For some, a standard keyboard is plenty... But have you considered going further? This video showcases my personal hardware setup and how I use it for painting. Before you go out and spend lots of money on USB devices I want to be very clear: none of this is essential. However, as I state in the video, if you often spend long stretches on the computer you might want to give this a thought. Additionally, your hardware solution will be different than mine.  The best part about going down this road is that each artist has different needs and workflows, so each setup will take a different form.

1)  Cintiq 21UX by Wacom (currently replaced with newer models) This is the ultimate painting tool.  I was using standard USB tablets for 10 years before I got one of these, but I might have trouble going back at this point.  Very expensive, but wonderful for painting.

2)  SpaceExplorer USB by 3Dconnexion If you do much 3D modeling, you might like one of these.  I use this exclusively for Sketchup, and it allows me to use my right hand for sculpting, while my left hand stays on the SpaceExplorer controlling the camera and issuing hotkeys.  Though it's not cheap, it has dramatically changed the process of 3D modeling for me.   If you want to see this in action, watch this video -- it's a great demonstration, and essentially sold me on the device.

3)  Shuttle Pro 2 by Contour (available on Amazon) This is the heart of my painting interface.  I like the prominent knob for changing my brush size, and the overall ergonomic layout.  If you were to get one piece of custom hardware, this might be a good pick.

4)  Multi-function Gaming Panel (MFP) by CH products  (see pictures here) (available at @ Buy.com) This is a platform with buttons that you position and then bind to keyboard shortcuts or macros.  Very cool, but also very expensive.  If you want total ergonomic control, this is as flexible as it gets.  Want to see it in action?  This video from E3  2009 should help explain it.

5)  X-Keys 24 Programmable Keypad by PI Engineering These are my lowest priority buttons such as media controls, opening specific folders with a single press, etc.  A variety of things that I couldn't easily hard-bind my standard keyboard to do.  Besides.. you can always use a few more buttons, right?

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
54 CommentsPost a comment

Are you using masks to their full potential?  Do you even know what masks are?  If you answered no to either of those questions, get ready to have your mind blown.   Masking is one of the most abstract concepts in Photoshop painting, but in my opinion it's the secret for truly efficient workflows.  Though it doesn't feel like a traditional painter's process, it's a skill no digital painter should live without.  This video focuses on painting textural overlays and the concept of 'nested masking' for maximum versatility.

If you're not familiar with masking, these are good videos to watch first: Masking 101 pt.1Masking 101 pt. 2Masking 101 pt. 3

If you want to experiment with the PSD file from the lesson, here is the robot for download.

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
18 CommentsPost a comment

Do you have a favorite few brushes? Do you like to use them with specific flow/opacity settings? "Tool Presets" might be for you! This feature is often overlooked or confused with "Brush Presets", but it is extremely useful for digital painters. This video explains how "Tool Presets" can add a big dose of efficiency and speed to your workflow.

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
23 CommentsPost a comment

computers and software are really good at repetitive tasks. Why not let Photoshop do some of the hard work for you? This video tackles a specific storyboarding-related challenge with a photoshop "action". Even if you're not a storyboard artist, you'll see the way that I identify a challenge and figure out how to get Photoshop to solve it for me. Best of all, once you've created the action, you can assign a keyboard shortcut to it! And if you want the storyboarding action I mention in this video, download it here!

Digital painting relies on your ability to comfortably wield the Brush Tool. Keyboard shortcuts are a huge part of that, and committing them to memory is an important step in your learning. This video proposes a 'maze' drill for you to hone your brush tool chops. It may seem a bit unusual, but it's not all that different from an athlete running through an obstacle course to improve their agility! Most importantly, have fun with this! And make sure to download the brush maze drill here.  And if you want a refresher on the brush tool and its hidden features, check out this digital painting 101 video

Like the buttons and dials in your car, keyboard shortcuts are the "user interface" with which you control Photoshop. Have you customized these commands yet? The whole point of keyboard shortcuts is to save you time and avoid wasting energy. With this in mind, it's worth considering your personal needs when working with keyboard shortcuts. In general, shortcut keys are designed for easy recall: ctrl+s = save, etc. In this video I suggest that a better scheme for assigning keys is based on the position of your left hand. Re-mapping the keyboard shortcuts with this new prioritization will reduce your hand strain and speed up your painting technique.

