Using Photoshop — More Tips, Tricks, and Hints

Figured I’d mention a few other techniques which might be of use. Photoshop is almost a gold mine of cool tip after cool tip; I’d never deny it takes some practice to become comfortable with the program, so here’re some more.

Tip 4. Always be aware of the Layers panel if the image has more than one layer (not all images do). Particularly, which layer is selected. Whatever kind of edit you’re about to do, with whichever kind of tool, the layer selected is the one that’ll show the change. If it’s the “wrong” layer, you can undo, but it’s irritating. Better to know in advance, and choose the right layer up front.

Linking tip

Tip 4a. Once you’ve built a “structure” involving more than one layer, and want to keep all the pieces in the same places relative to each other, select the layers (Control-click on the PC, Cmd-click on the Mac—these let you select non-adjacent layers), and link them (using the panel menu at top right).

Fill tip

Tip 5. When adding color to an image, using the Edit > Fill command/dialog gives you easy access to both the blending modes (controlling how the color interacts with what’s already there) and the opacity (how solid the color you’re pouring will be). The blending modes could be a seminar on their own, but basically you can use them to produce all kinds of neat effects. And even just using the opacity control lets you add washes or “glazes” of color, if you need subtle changes in color. (Da Vinci would be delighted.)

Navigator tip

Tip 6. Don’t forget the Navigator panel. You can use the Hand tool and the scroll bars to get around in the file if you like, but the Navigator shows where you are and how close you’ve zoomed, so even if you prefer some other means of navigating, the panel is a good situation display.

Using Photoshop — Tips, Tricks, and Hints

Photoshop has been around for a while, and it’s a fairly sophisticated program, but there are some tips one can learn to work a little more efficiently no matter what your level of expertise.

1. A lot of the work we do depends on selection. Refining selections takes time; actually doing things with the selected area usually takes less. But when done working with a selection, don’t forget to DE-select it! Kind of like turning the oven off when finished cooking. (Ctrl- or Cmd-D is quickest.) Otherwise you might end up doing the right thing to the wrong part of the image.

Photoshop Channels

1a. If you have any idea you might be doing further work on the same piece of the image, save the selection (Select menu>Save Selection). You can store about fifty selections in there as selection channels (usually known as alpha channels), so there’s no need to skimp unless there’ll be a really big number of selected pieces that need lots of changes.

Photoshop Inverse

2. If you need to select all of something in an image, say a person, but the selection would take time, see if you can select the background or surroundings more easily—then go to Select>Inverse. Select everything except the hard part, then invert the selection. Voila. It isn’t always possible, but if the background of the image is relatively plain, give it a try.

Photoshop Hand

3. This is a really simple one, but I’ve had at least a few people tell me it was helpful: When finished working on something for the moment, switch to the Hand tool. The Photoshop equivalent of putting a stick shift in neutral, it means you won’t accidentally move something, or paint something, or otherwise edit something if you don’t mean to. When a Photoshop file is open, you have to have a tool selected, so if it’s a tool which won’t do any editing, it’s a safe choice when you want to pause. The Hand tool simply moves the image around in the frame if you’re zoomed in, but can’t edit. So it’s much harder to mess up the image with it selected.

Creating Themes in Microsoft PowerPoint

When preparing business presentations using PowerPoint, one needs more than usual to make sure the show has a coherent, consistent appearance; themes are an easy way to do this. Because the brain is wired to start understanding and working with pictures from infancy, keeping the graphic elements (backgrounds, fonts, colors) uniform in a presentation allows the audience to pay attention to and absorb the actual content, without distraction from other things.

Themes dropdown

To use themes, one merely needs to open a presentation and, on the Design tab, click the theme one wants to use. There are normally a few dozen installed with the program.

But it’s fairly easy to create a theme, and there are several reasons, most notably product branding (a company’s official set of fonts, colors, logo(s), etc.) which can prompt the need.

On the right side of the themes collection are the dropdowns for Color, Fonts, and Effects. We can’t edit the last group, but we can use it. Fonts and Colors, though, we can go in and set up in whichever combination we like.

Fonts dropdown

In Fonts, we can pick any pair we like—the same for title and body, or different, as the need dictates. Usually we name the combination distinctly so we recognize it or can use it for something specific.

Colors dropdown

As for Colors, we have to select several, since colors get more use than fonts regardless of the graphic elements we start with, but we still need to keep something like a coherent color scheme. Try thinking of it like painting a house: All the colors need to work together. (If your company has product branding standards, just go with the colors in there and you’re set.)

And when you get to Effects, about the only downside is we can’t easily create them and store them as part of the theme. But we can use the built-in ones.

Save Theme

Once all this is done, click the More dropdown button on the right side of the Themes list, slide down to click Save Current Theme, and give the new one a name and location. You can use Browse for Themes right above it, later, if you need to find it again.

Best of all, anyone else can use the themes too. And if you (or your company) has prepped a theme, they can push it out on your network in a matter of minutes, so everyone can use the same theme(s) and be as close to 100% consistent as possible.

Using Specified-Order Grouping in Crystal Reports

As we get into some of the more subtle ways to use grouping in Crystal Reports, we sometimes find that either groups of groups, or arranging groups in a hierarchy, can improve the usefulness of the report. One of the overarching keys to a good report is that it be organized so as to make it easier to understand, and therefore more useful. This is even more important given the size of the batches of data we work with now.

A good example would be customer sales “levels”—gold, silver, etc. based on how much a customer spent with a company.

Basic Report

We can start by creating a report with the necessary data, in this case the company name, country, and sales amount. (In a real-world situation, one would include whatever data the grouping should be based on.)

Insert Grouping

Then, we can insert a group (Insert–>Group), but we use the In Specified Order capability to create arbitrary-but-logical groups based on (in this case) sales amounts. This is where we can customize the grouping using any reasonable criterion we want. The example here is sales levels, but any data from the database can be used. It can even be categories of items sold rather than quantities, just so long as there’s some way to tell one group from the other.

Set Up Group Names

We set up names for the groups using the Named Group box, and limits (in this case monetary) in the Define Named Group box which pops up for the purpose.

Other Customers

We also need to make sure we set up a space for the customers which don’t fall into one of the three “main” groups. (“Occasional”, “Other”, etc., are fine.)

