How-To Geek

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 7: Design and Typography


Programs like Photoshop have allowed new generations of would-be designers jump in and create with greater ease than ever before. See just how easy it is by learning the Type Character Panel, and applying it to some basic design work.

Having covered the text tool briefly in Part 1, The Toolbox, and creation of text objects in Part 3, Layers, let’s take a closer look at how to set typography in Photoshop. Of course, if you’ve missed any part of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, each are still available in this bundled link.

Fonts and the Character Panel

While vector programs like Adobe Illustrator are superior choices for handling abstract shapes like fonts, Photoshop is no slouch in the Typography department. It is capable of nearly any typographic treatment Illustrator is capable of, and some that it isn’t.

character panel

The character panel can be found by going to Window > Character, if it is not already in your right side panel. It is rich with options for your text, which we’ll go over now. Be warned, that this section contains complicated typographic terms that you may or may not know. Brush up on your typography terms with the How-To Geek article, “Understand Typography Like a Professional Designer,” or simply keep reading.

Font Family: Where you chose the font your text object is set in, for example, Helvetica, Arial, Times New Roman, etc.

Font Style: If you have font families installed, your “font style” may be active, this is where you can choose alternate versions of the same face. For instance, Arial Bold, Arial Narrow, Arial Condensed, Arial Rounded MT, Arial Black, etc.

Font Size: Where you can numerically alter the size of your font. Type in numbers here or use the pulldown menu for suggested common point sizes.

Leading: Typographic term for the space between lines of paragraph text, set in points.

Kerning: Horizontal spacing between pairs of letters. Negative numerical values here will close spaces between characters while positive values will add space between letters.

Tracking: Similar to the concept of Kerning, Tracking adjusts the general kerning over an entire text object or over several selected letters. You can adjust tracking on a text object, and then kern between individual letters, if you wish.

Vertical Scale: A controlled way to stretch and squash typography up and down. Input numerical values here in percent of the original character height.

Horizontal Scale: A controlled way to stretch and squash typography to the left and right. Input numerical values here in percent of the original character width.

Baseline Shift: The baseline is the line the text “rests” on. Move certain selected characters off the baseline to make them appear higher or lower than the rest of the set text.

Text Color: An area where text object color can be adjusted.

Language: Adjusts the language the text is set in, in case non-English characters are needed.

Anti-Aliasing: Options for rendering text in pixels by adjusting the amount of pixel blurring used to describe the edges of type. “None” renders letters in hard-edged pixels, while all others use various forms of anti-aliasing.

Faux Bold and Other Character Panel Options

Bold Faux Bold: The size of your current font is artificially thickened to create an artificial bold font. Using an actual bold font in the “Font Family” or “Font Style” is generally preferable.
Faux Italic Faux Italic: Your current font is artificially slanted to the right, creating a false italic look. Again, using an actual italic font in the “Font Family” or “Font Style” is preferable.
Uppercase Uppercase: Transforms your type into all uppercase. Very useful in those cases where it is time consuming to retype large sections of upper and lower case text.
small caps Small Caps: Creates a false small caps by shrinking the point size of your uppercase letters. All lowercase letters will be replaced with these smaller capitals in your text object.
Superscript Superscript: Changes selected text or text object to superscript, as in the case of 28.
Subscript Subscript: Changes selected text or text object to subscript, as in the case of C6H12O6.
underline Underline: Adds a simple underscore underneath your selected text or text object.
strikethrough Strikethrough: Adds a simple strike through all of your selected text or text object.

The Options Panel and the Type Tool


Some options not available in the Character Panel are waiting at the top of your screen, in the Options Panel, when you use the Type tool. These three are:

Text Orientation Text Orientation: Toggles the direction the text in your text object runs, either horizontally or vertically.
paragraph Alignment: Sets the alignment of your text object either to Left-Aligned, Center-Aligned, or Right Aligned.
Warp Text Warp Text: Warps text objects into one of several pre-defined, adjustable shapes, like banners or other objects.

Designing a Simple Book Cover


Because design is about real world application, we will look through the creation of a basic book cover design for one of the most important (not to say controversial) scientific books of all time, On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, by Charles Darwin.


ctrl L brings up the levels tool to adjust the image of Darwin. While design is not necessarily simply about arrangement of elements, this simplistic approach will suffice for demonstration purposes.


