How Crowdsourcing Can Be a Powerful SEO Weapon (or Potentially Damage Your Brand Reputation)

The Golden Rule of SEO

“Think like your customer.” If your company has even the faintest working knowledge of SEO and its best practices, then you have probably heard this statement a thousand times before — and justly so. The key to breaking through to quality rankings in Google SERPs involves thinking like the customers do when they conduct a basic Internet search.

But sometimes thinking like the customer can be a difficult task, especially for those deeply involved in the business. While you may think it’s possible to rid yourself of any recollection of your business, sometimes you might not even be sure what your customers know and don’t know about your products or services. This can make customer engagement a challenging task and make it a lot more difficult to improve your SEO efforts. There are a number of things businesses can do in terms of influencing customer engagement for SEO purposes, but crowdsourcing can be a fun and exciting way to tap into the minds of your target market.

Enter: Crowdsourcing

A fairly new concept in the online marketing world, crowdsourcing is the term to describe the act of reaching out to members of the Internet community to contribute to a campaign or project. Crowdsourcing involves appealing to a wider community whose advice and opinions matter most, and it is usually up to the party in question as to whether or not the consumer input is rewarded. Campaigns can take the form of a themed post, a custom landing page, a discussion board or any type of unique, shareable content that fosters a sense of community within the brand.

If this concept is still not ringing a bell, “My Starbucks Idea” is a great example of how crowdsourcing consumer information has produced an interesting marketing campaign.

In 2008, My Starbucks Idea started out as a community website intended to collect suggestions and product feedback from customers, but evolved into something much bigger than that. Unlike most crowdsourcing campaigns that are centered towards improving the business’s products and services, Starbucks created a campaign that instead focuses on the entire customer experience. Ideas have stretched way past the development of better products and entered into the realm of establishing and maintaining Starbucks’ corporate social responsibility. Users are heavily involved in the voting process and have put many well-known ideas into action. That plastic reusable cup you drink your frappe from once originated as a My Starbucks Idea back in 2008.

The power of the crowd is already being utilized by many businesses and is serving as an initiative to replace current customer service models. Crowdsourcing taps right into the core line of support and information for a business’s model: its market. The information can be perceived as honest and invaluable in terms of consumer engagement on a more personal level. And what can be better than getting feedback from the decision makers in your industry?

Okay, So What About SEO?

A recent SEO case study conducted by a photo identification products vendor, ID Wholesaler, took a glimpse into the world of crowdsourcing by creating a unique campaign intended to increase customer engagement for the B2B retailer. Their efforts didn’t stop there; the campaign also aimed at improving various SEO tasks that the company had yet to target including increasing their inbound links and Google SERP rankings.

So what did they do? A lanyard design contest prompted a niche target market (graphic artists, fashion designers, etc.) to submit design entries to a custom landing page that served as the central hub of the campaign efforts. Much like My Starbucks Idea, visitors could submit, view and vote for their favorite entries until a winning design was selected. ID Wholesaler received over 80 entries, 7,000 votes, and nearly 1,000 Facebook “likes” following the campaign launch.


Lanyard Design Contest Custom Landing Page – Source SEO Moz

Although they chose to pay the winning designer, the campaign proved to be well worth the investment. Because the campaign required some initial outreach, the company was able to dig deeper into social networking, an area of online marketing that proved to be an ongoing challenge for the B2B retailer. The campaign spurred a large volume of blog articles written about the contest, as well as a spike in social mentions and inbound links. Crowdsourcing has the potential to turn your online “focus group” into a great source of links back to your site.

Crowdsourcing campaigns can also help your website show an increase in non-paid traffic and rankings, which can be traced through Google Analytics. For ID Solutions, their results were quite eye opening and provided them with fresh information regarding keyword opportunities they were not previously targeting. Keyword variations for the term “lanyard” saw a 90% increase in non-paid traffic and the company jumped to the number 2 position in Google for the search term “ID badge lanyards.”

Ranking History – Source: SEOmoz

If creating a fresh campaign from scratch is too intimidating for you, crowdsourcing can also be as simple as creating an ongoing forum that could be promoted through social networks. A couple intriguing questions is all it takes for decision makers within your industry to want to respond, which can prompt relationship building with industry authority figures, a wider scope of input, more links, more site content and increased brand exposure. If you’re a small restaurateur, decision makers could include a food reviewer or even your local food distributor. Whatever the case, igniting the conversation within key influencers can set you up with the perfect opportunity to understand how viewers interact with your brand, and with a little testing, can point out flaws in your site’s usability and conversion data (Source: http://www.submitawebsite.com/blog/2010/03/crowdsourcing-websites-and-seo.html).