Grouped Report

Once we rearrange the labeling a little for convenience, and maybe sort the customers by name, we’ve got a decent grouping set up. One thing to consider about this (and many other kinds of business documents) is to try and have a good idea of the final layout or structure in advance, if possible. It’s a lot easier if you know where you’re going, and you have a decent map.

Conditionally Formatting Multiple Sections in Crystal Reports

Alright, I admit it—this item on conditionally formatting sections has a little nostalgia for me, but it’s useful nostalgia. If you run a web search for “greenbar paper” you’ll see where this is going. The reason is a sound one, though. The horizontal stripes, sometimes called “banded rows”, let the user see what’s in which row of a report, or other printout, more easily.

Insert section below

The first step, after setting up the report and laying out the data, is to create a Details “b” section in the report—with no data in it. Right-click the section name, and “Insert Section Below”.

Borderless box

The only thing we want to do there is create a horizontal box, borderless, of any light fill color (since it’s going behind some of our data) in the same place as the data will be. Take your time when drawing, as the box should be the same height as the section, or just a hair less.

Conditionally formatting

The slightly more complex part comes with the conditionally formatting portion of the recipe. We want this color background to show up behind every other record. Luckily, the formula is simple. We go into the Section Expert, click the X+2 button for “Suppress (No Drill-Down)”, thus into the Formula Editor for the section, and type RecordNumber Mod 2=0. Basically, this function looks for even-numbered records/rows by doing the division, and if the remainder is 0, the color details section is suppressed. So…on, off, on, off. The conditionally part being, even- versus odd-numbered rows.

Underlay following sections

Finally, still in the Section Expert, we go to the Details A section and check Underlay Following Sections, so as to get them to overlap (or underlap, as the case may be).

Completed work

Granted, we don’t usually print much on 15-inch wide pinfeed carriage paper in high-speed dot-matrix printers anymore, but with the density of content in some reports, stemming from smaller print sizes and such, you never know when this trick might come in handy.

Ah, nostalgia. “Everything old is new again.” And still useful.  😉

Creating Report Alerts in Crystal Reports

In Crystal Reports, a feature called Report Alerts has become more important the last few years. It has to do with the fact that there are at least occasional exceptions to many kinds of report data. “Problems or conditions outside the norm” is a good way to phrase it, and when those happen, we often need to know about them ASAP. Hence Report Alerts.

Creating one isn’t hard—we just have to know three things going in. [a] What to call it, [b] what condition triggers it, [c] what message to show when it kicks in—this last is optional but strongly recommended.

Report Alerts box

Looking for a low order count is a good example. Having set up a field to count orders per company, we can now set up an alert to see who placed less than, say, thirty orders for the year in question. In the Report menu, we slide to Alerts, then click Create or Modify Alerts.

Create Report Alerts

Next thing is to set up the actual alert. We click New on the right side of the box, give the alert a name, and write a user message—some people skip this, but having at least a brief message is important, as you never know who’ll be using the report.

Report Alerts condition

Then, most important, set up the condition which triggers this alert. (Back to our old friend, the Formula Editor.) In our case, we’re looking for suppliers who placed fewer than thirty orders this year, so the formula reflects this.

Refresh for Data

When done, we OK or Close out of all the boxes, save (desirable), and refresh (F5).  We should see the alert kick in, with the option to let us know which records triggered it.

Report Alerts result

Here we can see the number of records has narrowed down to only eighteen pages’ worth, rather than fifty-nine, and at least one supplier’s data confirms only twenty-three orders (less than thirty). So the alert lets you know something’s different, then allows you to see what the changes are.

As is often the case, the hard part is getting the details clarified. Someone said, “Computers don’t do vague.” It’s a point to bear in mind with Report Alerts.

Creating and Using Parameter Fields in Crystal Reports

When setting up layouts in Crystal Reports, the parameter field can be a tremendously helpful feature. As with a parameter query in Microsoft Access, it gives the report a significant degree of flexibility—the report’s basic structure and purpose are the same, but the ability to change, say, the range of dates involved, means a single report can be used to answer a larger number of related questions with reasonable efficiency. Since the user can input anything the field allows, parameter fields simply need to be set up for the necessary data type.

New Parameter Field

Once you have a file open, you start by going to the Field Explorer, right-clicking the Parameter Fields item, and clicking New.

Name Type Static Dynamic

The dialog box which opens will ask for the name, type (of data), and whether the field should be dynamic or static—meaning whether it should get choices from the database, or from a separate list you load in.

The critical thing is, if you want to hook the type to a value from somewhere, regardless, the type of the field and the type of the value have to be the same—number to number, string (text) to string, and so on, for the same reason that two railroad cars have to ride on the same gauge rails and have the couplers at the same height. If they don’t, they can’t work together.

Prompt Text

Once you’ve told the field what kind of data, there’s one other thing you should do—enter a prompt text or phrase. Most times a user will know what the input should be about, but setting up a prompt is still a good idea, since even someone who uses the report may not use it for a while.

Design View Preview

Parameter fields can even be used in or next to text objects, as labels which are specific to the report you’re running. You can put them almost anywhere you need the viewer to see what the report is reporting on. So even your labeling is flexible.

Creating a Cross-Reference in Microsoft Word

The process of setting up a cross-reference in Word, frankly, can take a little time to get comfortable with. So don’t worry if you need a couple run-throughs.

The recipe goes like this:

Bookmark

First, create a bookmark (there are a couple other things you can use, but a bookmark is simplest) wherever it is you want the reference to point. (Insert tab—>Links—>Bookmark) THIS IS ACTUALLY THE KEY STEP. Give the bookmark a name that makes sense for what it’s marking—what you’re pointing to. This helps with the other part.

Text

Next, go to the part of the text you want the cross-reference from (that is, where it starts). Type the appropriate text (e.g., “See the reference to so-and-so on page”, plus a space, and any other punctuation as needed). If you visualize the way such a thing normally looks, you can see all it’s missing is the page number.

Cross-reference

With the insertion point at the spot right after the space, go to References—>Captions—>Cross-reference. Although there are other items you can use in this situation, the thing most people insert is the reference to the page number which the bookmark is on.

And that’s it. Again, it is possible to use this feature for a few other things, but the idea of a cross-reference in most cases is to refer a point or item in the text to another item somewhere else.