As the image is blacked, Ctrl click on the Gray channel in your channels panel. This creates a selection of all the white in the image.

Edit: If your file is not already in Grayscale, but RGB or CMYK, you should go to Image > Mode > Grayscale before Ctrl + Clicking on your grayscale channel. Thanks to HTG reader l3utterfish for bringing this to my attention.


Press ctrl shift N to create new layer.


Edit > Fill to fill the selection in your new layer with white.


The icon photograph of Darwin is now removed from the black background and ready to be used as an element.


Press Ctrln to create a new document at your preferred size. The size illustrated is the same size of another important book, Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style.


And here is our very tall workspace for the book cover.


Pick a foreground color in the Foreground Background colors in your toolbox. Any color will suffice, although in this demonstration, a dark color is preferable.


Edit > Fill and be certain to set “Use” to “Foreground Color.”


The background is filled with the wine color chosen earlier.


Press shortcut key v. Navigate to your original file, and drag your layer into your new file using the selected Move Tool.


The layer should appear something like this inside the new file.


Press t or select the type tool, Illustrated above to start setting type.


Not all fonts are appropriate to the content. This pixelated font is very bad for this concept.


A more conservative font may honor the content and create a more appropriate look.


With even a few limited font options installed, it can seem overwhelming. However, picking the right font is difficult and time consuming, but altogether very important to a piece of design.


When the right font is found, adjusting it with the Character Panel is a simple matter.


The font size is changed,and the type broken into two lines.


When the point size is adjusted, we may run into issues with leading.


When letters collide, readers will be left with legibility and readability issues. Adjusting leading is the only response.


Increasing the point size of the leading improves the readability of the title.


Additional information will have to be added, and oftentimes, Photoshop assumes you want to use the same font as point size as your last used text object. This may or may not be the case.


New text objects added and adjusted, we can start to access our design as a whole.


We may find we wish to move elements around.


We may also add more elements or subtlety shift text, to keep a consistent line on the page. The Text tool will also allow you to adjust typos, like the letters “Means” “Natural” and “Selection” that need capitalizing in a title.


Additional elements can also help a design, like this skeleton of Lucy, the famous Australopithecus afarensis. Again, design is not necessarily a simple combination of elements, as it can involve process Photoshop is completely incapable of. However, it is often an excellent tool for this sort of graphics work.

Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

Come back to How-To Geek for the Final installments of the Guide to Learning Photoshop, where we’ll wrap up our guide with a look at the Filters of Photoshop.

Image Credit: Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron, in public domain. Lucy by Wikipedia user 120, made available under Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 11/23/10

Comments (24)

  1. Hatryst

    Awesome work, Eric ;)
    You’re really a Photoshop genius !!

    One question: Is there any difference between Photoshop CS3 running on a Mac, and Photoshop CS3 running on Windows?

  2. Eric Z Goodnight

    The differences between Windows and Mac Photoshops are minimal, at least in terms of functionality. There are no features, filters, etc, that one has that the other does not. Some of the shortcuts are different as the keyboards are different.

    The other differences are too minimal to really get too deep into–stuff like plugins are .8bi files on Win and .plugin files on Mac. Strange nitpicky stuff like that.

  3. TomSr

    Nice article. Now we need a how-to-geek-guide on affording Photoshop! J/K

  4. ray

    can i get photoshop cs5 anywhere for free

  5. l3utterfish

    I am stuck in selecting the GREY layer.. and trying to isolate the head.
    I only see RGB in the layers.

    any help?

  6. Don Pullum

    Ray and TomSr. Check out E-Bay and buy last issue of Corel Paint Shop Pro. It does most of the PS things and sells for perhaps $25. Same tools similar drop downs. First try downloading the PSP X3 to she it in action.

    Academic issue of CS5 is about $200, buy it for your child who is in school and of course learn as a team.

  7. Eric Z Goodnight

    The file I was working with was already Grayscale. If you’re starting with a color or RGB document, you’ll want to go to Image > Mode > Grayscale to convert it to the mode you want. My apologies!

  8. Zach

    Ray, Tom, try downloading utorrentz and get photoshop cs5 for free.

