Archive for January, 2013

InDesign FX: How to use Type on a Path to skew text

Published by | Thursday, January 17th, 2013

In this week’s InDesign FX video, I show you how to use one of the Type on a Path options in Adobe InDesign to skew text to match other elements in your page compositions.

Add text to your image.

In this case, I wanted to skew type to match the perspective in a background photograph to emphasize the height of some very tall trees. There are no official 3D perspective tools in InDesign, but for type there is a very handy substitute: the Type on a Path option called Gravity.

Type on a Path Options

When text is placed on a path and the Gravity option is applied, the letter shapes are skewed along an axis that goes from the baseline of the text through the center of the frame.

Letter shapes are skewed when the Gravity option is applied

There are two practical effects of this behavior. First, you can use the Gravity option to simulate one point perspective applied to text. Second, you can adjust the amount of skewing (and thus perspective) by changing the height or width of the frame.

In the video, I place a rectangular frame over the background photo, and use the Type on a Path tool to place the text on the edge of the frame. With the text at the bottom of the frame (and the Gravity option applied) I drag the top of the frame to change its height until the angle of the skewing matches the perspective of the trees in the photo.

I also have a member-exclusive video in the library this week called Creating and revealing a hidden object. In it, I show how to use the animation tools in InDesign to make one object look like it is revolving around another.

How to create the effect of revealing a hidden object.

See you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect!

Interested in more?
• The entire InDesign FX biweekly series
• Courses by Mike Rankin on
• All InDesign courses on

Suggested courses to watch next:
InDesign Secrets
InDesign CS6 Essential Training
• InDesign CS6 New Features

Why WordPress?

Published by | Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Why WordPress?


What makes WordPress a good solution? Why is it so popular? Regardless of the question, the answer is the same, and it can be boiled down to three simple words:

Because WordPress works.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. Let me put it into context from the perspective of the three main users of WordPress: the end user, the site owner, and the designer/developer.



Easy to find, easy to use, easy to share

A poorly kept secret about WordPress is its findability. If someone asked you how to get indexed on Google and you answered “Just set up a WordPress site,” you would not be far from the truth. The way WordPress is built makes it a magnet for search engines and other online indexes. So much so that if you don’t want your WordPress site indexed, you have to take steps to prevent it from happening.

Out of the box, WordPress has great search and share optimization. With the addition of plugins like WordPress SEO, AddThis, and Facebook for WordPress, these built-in capabilities are further enhanced, giving any site the opportunity to become the next big thing on the web. This is provided the content is great, of course. We’ll get to that later.

The purpose of many websites is to put out easily findable, accessible, and shareable information. And WordPress does this in spades. When you are searching for content on the web today, you will likely find it on a WordPress site. If you are reading or viewing content on a WordPress site, you are able to access and interact with that content through comments and RSS feeds. And once you have read the content, you will have an easy time sharing it with your friends on social sharing sites and social media.


Easy to publish, easy to configure, easy to maintain

WordPress is a prime example of the virtues of open source. It is built, evolved, and maintained by the people that use it and is therefore in a constant state of forward-moving flux. For site owners this means by simply running a WordPress site and keeping it up to date, they are at any time using the most current web technologies to communicate with the world.

Over the past three years, WordPress has undergone several fundamental design and development changes that have made an already easy-to-use application even easier to use. At the same time it has become more powerful and diverse. From how it is installed to how a site owner can publish content and interact with visitors, WordPress leads the way in removing the barriers that prevent anyone from publishing online. Between and self-hosted WordPress, most people with access to an Internet connection are now able to publish their thoughts, ideas, and creations online with minimal effort. With the challenges of web technologies all but removed, the site owner can focus on what matters: producing and publishing excellent content to share with the world.


Easy to build, easy to augment, easy to evolve

For me, the true power of WordPress lies in the back end. Whether you are a complete novice or a seasoned pro, building themes and plugins for WordPress will make your life easier and will enable you to do more in less time. I am walking proof.

