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How to Create a Tutorial - The Vectortuts+ Way

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Everything is not as difficult as it seems on first glance. Today, I asked the experts about that. Their answers will help you understand how tutorials are created. Believe me, this job is a lot of fun, and maybe some of you will really like it. The participants of this interview are: Andrea Austoni, Andrei Marius, Ben Mounsey, Cheryl Graham, Chris Spooner, Iaroslav Lazunov, Jesse Hora, Jonathan Patterson, Ryan Putnam, and Sharon Milne. Learn more at the jump!


Andrea Austoni

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel is your best, and why?

I think the artwork is what ultimately sells the tutorial. No matter how interesting and competent your instructions are, nobody will follow them if the result (the big payoff) doesn't look great. The better the artwork, the more fun it is to write the tutorial, too. So my best tutorials are the ones with the most appreciated artwork.

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

Choose a topic that is fun and interesting to you and explain it really well using many small steps, as opposed to a few big ones. The more screenshots the better. 'Why' is more important than 'how,' so instead of spewing out rigid instructions, try to explain the reasons behind every step. The best tutorials are the ones that teach general techniques that can be applied anytime - no matter what the software is.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

When I have a topic, I start researching it like I would any other project, then I analyze the illustration I want to create, and break down the building process into steps that can be explained and understood easily. I create the illustration, taking screenshots at every critical step. Writing is the last step for me and it usually takes longer than the artwork itself. The key is to be extremely clear and precise. A couple of insights, tips, and preferences make the article more personal and interesting.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

I take screenshots using FastStone Capture on Windows or the Grab utility on OSX, and name each screenshot with a description of what's happening in it. This way all I have to do to write the tutorial is take the filenames and put them together into sentences that make sense. A big time saver!

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

Sometimes, I browse through my notebooks and find sketches that I'd like to flesh out into full-blown characters. Sometimes, I find designs online that include interesting methods and techniques and create something similar. Sometimes, I have to wreck my brain to find a topic!

Andrea Austoni on the Web:


Andrei Marius

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel are your best?

My favorite tutorials are:

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

First, naturally, I create the project. I'm working differently, when I know that I'm making it for a tutorial. For example, I have a shape, I add a 3D effect, then I need to expand it. First, I create a copy of this shape (this way I can have the 3D settings later) and I make it invisible. Finally, I expand the original shape.

Next, I take the screenshots. I used to do it the classic way. I switched to the full-screen display (in Illustrator), I hit the Print button then I paste the screen-shot in Photoshop. I continue and create the final images for the tutorial. I use some sections from the screenshots. Sometimes, I include several steps in only one image. I have this tutorial template that I use for all my tutorials. It has most common options/effect used in Illustrator. It shortens my working time. Finally, I add text. I think it's easier to write when I can see the images.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

Most of the tutorial ideas come accidentally. Sometimes, the ideas come as I browse through portfolios, vectors, or inspirational photos.

Andrei Marius on the Web:


Ben Mounsey

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel is your best, and why?

The best article I've written for the Envato folks would probably be my Core Art Skills, Part 2, simply because of the response from the readers.

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

I find it best to get in a good space creatively, whether that's a place or a mindset. Sometimes I write on the bus for example, it's dead time to me so it's rewarding to get something out of it, which spurs me on. It's sometimes important to have quiet and calm though, to give me focus.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

I usually write a bullet point break down of the article and what I want to cover, and then rearrange the order until it feels like it flows naturally. But often when I'm writing new ideas, things to add pop into my head. If it's a tutorial I'll brainstorm around the topic to come up with an idea for the artwork. Then I'll create the artwork and work backwards, taking it apart in screenshots and writing about it.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

I usually just use the built in (Mac) screenshot system, I arrange the relevant toolbar info in view and then drag a screenshot box over the content I want (Command > Shift > 4). Easy!

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

Inspiration for a topic can come at anytime, from anywhere, but I do sometimes find it helps to change my mindset. I consider myself pretty well read within my creative field at least, I know my stuff, I know my software, but my readers aren't all going to know what I know. So it helps to think back to myself at Uni, when I still knew fairly little about what I do now, and think of writing about some of the knowledge I take for granted.

