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How to Create Step-by-Step Photoshop Design Tutorials

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Writing a Photoshop tutorial can look like a daunting task. This article will help to make it easier. It shines a light on the process of creating a step-by-step Photoshop design tutorial, while explaining the format to follow for publication on the Psdtuts+ site. It gives examples, tips, and guidelines for you to follow, which will help you construct the next great Photoshop tutorial!


We've seen a growing interest in members of our community wanting to write tutorials for Psdtuts+. We offer payments for tutorials, and we actively promote this on the site. So, naturally interest in this topic has grown. Some site members have requested guidelines on writing tutorials. They'd like to know more about successful approaches to writing step-by-step design tutorials, as they to would like to be published on the site.

If you're interested in writing tutorials for Psdtuts+, then this article will be helpful to you. If you're not, then this still may be worth skimming to get a behind the scenes look at this process. Before getting started with writing a tutorial review our submission guidelines. Read them carefully, as there are some requirements that need to be met.

Optimal Set of Skills

First of all, it requires certain skills to write a successful tutorial for this site. You'll need a command of Photoshop. Another skill you'll need is the ability to develop interesting and unique design ideas. You should posses the artistic talent to create an exciting and polished final image. While it is not required that you are a native English speaker, you'll need to either write in English, or work with your own translator. We do perform grammar checks before going to publication, but you should do the best you can with this before submitting. Some may be disappointed to learn that yes, you will need to know at least the basics of html, or work with someone who does. Essentially, you need to be able and willing to submit the tutorial in the proper format.

Step-by-Step PSDTTUS Tutorials

We do have a format for tutorials that Psdtuts+ is known for. The style of organizing the tutorial is with numbered steps. The advantage of this format is that it presents a clear path from beginning to end. It teaches how to construct a design and achieve a polished result. It's a bit like following a map from point A through curves and bends until you reach point Z.

Some tutorials take a straight path through to the finish. The tutorial Super Retro Game Cartridge Design is an example of following a straight path. Even in a tutorial that mostly follows a straight path format, the designer often gives some context in the introduction and some advice in the conclusion, though in this type of tutorial, there is often little deviation from the path of straight Photoshop design instruction.

Other tutorials provide more reasoning behind the steps of the tutorial. It would be like saying why you are stopping at point E on the map before continuing on to point Z. So, tutorials may offer additional advice while pursuing the end result. This enhances the concepts presented in the tutorial. To fit the format used on the site, this kind of advice could be included as part of an explanation of a step. In some cases, it could be a step itself. Collis intermixes explanations throughout this Step-by-Step Tutorial Creative Photo Composition: Get More Out of What You've Got. Additional explanation is important to understanding the reasons certain decisions where made, as this was an actual client project. Keep in mind though that over explanation in a tutorial is not helpful; The path to the final result should still dominate the tutorial descriptions.

You might have a few questions about the format of the tutorials here. If you do, let me know in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer them. I've come up with a few questions that you may have:

  • Will tutorials at Psdtuts+ always follow a numbered step-by-step format? Always is a long time. This could change at some point eventually, though we have no plans to do so at this point.
  • What about video? While our focus in currently on written tutorials, video is an interesting format. We do accept tutorials that include video, though at this point the video should enhance the written tutorial, and not rely on the video. Here is an example Creating X-Ray Style Images From Mechanical Objects
  • Can I write a tutorial series? Yes, we do publish tutorial series. We do require the entire series be written for review as a whole, as there is nothing worse than waiting on Part II and it gets delayed. We also have cross posting options with NETTUTS. We haven't explored this possibility fully yet, but we're open to suggestions.

Describe Each Step Thoroughly

Details are important. Rather than skipping over steps in the construction of a design, cover everything. Describe exactly how you create each step. Of course, the scope of the tutorial may dictate otherwise in some cases. Use your best judgment, but generally the more detailed the tutorial instructions the better.