With a design in place, building a custom WordPress site from scratch—one that looks and behaves nothing like what is expected of a WordPress site but is still just as easy to use and maintain—takes less time than with any other platform I have tried. When people ask me what WordPress can do I answer, “Whatever you want it to do.” And I stand by that statement. At its core, WordPress is a simple interface between the site owner, the database, and the end user. All the stuff in between (administration, themes, and functionalities) is available for the designer and developer to play with and add to in any way they want. And because WordPress is open source, people can step in and contribute to the WordPress community in whatever capacity they feel fit, from answering questions in the forums and building free themes or plugins to contributing to WordPress Core.

The bottom line

Though it may sound like I see WordPress as the be-all and end-all of web publishing, the reality is I am a pragmatic platform agnostic. The reason I laud WordPress and why I love teaching people about WordPress is because I see it as one of the best available solutions for most websites today. I have and continue to work with other solutions including Drupal and Joomla!, but for most of the websites I encounter, WordPress is one of the best options.

Whether you are just starting to play with the idea of publishing a blog, you want to become a web designer or developer, or if you already know all there is to know about the web and you just want to play with something new, WordPress is a great tool to use. It has both the ease of use and the advanced features to suit pretty much any need. And when that need isn’t met, a theme, a plugin, or an extension is there to fill the void.

Interested in more?

Suggested courses to watch next:

Deke’s Techniques: How to create an optical illusion

Published by | Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

In this week’s Deke’s Techniques video, Deke McClelland takes an Adobe Photoshop journey into the eye-bending world of op art, creating a ’60s-inspired twist and bulge of checkerboard contortion. You won’t need a sample file or unsuspecting model to follow along with this one—just Photoshop, some black and white pixels, and a love of (and visual tolerance for) optical illusion.

The project starts with a simple square document, created in the Grayscale color mode to keep the high-resolution file manageable. (You won’t need any colors, so no sense making room for them.)

How to create an optical illusion in Photoshop

Next, Deke creates a 2 x 2 checker pattern by using the Rectangular Marquee tool set to a fixed size that’s equal to one-quarter of the total image. Once the upper-left square is filled with black, you can drag a copy to the lower-right corner by pressing the Alt (Option) key while you drag.

Create the pattern in Photoshop

With the basic unit of the pattern complete, you can turn it into a reusable Photoshop pattern by choosing Edit > Define Pattern. In this case, Deke aptly named it Checkers:

Name the pattern for the Photoshop effect

Deke then applies the Checkers pattern to a new blank 4800 x 3000 document. Click the black/white icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to make a new Adjustment Layer and choose Pattern. Then choose your Checkers pattern from the available patterns and set it to 50 percent to fill the document with small squares.

Create the pattern in Photoshop

Saving the pattern layer as a Smart Object allows you to warp it nondestructively with the Transform command. Choose the Warp icon from the options bar and set it to Inflate from the Warp pop-up menu. Then set the Bend to -100. The checkerboard is pinched inward:

Warp the image in Photoshop

The pinching motion of the Inflate transformation has pulled the pattern away from the edges. Deke adds more checkers to the outer edges by opening the Smart Object and doubling its size.

Example of the pinching motion of the Inflate transformation.

Deke then creates the round, prominent part of the illusion by applying the Spherize filter to a circle selection in the middle of the image.

Apply the Spherize command

To achieve the final effect, Deke applies two more doses of the Spherize filter, and the result is a swirling, bulging, some might say hypnotizing bit of Photoshop-created op art.

The final image

For members, Deke’s got another exclusive video called Op art experiment 1b: Rounded Windows, in which he turns a flat collection of rectangles into a curving wall of optical mystery.

Deke will be back next week with another mind-bending technique.

Suggested courses to watch next:

• The entire Deke’s Techniques collection
• Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate
• Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate

InDesign Secrets: Understanding Optical Margin Alignment

Published by | Thursday, January 10th, 2013

In this week’s free InDesign Secrets video, David Blatner explains the mysteries and transformations provided by the Optical Margin Alignment feature. Hidden in the Story panel, the feature allows you to align characters in a paragraph so they appear visually uniform rather than technically aligned.

For example, without Optical Margin Alignment, the punctuation on both the left and right edges prevents the actual letter characters from aligning:

How text looks when Optical Character Alignment is turned off

With the Optical Margin Alignment turned on (see the check box in the lower-right corner below), the quotation marks, hyphens, and even parts of certain letters extend beyond the frame to increase the appearance of graceful uniformity.

