Graphic Design Basics

Design Basics Class, Durham Arts Council, Spring 2017

What is graphic design and why does it matter?

Course Description

This course will look at the principles of graphic design and introduce students to the Adobe Creative Suite software. Students will create a project and walk through the creative process from concept to execution. Bring your creative thinking cap! Computers provided with Adobe Creative Cloud. Students are welcome to bring their own personal laptop but must have their own Abode Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator software or subscription.

Goal is to Learn Design First; Applications Second

Although we will be working with the Adobe creative suite, the aim of this class is to teach students principles that will enable them to better design with any technological tool, because tools come and go and sometimes you are limited a specific tool for a specific project.

Therefore, we are going to focus on the big picture concepts first. For example, leading is the graphic design term for how tightly rows of text are spaced. That is the concept. That concept might be call different terms in different programs. In Microsoft Word, it is called line spacing, not leading.) In Adobe Illustrator it is called leading because Illustrator is purposefully using the term in its historical layout context. “Leading” comes from the days of letterpress printing where the type was set by hand. To increase the spacing between the rows, strips of lead were placed between the rows of type.

Regardless of the application or term used to control leading or line spacing, students need to know the big picture rules on line spacing. Your reader will not know how you set up the leading, but they will benefit or be frustrated by how you chose to set it up.

If you need to set leading in a new app, how does that new app get it done? If you can’t figure it out quickly, you may have to Google how to do it. Should you Google leading or line spacing? You might want to try both; but if you do, limit the search to one term at a time.

For example, try this search first: How do I set leading in Inkscape? If that does not give you the info you need, then try “how do I set line spacing in Inkscape?”

So, if you don’t stick with Photoshop and Illustrator after this class, I want you to learn concepts and be able to transition to other graphics programs.

Why we won’t spend as much Instructional time in Adobe InDesign

InDesign is the most complicated of the three Adobe products we will cover. If you are working on a business card, a flyer, a T-shirt, or some other small project, you will not need to use InDesign. Illustrator will work fine for your needs. InDesign is for larger projects like multipage reports, product catalogs, booklets or standard books.

We will learn the theory behind grid layout in InDesign. I will also demo how to set up page templates, paragraph and character styles, and how to set up columns and bleeds. I will not have time to go into the more robust features of InDesign such as long form book production.

Most of the skills learned in Illustrator will transfer to InDesign.

Vectors and Pixels: The Main Difference between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop

Adobe Illustrator is a graphics editor like Sketch(Mac only) and Inkscape(PC and Mac) that works with lines and shapes that do not make the file bigger aka vector graphics.

Adobe Illustrator can keep the file size for a business card and 2 foot by 3 foot poster the same because it stores its graphics in a vector format. Vector graphics is a resolution-independent description of the actual shapes and objects that you see in the image. A rasterization engine uses this information to determine how to plot each line and curve at any resolution or zoom level.

That is not the case with Photoshop; it uses raster ("bitmap") graphics which do lose quality in the enlargement process.

Applications like Photoshop or GIMP are always bound to a specific resolution. They store an image as a grid of pixels. These files are measured in PPI or pixels per inch. A business card raster file will be about 2MB and a 2” x 3” poster will be about 222MB. Digital Cameras capture images in PPI. So the megapixel size of your camera’s image sensor will limit how large you will be able to print a photo.

Vector graphics are a complement, rather than an alternative, to raster graphics. Each has its own purpose and is useful for different kinds of things. Raster graphics(pixels) tend to be better for photographs and some kinds of artistic drawings, while vectors are more suitable for design compositions, logos, images with text, technical illustrations, etc.

Corel Draw and Xara X360 are alternative graphics programs combine the ability to work with pixels and vectors in the same workspace.

Graphic Design Overview

Graphic Design is primarily a two-dimensional art form. Traditionally, Graphic Design is ink on paper that is reproduced via a printing press or a copier. At a minimum it includes text or symbols or icons that conveys a message. on the other extreme, Graphic Design can be very complex. There are printing presses that fill warehouses that can print with 10 different color heads.

At the most basic level, a quantity of white pieces of paper printed with a red octagon to be placed on posts in a park, could be considered graphic design.

Wood Cut is Sort of Art and Sort of Graphic Design

A woodcut print of a red octagon on a fine sheet of paper signed and numbered and hung for decorative purposes would be considered a fine art graphic print.

However, a one-of-kind multicolor, octogon painted on a canvas by Tadasky Tadasuke Kuwayama, hanging in an art gallery or museum, would be considered an enduring work of art worth over $10,000.

Common Forms of Print Graphic Design

The most common forms of graphic design are posters, book covers, mailers, flyers, business cards, postcards, magazines, billboards, advertisements. Most Graphic design eventually ends up in the garbage or recycling bin or a used book store. If it is important, it may get archived in a library.

Common Forms of Digital Design

In the 1870s Eadweard Muybridge began experimenting with rapid fire photography which he arranged in ways that resulted in the explosion of the motion picture industry down to today. Text and graphics began to move along with the images on the silver screen, and now there are various screens everywhere. The most commonly viewed screens are now mobile phone screens, about the size of a credit card.

Graphic Design Basics