But Before You Go Crowdsourcing Crazy…

As with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to crowdsourcing. I think this article from Mashable does a nice job of explaining some key tips for your next campaign, but here are the main things to be cautious of when it comes to crowdsourcing:

Understand that crowdsourcing campaigns involve some type of initial or post-investment.

    People want to be rewarded for good ideas. Don’t damage your brand reputation by just soliciting people for what you want – reward those ideas which you want to make use of!

Set Campaign Rules and Have Them Handy.

    Be very clear about what you’re looking for from your visitors, the time period of the campaign and how/when you will select winners. And make sure to have these rules posted on your site to prevent any disasters from occurring.

Keep It Professional.

    Some call crowdsourcing “a solicitation for free ideas.” However, if you keep your campaign professional and rules clear, there is no reason why your brand cannot foster some interesting conversations to produce a change for a mutual benefit. Your consumers are telling you what they want… what could be easier than that?

Has your company had any experience with a crowdsourcing, or have you participated in one? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Winner of a 1-Year Subscription to Shopify

The Winner

Here is the winner of the 1-year subscription to the Unlimited plan of Shopify.

Congratulations to the winner! The winner should’ve already received an email from the folks at Shopify with information regarding their prize.

SQL query result that selected the winner at random. The email address of the winner was removed in the above image for privacy purposes.

Special Bonus!

The folks over at Shopify wanted to thank all the practicipants of the giveaway by giving them all a free 2-month
subscription to Shopify.

About Shopify

Shopify is a powerful and very easy-to-use e-commerce platform that makes it dead simple to sell products online. Shopify helps over 20,000 individuals and businesses run beautiful online stores.

Among their users are Amnesty International, Tesla Motors, the Foo Fighters, LMFAO and Epic Meal Time. See more e-stores that have chosen Shopify via their Examples gallery page.

Shopify has a free 30-day trial that lets you sign up and create your very own store. It literally takes seconds to sign up, no credit card required.

Internet Blacklist Legislation: A Threat to the Economy and our Liberty

Image provided by Martin Willms

 

Over the past couple of years, the U.S. economy has been on a rollercoaster of turbulent, unpredictable times. In 2008, a global recession attacked our markets. Due to a rising volatility from securitization of subprime mortgages, explosive inflation and an unhindered commodity boom, our nation was left dreaming of the glamorous days of growth that we experienced in the 90’s. However, despite the losses being published across headlines, our nation had one glimmer of hope left in its arsenal. That spark of optimism came in the form of the tech industry, with the internet as the motor that could propel start-ups, innovation, and progress. While many other sectors were falling apart at the seams, the technology industry retained its ability to report growth.

But now, in what feels like mutiny from a democracy that has relied so much on the success of its tech figureheads, Congress has developed legislation that attempts to devalue its star player — a technology industry that has been a selfless contributor for freedom of speech, innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.

This triumvirate of Bills, known as the SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP, are being discussed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and propose to pass censorship power of the internet to the entertainment industry.

The new legislation provides room for heightened censorship and abuse of power. Here are the implications that it carries:

–  Private companies have the power to shut down unauthorized sites where we download movies, music, and TV shows.

–  Government can force internet providers to block infringing domain names. The effect of this power could mean the deglobalization of the internet, as domains outside the U.S. border will almost exclusively be blocked.

–  Any personal blog, site or forum with a link to one of these infringing domain names is liable to legal action taken by the government. So what may have been a simple recommendation to a site that could have provided other users a benefit may actually cost you time in court. Even worse, offenders could face being blacklisted as an infringing site and forever be blocked from internet users across America.

–  Eliminates jobs established by the entrepreneurship of the internet

–  Allows corporations and the government joint ability to cut any funds a site can earn by imposing that any payment service or advertiser cancel an account if they perceive a website to be infringing on these new laws.

–  Gives the power to large, already established corporations to sue any site that they feel is not filtering their content to match its standards. As a result, this will drastically inhibit new start-ups who could face becoming bankrupt due to overwhelming lawsuits from competitors. The crime lies in giving the power to corporations to eliminate almost all of their competition and stifle innovation as very few start-ups will be able to enter a competitive arena.

