Below are the hardware components of a PC in terms of their effect on computer graphics. It is possible to use Photoshop, for instance, on a low-end laptop, but one can enjoy much better performance when using a more capable system.
The CPU traditionally performs all of the calculations that Photoshop requires to be evaluated. This includes, for instance, the transformation of an image using complex warp, rotation and skewing algorithms. Having a faster CPU will make the process of performing transformations, applying filters, processing video (an often unknown capability of Photoshop) and batch-editing photos much quicker. A multi-core CPU can also be utilised by Photoshop for some tasks, which makes the hyper-threaded nature of many Intel processors attractive.
Memory, also called RAM, hold data temporarily for the system during operation. Having more RAM in a system allows programs like Photoshop to load more data, such as photos, into RAM where they can be accessed much quicker. Mass storage devices such as SSDs and (in particular) HDDs can only be read from at a slower pace than RAM. This results in images loading slower and responding slower to adjustments. If less RAM is available to the application, it will be forced to only load a portion of the images requested, and will have to resort to loading them from the hard-drive if requested.
In order to efficiently edit photos and create graphics, it's important to have plenty of storage space on a workstation, so that a lot of files can be kept locally and the filesystems do not become over-crowded. It's also important for the medium on which the data is stored to be reliable, so that files are not easily lost to drive failure. For these reasons, I would recommend two or three drives in a workstation. One, or potentially two, of the drives in the system would be SSDs; these offer very quick access speeds but are only available in lower capacities and are unfortunately not as reliable as hard-disc drives. These drive(s), configured in RAID 0 if more than one was in use, would allow the system to boot very quickly, and programs stored on the drives would open quickly too. It would also be possible to configure the drives to backup automatically to the hard-disc drive(s) periodically, which would allow the designer to keep some current projects on the SSDs without taking a great risk.
For the SSDs, I would suggest a single 512 GB Samsung 840 EVO drive, or two of the same drive if the money was available. I would suggest a 2 TB Western Digital hard-drive to begin with, and more of the same if more space was required. 3 TB drives may also be appropriate.
Depending on the field of design that a particular person specialises in, a powerful video card may be more or less necessary. For well-optimised, hardware-accelerated 3D rendering, a good video card can lead to a significant improvement in render time. Running complex and demanding software like Photoshop can also be eased by hardware-acceleration, and can make the application of filters and transformations a lot quicker. Having a capable video card also means that the computer can easily display output for multiple monitors, which can be used to create a better workflow.
For a desktop workstation for graphics work, that would still be up-to-date in a number of years, I would suggest a high-end video card such as a GTX 970 or 980 from Nvidia. Although I do recognise the value of AMD video cards, I believe them to be targeted more towards gaming than hardware-accelerate computing. Nvidia cards receive better support in this field, primarily due to Nvidia's CUDA cores and API, which make it easy for application developers to harness the power of Nvidia video chips available to a computer for more than gaming.
For most systems and uses of a computer, a mouse and keyboard are typically all that is required in terms of input devices. For these devices, I would suggest that the user would use a full size, mechanical keyboard and a laser mouse with a high DPI capability. This would give the designer a reliable experience in terms of typing, and would give them the precision they would need when moving the mouse pointer.
For many fields of design, however, I would also suggest having a graphics tablet. My personal recommendation would be a product from Wacom, a company which has become known for their graphics tablets and pens. Getting used to using a tablet is worth the time it takes, and many people start to use a tablet over a standard mouse for everyday use once they have become accustomed to using one. Tablets are particularly important for animation work, in which one may draw individual frames by hand. Tablets are also popular among 3D artists who use them for organic shapes – particularly characters for animations – and painting texture onto these models. If a designer is working from home or otherwise collaborating with other designers in other countries or companies, I would suggest the purchase of good-quality headset or microphone and headphone combination. This will pay off in the long term, making it much more comfortable to work and talk over VoIP for extended periods of time.
