Many designers refer to commercial design work as the type that pays the bills, meaning it’s the work you do for commercial clients that doesn’t always lend itself to creative work. You are often limited by assets, time, and sometimes input from the client. They always seem to know what they don’t want, but never what they actually do want. However, it is under these conditions that you can really test your creativity. My first job out of design school was as an ad creator for a newspaper. Notice the title: Ad Creator, not Graphic Designer. The title alone limited my creativity, but I had to start somewhere. I pressed on to do the best I could and learned a lot. For one thing, I learned the value of speed. Because of daily deadlines, I was constantly in a pinch. As stressful as this sounds, I received more assignments beyond the scope of an ad creator because I showed higher proficiency. As a result, today I am able to infuse my own design style and still turn around projects, like commercial work, really quickly. So, don’t look at commercial work as a burden on your creativity. Use it to challenge your imagination to come up with creative solutions.
Design with Grid Elements
I actually saw this effect in a movie poster, but it definitely has a number of uses. Once the base grid is created, you can add just about any image for any purpose. While we’re creating the effect, try to be open-minded as to different ways of using this technique for different types of design scenarios.
Go under the File menu, choose New, and create a new document that’s 9 inches wide by 12 inches tall at 125 ppi, and make sure the Background Contents pop-up menu is set to White.
Go under the Photoshop (PC: Edit) menu, under Preferences, and choose Guides, Grid, & Slices. Since we want to create four squares across, in the Grid section, enter 2.25 in the Gridline Every field and leave its pop-up menu set to Inches. Then, enter 1 in the Subdivisions field below. The default gray color to the right would work fine, but I prefer something more visible. So, click on the color swatch and choose a different color. Here, I’ve chosen a shade of green. Click OK when you’re done.
Go under the View menu, under Show, and choose Grid. In your image window, you should now see a 4-column grid going across the canvas.
In the Toolbox, click-and-hold on the Rectangular Marquee tool, and choose the Single Row Marquee tool. Click on the first horizontal grid line at the top of the document and it will add a selection 1-pixel high and the width of the document, snapping to the grid line. Then press-and-hold the Shift key (to add to the existing selection) and click on the other horizontal grid lines to add selections to them.
Next, go into the Toolbox and grab the Single Column Marquee tool (also nested beneath the Rectangular Marquee tool) and use the same process to add selections to the vertical grid lines (remember to press-and-hold the Shift key to add to the existing selection). Once the selections are made, click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new blank layer. Press D to set your Foreground and Background colors to their defaults of black and white, and then press Command-Delete (PC: Ctrl-Backspace) to fill the selections with white. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect and then press Command-’ (apostrophe; PC: Ctrl-’) to turn off the grid.
Open the model shot we’re going to use in the design (or whatever image you might want to use). I liked this image, because of the lighting and the positioning of the model in the composition. Switch to the Move tool (V) and click-and-drag (or copy-and-paste) this image into the grid layout file.
Click-and-drag this image layer beneath the grid layer in the Layers panel. Then, position the image at the top edge of the canvas, like you see here.
Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a layer mask to the model layer and then select the Gradient tool (G) from the Toolbox. In the Options Bar, click on the down-facing arrow to the right of the gradient thumbnail and choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient (the second gradient from the left in the top row), and then click on the Linear Gradient icon to the right of the gradient thumbnail. Press X to set your Foreground color to black, and then click-and-drag the gradient up just a little bit, starting at the bottom edge of the photo, to fade the image into the white background.
Now, to make the grid lines a little thicker, we’ll use a simple layer style. Click on your grid layer (Layer 1) to make it active, then click on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Stroke. Click on the Color swatch and set the color to white. Then, set the Size to 2 px and make sure the Position pop-up menu is set to Outside. Click OK.
Now, click back on the layer of the model to make it active and press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to make a duplicate of it. Then, press Command-Shift-U (PC: Ctrl-Shift-U) to remove the color from this duplicate layer. Go under the Filter menu, under Distort, and choose Diffuse Glow. Set the Graininess to 3, the Glow Amount to 5, and the Clear Amount to 10. This will blow out the highlights a bit and give us a stylish grain over the whole image. Click OK. (Note: These settings will vary with different images, so be sure to experiment with other settings to get the look you want.)
As a result of the Diffuse Glow filter, the image is left a little flat. However, you can tighten up the contrast a bit by pressing Command-L (PC: Ctrl-L) and running a simple Levels adjustment. You can see here, I’ve adjusted the Input Levels shadows (black) and midtones (gray) sliders to darken the shadow areas. Next, change the layer’s blend mode to Soft Light, which will add some stylish contrast to the image.
Now, back to the grid layer. Click on it to activate it again, then select the Magic Wand tool from the Toolbox (or press Shift-W until you have it), and click inside one of the squares. Press-and-hold the Shift key and select two other squares (like you see here or however many you’d like). Once the selections are made, create a new blank layer, fill the square selections with white, and then deselect.
Click back on the grid layer and use the Magic Wand tool, once again, to select three more squares. Then, with your Foreground and Background colors set to their defaults of black and white, click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Gradient Map. This will make the selected grid squares black and white like you see here, giving us a very cool finished effect. Feel free to play around with other adjustments or colors to get different results.
Finally, just drop in some text (here, I used different styles of the Futura font) and you have a finished layout. You can see here how I used the white squares to act as frames for the text.