However, the worst implication revolves around the ability of the government to limit our constitutional rights for freedom of speech and individual expression.

Under this new legislation, the internet’s most beloved sites are now subject to the control of our government. Sites like Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have become our largest method of self-expression and are subject to the rigors of the government’s new censorship program. Sites where everyday users share opinions, news and daily activity are highly vulnerable because their users also often share videos, TV snippets and copyrighted music. For instance, as a very frequent Facebook user, I am constantly sharing videos of my favorite TV show moments. But according to these new censorship laws, Facebook is required to either censor me or risk being shut down for they are liable for anything that their users post.

With the enacting of this legislation, individuals who even so much as post a video of themselves singing along to a Nicki Minaj song on YouTube could face up to 5 years in prison.

This has caused some of the internet’s biggest players like Tumblr to fight back. The blogging platform has replaced its user’s dashboards with censorship blocks and a link prompting it’s users to learn more about the law that could be censoring the internet.

American CensorshipAmerican CensorshipImage provided by Thomas L. Raukamp

Other companies have actively opposed these bills by addressing the issue on their homepage.  Among them is Reddit, an online community that largely relies on freedom of speech, and the renowned search engine, Firefox.

Congress aims to pass a bill with a transparent goal of eliminating piracy on the internet to make consumers buy more movies and TV shows. Therefore, our government is showing favoritism towards an industry, ranked 51st most lucrative in 2008 by CNN, at the expense of its 2nd most profitable industry, Internet Services (CNN Money).

With that in mind, can we rely on the government and private corporations not to abuse their power? Even if we can, other nations may adopt a similar approach to the internet and their governing bodies may not be as ethical in their decision against abuse of power. This domino effect would adversely affect the integrity of the internet, and the technology industry overall.

As a recent graduate and an employee at a company composed almost entirely of Millennials, I have personally witnessed the value that the technology sector provides our economy, in providing growth, and a future for graduates, who face an otherwise bleak job market.

The SOPA/E-PARASITE/PROTECT IP bills are fast-tracked to be approved by Senate for Christmas. Please help stop them by learning more about them at http://americancensorship.org/. Also, please do your part by spreading the word, and joining the cause. If you own a website, you can paste a small code on your site that helps people to write to congress.

This legislation presents disastrous implications for our own personal freedom of expression and insinuates a halt of innovation. It could do permanent damage to the American dream of success that our nation was founded upon. Jay Gatsby would hardly approve.
Please share your feelings by commenting, or if you’d like to continue the discussion, you can find me on Twitter at Shane Jones.

Make a 3D Recycling Bin Icon with Photoshop

Preview

In this tutorial, we will be making a blue-colored recycling bin icon, however, you can experiment with different colors (shown on the right is a green version).

3D Recycling Bin Icon

Step 1: Set Up the New Photoshop Document

The most basic thing we need is a good canvas to work with. Create a new Photoshop document by choosing File > New or pressing Ctrl/Cmd + N whilst in Photoshop.

Set Up the New Photoshop Document

Set Up the New Photoshop Document

Step 2: Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin

Create a new layer above the default Background layer by choosing Layer > New > Layer or by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N. Use the name, "top" for this layer.

Select the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) and set its Radius to 10px.

Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin

Go to Edit > Transform > Skew. Drag the top left and top right transform controls inward.

Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin

Double-click on the "top" layer in the Layers Panel to bring up the Layer Style dialog window. Give the layer a Drop Shadow layer style with an off-white drop shadow color (#fdfcfc).

Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin

Also, give the "top" layer a Gradient Overlay going from a light blue (#89bef9) to a slightly lighter blue (#99d9fa), but you should also notice that the Reverse option is selected.

Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin

This is how our shape should look like:

Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin

Step 3: Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection

Make a new layer (we will name it "top-shine"). Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) from the Tools Panel to make a selection within the "top" shape.

Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection

Choose the Gradient Tool (G) from the Tools Panel, having the gradient to go from white to transparent, and set the gradient style to Reflected Gradient.

Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection

Apply the gradient starting from the center towards the right or left edge of your rectangular marquee selection.

Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection

Switch the Blend Mode of the "top-shine" layer to Overlay and Opacity to 23% so that it doesn’t appear too prominent in our icon design.

Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection

The shine, as you can see from below, is very subtle but gives our icon a unique surface.

Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection

Step 4: Create the Illusion of Depth

We will now make it look like our recycling bin’s opening is hollow. Create new shape layer at the center of our "top" shape using the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) and Edit > Transform > Skew as we’ve done before; rename this shape layer "top-depth" so that we are maintaining our Photoshop file’s organization.

Tip: Alternatively, you can duplicate the "top" layer and resize the duplicated layer down using Edit > Transform > Scale.

Create the Illusion of Depth

Give the new shape a Drop Shadow and a Gradient Overlay layer style.

Drop Shadow

The drop shadow color should be white (#ffffff).

Drop Shadow

Gradient Overlay

Have the gradient go from a light blue (#61a0dc) to a slightly darker blue (#4b84be), but you should also notice that the Reverse option is selected.

Gradient Overlay

As you can see from below, the layer styles give the top of our recycling bin an illusion that it is lower than the bigger rounded rectangle surrounding it.

Gradient Overlay

Step 5: Organize Your Layers

Housekeeping time: Click on the Create new layer group icon ( it looks like a folder) at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Organize our Layers

Drag every layer created until now — except the Background layer — into this group. Collapse this group by clicking on the small triangle icon just on the left of the folder thumbnail so that its more compact in our Layers Panel.

Organize our Layers

Name the layer group as "top".

Organize our Layers

Step 6: Draw the Front Shape of the Recycling Bin

Now, in the Layers Panel, click on the Background layer to position your work correctly in the layer stacking order. Make a shape for the front of the recycling bin (let us name this shape layer as "front").

You can use the same Rounded Rectangle Tool and Skew Transform process that we used for the top of the recycling bin, but this time, when you are skewing it, you will pull in the bottom transform controls towards the middle.

Draw the Front Shape of the Recycling Bin

Step 7: Give the Front of the Recycling Bin Some Color

To give the front of our recycling bin its color, we will use a Gradient Overlay layer style.

Give the Front of the Recycling Bin Some Color

The front of our bin should now have consistent coloring with its top.

Give the Front of the Recycling Bin Some Color

Step 8: Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

Make a new shape (you can name this shape layer as "side-shade") towards the right of the icon.

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

Color the shade appropriately using a Color Overlay layer style, using a darker blue color (#1f456f).

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

With the "side-shade" layer selected in the Layers Panel, give the layer a layer mask by clicking on the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the panel.

If done correctly, you’ll see that the "side-shade" layer will look like the following image.

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

Now take the Gradient Tool (G) and set its options so that the gradient goes from white to black and the gradient style is set to Linear Gradient. Apply the gradient as shown below (indicated by the red arrow).

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

This should result in giving the right side of the recycling bin an effect of being curved.

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

Reduce the prominence of the shading by lowering the layer’s Opacity to 29%.

Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin

Step 9: Shade the Left Edge of the Recycling Bin

Duplicate the "side-shade" layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + J while the layer is the active layer in the Layers Panel or by choosing Layer > Duplicate Layer in the main menu.

Flip the duplicated layer horizontally by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

Shade the Left Edge of the Recycling Bin

Move the duplicated shading to the leftmost edge using the Move Tool (V).

Shade the Left Edge of the Recycling Bin

Step 10: Create Light Reflections

Let us give our icon a radial light reflection to make its surface even more interesting. Create a new layer (you can name it "front-light"), and in this newly-created layer, you can use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and Fill command (Ctrl/Cmd + F5) to make a white half-circle shape located at the center of our bin.

Create Light Reflections

Soften the edges of the half-circle by giving its layer a Gaussian Blur; do this by choosing Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and setting the Radius option of the blur filter to about 18.6px.

Create Light Reflections

As you can see below, we will need to correct the light reflection so that it doesn’t go on the brim.

Create Light Reflections

Remove the excess light reflections at the top by selecting them with the Rectangular Marquee Tool and pressing Delete to remove the selected area.

Create Light Reflections

Let the light reflection blend better by switching the layer’s Blend Mode to Overlay and lowering the Opacity to about 67%.

Create Light Reflections

Step 11: Add the Recycling Symbol

Pick the Custom Shape Tool (U) from the Tools Panel. For its Shape option, find "Recycle 2" which comes with Photoshop CS versions by default (it is in the "Symbol" set of custom shapes).

Draw the custom shape at the center of our recycling bin.

Add the Recycling Symbol

Step 12: Style the Recycling Symbol

Style the recycling shape layer by giving it a drop shadow, inner shadow, and gradient overlay layer styles.