Having capable output devices is also important for design. The main aspect of a workstation that matters in this respect is the monitors connected to the computer. My personal suggestion would be two 1080p or 1440p displays, connected using either DVI or DisplayPort cables. The designer could also choose to purchase a single 2K or 4K display is they would prefer high resolution on a single display rather than multiple monitors. I suggest multiple monitors as this allows for work to be well spread over a workspace. Adobe applications in the Creative Cloud suite are built to work well with one another, and this makes it very easy to move work back and forth between different applications. As an example, a path could be created in illustrator and imported into After Effects a mask for a video clip. With a single click, changes made in Illustrator could be brought to After Effects updating the viewport instantly. This would be particularly effective when running the applications on separate displays.
It would also be beneficial for productivity to use a second display for a web browser window with information on the design brief or scanned images of pen and paper sketches. There are a number of other advantages and uses of multiple monitors, in respect to gaming, media consumption and software development.
Software is very important in the design world. Although Macs are considered by many to be the "design standard", Adobe software, which is considered by far more people to be the standard, is developed specifically so that users are offered the same experience no matter whether they are using OS X or Windows. With this in mind, as well as the price of a Mac when considering their computational power and the difficulty of installing OS X on a custom-build machine, I would suggest that the studio use Windows. I would also recommend that they acquire a license so that all of the members of the design team can use the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of applications. Other than this, which software packages the designers use is their own decision, although I would personally recommend Google Chrome when it comes to web browsers. The browser has a history of supporting the newest standards in terms of HTML, CSS and other web technologies. This would mean that pages created by web designers using these new standards would render as intended.
I have selected components for a computer which I believe to be as cheap as is feasible. In order to maximise productivity and not hinder the designers, I would recommend investing in better components, particularly in terms of SSD storage and processor.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-4460 3.2GHz Quad-Core||£130.94|
|Motherboard||Asus B85M-G Micro-ATX Motherboard||£47.91|
|Memory||Corsair 8GB DDR3-1333||£57.56|
|Storage||Samsung 840 EVO 120GB SSD||£54.95|
|Storage||Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM HDD||£35.94|
|Video Card||EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB Superclocked||£109.99|
|Case||Fractal Design Core 1000||£19.16|
|Power Supply||Antec EarthWatts Green 380W 80+ Bronze Certified||£42.50|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||£71.60|
|Monitor||BenQ GL2250HM 60Hz 21.5" 1080p||£88.79|
|Total||The full list with links can be viewed here.||£659.34|
Different formats allow files to be stored on a computer in different ways, leading to a different experience when being reopened. Part of being a successful designer is understanding what particular formats are intended for and are useful for, and especially when to use them and when not to.
There are two different key types of image format. The first, raster, stores image data as pixels in a grid. The second, vector, stores data as mathematical graphs. The former is more suited to traditional work involving photos and image manipulation, whereas the latter is best for graphics created solely on the computer. Because vector data is stored as equations and paths, images saved in vector formats can be zoomed into and scaled indefinitely without losing any quality.
Digital graphics can be saved in a number of formats. Formats can all be categorised as either a raster format or a vector format, although some fit into both fields.
There are many different raster formats available, a few of which are detailed below. They each have their own benefits and drawbacks, and have intended scenarios in which they perform best. The formats below are used primarily for photo editing, photo manipulation, art and graphic design, although the latter less so.