Ben Mounsey on the Web:


Cheryl Graham

Q Which of your written tutorials would you feel is your best, and why?

First one, the How to Create a Classic Vector Painting with Watercolor Washes and Line Art — because it demonstrated using a tool in a very different way.
Create a Classic American Diner with Perspective Drawing Tools had just been released and there were no comprehensive tutorials out there yet on the new CS5 perspective tools. I thought this did a good job of covering the toolset in depth, and I quite liked the result!

A Comprehensive Guide to the Pathfinder Panel — I just liked geeking out and doing a comprehensive guide to a tool, without having to be too creative. How to Create an Art Gallery Frame in Vector — I like that I was able to break it down into sections according to its component parts. So, even though it was rather long, a reader could work through it one section at a time.

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

I try for a balance between words and images — some people learn best by reading, others by seeing, so I try to keep it not too wordy, and let the images do the talking, but also try to explain things clearly in writing.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

I usually do a bit of both. Most of the time I make the project and take screenshots along the way.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

SnapzPro is my main one. I also use the Grab program built into the Mac, and sometimes I just use the Mac keyboard shortcuts for capturing a part of the screen. For videos, I use ScreenFlow.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

I'm always looking through the vectors on various stock and illustration sites. I also read the user forums at Adobe to find out what people are most interested in learning. I usually try to go for something that has visual appeal, but also lends itself well to a particular technique.

Cheryl Graham on the Web:


Chris Spooner

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel is your best, and why?

Despite having a blog that has developed a name for itself with Illustrator tutorials, two of my most popular posts have been simple Photoshop photo effect tutorials. I guess tapping into what's hot (such as retro photo effects) can give you more widespread exposure to designers and even non-designers outside of your main niche.

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

Combining each step with a screenshot is the basic recipe for any tutorial. Visual posts in general I find always perform better, and with tutorials those screenshots help reinforce the text so the user can see where to find options, etc.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

When writing my tutorials I'll firstly create the design right through to completion, then I'll dissect it right back to a blank document. I'll then rebuild the design again and take screenshots for each step along the way. Once all the screenshots have been collected I'll then write a short paragraph explaining the process, then it's a case of combining everything into one blog post.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

I use the handy Command + Shift + 4 option that's built into OSX. Once my desktop is full of image files I'll import them all into Photoshop, re-size and save.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

My ideas tend to come from everyday occurrences that capture my interest. For instance if I spot a movie poster with a particular style I might get the urge to create a design in a similar vein, or if I come across something new I'll use tutorials to both help build my own knowledge of the subject, while sharing what I learn with others.

Chris Spooner on the Web:


Iaroslav Lazunov

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel is your best, and why?

I believe the best of my tutorials are: How to Create a Realistic Egg (a good photo-realistic result has been achieved and the basics of composition building have been described) and How to Create Realistic, Vector Bubbles (good result and an interesting technique of creating bubbles).

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

I believe that if you want to make a great tutorial, each time you should describe a new technique that was not previously described by anyone else before. The final result has to be good enough to attract the attention of readers and inspire them to study the information and create their own artwork. The description should be sufficiently detailed and clear, so that all your readers could reproduce your tutorial. Then they will start to believe in their own strength and will keep on turning back to your tutorials improving themselves.

Besides the bit by bit instruction the tutorial should contain pieces of advice that facilitate work and save time. Screenshots should be informative enough, so that the tutorial could be understood without description. If needed, the screenshots can be completed with various arrows, underlining, symbols, and comments, as the ones in the cartoons. It is good if a tutorial contains theory as well.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

The project is created this way: an idea, experiments, project creation, and description at the same time.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

For screenshots creation, in order to avoid further distortions and artifacts in the final JPG file image, scaling should be carried out in Adobe Illustrator only. Image copying is done by pressing the Print Screen key, then open Photoshop and create a document 600 px by 600 px. Paste the copied image into a new document (Command + V), edit the location and crop it if needed, then save for Web and Devices.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

You should be familiar with the tutorials published on the website and online in order not to repeat the others, if possible. In the main task lays the opportunity to invent and apply new or interesting techniques and obtain excellent results. Then you start searching for a topic. Look at the world with eyes wide open, and the idea will be born by itself.

