Long before computers, I worked for many years as an airbrush illustrator. As a commercial artist, I discovered the importance of making rapid, seamless (i.e.-undetectable) changes to my artwork. Mistakes will happen, but when there’s a deadline looming, a plan for making clean repairs is essential. Additionally, it is important to note that changes are part-and-parcel of the business; clients nearly always want to make “improvements” to the artwork you create.
With some forethought, you can develop techniques to render your artwork non-destructive. This will make the modifications quick, easy, and more enjoyable, while demonstrating your value as an effective and knowledgeable professional.
For users of draw programs like Adobe Illustrator, making nondestructive artwork is a slam dunk provided you don't go to the dark side and Rasterize objects. Draw programs create Vector Images, and by default, offer the user the luxury of multiple undos. Command + Z (Macintosh) or Control + Z is your friend. The default setting for many programs is 10 undos, and depending on which program your using, can be increased to as many as 200 undos.
On the other hand, Bitmap/Raster Images created in programs like Photoshop are less forgiving and require more planning. Photoshop is a 'memory hog' and technically has only one undo. The introduction of the history panel now permits you to go back 20 steps, but it is important to note that each click of the mouse constitutes a step, and the history panel is cleared as soon as you close the file. Therefore, don't rely on the undo command, or History Panel. It's advisable to take a different tack in order to avert a serious disaster.
Everyone needs to devise their own system, but until you develop yours, my recommendation is to do the following:
- Save your files often, and name them in sequential order (i.e., file.01, file.02, etc.). This will give you access to earlier versions of your project should you desire to pursue another direction later or realize you have made a serious mistake.
- Separate elements of your project on layers whenever possible. This applies to all computer graphics applications (e.g., Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Lightwave, etc.) but especially Photoshop.
- Duplicate layers and place them in Layer Groups in Photoshop. Turn the duplicate layers' visibility off and use them as "spare parts."
- In Photoshop use Layer Masks whenever possible.
- Photoshop CS3 users now have the luxury of applying filters that are nondestructive by turning layers into Smart Objects.
- Illustrator users should use Effects instead of Filters because Filters are permanent, and Effects are editable and nondestructive.
- In Photoshop, create a New Snapshot of your document using the History Panel. This feature enables you to save alternate versions of your project while your working on it, but as I mentioned before, disappears when you close the file.
To discover you've painted yourself into a corner with a project can be exasperating. Having to start your project over from scratch is disheartening. This often leads students to throw up their hands in despair and give up. Sadly, I see this happen all too often.
Accept the fact that it's not possible to avoid disaster in every situation. Technology isn't perfect, and we're not perfect, but if you follow some of the suggestions outlined above, I believe you'll have a much more enjoyable, and less stressful, journey on your way to learning computer graphics.
If any of my readers have something to add, I would love to hear from you.