any rule to learn why the page received a particular grade.

overall score

WebPageTest

WebPageTest is a web-based tool that tests page load speed from
multiple locations around the world using real browsers. It displays results in
a waterfall chart format, and provides diagnostic information, as well as suggestions
for improvements. Grades appear at the top of the Performance Test Results,
which you can click on to access a Full Optimization Checklist that goes into
detail about the specific findings.

web page test

Waterfall results are displayed, in addition to pie charts that show a content breakdown represented as percentages of requests made, and bytes sent.

results charts

Guest author Mike Woods is a part-time author and real estate broker specializing in helping buyers find homes for sale in Indianapolis and the surrounding area, and understand the complex home-buying process.