How to get the most from Adobe Photoshop

Many see Photoshop as simple photo-editing software (the clue's in the name, right?) Well, it's not just for image manipulation, it's a whole digital painting system. It's tricky to get used to. It certainly won't reveal all it's secrets immediately. But, like coffee, alcohol and stinky blue cheese, if you persist with it, you'll begin to appreciate the flavours and soon wonder how you ever lived without them. It won't make you a brilliant artist. It can, however, make a poor artist better and may just make a good artist excellent. But there's one change you have to make first.

Now I only blaspheme for emphasis, so believe me when I say, for Christ's sake ditch that mouse and get yourself a pressure sensitive graphics tablet! They start at £35 quid and, if you're serious about your artwork, you owe it to yourself to get one. Pencil-shaped drawing implements have evolved into and stayed their current shape because they work brilliantly. The graphics tablet stylus is the next logical stage in that evolution. By comparison, drawing with a mouse is unnatural. It's like drawing with a pot of ink and a spoon. It can be done, but why would you want to? Are there any other ways you'd like to handicap yourself? How about starting your next masterpiece with a bucket on your head or a live ferret glued to elbow? That's how daft sketching with a mouse will seem once you've used a graphics tablet.

Many people claim they can't get used to them. They say it's too hard to make the mental link between moving the stylus on the tablet and the cursor moving on the screen. Then they give up. Well, like kissing, or riding a bike, there's a learning curve. But you persist and, once you've mastered the skills, your life gets more interesting. But, unlike kissing or riding a bike, you can practice your stylus/screen coordination in private. Your classmates won't tease you if you get it wrong and there's little risk of physical injury. And, to be perfectly frank. It's not that hard. Anyone who can't manage it after 25 minutes is either lazy or stupid. Sorry. It's true.

Another common complaint: people will tell you it's impossible to spin the graphics tablet in the same manner as a piece of paper, allowing you to sketch smooth arcs with the motion of the wrist. Well, you can't spin a ruddy mouse round either, can you? So what have you lost? Nothing. You can, however, buy a graphics tablet with a rotary dial which enable you to turn your photoshop document around to the exact angle you want it (not just 45 and 90 degrees) or just press “R” on the keyboard and drag the little hand cursor around to achieve the same effect.

Once you've got your graphics tablet, get yourself some custom brushes. Custom brushes, combined with a pressure sensitive input device, transform those hard-edged hatchet marks you'll have seen and sighed suspiciously at into anything from beautiful, smeary chalk textures to turnip-tops or pterodactyls. For bigger or more opaque brushstrokes, press harder. For smaller and less opaque strokes, press less. You'll find you've reduced the time spent hacking around the screen adjusting brush sizes and your drawing experience will become more organic. A graphics tablet will also reduce wear and tear on your wrists (because RSI is not fun) and you'll soon find yourself working faster, more naturally and more efficiently. Which is fun. Fun is good. Graphics tablets are good.