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
36 CommentsPost a comment

Thumbnail sketches are small drawings which help plan your larger, finished, works. There's noting 'finished' about them, and they are generally thrown away once you begin the final piece. So why not use 3D software to help generate some ideas? As far as 3D software goes, Sketchup is very basic and straightforward. Even if you aren't interested in making complex models in 3D, doing a quick block-in of your scene and then moving around it in 3D space can help you select dramatic camera angles.

People are good at being creative, and computers are great at repetitive tasks. Why not let your computer do what it's good at and focus your energy on the more creative work? As a digital painter, you should be on the lookout for repeated elements in a painting: large or small. This video shows how to efficiently paint a threaded screw through the use of duplication and the transform tool.

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
18 CommentsPost a comment

Standing back from your painting to get the 'big picture' is extremely important. Getting up close and personal with your details is important too. What if you could do both simultaneously? You can. There's a feature that many artists don't know about in Photoshop which allows you to open the same document in multiple windows simultaneously. In this video I'll show the practical implications of this command in a detailed illustration. Especially if you have two monitors, the "New Window" command is a priceless addition to the digital painter's workflow.

Painting is often best done from simple to complex. This methodology certainly applies to situations where you are painting surfaces with 2D decals like an emblem on armor. A traditional painter might first paint the base surface, and then once the paint dries would be able to paint the 2D decal over top. In this video I'll explore a digital approach to this task. Unlike the traditional process, Photoshop allows us to prepare the 2D image as a flat decal and then distort it into place to match the illustration. You can use this same technique to apply existing images such as logos, or 2D images of your own.

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
10 CommentsPost a comment

Have you ever gotten lost in a tall stack of unnamed Photoshop layers? Naming your layers may be the proper way to stay organized, but it is extremely time consuming. This video offers a time-saving compromise. Even though I don't name my layers, there are certain ones that I don't want to lose track of - and a bit of color-coding does the trick. There are multiple ways to change the color coding of a layer in the stack, but this video shows how to use a Photoshop Action to accomplish it. I especially like Photoshop actions because they allow me to keep my stylus in the center of my painting, and to trigger commands with my left hand.

Continuing where part 1 left off, this concludes your introduction to the pen tool. This video focuses on a real-world example, creating a technical outline around a character's silhouette. If you were to attempt this job with the lasso or marquee tools you'd quickly run into trouble. The true beauty of the pen tool becomes apparent when working on a series of technical curves.

Posted
AuthorMatt Kohr
14 CommentsPost a comment

Painting is generally done with basic, versatile, brushes. Sometimes however, you're better off using a custom brush to accomplish a specific end. In this video I showcase a brush pack designed to make the task of painting machine guns and muzzle flares easier. The brush pack is free, so feel free to download it!

And if you're intrigued by this concept of custom brushes, there's an entire Premium Series dedicated to it in the Ctrl+Paint store!  

Sometimes the digital workflow will behave completely counter to the way you learned to draw with a pencil and paper. Though it might seem foreign and strange, I encourage you to embrace these new opportunities! In this video I'll show how to iterate through a set of thumbnails by chopping them up into pieces, mixing, matching, and contorting them. Though it's not much like traditional 'drawing', it's a lot of fun and can be a huge time-saver.

One of the most important aspects of digital painting is edge control, and selections allow you to 'paint inside the lines' effortlessly. What happens when you want to use a few different recurring selections in your illustration? "Save Selection" is one option, though this video offers a quicker alternative.

If you're a traditional painter, something like a flock of birds means only one thing: lots of work. Photoshop offers some time-saving alternatives for digital painters. In this video we'll take a look at the use of duplication to quickly populate an entire flock of birds. Remember: this isn't cheating, you're simply using the tools Photoshop makes available to you.