Drop Shadow

Set the drop shadow color to a blue (#3c6a99).

Style the Recycling Symbol

Inner Shadow

The inner shadow color should be white (#ffffff).

Style the Recycling Symbol

Gradient Overlay

Finally, the gradient overlay colors should be from baby blue (#bee4f9) to white (#ffffff).

Style the Recycling Symbol

Style the Recycling Symbol

The three layer styles gives the symbol some harmony with the rest of our icon’s design.

Style the Recycling Symbol

Before moving on, let us organize our work by grouping all the "front" layers into a layer group called "front". The "front" layer group should be between the Background layer and the "top" layer group.

Step 13: Draw a Crumpled Piece of Paper Shape

We will now draw a crumpled piece of paper that has been tossed into our recycling bin. Above the "top" layer group, create a new layer (let us name this layer as "paper").

On this new layer, you can utilize the Polygonal Lasso Tool, the Pen Tool, or any of your favorite freehand drawing tools to create a random white-colored shape, as shown below.

Draw a Crumpled Piece of Paper Shape

Step 14: Style the Crumpled Paper Shape

Give the piece of paper a Drop Shadow layer style and Stroke layer style.

Drop Shadow

The drop shadow color should be black (#000000) and its Opacity lowered to around 10%.

Style the Crumpled Paper Shape

Stroke

Respectively, the stroke color should also be black (#000000).

Style the Crumpled Paper Shape

The layer styles give our piece of paper some base definitions.

Style the Crumpled Paper Shape

Step 15: Draw Details on the Crumpled Paper Shape

To add creases to the paper, create a new layer (name it "paper-shade1") and draw black shapes along some of its edges.

Draw Details on the Crumpled Paper Shape

Lower the opacity of the "paper-shade1" layer to around 14%. This should result in giving the piece of paper some subtle depth and definitions.

Draw Details on the Crumpled Paper Shape

To add more creases, just create a new layer (let us name this one "paper-shade2") and draw more black shapes.

Draw Details on the Crumpled Paper Shape

Reduce the Opacity to around 4%. Adding the crease shades on different layers and lowering the opacity to a another value gives our details random nuances that make the piece of paper look more realistic.

Draw Details on the Crumpled Paper Shape

Step 16: Make More Pieces of Paper

First, let us organize our PSD by making a new layer group for our crumpled pieces of paper. We can call this group something intuitive like "paper". Drag all layers associated to the piece of paper we just made into this new layer group.

Next, duplicate this layer group (Layer > Duplicate Group) to make another piece of paper.

Move the new piece of paper away from the first one using the Move Tool (V).

Make More Pieces of Paper

Make another piece of paper using the same technique.

Make More Pieces of Paper

Add variance to the pieces of paper so that they don’t look identical using the Free Transform command (Edit > Free Transform). You can rotate them, change their sizes, and so forth.

We will change the angle of the middle piece of paper to 45o. Select its layer group in the Layers Panel, choose Edit > Transform > Rotate, and in the Options Bar, set the Rotate option to 45o.

Make More Pieces of Paper

Create as many pieces of paper as you want, experiment with angles, sizes, and layer stacking order. The goal is to make the pieces of crumpled paper varied so that our icon mimics a real recycling bin.

Make More Pieces of Paper

You can also add pieces of paper outside of the recycling bin to make it look full.

Make More Pieces of Paper

Step 17: Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent

Let’s make our bin look as if we can see inside it slightly. If you don’t want to do this, that is fine — consider this as an optional step. Start by selecting all the "paper" layer groups — except the pieces of paper that are laying on the floor — in the Layers Panel. Duplicate them by right-clicking in the Layers Panel and choosing Duplicate Layers from the contextual menu that appears.

Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent

Merge the duplicated layers by right-clicking in the Layers Panel again and choosing Merge Layers.

Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent

Duplicate, transform, and so forth so that you end up with something like the image below. We want to make it look like our bin is filled to the brim.

Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent

Merge these layers (select them in the Layers Panel and press Ctrl/Cmd + E) and name the merged layer as "translucent-property".

Add a layer mask on the "translucent-property" layer, then use the Gradient Tool to create a black to white gradient on the layer mask.

Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent

Doing so will fade the layer towards the bottom of our recycling bin.

Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent

Step 18: Add Shadows to the Pieces of Paper

We need to add some additional shadows to the pieces of paper. Create a new layer called "extra-shadow", and on this new layer, draw black shapes on the papers’ edges.

Add Shadows to the Pieces of Paper

Set the Opacity of the layer to 10% to soften the drop shadow.

Add Shadows to the Pieces of Paper

Perform some organizational tasks by making a new layer group called "papers" and dragging the respective layers and layer groups inside of it.

Step 19: Give the Recycling Bin a Shadow at the Bottom

Let us create a shadow being casted on the floor by the recycling bin. Create a new layer (name it "main-shadow") just above the Background layer.

Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) to draw a rounded corner square behind the bin.

Give the Recycling Bin a Shadow at the Bottom

Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to soften the edges of the rounded corner square, using a Radius between 18-19px.

Give the Recycling Bin a Shadow at the Bottom

Using the Free Transform command (Ctrl/Cmd + T) like before, squeeze this shape so that it looks like the following image.

Use Skew Transform so that its angle is consistent with the Recycling Bin’s shape.

Step 20: Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

We should add some shadows on the pieces of paper that are on the floor so that our icon’s lighting is accurate and consistent. First, create a new layer (name it "paper-shadow") above the recycling bin’s shadow layer (which we had named "main-shadow").

Use the Brush Tool (B) with a soft black brush tip and Master Diameter that is around 65px.

Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

Click once on your canvas to produce a circular brush stroke.

Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

Use Free Transform to squeeze it down and make it look like the shadow of the pieces of paper on the floor. Position it at the bottom of the pieces of paper using the Move Tool (V).

Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

Duplicate the "paper-shadow" layer and scale it down using Free Transform. Position it below the other piece of paper using the Move Tool (V). Having two layers for the shadow makes the depth of our piece as accurate as possible.

Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor

Step 21: Add a Window Light Reflection

Let’s give our work some subtle details. We are coming to the final steps of our icon design.

First, we’ll make a light reflection on the top left corner. Create a new layer named "reflection". Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to draw an uneven polygonal selection. Note that you want this new layer to be at the very top of the layer stacking order.

Add a Window Light Reflection

Next, apply a white to transparent gradient using the Gradient Tool (G).

Add a Window Light Reflection

Let’s say that the light source is coming through a window pane. Make a selection that looks like a cross (using Polygonal Lasso Tool), representing the window’s frame.

Add a Window Light Reflection

Then, just hit Delete to remove parts of the light reflection underneath the cross selection.

Add a Window Light Reflection

Change the Blend Mode of the "reflection" layer to Overlay and also lower the Opacity to around 35%.

Add a Window Light Reflection

Step 22: Add More Creases to the Pieces of Paper

We should give our pieces of paper some more details by adding creases to them. Create a new layer (let us name this layer "crumples"). On the new layer, draw black shapes around the edges as shown below.

Add More Creases to the Pieces of Paper

Reduce the opacity of this layer to around 10%. Doing this gives our pieces of paper some subtle definitions.

Add More Creases to the Pieces of Paper

Step 23: Add a Light Reflection at the Recycling Bin’s Edge

To finish our work, we will be adding a light reflection at the edge of the bin’s opening. This process will give our surface an even more interesting design element, as well as draw the viewer’s eyes towards middle of the icon. Create a new layer (we can call this layer "add-shine"). Use the Brush Tool (B) with a white, soft brush tip sized at about 45px. Click once in the center (towards the top) to paint in the light reflection.

Add a Light Reflection at the Recycling Bin's Edge

Set the Opacity of this layer to 60%.

Add a Light Reflection at the Recycling Bin's Edge

Tutorial Summary

You’re done! In this tutorial, we used fundamental Photoshop tools such as the Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Custom Shape Tool and the Gradient Tool, as well as basic commands such as Free Transform and Skew Transform to draw a recycling bin icon from scratch.

You can modify your layer styles to make the color of your recycling bin different. Below, you can see that I modified the color to green.

Tutorial Summary

Download Source Files

Make Illustrious Type Using Airbrushing Techniques

Preview

Click the preview image below to see the piece in full scale.

Make Illustrious Type Using Airbrushing Techniques

Tutorial Resources

Step 1: Create a New Illustrator Document

First, we are going to create a new Illustrator document, and this can really be any size you want it to be since vector graphics are scalable, but for the purposes of this tutorial, I have used 8×8 inches.

