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Repurposing Photoshop For The Web


Like any overzealous teenager aspiring to be a Web designer back in 1999, I found myself in an “Electronic Design” class, behind the wheel of one of those old-school aqua iMacs1. If you found yourself in a similar situation, chances are you were given Adobe Photoshop as your vehicle for designing the Web. For me, it was version 6.0.

No matter which version you had, undoubtedly you know someone who can “trump” you by having adopted an earlier version. We designers take much pride in this, in case you hadn’t noticed.

One of these is likely nostalgic to you.2
One of these likely makes you nostalgic. (Image: Design You Trust3)

It’s not a stretch to say that Photoshop was once regarded as the quintessential Web design tool, a sign that its fandom reached more than just photographers. Refrigerator magnets4, pillows5 and even tattoos6 have shown homage to the unmistakable UI. Let’s face it: Photoshop is the software we’re identified with, and its place in Web design history is substantial.

I was careful to choose the word “history” there because that’s what it’s seemingly becoming.

Falling Out Of Love Link

Yes, unlike anything else in the realm of Web design, we collectively have a love-hate relationship with Adobe’s flagship software. While we love it for the common aptitude and experience we share, we hate it for its shortcomings. The pain points of using Photoshop to design for the Web are well documented and support the staunch anti-Photoshopian’s cause to remove it from their process. In fact, complaining about Photoshop has become so commonplace that it’s not just a rite of passage, but rather the signature of a true Web designer.

As our needs changed, Photoshop couldn't quite keep up.7
As our needs changed, Photoshop couldn’t quite keep up. (Image: Derrick Diemont8)

The Software’s Pain Points Link

  • Crashes
    True story: about 95% of instances of Mac OS X’s beach ball9 (or, as I affectionately refer to it, the pinwheel of doom) occur while using Photoshop. OK, so I can’t back that up with actual data, but I venture to say this is a common experience, especially for those of us attempting to “Save for Web.” Familiar with that nauseous feeling you get when the program hangs and you haven’t saved in a long time? Yeah, that alone makes you rethink using Photoshop.
  • Text rendering
    I’ve always found rendering the most basic of fonts as anything like the browser ends up doing to be incredibly difficult for Photoshop. Helvetica ends up looking like a mess, and coming close usually takes much tinkering with a few settings. This wouldn’t be problematic, except that the goal of comping is to show an accurate representation of what a website will look like.
  • Lack of interactivity
    At the end of the day, designing static comps doesn’t adequately translate how elements are intended to behave through interaction. When presenting comps to the client, discussing these points is possible, but that’s less than ideal for complex interaction. I’ve found myself using terms like “If you can imagine…” far too often in an attempt to show something as simple as a hover state.
  • Expense
    While we hem and haw over whether to buy an icon set for $5, realize that Photoshop is far and away the most expensive piece of software in the common Web design toolset. A new purchase of it will run you $700 USD. Upgrades help, and Creative Cloud has been nothing short of genius, but the investment in Photoshop is still monstrous compared to that of wireframing tools, code editors and FTP clients.

The Process’ Pain Points Link

  • Expectations
    The environment of Photoshop provides complete design control, because every pixel we manipulate can be exported to our expectations. When we actually develop for the Web, browsers aren’t as predicable (I can think of one in particular that’s none to kind, but I digress). No manner of fixes or hacks will produce an exact match of our Photoshop comp.
  • Presentation
    When attempting to convey responsive Web design, presenting static comps of full pages is less than ideal. The options are few and difficult: create numerous sizes of a single page, or try to explain verbally how a design will shift. I find neither to be practical or completely accurate, because innumerable device sizes are in the wild.
  • Double the effort
    A Photoshop comp is a visual representation of what a website or app could be, but not a functional one. This becomes problematic in the scope of effort required, with a comp being produced and then reproduced through Web technology (HTML, CSS and JavaScript). Additionally, the detail of the production is quite considerable — static comps are typically pixel-perfect and fully fleshed out, and front-end development carries the same goal.
  • The big reveal
    Ever worked hard on a design, spent hours polishing that last drop shadow on a button, exported a JPEG and then gotten nervous five minutes before a meeting because you have no assurances on whether the client will even understand the comp, much less like it? That’s true with many presentations, but the Big Reveal exacerbates this feeling. When your design process doesn’t include sharing any work in progress when comping, naturally it will lead up to a huge moment when you finally tell them to open a file or click a link. Wouldn’t it be nice if the client was involved in style-related decisions earlier than this?