The benefit is, if you reformat the text, add or remove some, or otherwise make changes, you don’t have to go through your document retyping up the wazoo as far as redoing cross-referenced items. Instead (ALERT—BONUS FEATURE AHEAD!), simply press Control-A (to select all the text), then the F9 key, which will refresh everything selected in the way of tables, references, etc. (Hint, hint.) You may have to specify the whole document in a dialog box. Oh well. And if you inserted any of those other things, you just made sure they’re updated, too.

Creating Cost Resources in Microsoft Project

There’s a quirky thing about Microsoft Project, having to do with resources—more specifically, Cost resources. The other two types, Work and Material, are pretty easy to understand and use, but Cost takes a little bit of extra work to make do its thing.

A Work resource is a person or a piece of equipment, someone or something that stays around. A Material resource is a consumable, such as reams of paper or toner cartridges—something that gets used up. Even gasoline might be looked at this way. But Cost resources, at first, seem a little more indescribable. And where to put the actual cost?…

The basic definition, though, is not too hard once you understand it. A Cost resource is an intangible, like an airfare, a hotel rental, or a software download. It’s something you use, but can’t exactly hold in your hand.

Cost Resource

So how do we use it? First, we have to create the resource, say, Advertising Money. We can’t insert any numbers in the Resource Sheet, because—and here’s the key thing—a Cost resource has to be attached to a task in order to enter a number. In other words, you have to specify where the money is going.

Assigning Resource

Then, in the Task Information dialog box, we set up the assignment of the resource, and there we can enter the amount. Since the program tracks all the costs, it’s not really too big a deal where we enter the numbers, as long as we enter them.

Total Cost

Later, when we need to know what all the Cost resource numbers add up to, the information is pretty easy to get. One simple way to check it is to add the Cost field to the Gantt chart. The Project Summary Task gives us the overall amount in that column.

Once you understand it, dealing with it is routine. It’s a good thing, because it gives the project manager a means of keeping better track of the money. Never hurts….

Creating Calculated Fields in Microsoft Access

When setting up reports in Access, it is sometimes necessary to learn something which wasn’t in the original data, whether calculated, derived, or otherwise figured out from the existing information. It’s fairly easy to do, though there are a few steps involved.

After determining the requirement—a sales tax or a shipping fee, and what calculation is needed to find it—we create the field for the calculation.

Text box

With the report open in Design view, clicking the Design tab under Report Design Tools gives us the Controls group. There, we click the Text Box tool and click or drag where we want the text box (which shows field data). This normally creates a label too, which one can use or delete as desired.

Calculated field

Once the text box is in place, we leave it selected, open the Property Sheet, and click the Data tab. One of the Data properties is Control Source, where we can tell the text box how to get its data. On the right of this property, we bring up the Expression Builder with the Build button […].

Expression builder

In the Expression Builder itself, we can either double-click the fields we need for data or type in what we want manually. We also add the other items (operators, additional figures, and so on) to perform the calculations—essentially, we build a formula much like those in Excel. (Don’t need the equals sign at the front, though.) This makes it a calculated field.

Field and Label

Once we OK out of the box, we can fine-tune the position and size of the text box, and either move the label or create one of our own so the users of the report will know what it’s showing. (This is more important than some people think—in a business report it’s very important not to make assumptions about who’s going to see it, and no guesswork should be involved in understanding it.)

The term “calculated field” seems kind of unofficial—one usually sees it called an “unbound field”, as it isn’t directly connected to any of the actual database data. But since we often create such fields to derive info from other info, and it’s often mathematical, saying calculated is at least logical.

How to Use Color Libraries in Photoshop

For some reason, a few people I’ve talked to seem a little uneasy about the Color Libraries. Either they don’t know what these are, or they don’t know how to use them. But they’re easy to bring into play, they’re very useful, and sometimes even necessary. They’re standardized sets of colors anyone can use to make sure the viewer sees precisely the color which was intended.

Many companies have what are called “product branding” standards: Official fonts, official colors, logos, and so on. If I mention Coca-Cola, or John Deere, you can probably see the right shade of red or green in your mind’s eye. But if you were creating an ad for these (or other) companies, you’d have to match the color EXACTLY, for reasons of copyright (the color plus the logo).

Libraries in Swatches

This is where the Libraries come in. Once you’ve created your basic art (and found out what the specifics are for the product branding colors), you can call up the correct library from the Swatches panel menu. (Usually, we append the choice of “book” to the existing palette.)

Another approach is to go through a color picker—say, for example, by clicking the foreground color swatch in the Tools panel. From the picker, you can click the Color Libraries button on the right, and call up the appropriate book at the top, then the specific color, which we add to the swatches simply by clicking “OK”. It normally shows up at the top of the Swatches panel, properly named so you won’t mistake it if you hover on it.

Picker Libraries

The key to the technique is knowing in advance which of the libraries (or standards) the company, coworker, or whoever is using. Many companies will stick with a particular library or set of libraries to make things as simple as possible, and then all one has to do is check the type of paper or printing surface to be used.

The color libraries are also the idea behind the concept of “spot color”. The plain-language definition of spot color is a color NOT mixed from the C-M-Y-K inks, but brought in separately, in another cartridge, ready to go; it must match perfectly the desired color for (as I mentioned earlier) copyright purposes. It is normally not used everywhere in the document, only in certain spots, hence the name.

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How to Use Duotone Mode in Photoshop

One of the least-known color modes in Photoshop, or certainly lesser-known today, is Duotone. This may be partly because it requires converting a file to grayscale first, which means that for color images the very name is grayed-out on the menu. But it has a couple of interesting properties.

Convert Gray

The first thing, as I mentioned, is to take an image and convert to grayscale; from there, one can go to Duotone mode. And then, as the one chap said in the movies, the fun begins. Duotone mode allows the user to “tint” the image with between one and four ink colors, rather like “dunking” the image in a dye bath. So what? you might ask.

Convert Duotone

Although one might want to do brightness and contrast adjustment beforehand, Duotone mode allows some artistic things to happen to an image. For one, it’s possible to print a grayscale-like picture in the four-color process (since the max number of colors one can use is four, they can be cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—CMYK) and make the grayscale-like image a little warmer or cooler by tweaking the balance of the colors in the dialog box.

For another, it’s capable of closely simulating a couple of older photographic printing processes which were considered very beautiful and elegant back in the day. Some illustrated novels, even graphic novels, occasionally still use these kinds of repro art styles.