  9. makka

    Ray, you can get a free trial of CS5 from Adobe web site. CS5 only comes in 64 Bit so if you don’t have a 64 Bit Operating System etc it won’t work on your computer….it won’t instal

  10. Eric Z Goodnight

    I’d like to add that I support the trial over the torrenting, although I can hardly stop you from doing so. Keep in mind Photoshop cracks are a common site to hide trojans/viruses.

    And, @makka, I’m pretty sure you can get a 32 bit version–although maybe they don’t make it available for download. I know my install CD has both versions on the disc.

  11. makka

    Here is the Adobe site for free trial dowloads….Trials last for 30 days

    or get CS5 Photoshop here

  12. makka
  13. makka

    Eric Z Goodnight…hi. You could well be right about the 32/64 Bit. I have not seen it is 32 BIT……But if you have both 32 and 64 Bit on your disc then it must be available.
    I have Adobe CS4 Master Collection and that is both 32 and 64 bit.
    Good stuff

  14. makka

    Just had a look at Adobe site for trial co CS5 MC. It says that After Effects and Premiere Pro require 64 Bit. I use Premiere Pro and associated programs as I am a Digital Media studenrt. I use Photoshop extended as well.
    Here’s the info from Adobe about the 64 Bit and what it applies to……..not saying that you’re wrong………just wonder why Adobe say it needs 64 Bit

  15. makka

    Here you are Ray, Adobe CS5 Photoshop Extended……….fully functional for 30 days

    Tip…..if you don’t instal it and run it in a sandbox (Sandboxie good one to get )……it will not expire in 30 days because it hasn’t set anything in your computers registry. Its working in a virtual machine.

  16. Eric Z Goodnight

    They’ll weed out the 32 bit stragglers eventually. Right now we’re still bridging that gap and we won’t have to worry about it. We can all go back to being ignorant of the architecture of our processors!

  17. makka

    my bad gramma….you do instal the program BUT you open the Sandboxie program first and then use that to “instal” the program. The installation is running in the sandbox as is the Photoshop program. If you get is and sandboxie, read the Help section of sandboxie.tells you haw to use it properly. Its not hard

  18. makka

    Eric Z Goodnight…………Yeah for sure……chuckle

  19. makka

    Perhaps I shouldn’t add this but I will.
    To instal the program to your hard and make the Trial version of the program non-trial, you have to do two things
    1/ Change the amtlib.dll file that is in the programs install directory (C/Program files/Adobe/Photoshop) with a ‘fixed’ amtlib.dll
    2/ Change the hosts file ( C/WINDOWS/System32/drivers/etc/hosts) you open the hosts file im Wordpad
    You need to get the hosts file ‘fix’ from the net
    Google amtlib.dll…………you’ll get lots of hits to the ‘fix’ and some have the hosts file fix included

    here’s one of sites for the amtlib.dll

    download it a and copy/paste it to the Photoshop instal directory. Click Yes when asked if you want to swap the files.

  20. l3utterfish

    Thanks for the update. It worked now.

  21. Edwin

    Thanks so much. I know a little about Photoshop but these series of posts are super helpful. It must of tooken you a while to write it. Thank you.

  22. Demon Lord

    There is a X32bit version of Adobe Photoshop and I’m using it.

  23. Daisy~

    Just one little thing to add…

    Microsoft (and Apple, I assume) provide you with a small base of useful fonts to use, however, it’s really, really important to look for fonts online when you want something specific. A professor of mine once said that every graphic designer has at least 5 fonts that look the exact same to everyone else, but stand in stark contrast different to the designer. While I’m not suggesting that your graphic pursuits reach that level of scrupulousness, I am asking that you expand beyond the fonts that the OS of your choice hands you. While people in say, a small businesses may make use of the stock fonts provided by your Operating System of choice, tacky overuse of said fonts may create a piece of work that is sloppy and unprofessional. As a graphic designer, I urge you to seek out your own fonts for your specific purposes as opposed to limiting yourself to what the operating system provides. Useful sources for fonts are,, or you can even use a search engine to find specific fonts or font themes you’re looking for. Most font designers are more than happy to let you use their fonts, however, be sure to get permission before using them for a professional project.


  24. neha jaiswal

    Its being fun while working on adobe photoshop .7…..its really very nyc to learn…..desiging through this software……….i’m to work on this………as in future i want to do graphic desiging….

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