Photoshop Misunderstood Link

Is it really a battle between tools?
Is it really a battle between tools?

OK, I think we’ve thoroughly bashed Photoshop enough at this point, although it’s important to realize where your tools fall short so that you can adapt (if you haven’t already). While there are plenty of jimmy-rigged workarounds to the aforementioned pains, and the right combination of settings will potentially ease those pains, there should be an easier way.

The most significant response has been to design directly in the browser. CSS3 provides many of the style elements that we had in Photoshop (such as rounded corners, drop shadows and gradients), and preprocessors such as LESS and Sass are great ways to speed up our workflow. These have become so popular, in fact, that there’s been much clamoring about trashing Photoshop altogether and using HTML and CSS exclusively, from start to finish.

Let’s not go overboard, right?

An important distinction is made by some designers that’s worth noting: the browser is the delivery vehicle of our designs, while image editors serve the purpose of creative exploration. Just because we have the ability in code to replicate what an image editor can output doesn’t mean it’s always the best environment for it. Those of us who learned Web design through Photoshop (or Fireworks) find value in being able to transform design elements without the abstraction of a text editor and, for the most part, have gotten quite good at it.

“As such the browser lacks even the most rudimentary tools like the ability to draw lines or irregular objects through direct manipulation.”

Designing in the Browser Is Not the Answer10 written by Andy Budd.

The notion that image editors have no place in our workflows is also faulty in this regard: we’ve purposed them to have a particular and quite heavy focus in our workflow. We’ve used Photoshop as the canvas for our design, when it’s apparent that the browser is better suited because it’s ultimately where the design will live. However, Photoshop still has worth, and arguably much worth, in our processes, just not as the canvas. Confused? That’s OK. I’ll explain.

A workflow you may be familiar with is such: sketch, wireframe, produce the visual design in a graphics editor, develop said design in HTML and CSS. Skipping Photoshop assumes that we “design” in the HTML and CSS phase. The tricky part in doing that is determining what a suitable design deliverable is, which we’ll get to momentarily. Naturally, the question becomes, What do we do with Photoshop, now that we’re in the browser?

Photoshop as a High-Fidelity Sketch Pad Link

What if Photoshop were used as a hi-fidelity sketchpad?11
What if Photoshop were used as a high-fidelity sketch pad? (Image: Kyrie Eleison12)

I propose that an image editor is still handy when executing design via HTML and CSS, and it has everything to do with sketching. An essential part of the “old” way, where we produced the design comp in Photoshop, is that we were allowed to experiment in a “visual” environment. Photoshop allows you to directly manipulate the very foundations of design: line, shape, text and color.

While HTML and CSS are great for executing the design, experimentation is abstracted because code isn’t directly manipulating any design foundation. It’s a layer removed. This isn’t to say that good design can’t come from a code-only approach; rather that the experimentation of design finds a natural home in an image editor, which may be helpful to many of you who, like myself, prefer such an arena.

Consequently, I’m in favor of a yin and yang approach, leveraging Photoshop for what it’s good for (experimentation), and code for what it’s good for (implementation). For me, leaving one out of the party makes it difficult to be creative and practical when designing. Avoiding code and producing full-page comps in Photoshop, while great for some, gives me headaches when considering responsive Web design and having to reproduce entire pages again in HTML and CSS. However, skipping Photoshop altogether puts me face to face with the browser for design, which works for some elements (navigation bars, blocks of text), while other elements pose a creative stumbling block (“hero graphic” banners and their headlines, sidebar calls to action).

It’s a balancing act. I don’t think you can say, “Design everything in the browser,” just like you can’t say, “Never get into the code.”

– Jason VanLue

For today’s Web design process, I view Photoshop as a high-fidelity sketchpad: expensive, I realize, but it does everything we need it to and we’ve used it for ages. It’s a tool that we’re quite proficient and efficient at. Whereas it used to be our literal canvas, Photoshop can now become our “palette,” as the browser becomes the canvas. We prototype designs in the browser, but turn to Photoshop every so often to ideate, and eventually implement those quick creations in code, concurrently.