|Portable Network Graphics||
||PNGs are best suited to graphics created on the computer, being exported for use on the web or simply for distribution. As the PNG format is lossless, it is particularly useful when saving images comprised mostly of solid areas of colour, such as logos and illustrations.||PNGs are among the most supported formats, rivalled only by JPEGs in modern software. PNGs are categorised as a lossless format, meaning that the quality of the image is unaltered when saved. Because of the way in which the data is saved in a PNG, the format is particularly suited to the web. Two key advantages it has over the JPEG format are the lossless saving and the support for alpha transparency. For this reason, PNGs are often used for icon sprites on the web, where SVGs haven't been used.|
|Joint Photographic Experts Group format||
||The JPEG format is intended for use encoding photographic data. Many cameras save the images they capture in the JPEG format, and JPEG images are also embedded in other photographic formats such as Canon and Nikon RAW files (
||The format was first defined by the Joint Photographic Experts Group committee in 1992, and has been used since. Although the content is compressed, to a degree defined by the user, the format is much better suited for photography than the PNG format, for instance. JPEGs result in a slight loss of quality in imagery, but this is easily negligible when considering the benefit in file size. Using JPEG compression for photos on the web is essential, in order that visitors are only required to download a necessary amount of data.|
||Although rarely used any longer, the bitmap format partially created Microsoft is used mostly to encode digital graphics for use in Windows. The data held in a bitmap file can take a number of forms. For example, the data can be compressed, but needn't be, and can assume various different colour depths, making it a flexible format. The format can also be used on the web, but rarely is.||The bitmap format was created in the early 1990s, partly for use in the Windows operating system. Cursor and icon files using the
||PSDs are used by Photoshop to save all of the data in a project. This means that an image in Photoshop saved as a PSD will retain all the required information to completely reconstruct the project on another computer or after Photoshop has been reopened. All of the layers, layer styles, vectors and masks that the user has created are saved, so that no content is lost when the file is closed. Because a great amount of information is kept in the format, the files are usually particularly large. This makes them unideal for transfer over the web, and the use of JPEG or PNG files is much preferred. Because PSDs keep all of the graphical information initially present in the image, Photoshop documents are a lossless image format.||The PSD format is a proprietary format, as it was created by Adobe for use in their applications. That said, many open-source alternatives to their software, such as the GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP, are able to open the format with limited compatibility. Photoshop remains the only application that can reliably open PSDs, and can so regardless of the platform that the application is running on (Windows or OS X).|
|Scalable Vector Graphic||
||Scalable vector graphics, commonly referred to as SVGs, are graphics encoding with vector data. The format is based on XML syntax, and has become increasingly popular on the web in the last few years, primarily due to the ease with which they can be animated, transformed and created. Being vector based, they are small in file size, making them ideal for transmission over the web, where every byte counts in terms of load time.||The SVG format was defined by the W3C, the body which oversees the development of the web and the technologies that power it. Originally released in 2001, the format has undergone several developments, with the latest version of the format specification being released in 2011. SVGs do not offer the same level of functionality or amount of features that other formats do, but they do allow for great compatibility and can be read by all major, modern browsers.|
||The EPS format is best suited for the exporting of content from digital graphics applications like Illustrator and Inkscape.||The format is partially proprietary, in that it was developed from the PostScript format by Adobe, but it can be read by a large number of programs and is largely considered a shared format among different applications. The format is particularly useful when a designer wishes to save a project file with a similar level of compatibility as an SVG file, but while retaining the editability that comes with the Illustrator document format. Almost all vector-based graphics applications are able to open EPS vectors.|
||This format is best suited for saving artwork created in Illustrator, if it can be guaranteed that it will only need to be opened by that program in the future. Designers will typically save their work in this format is they are suing the Adobe suite, so that no information is lost when returning to the project.||The format is used in much the same way as the PSD format is with Photoshop, and does not offer good compatibility with other software packages. The format was created by Adobe for their software, meaning that it is a proprietary format.|
When working with clients with a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience with IT, it's important for the work a designer has completed to be available to the client with ease. For example, if a photographer has taken photographs of a series of paintings for a local artist, the final selection of cropped, adjusted images must be available to the artist whenever they need to see the images. This may involve making the images available online, on a CD or DVD, on a USB drive or even in printed form. Below I have compared the limitations of Compact Discs as opposed USB flash drives.
Firstly, a CD or DVD is notoriously susceptible to scratching or damage otherwise. This can have a bad effect on the usability of the disc, and can corrupt the files stored on it. Because of the materials used in the production of these discs, they can not only easily scratched by sharp objects such as bunches of keys, but can be melted with a fairly small amount of heat. This makes them unideal for information of a great importance.
Alternatively, USB memory sticks can and have been built to withstand extreme conditions. Heavy-duty drives can be bought that will easily withstand impacts and damage that a disc never would. As an example, a metal USB stick may become scratched as a result of long-term use, but this would not affect the integrity of the data. Only an impact great enough to compromise the structure of the casing and break the circuitry inside would be able to damage the data. Despite the advantages of USB drives in this respect, cases that offer very good protection from physical damage are available for CD, particularly as they all adhere to a standard size. The same cannot be said for USB sticks, making it difficult to offer more protection to the inner circuitry than the case provides to begin with.