Iaroslav Lazunov on the Web:


Jesse Hora

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tutorial?

A suggestion, or something that I think is important to keep in mind is that the tutorials should be both useful and look good.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

The easiest way for me to get started is to write up and outline the basic principles of the tutorial. The outline may only be 4 or 5 steps, but it gives me the general overview of where to start and end. From there I prefer to write the tutorial while I create the project because I am able to integrate the smaller details that have a tendency to get lost if I were to write it later.

One tip I have as far as how to write while creating the project is to not worry to much about the language/grammar initially, because it's fairly easy to go back and edit, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to get a good image - because its a pain in the rear to go back and get the project in an 'in-progress' state.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

Yes, I use screenshots or simply 'saving for web' at each step. Also, on more technical tuts, or terminology heavy situations, I think integrating a bit of visual explanation (orange) in the images helps to further illustrate the step or point I make with the writing.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

Most of the time I will come across an idea or theme for a tutorial from another project I am working on at the time. Often I'll develop a new approach/technique in a project and re-interpret that into a tutorial. It helps to see if other people have covered a similar topic/theme and if so, I like to see if there is a unique approach or point of view I can offer.

Jesse Hora on the Web:


Jonathan Patterson

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel is your best, and why?

I'd probably say the second tutorial (Make a Fairy-Tale Inspired Magical Hand Shaped Vine) I'd ever written was my favorite, as well as a good tutorial. I am really drawn to this particular tutorial because it is such a unique concept and if I may say, a fantastic execution! I think I've explained the concept well and it's easy to read and follow along with.

I also really enjoyed making the Nintendo Controller tutorial. This too was a strong tutorial, which I think many people were able to easily follow along with.

For 2011 my favorite tutorial is How To Create Outstanding Modern Infographics. This tutorial is easy to follow along with and has a simple yet bold appeal. It's modern and in keeping with the interests of the readers too. I like the unique execution of the various graphs. Infographics are really a cool combination of technical savvy and creativity.

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

Stick to the details that are more technically orientated. Save yourself time and omit details like listing color values – those items are more superficial and each user will ultimately pick the colors they want.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

Sometimes, I create a project with the intention of using it as a tutorial on Vectortuts+. When this is the case I make a copy of the art at various intervals. Generally, I will have approximately ten copies of the final artwork at incremental stages. This makes it easy to dissect each step and highlight specific points without having to create the artwork again. It also allows you to focus on the art instead of worrying about how you're going about a specific task.

Other times, I may refer back to a project that was created for another purpose, but works well as a finished piece to display on Vectortuts+. When this is the case it's more of a manual process of reducing the art all the way to the beginning stages and building it back up. This is a much more time consuming method, but it's really the only way to create a tutorial from artwork that already exists.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

I use the screen capture feature in the Mac OS, Option + Shift + 4, then click and drag over the area that I want to showcase. As Vectortuts+ requires screenshots to be in JPG format at 600px wide or smaller, I have a streamlined system to handle this repetitive and time consuming task.

Once the screenshots are all taken I open one of them up inside Photoshop and create a new action, then save the image for web as a 70% quality JPG (keeping the dimensions and other options as they are), then close the file and stop the action. After that I place all the images inside a temporary folder and run File > Automate > Batch on the folder, using the action I just created. This quickly saves all the PNG screen captures as JPGs.

Finally, I make a smart folder and set it to display any images created today whose width is greater than 600px. This makes it easy to see what images need extra attention. I open those images in Photoshop and save them for web at 600px.

The reason I don't specify a size when initially creating the action is so that images whose width is already less than 600px won't be sized up. This whole process takes less than 5 minutes, has proven very effective, and saves tons of time!

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

Over the years Vectortuts+ has covered lots of content... technical, artistic and otherwise. After a certain point it becomes difficult to come up with new technical tutorials (for example, how to make a business card in Illustrator.) Having said that, I believe it's easier to come up with tutorials that focus on creating a design. When new versions of Illustrator come out there is generally an influx of technically oriented content that the site showcases, but once that version of Illustrator gets a little older, it may be easier to come up with tutorials that are artistically based.

Jonathan Patterson on the Web:


Ryan Putnam (Rype)

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel is your best, and why?