Are you still using Photoshop as the canvas? Try using it as the palette.
Are you still using Photoshop as a canvas? Try using it as a palette.

“I still use Photoshop, but I use it differently. It’s no longer for prescribing exactly what a site should look like. Instead, it’s used for quick layout exploration and asset creation.”

Where to Start13 written by Trent Walton.

Getting Responsively Unstuck With Page Layers Link

A far too familiar situation is designing in the browser and getting stuck figuring out what to do in those strange in-between widths. Confining the content to a single column works for the narrowest width, and your hypothetical wider four-column design gets really squished at 500 pixels or so. I continually find myself in this mode of coding a bunch of potential solutions, none of which looks intentional. Same for you?

Here’s an idea: use Photoshop. I know that everything probably exists in the browser, instead of the full-page comps that we said were so problematic. Who would ever want to build a website only to have to make a version of the semi-finished product in Photoshop? Well, what I’m about to suggest will sound completely backwards. Hang tight!

Page Layers is a unique app that might find its way in to your workflow.14
Page Layers1615 is a unique app that could find its way into your workflow.

I’ve gotten used to a tool named Page Layers1615 to do the work for me. I’m sure you’ve heard of PSD-to-HTML tools, but this one is HTML-to-PSD! At first, I had no idea what I would ever use this for. Then it dawned on me that those moments when I’m stuck designing in the browser and would be better off using Photoshop to directly manipulate some things (i.e. without fiddling with CSS) is a perfect use of Page Layers.

Quite simply, you load the website that you’re working on in the app, at the width you’re having some difficulty with, drag the PSD icon to your desktop, and fire it up. The app gives you a PSD with all of the page elements on separate layers, making it easy to experiment with. I’m still getting my head around it, and it’s not without its flaws. Creator Ralf Ebert says that text and vector interpretation is tricky but hopefully on the way.

Deliverables Link

This might sound good in theory, but what do you show to a client for approval if you’re going to be using a combination of Photoshop “sketches” and the browser? Glad you asked.

Before we delve into methods of delivery, the important lesson in any of them is that the client should be involved in the design process much earlier than they would have been otherwise. To some extent, the Big Reveal can’t be avoided, because any time you present a visual design for the first time, a certain “unveiling” takes place. However, we can focus our clients on specific objectives if we involve them early enough, such as approving the layout in a wireframe or prototype, or approving styles in any of the formats discussed below.

Style Tiles Link

Style Tiles1917 are based on a concept pioneered by Samantha Warren, who likens them to “the paint chips and fabric swatches an interior designer gets approval on before designing a room.” Designed in Photoshop, they are a variety of visual “tiles,” each containing styles for headings, subheadings, link text, buttons, colors, patterns and backgrounds. In delivering Style Tiles, the focus is on approving style, independent of layout and form (for example, responsive Web design). The emphasis is on iterating to find a suitable style to become the “system” of a website, and not on a pixel-perfect layout that will need to be redone in HTML and CSS. In doing so, a significant amount of time is saved from having to edit multiple full-page comps.

Samantha Warren's Style Tiles are a great approach, leveraging Photoshop for style discussions.18
Samantha Warren’s Style Tiles1917 are a great approach, leveraging Photoshop for discussions about style.

For many, this approach keeps the ideation squarely in Photoshop, which is familiar and comfortable. If there’s a knock on this approach, it’s that Style Tiles do require a bit of vision on the part of the client. Granted, setting proper expectations will help to bridge the gap, although for some chains of approval, communicating how the tiles “represent” the final product can be difficult.

Style Prototypes Link

I hinted at this approach earlier, so here’s an attempt to spell it out plainly. Referring to our wireframes, we begin by identifying which elements and content are crucial to the visual language of the website. For example, the logo, main navigation bar, hero graphic and location-finding widget may all be uniquely styled elements, whereas the main blocks of text and the sidebar links wouldn’t be as integral to the visual impact of the page, per se.

They might look like full page comps, but Style Prototypes just leverage important brand and modular elements.20
They might look like full-page comps, but Style Prototypes just leverage important brand and modular elements. (Image: Dave Rupert21)

I believe this deliverable should be in the browser and should be responsive. In my experience with using Style Prototypes, I’ve tried not to get hung up on fixing small inaccuracies that occur at certain breakpoints or on cross-browser bugs, because the objective is to gain approval on a design direction. The conversations, both internally and with the client, are steered to assess style only.