How text looks when Optical Character Alignment is turned off

In the video, you’ll also learn David’s tricks for fine-tuning the position of various characters. For example, I may want the D in “Down” in the title to align with the A in “Alice” in the first line. David’s secret solution involves an extra space and some negative kerning to push the quotation mark next to “Down” completely out of the frame, so the first full-fledged letter of each line starts in the same vertical position.

Alternately, you could decide you don’t want the quotation mark halfway down on the left of the paragraph to extend at all. In this case, David’s got a solution involving a mysterious invisible character that hangs out and pushes the other visible text back into the frame.

Meanwhile, David’s partner in InDesign secrecy, Anne-Marie Concepción, has a member-exclusive video called Changing the shape of any frame with the pen tool.

David and Anne-Marie will be back in two weeks with more InDesign Secrets.

Interested in more?
• The entire InDesign Secrets biweekly series
• Courses by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción on
• All InDesign courses

Suggested courses to watch next:
InDesign FX weekly series
InDesign CS6 Essential Training
• InDesign CS6 New Features

Introducing playlists

Published by | Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

We’ve just added a new playlist feature on that lets members create multiple lists of courses. Members can now build as many as 10 playlists, with the queue acting as the primary playlist.

Use playlists to set and manage learning goals. For example, if you want to master Photoshop, you might create a playlist of Photoshop and design courses to help you reach that goal. Or, create multiple playlists to organize courses already in your queue.

Add courses to your playlists

To start, log in to your account. Add a course to one or more of your playlists from the flyout menu on the + button. Create new playlists on the spot when you select add to a new playlist… from the flyout menu or select go to playlists to view and manage all of your playlists.

The playlist menu in a course page


Find playlists on the homepage

Accessing your playlists from the home page

Once you’re logged in, access the courses in your playlists from the my courses area on the homepage. If you have multiple playlists, the dropdown menu will show them all. Select a playlist, and you’ll see the first five courses in that playlist. Click view all to go the playlists page, which includes your queue and all your playlists. You can also navigate to the playlists page from my courses in the top navigation bar on any page.

Managing playlists

Managing playlists on

On the playlists page you can see all of your playlists, create a new playlist, and reorganize the courses in your playlists. To reprioritize the courses in a playlist, click on a course, drag it, and then drop it where you like. Or grab a course, drag it, and then drop it in to a different playlist.

To learn more and to see playlists in action, watch author Garrick Chow demonstrate how to add, find, and manage your playlists in our how-to video:

We want to know what you think!

Let us know what you think of playlists by posting in the comments section below, or contact us via the site feedback button in the bottom right corner of every page.

Deke’s Techniques: Crafting an infinity symbol to match a specific font

Published by | Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

In this free Deke’s Techniques video, Deke McClelland gives you the infinity symbol. The best part about this technique: you don’t have to settle for a one-font-fits-all symbol that doesn’t match your typeface of choice. Rather, Deke uses the Width tool and Variable Width preset feature in Adobe Illustrator to create an infinity character that honors the slopes and rhythms of a typeface that has no symbol of its own—in this case, Adobe Caslon Pro:

Use your typeface's numbers as your base for a custom infinity symbol.

Deke begins with a trick many school-age kids already know, using the Type Orientation command to turn an 8 on its side:

Use the Type Orientation command to turn the number 8 sideways.

Although, that’s not quite what we’re after. Let’s face it, this looks like an 8 on its side. But Deke uses that character to create a base outline for his new infinity symbol. After turning the sideways 8 to outlines, he uses it as a guideline to draw the primitive shape. (Be sure to watch the video to see how he cleverly uses the Path > Average command to find the right position for the anchor points.)

Use the sideways 8 as a guide to draw a rough infinity shape.

Next, Deke copies the primitive path and applies a thick 24-point stroke:

Deke uses the Width tool at each of the anchor points to thin out and thicken up the shape in a pattern similar to the other numbers in Caslon Pro—making the horizontal segments mostly thinner and the vertical ones thicker.

Customize the shape by adjusting the anchor points of your path.