Cyanotype

One, called cyanotype, was used till fairly recently not only to do photo printing  but also to create traditional-style blueprints for building and manufacturing. (Since the chemicals involved, ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, are both rather nasty, being able to create the appearance without the potential to poison oneself is certainly a plus!) Even the sub-mode called Monotone can handle this one.

Sepia Tone

Another, perhaps one of the most beautiful, is sepia toning. A print was washed in a bath that included sepia ink (from the marine animal called the cuttlefish), which both stabilized the image chemically and gave it the lovely golden-brown cast we often associate with antique photographs. Sepia toning helped prevent fading, and gave the image a warmth which a normal silver print would sometimes lack due to its regular color. Duotone mode with all four inks (Quadtone) makes this version easy.

Some newer users of Photoshop love playing with the ability to bend reality—which is cool. But there are a lot more capabilities built into the program. Using it to reproduce some of the beauty of yesteryear doesn’t hurt.

How to Create Subprojects in Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project was designed with the idea that one might need to set up subprojects, or projects within projects. If you think of a set of manuals, or a company-wide reworking of hardware and software, or a movie (such as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) where many departments have to coordinate their efforts  to  all be ready for filming at about the same time, you have an idea of why this might be. But Microsoft set the feature up with a couple of hidden little bonuses, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

Project

To start with, one simply sets up regular projects. Whatever they might be about, whatever one does normally. Add tasks, resources, assignments, calendars, and so on. Save them, polish them, etc. They can sit on individual drives or shared, but if you know you’re going to be creating a set of subprojects to be parts of another project, best to put them on a shared drive so all concerned can work with them, as individuals and together.

Master Project

The next step is to open a blank project, to use as a container. This is referred to as a “master project” in the program’s terminology. Make sure you’re in the first task row; then, in the Project tab, over at the left, click the Subproject button in the Insert group. Navigate to the project you want as part of the master, and double-click it.

Subprojects

For additional subprojects, click the next task row down on the left side of the Gantt chart (where one usually sets these things up) before inserting the next one. Turning on the Project Summary Task from the Gantt Chart Tools Format tab is usually a good idea too (Show/Hide group on right). Save the master as needed, just like any other project.

Linked Tasks

But the bonuses are interesting. First, you can link tasks from different subprojects within the master. To use the movie analogy, if the wig-makers, clothing-makers, and sword-makers all have to finish for wardrobe within a day or so of each other, linking the end milestones for all those projects is done the same way as within a single project—select the tasks and click the Link button.

Second, and even cooler in my opinion, if you modify a subproject and save, the individual project will reflect the change if you open it separately—master and sub are linked. And the same goes for the other end—open a project at the individual end, change and save, and the master/subprojects will update accordingly! As in its brother program, Access, changes and updates in Project are a two-way street when working with native-format files. So all concerned can see everything going on, whether single project manager or multi-project supervisor.

Using the Appearance Panel in Illustrator CC 2018

If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone who worked on Adobe Illustrator had a crush on the idea of layers, because they appear not only in the Layers panel, but in the Appearance panel. There are no less than three places where the idea of layering, stacking, or something similar appears in this program—the Layers panel itself, the idea of Sub-layers, and Appearance.

The latter uses the concept a little differently. This panel shows data only for the object (or group) selected, and it’s things like fills, strokes, effects (such as drop shadows), and so on.

Appearance panel

If you have an object selected, you can show the Appearance panel (Window–>Appearance) to see how its attributes are set up. A key point is that the attributes are “stacked” from top to bottom the way you see them, so having a fill above another fill can block the lower one from being seen.

Object

If this happens, you can adjust, say, the transparency/opacity of the upper to partly show the lower, or change the stacking order by dragging the item up or down as you would any layer, sublayer, or other component, or remove the upper one entirely.

Then, editing the attributes is quite straightforward; clicking or double-clicking on most items will bring up the appropriate dialog box, and from there it’s pure vanilla.

Group

When a group is selected, any attribute you change, add, or remove in the panel will affect the group as a whole. In order to do something with one member of the group, you either have to ungroup and select the item in question or otherwise narrow the selection down. This is an example of the kind of step-by-step mindset one often has to develop working with these kinds of programs, but it’s not hard to do.

The normal issue one runs into in doing all this is keeping track of where to go to do what. Changing layers and stacking order of objects and groups is done in the Layers panel; changing the attributes of objects or groups in the Appearance panel. Jotting this sort of thing down initially can help.

Creating Custom Tools Panels in Illustrator CC 2018

I’ve gotten so used to the Tools panel (or Toolbox, as we old-timers call it) in Illustrator as it has been for years that although we can go from single- to double-column for convenience on smaller screens, I hardly ever think about it otherwise. But one feature in Illustrator CC 2018 which is both novel and very much a help is the ability to create one’s own Tools panels—that is, to create custom collections of tools as one needs.

We could do something like this with the panels themselves for quite some time, separating and recombining them as we like. This made possible the idea of the workspace, and Illustrator comes with a bunch of those preinstalled. But not too long ago, someone at Adobe realized it would be helpful to be able to do the same with tools—after all, we occasionally find we need what might seem arbitrary but logical (to a particular user) collections of tools for drawing, selecting, etc.

Luckily, it’s dead easy.

Window Menu

There doesn’t even need to be a document open, but it helps to know what you’ll usually need. Simply go to the Window menu, Tools, and on the submenu, click New Tools Panel.

Dialog Box

The dialog box will ask what you want to call it, and you can type any name you like—though if you need to create more than one (and you can put together as many as you need), it’s a good idea to use names that more or less describe what each will be for.

Tools

Once it has a name, the main bit is old as the hills. Drag and drop tools from the main Tools panel into the new one, in any order (a little planning for convenience might be helpful), and there you are. And since this is a program-level feature, not a document-level one, the new collection(s) will be there on that copy of Illustrator from that point on, whenever needed.

Dealing with Dust Using History in Photoshop

There’s another trick for dealing with dust in Photoshop (to sort of continue from the last blog post), which takes a little setup but is even more subtle. It involves the History Brush tool, and the History panel. The advantage is that the corrections are very unobtrusive, especially if one takes the time to do them carefully. The disadvantage, such as it is, is that the recipe has to be followed rather carefully, which is why I’m taking the liberty of condensing it at the end of the post.

After opening the file, it’s advisable to save it as a PSD, and make a copy of the layer containing the artwork; work on the copy for safety.