The main benefit of this approach is that it generally transitions into the final build of the website remarkably well, yet providing entire pages wasn’t necessary. Photoshop is truly a sketch pad here, because the deliverable is an HTML and CSS document. That said, one disadvantage of this method is that if you don’t define how much you’ll be mocking up, it’s easy to get carried away and include elements that contribute little to the look of the website, using more time and resources than necessary.

Element Collages Link

Arising from his recent redesign project for Reading Is Fundamental, Dan Mall has offered an interesting approach in Element Collages2322. Those who feel most comfortable using Photoshop to work out these ideas can simply export a JPEG, while those who feel the browser enables them to better express the ideas can make a prototype.

This format represents how I begin to think about designing a site. I often have ideas for pieces of a site in bursts. A full comp often requires ideas to be fully realized. An element collage allows me to document a thought at any state of realization and move on to the next.

– Dan Mall, “Element Collages2322

What’s great about this approach is that it brings a comfortable amount of context to Style Tiles by executing those styles on particular elements. If working through ideas in the browser proves to be problematic this early in the process, then Element Collages done entirely in Photoshop are a great alternative to Style Prototypes. Any way you look at it, it’s another approach that circumvents having to make static full-page comps early on for approval.

The folks at Clearleft have employed Element Collages as a RWD deliverable.24
The folks at Clearleft have employed Element Collages25 as a deliverable of responsive Web design.

Whatever approach you use for design deliverables, the idea I’m proposing is to repurpose Photoshop’s role into something that helps you have a discussion of style far removed from specific discussions of page layout and content. Multi-device design dictates that we design systems, not specific page layouts. We can use Photoshop to create reusable assets and ideas simultaneously with browser deliverables such as prototypes. But remember, without setting proper expectations with the client, any new method will become confusing compared to any previous Web design experiences they’ve had.

Tools Link

If the idea is to move quickly between Photoshop and the browser, then Photoshop’s default settings and interface leave something to be desired. Thankfully, a wide range of tools, extensions, actions and apps exist that will help.

Slicy Link

Using “Save for Web” can be an arduous process, one that doesn’t always produce usable results. I recommend getting Slicy26, which exports your layers to files independently. If you’re using Photoshop to create assets for the browser, this is your tool.

WebInk Web Font Plugin Link

If nothing else, WebInk's Webfont Plugin will save you a few bucks not having to buy desktop fonts for comps.27
If nothing else, WebInk’s Webfont Plugin28 will save you the few bucks of buying desktop fonts for comps.

Remember when we were knocking Photoshop for its type rendering? What’s worse is that there’s no way to try out fonts from your Web font subscription in anything other than the browser. Thankfully, Extensis’ WebInk service has a plugin29 that gives you access to its library as you experiment in Photoshop.

Bjango iOS Actions Link

Unequivocally “the mother lode of time-saving actions,” this list30 from Marc Edwards will make your life much, much easier. If it’s useful, it’s included: a panel of the most-used Photoshop tools, scaling a document by 200% or 50%, testing for color-blindness and much more. It’s free, so there’s really no reason not to have it.

CSS Hat or CSS3Ps Link

Until recently, Photoshop didn’t have a way to export CSS attributes for the elements you create (admittedly, Fireworks has, but I digress). If you don’t have the latest version, then CSS Hat31 and CSS3Ps32 are solid alternatives. If you do have CS6, the differences between the built-in feature and these plugins isn’t much, although the plugins might take longer to display results and are also more accurate at times.

LayerVault Link

Famously flat designed, LayerVault boosts production through collaboration.33
Famously flat designed, LayerVault3534 boosts production through collaboration.

When Photoshop becomes your sketch pad rather than your canvas, like pages, you can bet more PSDs will be lying around. LayerVault3534 is a great app for collaborating and sharing your ideas before they hit the browser.

WebZap Link

If you’re looking to experiment with layout in Photoshop, then the WebZap36 plugin makes comping incredibly speedy. You can choose from a number of predetermined layouts for elements such as headers, navigation and footers. If you work with Element Collages, WebZap is a great tool for getting down a quick baseline of each element so that you can get right into styling.

PixelDropr Link

It's like an ammo holder for Photoshop.37
PixelDropr38 is like an ammo holder for Photoshop.

