Graphics ☆ Beginners Guide to GFX ☆


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Beginners Guide to GFX
Hello everyone, and welcome to the GFX forums! My name is Azuviin, and I have been making graphics for a few years now. Are you looking to learn to make graphics, but have no idea how or where to start? Well, that's what I'm here for. The purpose of this thread is to introduce and teach the necessary basic knowledge of graphics making, and it'll cover everything from what program to use, useful websites, and the like.​

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Getting Started

The very first thing you’ll need to do is get yourself a good program. The program I would highly recommend for everyone is GIMP, which can be downloaded [here]. It is simple to use, quick, and best of all, free. Once GIMP is downloaded, you will need to set it up by adding the Layer Effects script file, which is very important for graphics (overlays, borders etc.). You can find the instructions on how to install script files [here].

An explanation of all the tools which can be used in GIMP can be found [here].

Another program which is commonly used is Photoshop, and while it is better at graphics (and everything in general) it is quite expensive. Not really worth it for simple graphics, since it's more for people who are serious. That is why I would recommend GIMP more, but if you are willing to get your hands on Photoshop, go for it. You will not need to add any script files as with GIMP, as everything is already there for you.

An explanation of all the tools which can be used in Photoshop can be found [here]. Keep in mind, this may very slightly differ depending on your version of Photoshop.

At first, the numerous features and tools of these programs may look tedious if you haven’t had any prior experience with them. But once you start practicing making graphics, you’ll adjust, and using these programs will just get much easier until you can describe each and every tool from the back of your head with ease, so don’t worry! :D

The Basics
In this section, I will go over the very basics on GFX making to get you started!​

1. Canvas
Open up your canvas (file -> new -> type in your dimensions in px). Of course, it’s up to you whatever size you want to make it, but if you want to make a forum signature, a good rough size is 500x200px. It can be bigger or smaller to your liking.

2. Background/Render
To place your background/render, open up the image in your program (file -> open -> select your file). Use the selecting tool (Rectangular Select Tool on GIMP, Rectangular Marquee Tool on Photoshop) to select the image you want to use as the background/render and copy it (ctrl+c), and paste it (ctrl+v) onto your canvas.
You’ll most likely find it too big, right? But if it's too small, better go and pick another image! You never want to enlarge an image that is based on pixels, otherwise it'll look extremely low quality and icky. To resize the image..
GIMP: Select the scale tool, click on the image and you will be able to resize it. Note: Hold down [ctrl] when you’re resizing it to keep the scale the same, otherwise the image will be skewed.
Photoshop: Press ctrl+t to resize the image. Note: Same deal with GIMP, but in this case, hold down [shift] to keep the image scale.
This also applies to resizing PNGs, C4Ds, Vectors etc!

3. Text
GIMP: The Text Tool can be found underneath the Scale Tool. Just click on it, click on anywhere on your canvas, and type in your text. Size and font can be edited on the side bar.
Photoshop: It’s called the Horizontal Type Tool, and can be found under the Pen Tool. Click on anywhere on the canvas and type in your text. Size and font can be edited on the top horizontal bar.
An alternative way to add text if you want different fonts is to use online websites, such as [DaFont].

4. Colors/Adjustments
These are the options used for enhancing the colors of the graphic, such as gradient maps, brightness/contrast etc. Generally applied after the key composition and design of the graphic is finished. In GIMP, it can be found under ‘Colors’ and in Photoshop (image -> adjustments).

Following is a list of adjustments and its actions
  • Brightness/Contrasts: Adjusts how bright the image is and further contrasts the dark and light values.
  • Levels: Levels can move and stretch the brightness levels of an image histogram. It has the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, and tonal range by specifying the location of complete black, complete white, and midtones in a histogram.
  • Curves: With the curves adjustment, you adjust points throughout an image’s tonal range, which is initially represented as a straight diagonal line on a graph. When adjusting an RGB image, the upper-right area of the graph represents the highlights and the lower-left area represents the shadows. The horizontal axis of the graph represents the input levels (original image values) and the vertical axis represents the output levels (new adjusted values). The shape of the curve changes as you add control points to the line and move them, reflecting your image adjustments. The steeper sections of the curve represent areas of higher contrast while flatter sections represent areas of lower contrast.
  • Exposure: The exposure is the measure of light in your image.
  • Vibrance: This increases the saturation of muted tones without overly saturating already saturated colours. You can also do the opposite and mute down tones.
  • Hue/Saturation: Hue/Saturation lets you adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of a specific range of colors in an image or simultaneously adjust all the colors in an image.
  • Color Balance: This adjustment changes the overall mixture of colors in an image for generalized color correction.
  • Black and White: This adjustment turns the colour values into their respective black and white values.
  • Photo Filter: The photo filter adjusts the general color of the image, such as the warmth or cool tones of the image.
  • Invert: This reverts a color to it’s opposite colour, for example, black will turn into white.
  • Threshold: Threshold converts an image into a completely black and white image. This can turn an image into a completely black and white outline.
  • Selective Color: This can adjust a single color in an image while leaving the other colors unaffected.
  • Gradient Map: Gradient map is a very versatile tool which can give you great control over the colors of your image. It can change a completely black and white image into color and change the colors in a color image. Along with the gradients already installed on photoshop, you can also download and install your own.

Video Tutorials
Here are some good video tutorials which are helpful for a complete beginner, for both GIMP and Photoshop.

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GFX Styles
Now I will be discussing the various graphic styles involved. Of course they are not limited to the ones which I will be listing here, but they are certainly the most common. All examples shown here are made by Thundawave, Tsukiri, Rydia, or myself.​

This style is especially creative and imaginative, with meaning which is interpreted differently depending on the person. Generally has lots of shapes and colors, and little filters and effects.​

C4D stands for Cinema 4D, which is a program which creates 3D images, often used in signatures. Majority of C4D signatures are quite dark, but they can also be light signatures as they are very versatile to work with.