Next, I used a font called Adorable Illusion (which is hard to find nowadays), to type out the word "Illustrious" on the artboard using the Type Tool (T); we want the font to be quite large as we can always reduce the size later if we need to.

You can find a list of similar-looking script fonts at Font Squirrel free for download if you don’t have the font I used. Alternatively, just use a script/cursive font that you already have installed.

You could also type out any word other than "Illustrious" and use any typeface that you want, but I really like the cursive/script typeface for what we will be creating. In addition, the cursive L and S shapes work well when using these techniques.

Create a New Illustrator Document

Step 2: Create Outlines

What we want to do next is create outlines from our text so that we can control the positioning of each letter individually. To do this, select your text with the Selection Tool (V) and go to Type > Create Outlines (or you could use the shortcut Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + O).

Create Outlines

Step 3: Manual Kerning

Since we now have our outlined letters, we can select each one individually and move them around however we would like. To do that, we would have to ungroup the text by selecting it with the Selection Tool and then choosing Object > Ungroup (Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + G).

To achieve the desired result, we want to move each of these letters closer and later on join them together so that our text becomes one continuous shape.

Use the following image as a guide and try to match it as best as you can.

Manual Kerning

Step 4: Bringing it Together

Once we have the letters almost touching, we will be using the Pen Tool (P) to join the letters together. If you are familiar with this tool, this step should be quite easy for you. If not, I would recommend checking out some of the great tutorials on the Web for using the Pen Tool (P) as it’s one of the most important tools in Illustrator.

The idea is to select a black fill with no outline, and try to follow along with the natural curvature of the script typeface to join the letterforms together.

Bringing it Together

You can click an anchor point with the Pen Tool (P), and then after selecting another point, you can control the shape and size of the curve by holding down on the point before releasing the mouse.

Bringing it Together

Bringing it Together

We can now save our document either as an Illustrator file or as an EPS as we will be using this later on.

For your convenience, or just in case you have some difficulties with the Pen Tool (P), I have provided the final EPS file in the Tutorial Resources listing above so that you can use this rather than doing the previous steps up to this point.

Tip: I would strongly encourage you to experiment on your own and try to become familiar with the Pen Tool (P), if you’re not already familiar with it.

Step 5: Jumping Over to Photoshop

Now that we have prepared the text that we will be using, we can begin to set up our Photoshop document.

Open up the Sofa PSD (our backdrop for our text) mentioned in the Tutorial Resources listing above so we can begin customizing this for our tutorial.

Jumping Over to Photoshop

Step 6: Deactivating Some Layers

Once the Sofa PSD file is open, we want to turn off a few of its layers.

I have circled the three layers that we want to turn off.

Deactivating Some Layers

This would be a good time to save the file in case you haven’t already. You can save over it, or do a File > Save As to preserve the original; completely up to you.

Deactivating Some Layers

Step 7: More Tweaking of the PSD

Next, we want to take three layers ("Layer 6", Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer, and "Texture 3") and bring them all up the layer stacking order in the Layers Panel so that they are above the "Wall" layer group.

Next, we will desaturate the texture layer by double-clicking on the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

More Tweaking of the PSD

Once the adjustment layer dialog window opens up, we will drag the middle saturation slider all the way to the left to desaturate this layer.

More Tweaking of the PSD

Step 8: Stripping the Wallpaper

You will notice now that some of the textured wallpaper layer is actually overlapping the floor underneath the wooden trim.

To rectify this, we will want to select parts of the "Texture 3" layer with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M). Select the area that is overlapping and simply press Delete to remove the selected area.

Stripping the Wallpaper

Step 9: Working on the Trim

Looking at our piece now, the couch and the trim along the floor are the highest contrast points in our work. We want to tone this down a bit so that the "Illustrious" text will stand out the most.

We will now select "layer 10" from the Layers Panel (circled in red) and go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.

Working on the Trim

Next, we will once again drag the middle slider to the left, only to about -55.

Working on the Trim

Step 10: Lower the Opacity

On the "Texture 3" layer with the wallpaper, we’re going to lower the opacity down to about 50%.

Lower the Opacity

Step 11: Brand New Sofa

Next, expand the "Sofa" layer group in the Layers Panel to see all the layers within the folder.

You will notice that there are several layers inside of this folder, including a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Brand New Sofa

Double-click on the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and slide the Saturation slider to -90 and the Lightness slider to -75.

Brand New Sofa

Step 12: Ready to Airbrush!