Part of being fleet of hand between Photoshop and the browser is creating reusable assets. PixelDropr39 is a fantastic plugin that enables you to drag and drop assets (icons, buttons, photos, etc.) from a panel onto your document.

InVision Link

For some, static comps are still a viable design deliverable, but they need some basic interactivity. InVision is an app that turns your static comps into “Protocomps.” Even when the comp is just a few elements, using InVision40 is a quick and efficient way to make it interactive.

Repurposing Fireworks, Sketch, Pixelmator, Etc. Link

The principle of “refining your tools” certainly isn’t isolated to Photoshop. Any image editor, when used to fit your workflow (instead of vice versa), can be a wonderfully liberating and powerful tool. All Web design apps have their shortcomings, and Photoshop perhaps most famously so.

Yet the fault lies not in our software, but rather in how we integrate it into our workflows. I suppose even when the Ultimate Web Design App comes along, most of us will find something wrong with it. Why? Because we’ve learned to be resourceful and make our tools work for us, whichever tools they are. The right tool, used for the right purpose, at the right time, is more valuable than one that tries to be too many things41.

So, Is Photoshop Really Dead? Link

I could switch code editors, computers, wireframing tools, browser plugins, and more, but I’d be pretty sunk if I had to do a project without Photoshop.

– Dan Mall

I truly believe that, for some of us, Photoshop is an indispensable tool that still has a purpose in our Web design workflows. I tip my hat to those designers who can stay creative using only the browser, but I know I’m not one of them. Whatever tools you use, there are two takeaways I feel strongly about: don’t let anyone stop you from using them, and continue to refine them in ways that support how you work. It’s important that we share how we approach responsive design for those who, like myself, are still trying to figure it out.

Photoshop isn’t dead, but the way you used to use it might be.

More Photoshoppery Link

(al) (ea)

Footnotes Link

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Dan Rose is a designer at Adjacent, a focused design studio in Syracuse, NY. He's the author of Responsive Web Design with Adobe Photoshop and the creator of Photoshop Etiquette.

  1. 1

    I’ve been having issues with the adobe suite for years. I started using photoshop back in the mid 90’s and its come a long way. But, it’s just not the right tool for web design.

    Lately I’ve been using sketch as my primary tool. It has many of the perks of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Indesign, while maintaining a focus on interface design. It also exports clean PDF/vector files with editable type.

  2. 2

    Repurposing PS for the web is essentially Fireworks. While I do understand that the purpose of this article is for the PS crowd, I think it might actually be better to use Photoshop for what it was designed for… photos and image composition. IMO, this is akin to using a butterknife for a steak. It’ll work, but you’ll have a much easier time with a steak knife (Fireworks). I’ve personally found using them in tandem (doing the images in PS, then exporting them into FW), achieve better results than FORCING Photoshop by “repurposing” it.

  3. 3

    I think this is a comprehensive article! Totally loved it. I saw a talk where the speaker said he wasn’t a fan of designing in the browser exclusively. So I do use Photoshop for my own designs but this article has opened up a ton of resources and avenues for which you could use Photoshop.

    Very well written!

  4. 4

    Also, what does the author think of Adobe Edge Reflow?

    • 5

      Thanks! I think tools like Edge Reflow are going to be liberating from some of the problems we’ve had in the past. I wonder though if refining the tools we have, custom-fit in our current and improving workflows, might be just as (or potentially more) beneficial to a one-stop-shop kind of tool? It will be interesting to see how, and why, people use new tools like Reflow.

  5. 6

    excellent article, would just comment that “the motherload of time-saving actions,” should technically be “the mother lode”…

    pedantically yours,

  6. 7

    Ugly tool. How one can design things with unrealistic and distorted text render? Photoshop is good for creating assets like icons, textures, images but not for creating web design.
    Personally I use sketch app as primary design tool, and use photoshop only when it is needed.

    • 8

      The fact you think Photoshop renders text bad is pretty awkward, considering it has the same rendering system as InDesign and Illustrator and … well, every Adobe tool other than Fireworks which is absolutely horrid for typography rendering.

      Do you actually believe that any tool, other than the browser, ever rendered text in the way that browsers do?

  7. 9

    Ever since Adobe added better pixel and web stuff to Illustrator a couple of versions ago, it’s been my primary tool for website sketches and mock ups. I only open Photoshop for photos (mind blowing, I know).