Gaussian Blur

The first real step is to go to Filter—Blur—Gaussian Blur, and set it for 6-12 pixels (all numbers approximate; your mileage may vary).

Then, in the History panel, take a snapshot of this state (call it Blurred, or whatever you’ll recognize). After which, click one step up in the History (which will un-blur the art but leave the snapshot blurred). THIS IS A KEY STEP.

History Panel

Click the selector for the blurred snapshot (left side of panel) to indicate what the History Brush should work from. Then select the History Brush itself in the Tools panel.

Blending Mode

THE OTHER KEY STEP is this: When painting a dark spot with the History Brush, switch the blending mode in the Control panel up top to Lighten, and vice versa. So you’re lightening and blurring the dark spots, and darkening and blurring the light spots. Lightening or darkening makes them less conspicuous; blurring blends the repair in.

Before

Before

After

After

Don’t panic if you need to practice this one a bit. The recipe is a bit more complex, and has to be followed. But I can tell you it works, as I’ve used it myself many times.

 

Short version:

Open file, save as PSD if necessary, make copy of layer

Blur image (Filter/Blur/Gaussian, 6-12 pixels)

In History panel, take snapshot and name accordingly

Go back one step

Select blurred snapshot

Use History Brush tool to paint blur back in (Lighten mode on dark spots, and vice versa)

How to Deal with Dust in Photoshop Images

In the age of digital photography, dust would seem to be a thing of the past. Perhaps. But who knows how many pre-digital pictures still exist, un-digitized, and in need of cleaning? With this in mind, I’d like to show you how.

Before we had digital cameras, Photoshop, and so on, one would have to clean the film very carefully, print the picture, and use a kind of watercolor called spotting dye to touch up the (hopefully few) white spots caused by dust on the negative. (Yes, I did it.) It’s not too hard, but it is tedious, and requires patience and a steady hand. Photoshop, of course, removes the need to do the spotting by hand, but how to actually deal with the dust spots?

Dusty Wedding Pic

With an image open, you could just borrow nearby color with the Eyedropper tool, then use the Brush to tap color into the white bits. This does work. But there’s a slightly more subtle technique which works better, is a little faster, and doesn’t need any eyedropper-ing.

Selecting Dust Spots

First, select a few spots (to start with, do one or two at a time). You want to make your selections only about half again as large as the white spots. Any selection tool is fine; with roundish spots, the Ellipse Marquee tool works well.

Feathering

Then, go to the Select menu, Modify, and Feather command. We want to feather the selection by at least a few pixels, though we normally don’t need much more unless the spot is big. About three or four pixels’ worth will do.

Blurring

Next, we go to Filter–>Blur–>Gaussian Blur. What we want is to “smear” the “paint” immediately around the spot onto it, but soften the edges of the smear to make it very gradual, and therefore hard to see. This is where there might be a little experimentation; the nice thing about the Gaussian Blur is, one can control how much blur there is. Sometimes it works with just a few pixels’ worth; sometimes it can take as much as eight or nine. The tricks are to keep the initial selection just a little larger than the dust spot, and feather the edge (either before selecting, in the Control panel, or right after with Select–>Modify–>Feather) prior to blurring. We do NOT want sharp edges here at all.

And don’t worry if it takes some practice to get right. Maybe make a copy of the layer containing the picture, for insurance. Then go for it.

The Layers Panel in Illustrator–Tips and Tricks

In my last post, I mentioned that the Layers panel serves a more vital function in Photoshop than it does in Illustrator. No offense to Illustrator, of course! But there is a reason I said this.

In Illustrator, unless the user makes it happen, objects cannot “smear” together as if they were oil paint that doesn’t dry. So the need to separate things by layer for Photoshop-ish reasons does not exist. But the Layers panel in Illustrator does serve another, equally useful, function—that of organizer.

Doc and Layers Panel

In fact, there are two levels of organization we can see in a typical Illustrator document:

First, the layers themselves, which can be used to keep things together in the same fashion as having two or three storeys in a house. A real-life example might be a document intended for publication in Canada, which requires many documents, especially legal ones, to be bilingual. If one places all the graphics in one layer, all the French text in a second, and all the English in a third, one can easily show or hide the appropriate text for printing two versions of the document, and avoid having to create two separate documents, which would take rather more space.

Basic Layers

Second, within each layer, there can be objects whose “stacking order” (in which one object is above or below another) determines what we see or don’t see of each object. The layers’ stacking order can be changed by simply dragging any layer up or down within the Layers panel. Ditto the objects within each layer. So one might describe the Layers panel as a stack of stacks.

Layers and Stacking Order

The only downside to this story is that it can get a little complicated, especially when one has grouped objects within the layers. Groups, however, show themselves by indenting the objects within the group, and having twist/folding arrows to open or close the group, allowing objects within the group to be moved up and down within them.

But one point remains the same between Illustrator and Photoshop: Don’t create more layers than you need, for whatever reason. Each layer is almost a separate document within the file, and takes up a significant amount of room, so be sparing.

Using the Layers Panel in Photoshop–Tips and Tricks

The Layers panel is one of the most important members of the team; a lot of what goes on in Photoshop is related at least partly to which layer(s) you’ve selected, or want to select to do stuff in. So paying attention to this, and knowing a few things, will save you some work, and a little stress.

Unlike in its brother programs, Illustrator and InDesign, layers serve a vital function here—anything in a Photoshop layer is basically oil paint that never dries. So keeping things on separate layers till you’re SURE you don’t need to is good procedure.

Before painting, clone stamping, erasing, or anything else, especially if you’re in the middle of an important project, glance over to see which layer you’re about to affect. You can easily select the right layer by clicking its name once.

Selecting/Merging

If you want to merge two or more layers, you can easily select them, even if they’re not adjacent, by clicking the one’s name and control/command-clicking the other(s). Remember, merging layers normally sort of “collapse” such that whatever’s on top, in the middle, etc. will stay looking that way when done.

Layers Visibility

Turning off a layer’s visibility is an easy way to avoid editing it when you don’t want to. Click the eyeball on the left of the layer name. But don’t forget to turn visibility back on when you *do* want to edit.