Signatures of this style are always very dark themed, due to the textures and grunge brushes being used.​

As the name implies, this style mainly makes use of stock images and PNGs in order to make a cohesive signature. One of the more versatile signature styles.

By using the smudge tool, this style is done by smudging various lines and shapes for the entirety of the signature. And in my opinion, the most difficult and taxing style of them all. If you so choose to learn and master this style, I wish you the best of luck upon this journey!

This style mainly uses splatter brush effects for majority of the signature. It also uses clipping masks for extra added effects.

The text of the signature is the main focal, rather than any other images included.

Quite similar to scrapbook signatures as it gives a sort of collage effect, but differs as it mainly uses various textures instead of PNGs.

Fun and cartoony looking signatures, made with vectors, various brushes and stocks. Probably the most colourful and eye-catching of them all.

This signature style is almost exclusively made out of pentool shapes.

This signature styles makes use of the clipping mask to create images which popout or look 3D.
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Resources | Websites


Once you’ve gotten yourself accustomed with your program and the basics of GFX, you’ll want to get yourself some nice resources! Common resources which you should look into are:

Photoshop actions come in the .ATN file format. They are a series of steps that have been recorded by their creator. Actions are used in various ways, but the ones you should be looking for are the series of adjustments, which when applied, will give your graphic a different color scheme. Basically install it onto Photoshop, hit play and it will do the adjustment work for you (though outcomes will vary, so make sure you find the right one). These can’t be used in GIMP.

PSDs are PSD colourings, which gives your graphic a different colour scheme when applied. They are very similar to Actions, except you don’t need to install anything and it doesn’t provide the steps leading up to the final result. Basically open up the file and drag it onto your signature. Both of these are very useful as they improve colour schemes and blend together uneven colours easily when needed.

The programs recommended above will have some basic brushes automatically installed, but it is very limited. There is a huge variety of brushes you can find online.

The main focus of C4D styled signatures, they are 3D images which often have a transparent background. They come in 3 different styles, normal, effect and wireframe.

Fractals are basically lighting effects, they mostly have black backgrounds, and are set on lighten or screen when used. Though sometimes they are also transparent.

Gradient Maps
The gradient maps adjustment is a great way to add photo filters and special colour effects to your signature. They can also blend together and adjust colours, and are often used with blending modes. They should have most of the basic ones already installed on Photoshop.

Patterns are images which are repeated when filled on a new layer, useful for simple backgrounds and can also be used as a texture.

Image cut-outs with transparent backgrounds, however, they are not the same as renders as PNGs are usually not the main focus of signatures. Instead, they decorate the signature and compliment the render. Mainly used in Scrapbook, Text, Vector and occasionally Texture.

Renders are most often the main focal of signatures, and are just images of an object, person or character with a transparent background. Make sure you save the render to your desktop and use it from there, otherwise if you copy and paste it, it will lose its transparency.

Textures/Stock Images
Textures are backgrounds with a unique patterning or design. Stock images are images of things such as a city or garden scenery. Both of these are mainly used as backgrounds for a signature, but textures are mainly used in texture signatures and are usually layered on.

Now you may be wondering, where exactly do I find these resources? The best place I can recommend to you is DeviantART. DeviantART is a website which focuses on all sorts of art, including GFX. All of these resources listed above can be found here, but be sure to be wary of the resources you are using to avoid copyright. I would also recommend you to make an account there, so you can neatly save all of your resources into your favorites and join GFX focused groups.
If DeviantART doesn’t satisfy or not have what you’re looking for, here are some other websites you can use!
  • Bakarenders – This website is a community dedicated to render graphics, and mostly focuses on Anime/Manga/Cartoon character renders.
  • DaFont – You will already have some good fonts at your disposal, but if you are looking for something fancier, or something which blends in with your sign better, DaFont is a great site for free fonts.
  • Sigtutorials – While this website focuses on signature tutorials (which I highly recommend you also checking out), it also provides a great variety of resources from C4Ds to brushes etc.

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Final Words of Advice

1. Practice
This goes without saying. Without practice, you’re never going to be great at making graphics! You don’t need to have an idea of what you’re going to make right off the bat, paste the render onto the canvas and do whatever. That’s the fun part after all!

2. Observe other graphics
I’m not saying copy other works, but rather, get ideas and inspiration from people who have more experience and skill in GFX. You may also notice things that you would like to learn how to do and incorporate into your graphics! Speedpaints on Youtube are also a fantastic idea, it’s much easier to see it being made rather than figuring out by yourself how some make something.

3. Make a portfolio
You’re not going to improve by making something, saving it to your GFX folder and never letting it see the light of day. Create a portfolio so people can give you feedback and CnC! Don’t be shy to show others your work, no matter how bad you think it is. Even the best GFXers were beginners at some point. Just make sure to post in the GFX Lounge if you are posting less than 3 works.

4. Be open minded
Not all feedback you get will be 100% positive, so don’t expect people to be singing praises about your work, especially if you’re just starting out. Even if you are extremely proud of what you have done, it’s not perfect, and other people will see flaws in your work. Do not let this get you down! If somebody comments on something that you could improve on, at the very least, try to consider it and give the suggestion a go. When someone gives you CnC, they’re not forcing you to do change anything, neither are they trying to make you feel bad. Instead, they just want to help you improve by giving suggestions. Be open to new ideas which you may not have thought of before.

And that's it! Go forth and begin your GFX journey. If you have any questions about GFX, feel free to post in this thread and we'll do our best to respond as soon as possible.
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