    • 10

      Agreed… but in my case i prefer Fireworks instead… an awesome tool for webdesign

      • 11

        But dat font rendering :-(. I’ve used FW all my life until last year when I switched to PS. I don’t really like it but it looks far more accurate when it comes to fonts (especially smaller ones). That and people develop far more plugins for PS for web dev because it’s more commonly used, although to be fair FW requires less because it does it out-of-the-box.

        • 12

          Fireworks is soooo much better for web stuff than photoshop… I just wish Adobe would see that too and give FW more love.

    • 13

      I’m glad to hear someone else uses illustrator. I have used it for years but have found now that it has come into its own. Responsive layout designs are so quick, SVG graphics will soon be the norm, and retina displays will be common place!

    • 14

      Yet Illustrator is still pretty terrible for that compared to something like Sketch (Mac only). Illustrator’s tools are awkward to use and generally the software is a mess.

      • 15

        I could not disagree more. I know nothing of Sketch for Mac, but Illustrator tools really aren’t very difficult at all once you get a handle on how they function. I’ve come across too many people who condemn Illustrator when it’s just another program that cranks out design elements and to say it’s generally a mess shows just how much time you’ve spent using it. Illustrator is a great tool.

        • 16

          Andrew Richardson

          April 24, 2013 6:37 pm

          The more I work with Illustrator the more I hate it (And most Adobe programs). It’s bloated and clunky, can I get a lot accomplished in it? Of course, I’ve spent 3/4 of a decade with the program but that doesn’t mean there aren’t really painful UI issues that I constantly fight to create what I do.

          Sketch solves a LOT of those issues where as Adobe has consistently stuck it’s head in the sand and ignored them.

        • 17

          Kasakka thanks for adding your comment, I didn’t know about Sketch for Mac. I’ve downloaded it to give it a trial run. It’s a very nice bit of software. Already it looks like I’m going to start using Sketch from now on. Sketch combined with HTML5, CSS3 and JS, is all I need. Thanks again.

    • 18

      Hear hear! Illustrator is my preferred application. I LOVE working in Illustrator. It provides slices, the opportunity to go direct to SVG, aligning strokes to inside or outside, and precise on-the-fly size control. I’ve never understood why anyone would design a site in Photoshop instead of Illustrator (as opposed, obviously, to the newer alternatives).

    • 19

      The most advantage of Illustrator above Photoshop is that he can handle the thing that most websites are made of – text. Try to change your reading text from 14 to 16 pt in a layered Photoshop file. If you are using style sheets (!) in Illustrator it’s done in seconds.

      But I’m also waiting for a small software company that brings out an design tool specially made for webdesign (so I can put away may copy of Illustrator as I have done it with Dreamweaver to start using Coda).

    • 20

      Ever since the web has become all responsive, every website started to look the same. For this reason, there is no reason to build a website in other applications except for Illustrator.

  8. 21

    You can get PS CS2 for free so money is not the issue anymore (

  9. 22

    Thanks for the links to all the tools!

    I too have found myself using PS less and less over the years. I’ve actually taken a liking to using Illustrator for mockups and wireframes, and doing most of the actual design stuff in-browser, often on-the-fly with Chrome’s inspect tool.

  10. 23

    Believe it or not, I get by with Expression Design and Fireworks…

  11. 24

    Just use Fireworks. Photoshop is way too complicated for web work.

    • 25

      I was thinking the same thing. Adobe could take Fireworks a step further and make it easier to make responsive designs.

    • 26

      Michel Bozgounov

      April 22, 2013 7:08 pm

      Fully agree — in many cases, Fireworks is a much better (and easier to use) tool for web design tasks!

      In fact, we have published quite a few articles, dedicated to Adobe Fireworks. Check out our Smashing Fireworks section to learn more! :-)

      • 27

        Fireworks is a great tool as well, no doubt. However, I think it suffers from many of the same afflictions that Photoshop does when it comes to today’s RWD workflows, as it pertains to deliverables. Image editors do in general. The message I’m attempting to relay here is that non-traditional use of Photoshop (or any image editor) can be a valuable part of a RWD workflow.

  12. 28

    I barely use it and, in all honesty, even in the past I rarely used it.