As well as being less reliable in terms of data storage, discs are not as easy to use as USB drives. They are cumbersome, and do not offer as much data storage capacity as USB drives. This means that in the previously mentioned scenario with an artist and photographer, the final images may have to be written to multiple discs in order to all fit. This would make the process of finding specific files much more tedious for the artist. As all of the data could most likely fit on a single USB drive, and such a drive would be easier to connect to a computer, the client's life could be made significantly easier by not using compact discs.
In contrast, the use of USB drives may be confusing to the artist. They may be used to using discs and have the necessary hardware for reading them. The computer they use may also be outdated and not have the required software or hardware for reading the USB drive. In addition to this, the artist may feel a disc would be harder to lose, and would be more preferable personally.
Although I do feel that a USB drive is more suited for almost any task otherwise undertaken by a CD or DVD, I do recognise the advantages of the latter. It is most important for the designer to analyse the situation and pick the storage medium which best suits the situation.
Illustrator is a vector design package form Adobe, which allows designer to create complex and intricate designs without be constrained to a raster canvas and a limited pixel count. The program allows paths to be exported to a wide variety of formats and for content to include media formatted in many other ways. For example, typography, images and other vector drawings can all be imported into Illustrator, and pieces can be exported to many common raster and vector file formats, such as PNG, JPEG, EPS and SVG. Illustrator is a paid package, now sold by Adobe as part of subscription service. Previously a license could be purchased for a fee of several hundred pounds.
Photoshop, another application created by Adobe, is designed to make the editing of photos and creation of vector graphics as easy as possible, once a user has become used to using the software. The package was originally developed for photo editing, but the capabilities of the program have become greater and greater over the years. The applications is now able to process complex filters, selections, adjustments, transformations and complex algorithms. Like Illustrator, the program is available for both Microsoft Windows and Apple's OS X, and is meant to perform and behave in the same way on both platforms.
Illustrator, although very capable in terms of vector graphic design, does not offer a wide variety of layer styles in the same way Photoshop does. This makes Illustrator less suited to creating iconography what will eventually be converted to a raster format, despite the ease of using vector software to begin with. These layer styles, such as stroke, drop shadow and gradient fill, are available in Photoshop. In addition to this, Photoshop allows for vector shapes to have their own border independent of these layer styles, allowing designers to create detailed cartoon effects.
Photoshop, in contrast, is not as good at creating purely vector based drawings. The shapes tools, for instance, use a different method of combination, using different modes for different paths that enables the subtraction, for example, of one shape from another. Illustrator uses a more intuitive method of shape combination, using buttons to perform different operations with two selected shapes. Rather than the two shapes remaining individual and separated, they are combined into a single new path. This may seem like a minimal difference, but it's one that can make a difference when designing complex graphics in vector space. Because of Photoshop's raster-based nature, vector graphics become pixelated as they are zoomed into, whereas this is not an issue for those working in Illustrator.
Illustrator is not as advanced as Photoshop is in terms of layer management and blending modes. In Photoshop, each layer can be given an opacity level and blending mode, meaning that the way in which the layer interacts with those below it is significantly changed. In Illustrator, although they do exist, not as many blending modes are available, and they are not as well integrated into the workflow. In addition to this, the layers panel is not as useful as it is in Photoshop. Although layers can be locked and made invisible, for example, their primary purpose is for organisation. For a designer who is used to using Photoshop, this could be particularly alarming.
The selection of object in Photoshop can be more cumbersome than in Illustrator and less intuitive. Rather than selecting different layers by clicking the sections of the canvas that they cover – as is done in another of Adobe's programs, Fireworks – they are selected by clicking the layers in the layers panel. Using the Shift and Control/Command keys on the keyboard, multiple layers can be selected at one time, letting them be moved, transformed and grouped together.
Overall, it's difficult to compare the two applications, as they are not attempting to achieve the same task. Photoshop is built for editing raster imagery, and achieves this purpose very well. Through development over several decades, the program has grown into a very capable one, as I believe it to be an essential tool for any designer. Illustrator is also very good at what it is supposed to achieve, but does not offer perhaps as many features in its field as Photoshop does in its own. I think that the most important fact is that a designer understand which applications they are comfortable in and proficient at using, as well as which applications are best suited to the task they must complete.