Locking Layers

Locking a layer is a better way to avoid editing, especially if you want to see how the layer interacts with its buddies while working in the others. You can lock the image pixels, the transparent pixels, the position of the layer, or all of the above (usually the most common) with the buttons at the top of the panel. Just remember, you need to unlock before editing. Duh. 😉

Linking

Linking layers together provides a useful capability—if two or more layers need to be positioned just so, relative to each other, do the positioning, select them, and link the layers with the button at the bottom of the panel; if you then move one, you’ll move all. Unlinking them is easy too. Same button.

Renaming

Renaming them is easy—double-click the current name, type what you like, and hit Enter.

Finally, remember Photoshop creates new layers whenever you copy and paste, or cut and paste, or pretty much anything and paste. It’s conservative about this, so you don’t smear the “paint” from different elements together. Which means you can accumulate a LOT of layers. In fact, as far as I know, there’s no limit to the number you can have. (I got bored and stopped counting at two hundred and twenty.) So don’t be afraid to merge them when you’re done with separate elements—they add to the file size. And don’t create them just for the heck of it—again, the file gets bigger when you do this.

Using Paths to Make a Selection in Photoshop

An unexpected ally in making selections in Photoshop is the Paths panel.

Selecting a precise piece of an image can be tedious, even for a veteran user; understanding the selection tools does not provide instant expertise, and some images have such irregular content that it’s a touchy matter to set the right numbers for almost any of the tools. But the Paths panel lets the user at least partly bypass the problem.

Using the Pen tool, we can create a path (essentially a vector shape) within Photoshop. This also takes practice, but the nice thing about a path drawn with the Pen tool is that it can be modified almost indefinitely. (By analogy, I’ll date myself badly and mention Silly Putty.)

Basic Paths

First, we bring up our image, select the Pen tool, and start creating anchor points etc. for the path. This can take some time—in fact, it’s a good idea to go fairly slowly—but since we can clean up later, a rough shape will do. Naming the path is usually a good idea for reference, especially if you’ll have more than a couple.

Cleaned Up

The next step is to use the other vector tools to refine the path as needed: The Add and Delete Anchor Point tools to give the shape more or fewer anchor points, the Direct Selection tool to fine-tune the locations of the points and tweak the control handles, and occasionally the Convert Anchor Point tool for changing curve to corner, or vice versa.

Menu

Finally, we can select the path in the panel, go to the panel menu, and click Make Selection. We then have to specify the various options in the dialog box, and click OK.

Selection

This is one of those not-technically-complex-but-kinda-tedious features which requires a little practice. Working with Photoshop’s brother program Illustrator would give some additional footing on this too. Couldn’t say whether it’s the *best* technique, but it seems to work well with practice, and it’s not too hard to fine-tune paths.

Using the Baseline Grid with InDesign

One of the more subtle things that can be done with an InDesign document to make it look more professional—i.e. polished, consistent, easier to read—is to use the Baseline Grid. This relates to how the text is laid out and vertically lined up on the pages of the document.

Text

The main requirement is that the text be reasonably consistent in terms of size and font from page to page; this is normal in most professional documents, so not hard to achieve.

Prefs

Once the text has been placed and the text boxes fine-tuned for size, position, and so on, the feature can be set up in the Preferences (in different places for Windows and Mac, but the same dialog once there). The default color is light blue, probably because lined three-hole-binder paper uses the same color for various reasons. The Relative To option usually works better when set to go from the top margin, as most conventional business documents don’t have text outside the margins. And importantly, the Increment Every measurement should be the same as the leading (or line-spacing) of the body text (which, hopefully, is mostly the same font and size throughout the document). The whole idea, you see, is to have the text march down the page in nice, evenly-spaced lines, on both sides of a two-page spread.

Baseline Grid

Once you show the feature (via the View–>Grids and Guides submenu), View Threshold also matters, as one would not want this feature showing (and crowding the screen) if the text is too small to read. 100% is a good number, so the grid won’t show unless the page is life-size or larger on screen.

Button

The other part which needs doing is that the text object has to be told to use the grid. Click in the text box with the Type tool, as we’re working with the text in there, NOT the container, select (usually) all the text in the story, and (the simplest method) bring up the Paragraph panel. Bottom right corner, the very last button will Align to Baseline Grid. That’s it.

Can this be automated? Can some of this be set in advance or by style? Certainly. Regardless, the Baseline Grid is fairly easy to use, and gives an almost inconspicuous, yet powerful, boost to the readability of the document—a real under-the-hood feature that still kicks like a turbocharger. 😊

How to Use Layer Styles in Photoshop

The use of Layer Styles (also known as Layer Effects) in Photoshop is fairly easy, but can add some pretty snazzy results. One of the most visually catchy is the Drop Shadow, which can make it look as if an object is in front of the rest of the artwork. Any of the styles can be applied in about the same way, but the Drop Shadow gives a good general example.

Layers set up

Usually the first thing is to assemble the artwork layers, since the effect is normally applied to the whole layer. As far as possible, get things positioned (though moving layers and items around does not mess up the layer effect).

Layer Effects box

Double-click  the layer thumbnail to bring up the Styles/Effects box, or select the layer and go to the Layer menu/Layer Style submenu and select the effect you want to apply.

At this point, the controls will vary widely according to which style you select, but here’s one point you don’t always hear about: If you want to open the box by double-clicking the layer thumbnail, remember to then click not the check mark next to the effect name, but the name itself. Why? Because if you click the check mark only, it will activate the effect but NOT bring the controls up. You’re saying you want to accept whatever defaults are already there. And usually, the user is looking for a particular fine-tune of whichever effect.

For our example, I want to make it look as if the gull is flying in front of the picture, almost as if he had somehow gotten free of the poster. So I can set the angle (from which the light comes) as 125 degrees (upper left), the distance (of shadow from object) at 150 pixels (so I can see it clearly as a shadow), the spread big enough to keep the edges soft, and the size (which is actually the blur) fairly large, since most shadows in this situation are not sharp-edged.

Drop Shadow effect in

Click OK, and it’s done. The Layers panel shows the Fx symbol, to let us know there’s effects in them there hills, and we can double-click the thumbnail or the Fx anytime to get back in and play around with it some more, or delete it completely and start over. Fully editable. Way cool.

Kerning and Tracking Adjustments in InDesign

A while back, I posted an item about text layout in InDesign. There’s another aspect of it I wanted to mention which might be of some further interest, namely kerning. This is usually defined as the fitting-closer-together of pairs of letters whose shapes make it aesthetically possible to do so. In some fonts, lowercase “f” and lowercase “i” make a kerning pair called “fi”, where the arch of the “f” can hang over the “i”. Capital “A” and capital “V” in many fonts work this way too.