Tone and Writing Style

A friendly professional tone is often the most effective. There are many ways to undermine the professionalism of your writing. Stay on target with your writing. Avoid meandering in your writing, mentioning things that don't pertain to the tutorial, and details about your personal life. It's best to stay on topic, on track, focused, concise, and strive for clarity. That doesn't mean don't have a personality, but don't let it undermine the professionalism of your writing.

Decide on Your Concept

The first step in creating a tutorial is to come up with an idea. The article 12 Ways to Tap Into an Endless Well of Creativity points out some ways to light that creative spark. Ultimately, the more unique and interesting the design the more likely it will be a hit. Also, the more useful your tutorial is to the readers here the more likely it will be appreciated. There are numerous other factors that make a great Photoshop tutorial, read up on some of them: 5 Important Criteria that Make a Great Photoshop Tutorial.

Credit Images and Cite Your Sources

Copyright is an important issue in the tutorials we publish. In order for us to consider your tutorial, we'll need links to each image and asset you've used. This way we can verify the usage rights of the photos and materials. This is not applicable if your not using assets, if you created your own assets, or if you photographed your own images.

In the tutorial Create a 60’s Psychedelic Style Concert Poster Kyle sites the source for both the female singer in the tutorial and the texture used as well.

Keep in mind that you should always cite your sources. If your idea is inspired by an art movement, well then make that clear. If your concept is inspired by an artist, give the artist credit. If you generated the idea independently, well then it's not an applicable issue. In the tutorial, Design a Shiny Photorealistic Apple Remote Constantin clearly indicates his source of inspiration for this design as an actual Apple product.

Sketch, Experiment, and Plan Your Design

As with any design project you'll need to go through the phases of creating your design itself. Deciding On Your Concept was mentioned above, but to do that you may want to experiment first. The process of finalizing your concept can differ greatly, as there are numerous types of design projects.

Sketch some concepts. If you're creating a design that requires any level of detailed drawing then this is clearly a necessary step. View the article The Role of Sketching in the Design Process for more information. An example of detailed Photoshop drawing is the work of Sergio Ordóñez Suánez. Or you might compose a digital draft. Use Photoshop itself to create a rough sketch of the design. Experiment with placement until you get the positioning, color, and design right. That's what I did in the tutorial Create a Constructivist Inspired Poster. Step 1 of the tutorial explains this technique.

Experiment with different Photoshop tools and effects. Being that we're writing Photoshop tutorials, it can make your tutorial stand out to use a unique combination of effects. Or to demonstrate a creative use of a Photoshop technique. Whole tutorials can be based around just one interesting use of a Photoshop tool. Keep in mind that the final design will need to be a stellar example of this technique in action for the community to appreciate the technique. The tutorial Create Rainbow Logos with Warped Grids demonstrates the creative and versatile use of the Warp Tool.

Once you've narrowed down your concept, sketched, and experimented, then you finalize your plan for the design. In many cases, you can fit the plan in your head, but you may want to write down some key points you'll cover in your tutorial.

Narrow Down Your Approach

There are two basic approaches you could choose when creating your tutorial. One approach is to create your polished design first. Then you go back and design it a second time, while recording your design process this second time around. The other approach is to design and record your steps as you go.

One advantage of the first approach is that you can focus on the design the first time through. It's hard to capture every step and build a good design congruently. You also have the advantage that you can send in your polished final result for review prior to writing up the tutorial. You would use the Preview Submission Form for this. Keep in mind though that you may want to take some notes. Or capture important screenshots. There is nothing worse than not remembering how you achieved a great effect, and then having to figure it out all over again.

An advantage of creating your design and recording your steps together is that it can save time. If you have a clear plan, and a relatively simple design, then this may be the best option. Also, if you have a huge tutorial to write, one that is unreasonable to do twice, like the tutorial Fiery Photoshop Space Explosion Tutorial, then this approach may be necessary, even if it drags on the design process. Also, the more you make tutorials the more appealing doing it all at once becomes.

Keep in mind that these are approaches. They don't have any bearing on how the audience perceives the final tutorial. They are just different approaches to creating them.

