Nondestructive Editing – An Adobe Workflow Every Designer Should Have!

Developing a Nondestructive Editing workflow in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator will save you valuable time

I have been training Adobe software for over 10 years now and I am also a production graphic artist on the side. One thing that never changes, for students or myself, is the need to save time when working on projects. A phrase that has always held true for me is => Time Equals Money. Enter Adobe’s workflow method of Nondestructive Editing. What is nondestructive editing you ask? It is the ability to work in (say…) Photoshop on a picture today and change your mind about how it looks next week WITHOUT starting over from the beginning.

Oh it’s happened to many people… they get just the look they want with a photo in Photoshop. The product color has been saturated to bring in more vibrancy, the artistic filter comes out just right, the text is positioned on the bottom right corner, then finally the picture gets uploaded to the web. When a week later… the boss or client changes their mind => they don’t like the filter and the text needs to be moved to the top left. No problem right? Well… not exactly… If all they kept was the JPEG that was posted to the web, those simple changes would mean starting all over again.

Adopting a nondestructive workflow will alleviate hours of “start over time”. The simple fact is => in Photoshop or Illustrator, developing this workflow will make you faster and more productive.

So where do you start? Well let’s take Photoshop => the first thing I suggest doing is saving your file to a PSD format. The native Photoshop Document format allows you to keep ALL of the fancy nondestructive editing (NDE) features Photoshop has to offer. This applies even if you know you are going to take your finished picture to the web (on that note: ALWAYS keep your PSD file to go back to). Another habit to get into is => if you are going to add anything new to the file, like a border or a color adjustment, always do it on a NEW layer! Now this actually isn’t anything revolutionary, but just doing those two things is a huge start => 1. Save all files as PSD and make changes to those files, 2. Put all additions, to the file, on their own layers.

However… there’s more… Adobe has actually worked really hard building in several nondestructive features into their programs. For instance… when using Puppet Warp, a cool feature introduced in CS5, that will allow you to manipulate a photograph almost like you drew it in Illustrator (if feels like you are able to bend pixels). Nondestructive Puppet Warp workflow => First you should copy the part of the picture you want to work with on to it’s own layer (luckily Photoshop is smart and gives you a new layer every time you paste – one of their early NDE solutions). Then turn the layer into a Smart Object Layer. [Layer -> Smart Objects -> Convert to Smart Object Layer] That’s the magic! You are now ready to apply puppet warp to the smart object layer. [Edit -> Puppet Warp] Tweak your mesh and voila. If you change your mind later (like next month…) => you can go back into the PSD file and throw away the Puppet Warp Smart Object Layer Adjustment (see photo below).

An editing change that before would have been permanent as soon as you saved and closed the file, can now be altered (double click the adjustment on the layers panel) or removed next week, next month. That goes for applying filters as well. If you turn the layer into a smart object, you can then not only apply one filter nondestructively, you can stack multiple filters and blend them anyway you want. Changing the stacking order of the Smart Object Layer Filters actually changes the effect that was created. And of course => Bonus => you can remove any of these edits anytime you want!

Illustrator also has nondestructive editing built into it’s Effects Menu. Anytime you apply an effect to an object, you have the ability through the Appearance Panel to change your mind later. To this production graphic artist… where this gets “crazy” is when you apply one of Illustrator’s Photoshop Effects to a vector object (in graphics terms that is called Rasterizing) and the next week you remove the raster effect, returning the pixeled object back to a solid shape drawn with Bezier paths. In the world of graphics that’s crazy… Being able to switch between vector and raster by simply dragging the effect on the Appearance Panel to the trash.

Setting up a workflow method for how you are going to work in Adobe products can be just as important as knowing what different tools can do. Start working nondestructively => it will save you time and frustration.

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