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Sharing is caring: How I use photoshop for textile design and why I love to share this knowledge

As a designer, I just love seeing how other people use Photoshop. It’s like a window into another designer's mind. Adobe Photoshop is such a vast software and is used within so many different disciplines, so there is a huge world out there of different methods and tricks to use within it, and everybody has a different way of using it. Many designers are very protective of their own methods, and though this is understandable (they have spent years honing their skills after all), none of us would be where we are without a little guidance, would we?

I have taught Photoshop and CAD (computer aided design) skills of various different disciplines to graphic designers, textile designers, fashion designers, fashion buyers and visual merchandisers. And I have learnt FAR more from teaching, and from my students, than I ever could have alone.

So, in the spirit of this, below is my current top ten Photoshop Tools and Tips. I hope that at least one of these will teach you something new and boost your creativity and productivity.

These are just a few of the vast array of tips that I feel are important- most of these are quite specific to textile/surface pattern design, but will still be useful for other Photoshop users out there. The software changes all the time, and I continue to learn new things myself on a weekly basis, so don't forget to pop back for an update every now and then!


NUMBER ONE: Use the new Pattern Preview Tool.

We’ve been waiting long enough for a pattern mode, so I had to put it as Number 1. Adobe, what took you so long?!This has been introduced in the latest version of Photoshop. Absolute game-changer when creating print repeats.

NUMBER TWO: Know the limitations of Photoshop.

Photoshop is a very powerful tool, and can be used to complete almost any design task that needs to be done on a computer. But just because it can, doesn't mean it should. There are many tasks that are much quicker to do elsewhere, and your time is precious, so why waste it? Photoshop can be used most effectively, and most creatively, alongside other design methods and softwares.

For example:

  • It’s easier to create geometric shapes and certain styles in Illustrator, so do so. Adobe Creative Cloud has fab asset export options to load motifs straight into Photoshop from an Illustrator file.

  • If your design is going to have minimal number of colours, or large areas of flat colour, it is also quicker to create in Illustrator.

  • Design projects involving large amounts of text or multiple pages- I suggest using anything other than Photoshop…it’s just easier. (Probably a whole other blog post is needed to explain all the reasons why, as there are a lot..!)

  • Embrace other technology- investigate the tools you can use on your tablet and phone. I use Procreate and then upload it in a .psd layered format. This doesn't have to cost the earth anymore- the most basic iPad is now compatible with Apple Pencil, and procreate is a steal at £9.99 one-off payment. Using this allows me to doodle whilst travelling etc, giving a massive boost in productivity and creativity. Plus, it's quicker to draw straight on to the tablet and always nice to get away from a desk for a while!

NUMBER THREE: Download brushes, lots of brushes.

This is for those of you that have read the above advise about the limitations of Photoshop, but still know that you’ll use photoshop for everything anyway (don't worry we've all been there!). Brushes are a fab way of getting really creative in Photoshop in a hands-on, painty kind of way. Don’t be scared to pay for brushes if they look relevant for your work- they will save you a lot of time, and add a beautiful variety of texture to your work. Have a look at how many brushes I have in my palette- hundreds. Many of these will help to achieve specific effects, eg, foliage, grass, clouds, water; and as a result they save me hours. Duplicate and edit these brushes to achieve new effects.

NUMBER FOUR: Say "Hello!" to the new swatches palette.

You can now save multiple folders of swatches. Illustrator has been able to do this for years, so again, not quite sure why it took so long to bring this into Photoshop, but it really is a game changer when working on multiple projects/ artworks simultaneously. Personally, my workflow involves picking a palette first and then getting to work, so that I can focus on the designs, knowing that they’ll work together. Naming colours can be so easily done too.

NUMBER FIVE: Play around with your workspace.

Instead of using the standard arrangement of palettes that automatically opens, move everything around and see what feels best for your way of working. I prefer to have my layers palette on the left hand side, next to my tool bar and below my menu bar, so that all the important things are on the same side. And I have my brushes and swatches on the other side. You can arrange this however makes sense to you, then save your workspace through “window>workspace>new workspace”

NUMBER SIX: Use keyboard shortcuts.

Learn the existing shortcuts, and assign your own to any tools that you use most often. I assigned shortcuts to “define pattern” and “create new pattern fill” as these are two of my most commonly used features. This will be different for everyone, but for everyone: this will save you SO much time once they become second nature to you.... B for brush, W for wand, V for move, cmd+ D for deselect, etc etc.

NUMBER SEVEN: Use the internet to source helpful mock-ups.

There are so many useful resources out there (see point about brushes above). If you’re not sure whether your design will work on a product, download a mock-up and find out. There are some amazing free mock-ups and also paid for ones. Check back on the blog in a couple of weeks for list of my favourite resources.

NUMBER EIGHT: Never delete or merge layers.

Toggle layers off if you no longer need them (see big arrows above!). Also, get used to using layer masks and smart objects. If you need to merge layers: use cmd+alt+shift+E, which will “merge visible layers" into a duplicate layer, leaving your original layers intact, should you need them again.

NUMBER NINE: Useful tool: Exporting Layers.

Merge visible layers into a duplicate layer (see point 8) and export layers to quickly create versions or colourways as you go. The exported file will carry the name of the layer, so you can save yourself time by naming the layers with relevant names as you go.

And finally...

NUMBER TEN: Stay organised with your files!

This seems so obvious, but in my experience (both as a designer, and a CAD lecturer), this is much easier said than done. My students always groaned when I go on about this! Ultimately, being organised saves you time and therefor gives you more time and headspace to be creative. Find a simple and quick method that works for you, and stick to it.

Personally I label my files 001. 002. 003. etc, and I “save as a copy” every time I have an idea that takes the artwork in a new direction, thus easily ending up with multiple options from one starter artwork.

I hope these are useful- these tips are all things I have learnt through my years of designing, as well as through the questions my students have asked. What would be on your list of top ten photoshop tips? I’d love to know! Contact me here.

A big thank you to the designers from the studio whose work is featured in some of the screenshots above: Joanna Clay, Helena Megson, and Yasemin Yasar. Find out more about these talented ladies on our about page here.

I want to also give a big shout out to all the students I have taught- all their questions in the classroom have taught me more than any other lesson or youtube tutorial ever could have!

All the best,



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