After roughing in the general width variations, you can double-click a point with the Width tool to edit the points to an exact measurement. In this case, Deke sets the thin areas to 10 points and the thick areas to 24 points exactly.

Further customizing the width of the points.

The results are OK, but a little lumpy. This is due in part to the Variable Width feature’s reaction to a closed path (it works more elegantly on an open path). So Deke saves this pattern as a Variable Width preset, and then he can tweak it on a line segment, which is much friendlier to work with:

Saving the pattern as a preset.

Applying the new custom preset to a line, he can make sure the widths are precisely in place and aligned with the exact divisions along the line:

Making sure the preset is applied correctly.

Then this new Variable Width preset can be saved and applied to the original primitive symbol. The result is this graceful Caslon-esque infinity:

The final customized infinity symbol.

And since Deke’s Photoshop and Illustrator knowledge is seemingly infinite, he’ll be back with more Deke’s Techniques next week!

Suggested courses to watch next:
• The entire Deke’s Techniques Collection
• Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Intermediate
• Illustrator Insider Training: Drawing without the Pen Tool

Our team’s New Year’s learning resolutions

Published by | Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Although the New Year’s resolution lists that proliferate in late December are full of worthy goals, my favorite remains “learn something new.” This time of year, I like the theme of giving in to expansion over contraction, generosity over deprivation, and passion over willpower. The staff, authors, and members here at know that our library is a great resource to have if learning is on your life list.

Although many of us on the Content team work in a specific segment of the library, we can’t help but notice the intriguing courses our colleagues are developing in other areas. This year I asked members of the team, acknowledged enthusiasts in their given fields, which areas outside their usual sphere of knowledge are capturing their interest. Here are their answers and some suggestions for where they might want to start (or where you might want to start if you share the same interest).

Morten Rand-Hendriksen, staff author, Web segment
“Over the holidays I want to power through all the photography courses in the archive. Because it’s been a long time since I sat down and really tried to improve my photography skills. I also really want to become a more creative designer/artist, so I’ll be looking into any course that helps me in that respect.”

Recommendation: If you can’t get through the whole Photography segment in one holiday week off, you might try Foundations of Photography: Composition to start. Ben Long teaches principles that definitely go beyond photography into general artistry.

Jess Stratton, staff author, Business segment
“I’d like to learn something for the sake of a hobby this year—getting back into playing the keyboard and recording it somehow, but I don’t know how to start getting it from my keyboard into the computer. I want to check out the course on recording music using an iPad.”

Recommendation: Garrick Chow’s iPad Music Production series is the place for Jess and like-minded musicians. The first course—iPad Music Production: Inputs, Mics, and MIDI—is a great place to start (although if you’re up for playing on an iOS device directly, the GarageBand installment makes making music on your iPad look really fun).

David Franz, content manager, Audio segment
“Social media marketing … I want my music to rock the world! :).”

Recommendation: I’ve noticed David isn’t the only musician who knows that thriving in the music business requires a direct relationship with fans via social media. Until David develops that perfect course expressly for musicians, there’s great material for getting started in our Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter course.

Mordy Golding, director of content, Design and Photography segment
“I’ve been teaching myself Processing—the computer language. I’m interested in finding better ways to visualize data.”

Recommendation: A few months ago, our Developer group released Interactive Data Visualization with Processing. Processing is a tool that can literally change data into (beautiful and useful) art.

Elinor Actipis, director of content, Rich Media segment
Doug Winnie, director of content, Web and Developer segment

Both Elinor and Doug mentioned sharpening their advanced Excel skills, particularly with respect to data analysis. (Is it a coincidence that our directors are all about visualization of data?)

Recommendation: Our Excel library is vast and valuable, but for data crunching, one of my favorite courses is Cleaning Up Your Excel Data with Dennis Taylor. Dennis has great tips for efficiently wrangling all those numbers into consistent tables, making analysis both easier and more accurate.

George Maestri, content manager, 3D and Animation segment
Matt Gilbert, associate content manager, Business segment
Jim Heid, content manager, Photography segment

These three content managers from three different segments all mentioned wanting to learn about ebook publishing and iOS apps as content containers.

George notes: “I had a few cartoon pitches that got lost in development when I was at the studios. I figure releasing them as books/apps would be a fun distraction.”