    The idea of designing a website with a photo manipulation tool just seemed a bit odd. It’s fine for doing actual graphic/photo work but beyond that it’s not a big part of any workflow for me.

    For layouts nothing will beat a piece of paper and a pencil along with actual code. With the superb inspector tools in most browsers it’s even easier to do it this way.

  13. 29

    Despite all of the cons, I still use Photoshop. At the end of the day, my only on-going beef is with font/text rendering. I’ve gone between Ps and TypeCast too much, in my attempts to perfect typography for projects. Ps needs a “web” font settings. Either that, or we need a way to make fonts look as good in browsers as they do in Ps (I wish).

    Apart from that, my workflow in Ps is just efficient. I know it too well and I use it for all of my non-web projects.

  14. 30

    It all boils down to solving a problem. If Photoshop helps solve that problem then use it. If it doesn’t help solve the problem . . . don’t open it.

    • 31

      Perfect sentiment. Wish I came up with that :)

    • 32

      That is so true Dan!

      btw I’ve personally started using Sketch for some of my projects. One thing I really like about it is that is forces me to focus more on layout, grids, and typography (the important things) rather than pixel-pushing things way to early in the design process.

  15. 33

    *cough* Fireworks! *cough*

    • 34

      Except that Fireworks was only ever good for execution of a design for the web, not for actually designing for the web. If you’re trying to be creative, you shouldn’t be in Fireworks. I’ve never seen anything come out of that tool (which is either the fault of the tool, or insight into the users that use it) that’s quality.

  16. 35

    Søren Birkemeyer

    April 22, 2013 5:21 pm

    I think you’re on the right track here. Photoshop can still be a powerful tool for interface design, especially, as you put it, as a “high-fidelity sketch pad”. It really comes down to which tool you know best and gets you results the quickest.

    I have enjoyed building medium- to high-fidelity sketches in Keynote (yes, Keynote) lately. It’s blazing fast and the line-guides are really snappy. There are even UI templates for it at if that’s your thing (so far, I haven’t felt the need yet).

    • 36

      You got it. It’s about using the right tool for the right purpose, and that usually comes down to the one you’re most proficient at, even if it’s Keynote ;)

      • 37

        Keynote is incredibly underrated as a design tool. Templates, good for animation tests, vector-based. And cheap!

  17. 38

    I dont really see your point here. We have no issues using Photoshop for our design mockups. We do two, one full size home page and one mobile homepage in landscape orientation.

    If the client doesn’t like something we revise it and try over. We rarely have to do a third revision.

    For us the mockup isn’t an exact representation of what we are going to build. We find it is much easier to get the basics fleshed out and then refine the design in browser with CSS.

    • 39

      Thanks Pierre. I know of some folks that continue to use full-page Photoshop comps and it works great for them, which really is all that matters. Don’t change a thing if that’s the case.

      One of the things I found difficult in explaining to clients was how my comp(s) would look like at the widths in between 361-1023px (and bigger). A combination of style deliverables and interactive wireframes was the solution I found, with the wireframes taking care of so much layout (that you could interact with) that it became sort of redundant to do that all over in Photoshop (which can’t be resized/interacted with). Making Style Tiles/Prototypes and Element Collages, I could have them approve the style separate from the layout.

  18. 40

    As far as iam concerned Photoshop is dead for web stuff, far to cumbersome.

    I find Fireworks much more intuitive and definitely better adapted web stuff. Image optimization, Wireframing, and interactive mock ups ( create different pages on same document, link them via hotspots and export) great way to showcase a mock up to Marketing audiences and such like.

    I use Photoshop for heavy image editing but that’s all, again Fireworks handle the rest much better and more easily.

  19. 41

    Rick James! Chatas

    April 22, 2013 6:20 pm

    Isn’t it less about the “tool” and more about the “user”? In all of the reasons explained, it just seemed like lack of proficiency in the tool was the actual deterrent to using Photoshop; just like it would be to using C4D for 3D Modeling or Quartz Composer for interaction. Arguably, two “industry standard tools” “designers” should know more.

    It’s difficult seeing this article be anything past a valid, but history old long debate: use the right tools for the job. The range could be from Gimp to Photoshop, to Fireworks, dependent on skill set, technique, and availability.