Capture Screenshots and Record Your Process

The most basic way to capture screenshots is to use tools, and shortcuts, built into your computer. Then clean them up in Photoshop if needed. There are numerous tools available that can streamline the process of capturing screenshots. Feel free to mention any of your favorite programs for this in the comments. Keep in mind that images should be no more than 600px wide. We do allow linking to larger final image previews though.

There are some formatting guidelines to keep in mind with screenshots. Namely, each step should have one image. There can be any number of screenshots or images used for the Step, but ultimately combine it into one image in Photoshop, and name the image the same number as the step (for example, Step 1 would be 1.jpg). This makes it easy to keep track of. A common example of multiple combined images used on the site is below. In the tutorial Mix Cool Retro Curves Into Your Photographs Fabio shows specific layer styles to use for Step 5, the image also shows the result of these styles.

There are a plethora of layout options available when combining multiple images, or text and image. There is a reasonable amount of freedom in how you show the design taking shape. Below are some examples that give a glimpse into the variety of options. Some vary based on image placement, combination of text, image, and arrows in the design, and the use of callouts. Following are a few potential image layout options.

In the tutorial, Create a Sleek, High-End Web Design from Scratch Collis gives almost as much design advice as he does step by step instruction. In the image below, he successfully unified both text and image to illustrate one of the points he makes in the tutorial.

In the tutorial, How to Put Smokin' Bullet Holes and a Wanted Sign into a Piece of Wood Collis uses a callout and text to indicate proper and improper placement of the bullet hole design elements.

Below you can see that multiple images are combined to show where and how the brush tool was applied. This is from step 17 of the tutorial Use a 3D Model to Create a Dramatic Scene in Photoshop. While the image could be cleaned up a little, it gives you a good view of versatility within the format.

Recording your process is a laborious task, but it's essential to the success of a Photoshop tutorial. Describe in detail each step needed to complete the final design. Describe every design element that needs to be created, and exactly what actions the user needs to perform. Include accompanying screenshots that further illustrate the process. If the screenshots show essential information then feel free to refer to them. You don't need to write all the layer styles used in a detailed description, if you've taken screenshots that show them. The written text and images work in tandem.

Some formating guidelines are included in the html template file. We've also been using these guidelines, which keep in mind are a work in progress.

Of course, you may do things like reference another tutorial on the site for more information on the background of an advanced technique. You may skip describing some details like Masking, as it's covered in so many tutorials here on the site. Common sense should prevail. Be detailed about everything most users would need to know.

Review Your Tutorial Through the Eyes of the User

Keep in mind the audience of the tutorial. That's whom the tutorial is written for. Most tutorials on the site are targeted at both novice and advanced users. So, when reviewing your tutorial keep in mind how a user, whom may be less experienced than you, will follow the tutorial. What questions might they have? Is there a section they might find difficult? Work to improve the tutorial based on these types of issues.

Edit, Refine, and then Submit the Tutorial

Edit your tutorial for grammatical and logical errors. Make sure the tutorial is structurally sound, sequential, and understandable. Work to make your writing as concise and clear as possible. Do a spelling check. Make sure the HTML formating is correct. Then submit the final tutorial for approval. Use the Tutorial Submission Form. Good luck!


The two designers that have written the most tutorials on the site are Fabio and Collis. Fabio writes often and therefore tends to write straight forward to the point design tutorials. Studying his writing is a great model to follow for tutorial writers, especially those writers that are getting started. He writes clean, concise, and successful tutorials. Collis tends to write comprehensive tutorials that cover both the design steps involved and the graphic design principles underlying the decisions. Of course, there is some overlap, as both of them write each type of tutorial as well.

Keep in mind that you're building your reputation when you create tutorials for the site. You're also building a relationship with our staff and the members of the site with each communication you send, comment you make, and tutorial you create. If you have an interest in writing more than one tutorial, then consider the first tutorial you write for us as an introduction, as we have many opportunities available.

Remember that when you send a tutorial concept for us to review that you're pitching the idea. This means your trying to sell the concept, final polished image, and yourself as the writer. Feel free to include links to other tutorials you've written, and your design portfolio when you submit concepts, as it helps establish your level of professionalism in the field. Let me know if there are any questions in the comments.

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