And Jim: “Ebook publishing is hot among photographers. And as someone who grew up with tape recorders, movie cameras, and cameras, I have a lot of “family assets” that I’d like to turn into a little interactive memoir for my family.”

Recommendation: We’ve got excellent courses on iBooks Author, iOS app creation, EPUB with InDesign, and using jQuery in your digital magazine. If you don’t know where to start, Digital Publishing Fundamentals runs down the options you have for turning your words and pictures into electronic works of art.

iBooks Author Essential Training
iOS app creation
EPUB with InDesign
Digital Publishing Fundamentals

Rob Garrott, content manager, Video segment
“I’m going to try to get into a bit of coding. I should probably start digging into web coding, but that’s too much broccoli, so I might start with Python. That is a core component of truly advanced 3D animation, and I’ve been afraid to touch it.”

Recommendation: (Mental note: Broccoli is the new spinach!) Many members are happy to jump into Bill Weinman’s Python 3 Essential Training course. For those who want to warm up their veggies slowly, you may try Simon Allardice’s Foundations of Programming: Object-Oriented Design course.

Python 3 Essential Training
Foundations of Programming: Object-Oriented Design

Cynthia Scott, director of content, Business segment
“Top on my learning wish list is the On Camera series.”

Recommendation: The first of this series, On Camera: Develop Your Video Presence, immediately had me thinking of uses beyond straightforward video (it also had me knocking on Cynthia’s office door to share how valuable I thought it was to Business folk). In the days of Skype-based job interviews and high-stakes video conferencing, many of Rick’s suggestions prepare you for time in front of any camera, not just those destined for edited, produced video.

Ben Long, author, Photography segment
Finally, since so many of my interviewee colleagues mentioned Ben Long’s photography courses, I thought it would be interesting to ask Ben himself what he might be interested in learning from the library in 2013. True to his polymathic nature, he mentioned several things from iPhone development to Maya to WordPress. But perhaps he summed up the width and breadth of the library (and the voracious appetite of any lifelong learner) when he asked:

“And where’s that course for adding 12 hours to one’s day?”

When we release “Changing the Laws of the Universe,” Ben, we’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, there’s Time Management Fundamentals.

What are your New Year’s learning resolutions? Let us help you find the courses to get you on your way.

InDesign FX: Creating paper cutout letters

Published by | Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

In this week’s InDesign FX video, I show how to create the effect of letters cut out of paper.

The final effect of letters cut out of paper.

The key elements to achieving this look include a combination of two transparency effects (Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow), a bit of vector masking courtesy of the Paste Into command, and your own creativity in scattering the letter shapes for some carefully composed “randomness.”

The cutout effect begins with a simple line of text.

The effect begins with a simple line of text.

The text is then converted to outlines and filled with a photo to simulate a surface beneath the paper. In this case, I chose a wood-grain texture. A small Inner Shadow applied to the letter shapes creates the effect of looking through the cutout letter shapes.

The text is converted to outlines and filled with a photo.

Adding a small inner shadow to create the cut out effect.

A second copy of the text outline is filled with a light black tint and given a small drop shadow. Then everything is placed atop a large frame filled with the same black tint to simulate a sheet of paper.

Fill a second copy of the text outlines with black and a drop shadow.

Close-up view of the second copy.

The final step of this effect is where you get to exercise the most creativity—scattering the letters by moving and rotating them.

Get creative with how you scatter the cut out letters.

Another nice thing about this technique: you can use it with any vector shapes you have or bring into Adobe InDesign from another application (like Adobe Illustrator).

Using any vector shape with this cut out effect.

I also have a member-exclusive movie in the library this week called Applying multiple strokes with layers. In this video I show two variations on how to create multilayered text by applying combinations of varying strokes and shadows.

Applying multiple strokes with layers.

Applying multiple strokes with layers.

Applying multiple strokes with layers.

See you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect!

Interested in more?
• The entire InDesign FX biweekly series
• Courses by Mike Rankin on
• All InDesign courses

Suggested courses to watch next:
InDesign Secrets weekly series
InDesign CS6 Essential Training
• InDesign CS6 New Features
Deke’s Techniques