    • 42

      Rick James! In my opinion, repurposing Photoshop isn’t a matter of being more proficient with it, rather, using it for a different purpose. The traditional use for Photoshop was making full-page comps (which some still do, btw), which can be problematic in a RWD workflow. I’m suggesting non-traditional uses for it, and in doing so, refining how you use said tool. To your point, you most certainly could use any tool you see fit to design a website. I chose to use Photoshop.

  20. 43

    Oh, and the buying Photoshop thing is a red herring. Nobody buys Photoshop, or any adobe product for that matter.

  21. 45

    I love the workflows you are proposing. I agree that is where we are headed until a tool that does this in a more integrated fashion comes along.

    BUT I think using Photoshop for prototyping is like using a Nasa Space Shuttle to go visit my mom who lives down the street. You mention lighter tools at the end of the article that I think make more sense—to me.

  22. 46

    Yeah illustrator is definitely a lot easier to work with than PS. Sure you can blend images and textures better with ps but there aren’t too many other advantages that warrant using it first unless your design is heavy on images.

  23. 47

    If you are using the newest version of Photoshop (or maybe it is just part of the Creative Cloud version, I am not sure), but there is an automatic save option now. I do not remember if it was turned on by default, but it is in the “File Handling” menu within preferences.

    When I was in school, we had signs all over our computer labs stating “Save, and Save Often!”… so I got used to saving all the time. Now, though, when I see that PS might be crashing, I don’t worry. I have mine auto saving every 5 minutes.

    • 48

      Auto save is an awesome option. I think we were doing the whole file handling wrong all this while. Save shouldn’t be an option. Publish/trash should be. Whatever you do should be auto-saved and you can choose to delete the draft or publish it.

      Save was an option when hard disk space was a concern. I think we are way past that point now. We can safely choose to do away with save.

    • 49

      “Save in background” doesn’t actually save automatically, and “Save recovery information” is just that: it’s meant for crash recovery, and it’s not quite the same thing as saving “for reals” (there can, under some circumstances, be a substantial divergence between the “live” version of the file and the recovery information). Save early and save often is still key; and “save in background” means that you can continue to work while the file is being written to disk (no waiting for the progress bar to go away).

  24. 50

    I have the full Adobe CS. I actually use Pixelmator and Sketch 2. PS just doesn’t fit my workflow anymore and feels like a 500 lbs weight on my shoulders.

    It’s sad to admit. I loved Adobe and they seem to be more active around web technologies lately, but they stopped building creative tools for so long that it’s hard to re-align with the web.

  25. 51

    What?! Wait! People still use PS to design websites? [tic]

  26. 52

    I agree with many point on both sides, however my only comment would be that as designers, we need to know our tools, their strengths and weaknesses and ultimately whether or not they can do the job. A tradesman doesn’t build a house with only his hammer. I think what ever works best is the best approach without being to precious about this method or that.

    If a Job calls for A, then use A. If it calls for B, then use B.

    Versatility, Flexibility, Adaptability.

  27. 53

    ms paint all the way.

  28. 54

    PS is still a great tool for early stages web design, with a great amount of useful plugins by the community. Personally I prefer working with Fireworks for its simplicity and its possibility for – as Andy Budd said “direct manipulation”.. you can just click and move.

    Illustrator on the other hand has become very very important. SVG is now people. I only use pixels for photos and complex artwork. For the rest: vector vector. This is where PS falls short.

  29. 55

    I am a PS-Lover, but i use FW in last Time.. Fireworks is nice for Web-Design. But i hate in FW the colorpicker, no scrollwheel /cursor support on Properties (Effects, Size etc.), Sorting Layers are laggy and Short-Keys sucks. I think in PS can create better UI Design instead FW. Shadows, Special-Effects etc. can create faster in PS. FW is better for Flat-UI Layouts and Pixel-Perfect Webdesign and Prototyping.

  30. 56

    “…In fact, complaining about Photoshop has become so commonplace that it’s not just a rite of passage, but rather the signature of a true Web designer.”

    I don’t get it. Except for the first few months in 2001, I’d never make a comp in Photoshop. I make picts and background for web pages in PS/AI and a text editor to sew them together.

    I’m a retoucher/compositor so PS is my main app. I’m not a dev. But why would a “true web designer” even try to set type or layout in PS?

    Anyway, thanks for the list of PS Tools… some interesting things there.


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