Kerning control

Many fonts created today have what are called “kerning pairs” built into them. All you have to do these days is install the font in the appropriate folder, and any software which knows the signs, as it were, can kern the letters automatically. One of the typography-savvy questions you can ask a font designer or company is “How many kerning pairs are in the so-and-so font?”

Not all programs have the ability to see and use, let alone adjust, the spaces between letters, but InDesign does. The two variations are called “kerning” and “tracking”. The difference between them, basically, is whether you’re working with a pair of letters, or more than two. (The unit called an “em” is whatever the point size of the text, traditionally the width of the capital “M” in that typeface.)

Tracking control

Working with InDesign, the kerning and tracking controls have been made about as simple as possible. Once you’ve got some text written, select the letters/words you want to adjust, and click the Kerning or Tracking controls in the Control palette at top. Two letters can be kerned, more than two can be tracked. Remember that the adjustments are in very small increments, so if you’re experimenting with this for the first time, you may want to zoom in to see the effect a little quicker. As you may gather, negative numbers adjust letters closer together, and positive numbers further apart. If the number is zero for a selected pair or group, the adjustment is whatever the default says it should be.

Kern adjustment

Tracking adjustment

Okay, cool. So why would we want to adjust kerning or tracking? Occasionally, we may need to squeeze a piece of text a tiny bit closer together to fit it in a given space, or stretch it a little to fill up a couple of lines’ worth of blank space on a page. This is not a cardinal sin in DTP, but it should be treated with the respect due, say, superhot tabasco sauce, or ghost peppers: A little goes a long way. And one also has to remember that the human eye is a lot sharper than some people think, and if you go fiddling with the kerning and tracking throughout a document, it can be spotted pretty quick—the density of the text can be noticed at a subliminal level. No, I’m not kidding. And people will say “Look! They’re messing with the tracking!” Okay, maybe not, but it can be seen that something isn’t quite consistent across however many pages. So treat with caution.

How to Use the Selection Tools in Illustrator

Occasionally, new users of Illustrator have trouble understanding the selection tools; there are three, and each does something different. So knowing which to use for what is important. It’s not that hard to get the hang, with a little practice.

Main Selection Tool

The main Selection tool, usually referred to as just that, allows the user to select the entire object. For doing anything to the object as a whole, like changing fill color, edge color, etc., this is good. Furthermore, if one wants to change the object’s dimensions or position, it has to be selected as a whole object. So the Selection tool works for this.

Direct Selection Tool

The Direct Selection tool serves another purpose. If one wants to work on a part of the object, one anchor point, or one segment of the path which makes up the border, this would be the right tool. With the Direct Selection tool, one has to be a little more precise in where to click. Doing so on the anchor point works with that anchor point and the line segments to either side. Clicking on a line segment also selects the adjacent anchor points. This tool is more specific, and gives tighter control over selection. One can also drag to create what’s called a selection box around multiple anchor points, or any part of the object, to work with that part or parts.

Group Selection Tool 1  Group Selection Tool 2  Group Selection Tool 3

The Group Selection tool is a bit more complex, but it too has a method to the madness. When several objects need to stay in the same place relative to each other, they can be selected and grouped. Once they are, the Group Selection tool can select one object within the group (with the first click), a group within several groups (second click), or a set of groups together (third click). Again, the main problem some new users have is to click carefully, as the program simply interprets the clicks regardless. (We all sometimes double-click almost by reflex these days. After working with this program since the late Eighties, that bit still trips me up sometimes, so it’s not the user’s fault.)

Data Types, Properties, and Relationships in Access

A fundamental aspect of Access databases is the setup of relationships between tables. It’s usually the nature of business databases to have them, so the actual creation of the relationship isn’t hard to do. But there are a couple of not-so-obvious things the user needs to know.

Relationships Window

Once the database is open, and the tables have been created, the first thing is to open the Relationships window from the Database Tools tab–>Relationships group. If there are no relationships already in place, the Show Table dialog box will open automatically. The user can then double-click the tables needed, or select them and click Add, which places them in the main window.

Table Hookup

Then, dragging from a field in one table to its counterpart in the other will establish the relationship. (We usually check Enforce Referential Integrity, as we normally want something in one table to have a counterpart in the other.) Click Create, and the basic hookup is done.

The background behind this is a little more subtle, but not that hard to understand. Some newer users think the field names have to match for the relationship to work, but this is not true. The program doesn’t require it, but it’s highly recommended that field names be consistent across tables, so anyone who needs to look at or use the database won’t get confused.

The main thing, or rather things, that need to match up, are two of the properties of the fields—specifically, the Data Type and Field Length. These can be easily checked, or modified, by going into Design View once a table is open and selecting the field in question.

Data Type

The reason is, the program can’t assume what will be stored in a given type of field—say, some numbers—will work with something in another field type. If the types match, they should. And if the lengths are the same, fifty characters for example, then what’s in one field can fit in the other.

Field Length

One analogy which I’ve heard, which seems to help explain this, is the idea of two railroad cars. In different countries, one sometimes finds the rails are different distances apart—in the US, it’s four feet, eight and one-half inches. If you want to couple two cars together, they have to ride on the same gauge (distance apart) of rails, and they have to have the same couplers. If these two things are correct, all is well. One might also think about a car—if it’s supposed to run on diesel, you shouldn’t put gasoline in the tank, and vice versa.

So, field names should match, but data type and length have to. Simple enough, once you know it.

Creating Alpha Channels in Photoshop

Making selections in Photoshop is fairly easy, but a large, complicated selection can take some time. And if it’s an area that needs repeated tweaks, such as for color balancing or lightness, it’s helpful if one doesn’t have to keep going back and reselecting thirty or forty bits and pieces. There’s a feature in Photoshop which can help, but seems almost hidden, in the Channels palette/panel.

Normally, we see the composite channel there (showing the full color image) and the individual color channels (RGB or CMYK, or other) giving a view of the components, which can themselves be manipulated if desired. But we can also store selections in there, in a form called an alpha channel.

Channels Palette

The use of the feature is quite straightforward. First, make whatever selection you need to. Remember you can switch from selection tool to selection tool, changing modes as needed, till you get the entire area you need.