That's a hard question! I think my best ones are the tutorials where you can see the tutorials influence and reference in work posted around the web. I like to think I will help someone with a tip or technique that they can actually use!

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

Like any other design, illustration, or writing piece, I think it's very important to know your audience. If your audience is relatively new to the subject matter you might have to explain things in more depth as opposed to writing for a more experienced audience. I also believe in writing tutorials where the techniques explained can be applied to many other projects. Otherwise, the tutorial isn't that helpful in the long run.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

I complete the project before I start writing. After I finish, I start writing and recreate each step. This helps me be thorough and not miss anything.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

I use Snapz Pro X to take my screenshots. I've looked at other screenshot software, but Snapz work fine for now. Basically my workflow is: write the step in a text editor, go into the program I am writing a tutorial for and complete the step, and then I take a screenshot of the step.

I organize all my screenshots in sequential order in a big PSD. This makes it easy for me to double check I have all the correct screenshots for each step. It sucks when you're writing a 30-40 step tutorial and can't find the screenshot or it's not labelled properly.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

Sometimes they just come to me, but most of the time I look to popular trends. I look at some of the popular gallery sites to see what great designers are doing, then I try to recreate trends and boil them down to a practical technique.

Ryan Putnam on the Web:


Sharon Milne

Q Which of your written tutorials do you feel are your best, and why?

Creating a Mysterious Cheshire Cat in Adobe Illustrator is my favorite tutorial so far. I've gotten over the first tutorial nerves, got some dodgy comments from people who judged the tutorial on the end product rather than seeing the whole tutorial (due to it being Premium). But this tutorial I did it of my own cat (I'm a bit of a crazy cat lady and tend to vector cats a lot), people have asked me how I did fur and this tutorial I have shown how to do that thoroughly. I guess I have a lot more pride for it based on these things and that I'm feeling more confident. And Create a Personalized Child Fairy Print is my favorite tutorial too.

Q I was wondering if you had any tips or techniques for writing a great tut?

I experiment a lot and tend to spend 10 minutes here and there playing around with certain parts of Illustrator. Sometimes I may stumble upon something that looks great, but takes no time at all, or a little skill to achieve. When this happens, I enjoy sharing it with others.

Q What's the best way to start writing? Do you make the project while you write, or do you make the project first and write about it second?

I have a book next to my desk – even had this before I started writing tutorials for Vectortuts+, which I use to write quick ideas in and when I'm not working on one tutorial or coming to the end of one, I like to pitch a couple of ideas to Sean, the Vectortuts+ Editor. More because I don't like to be overloaded.

I write my tutorials as I go along, because sometimes you forget steps, which can be confusing to the reader. I know from the start the sort of final image I want to achieve, but keep going with a tutorial until it's finished and write it as I go.

I tend to pitch ideas based on past vectors I've created, so I can present Sean with a general idea of the direction I'm going in.
If it's any help, I write tutorials as if I'm talking to someone who has absolutely very basic knowledge of Illustrator.

I assume they know how to work the Pen Tool, where to go to change the blending mode, opacity, to change colors... if it's beyond this, I tend to explain firstly where to go. Maybe repeat it again to refresh the readers memory and then the third time plus, assume they've picked up on that. I figure it's best to over explain than to under. I'd be mortified to read someone couldn't get a step or I needed to rewrite a section because it's not easy to understand.

Another thing is that my boyfriend is learning how to vector at the moment. So I get him to proofread my tutorials to see if he understands them.

Q What method do you use to take screenshots?

I get screenshots as I go along also, just print screen and paste into Photoshop and crop it.

Q How do you come up with an idea for a topic?

As I've done tutorials before doing them for Vectortuts+ - I've kinda built a little reputation on deviantART to be someone to go to with questions on Illustrator and in vector, or how to achieve things. I write the questions in my little book - if someone is asking it, then others may want to know it as well.

I know I've rambled on a bit here, but if someone wants to write more than one tutorial... do it because you enjoy sharing your knowledge and helping people. I'm really passionate about vector and teaching people, the money is great and the kudos is great, but being able to teach others is the most enjoyment in the process.

Sharon Milne on the Web:

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