Selection

Then, at the bottom of the palette, click the Save Selection as Channel button.

Save as Channel

You can easily rename the channel by double-clicking its name—a good idea, since it’s possible to have something like fifty channels in the palette, and even if none of the selections closely resemble each other, it’s less confusing, and very little additional work.

Renaming

But what’s even more interesting is, you can fine-tune the selection in the channel by using a painting tool. If you activate the selection (alpha) channel by clicking its name, then select, say, the Brush tool, you can use the color white to add to or solidify the selection if you missed a couple of spots, or black to unselect areas you might have selected by accident.

Fine Tuning

And zooming in to do this carefully is a good trick too. Some people find this is easier for making selections, or at least cleaning them up. It does take a little more time, but since precise selection is often important to professional imagery, any technique you can use to improve the precision is a good thing.

Using Multiple Sections in Crystal Reports

When “laying out” data in Crystal Reports, we usually think of written information. Graphics such as charts do enter into reports, but we don’t always use photographs or other non-data images, especially in the Details section where the data will go.

If, for example, we wanted a graphic (division logo, photograph, etc.) at the beginning of each batch of data, and the data to follow, it’s easy—put the graphic in a group header. But what if we want the graphic next to the data in the Details section? We can still use group headers, but how do we “force” the data and the graphic to sit next to each other? There doesn’t seem to be any text-wrapping feature like the ones in word processors or desktop-publishing programs.

It turns out there’s a loophole. We can create additional sections—for instance, a second header section—right under the original, and end up with group headers  A, B, and so on. Normally we don’t need more than a few, but even two can suffice. Then, we can literally slide the next section(s) under the first (or second), to simulate text wrap.

Start with the normal layout. We’ve got a report partly built; the group header section gets the usual setup of labels.

Basic Layout

We can put the graphic there, in the group header.

Graphic Placed

Then, the trick. Right-click the name of the section you want to use, and click “Insert Section Below”. This creates (in our example) a second group header.

Popup Menu

Now we can move the graphic down into it and resize the first one. Then, bring up the Section Expert for that second header, and in the Common tab, check the Underlay Following Sections checkbox, and OK it.

Section Expert

There you have it.

Completed Mod

Text wrap, as such, doesn’t exist within Crystal Reports. Though fields, text boxes, graphics, etc. are all objects and do follow some of the rules we run into in DTP programs (where everything is in a box and “object-oriented layout” is the overarching principle), Crystal simply isn’t a DTP program, nor a word processor. So we have to have workarounds for some things those other kinds of programs can do much more straightforwardly. Luckily, the CR design team accounted for this. It’s just a matter of knowing the recipe.

Creating the Speedometer Gauge in QlikView

QlikView, one of the big BI (business intelligence) programs you can get today, has a number of graphical ways to display data, which it calls charts. Among these, one of the coolest (sorry, but it is) would have to be the Gauge chart. And of the subtypes in that group, the speedometer style is probably one of the easiest to understand. For quantities, percentages, and a couple of other kinds of numbers, it’s very straightforward. Setting it up takes a little work, but it’s worth it for readability.

Once you’ve got your data ready (the scenario we use is an analysis of airline operations), the setup of the gauge starts with adding the chart object, specifying the type, and giving it a title, on the General tab.

You also have to tell it where to get the data—that’s pretty easy. In this case, the Expressions tab includes the data source for the gauge as a variable ($(eLoadFactor)), but it’s just the number of passengers divided by the number of seats: Sum ([# Transported Passengers]) / Sum ([# Available Seats]).

On the Style tab, you can select the exact kind of gauge you want. There are several, but I want to show you a few specific bits on the Speedometer.

The actual setup of the gauge is the part which takes the most work, but it’s essentially two or three questions to answer: [1] How do you want the colors to change, and how many should there be? [2] How many tick marks do you want on the gauge? (Think car speedometer or tachometer.) We do this on the Presentation tab; it’s usually where we have most of the work.

The Gauge Settings area on the left tells the program what the lowest and highest numbers will be on the gauge. The Show Scale, below that, lets you specify how many tick marks are on the gauge, and how they should be marked off. The number of segments (Segments Setup) allows you to set how gradual the shading will be in the color area, and what colors you want.

We usually set the colors with RGB numbers, since this allows smooth transitions with little work.

 

Finally, the Text in Chart area lets the Load Factor percentage show up numerically at the bottom of the gauge. The speedometer needle is fairly sharp, but having the actual number (to maybe one decimal place) in there is not too cluttered-looking and makes for a more accurate read with just a glance.

It takes a little practice to get the whole setup to work properly, but you can treat it like a recipe when you learn it, and just go step by step. A couple of run-throughs, and one can get the idea.

The Resource Usage View in Project

When planning a project, one of the problems we run into fairly commonly is overallocation of resources. It’s not impossible to fix, but it sometimes helps to know exactly where the overallocation is. The Resource Usage view is one place we can see it fairly easily.

Resource Usage button

With the project open, go to the View tab and click Resource Usage. The view switches immediately. Then, find the overallocated resource(s), usually a person, on the left, click a task, and select Scroll to Task in the Task tab, Editing group (Ctrl-Shift-F5 works too, if you prefer).

Scroll to Task

One other trick is to use the Zoom feature (also in the View tab) to zoom out to the entire project’s schedule, then in to the specific trouble area. This can save some time. If the overallocation is there, it’ll show up in red on the right side, as a number of hours (usually) greater than 8 (per day) or 40 (per week).

Zoom to Project

Knowing what the overallocation is about can sometimes suggest how to tackle the re-allocation more efficiently.

But there’s another thing the Resource Usage view can provide, and it relates to a feature which was dropped after Project 2010. One of the reports in that version was called Who Does What When. It allowed the project manager to view the project almost like a script for a play or musical, and see (as the name implied) which resources were assigned which tasks, and on what day(s). If everyone on the project received a copy, they’d all know the essentials of the project and would be better informed about the entirety of what was going on. Printing the Resource Usage view, zoomed out, gives something close to the Who Does What When report, and allows all the project staff to have a better idea of what’s afoot.

One of the best things about the Resource Usage view is that it’s so easy to get to, and easy to understand. I kinda wish the Who Does What When report could be reintroduced into Project, but the Resource Usage view doesn’t look as if it’s going anywhere, so it’ll provide a workable alternative.