Up to this point, we have been mostly preparing and modifying the files. We can now flatten the image and save it. The quickest way to flatten the image (if you weren’t sure of how to do this before) is to right-click on a layer and choose Flatten Image from the menu. There’s also the Layers Panel menu at the top (by the Opacity option) that’s indicated with a downward-pointing arrow; when you click on this, you will be presented with numerous commands, including Flatten Image.

Ready to Airbrush!

Step 13: Very Smart Object

Now we are going to open up the EPS file we created earlier in Illustrator (illustrious.eps) and simply select the text with the Selection Tool (V).

Once you have selected your text, press Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy the text. Head back over to Photoshop and press Cmd/Ctrl + V to paste the copied text into the Photoshop document. When you paste the text into Photoshop, you will be prompted by the Paste dialog window, which asks you if you want to paste the object as a Smart Object–say OK.

You should now have the vector shape pasted just above the flattened image of the sofa.

Very Smart Object

Step 14: Color Me Bad

For the next step, we are going to begin coloring in our text by selecting a solid base color. To do this, double-click on the vector object layer in the Layers Panel and open up the Layer Styles dialog window.

Choose Color Overlay, click on the small color swatch in the Color Overlay’s options, and then set the color overlay color to a bright, neon-ish green (#8aff00).

Color Me Bad

At this point, we are going to want to save our work to prepare for the next step where the real fun begins. Checkpoint: your work should look like the image below.

Color Me Bad

Step 15: Stay Inside the Lines!

Next, we are going to begin airbrushing the letters by first adding in some highlights. To do this, select a mid-sized, soft round brush from the Brushes Panel (press F5 if you don’t see the panel) and lower the Opacity option of the brush down to about 20%.

After that, make sure you have a solid white Foreground color for the brush.

Now, hold down Cmd or Ctrl and click on the Smart Object layer that contains our text. You should now have those marching ants around the text, indicating that you have selected around it.

Create a new layer just above our text, while still keeping the selection active (if you accidentally deselected, just issue a Reselect command using Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + D).

Begin brushing on the new layer along the edges of some of the letters. By brushing along the edges, you should start to get some nice, smooth highlights indicating a light source. And by having the text selected, you can ensure that all of your brushwork stays inside the marching ants–just like a coloring book!

Don’t worry too much about how far in you go with the highlights at this point, as we can always erase some of it later. The main goal is to just get a feel for the technique. (and to have fun, of course).

Stay Inside the Lines!

Step 16: Moving Along

Now at this point, I have continued working with a low-opacity brush and just trying to imagine that the outermost parts of our letters are a bit thinner as they taper off–this is where we would notice light shining through, almost as if it’s behind the letters.

By the way, I do this with a mouse and not a graphics tablet, which can be a bit tricky at times (more so if you’re naturally left-handed). If you have a graphics tablet, I would highly recommend using it because this process–with a tablet–should be easier.

Stay Inside the Lines!

Step 17: Checkpoint

After working on this for a bit longer, you can now see the highlights on the entire word. You will also notice that I’ve added highlights along the bottom curves of the joined letters as well. By playing around with this, and maybe erasing some parts with a low-opacity eraser, you can start to see where this is going. I encourage you to experiment with this as it can be quite fun.

The arrows serve as an indicator to show the suggested direction of the light source.

Stay Inside the Lines!

Step 18: On to the Next One

Before moving on to the next step, name the layer we just completed as "Highlights" just to keep things organized. Now, create a new layer above this "Highlights" layer and call it "Shadows".

We will be using a similar technique to what we used in the previous steps, but rather than using a solid white color, we will use something that is just a few shades darker than our original green color (#8aff00). I have selected #559d00 as it seems like a good, slightly darker shade of green.

The reason we don’t want to go too dark is that we want the shading to be subtle and gradual to make a more believable shift in color value.

Stay Inside the Lines!

Step 19: In the Shadows

Using this darker shade of green, we will again hold down the Cmd/Ctrl and then click on our smart object layer to make a selection around the object with the original text. And after we have the active selection made, go on the "Shadows" layer and begin brushing inside of the letters to add subtle shadows.

You may not notice a huge difference at first, but by turning this layer on and off, you can see the difference between having the shadows, and not having them. At this point, I would recommend saving your work once again–just to be safe.

In the Shadows

Step 20: Extra Shadows

Once you have saved your work, create one more layer on top of the previous "Shadows" layer and call this one "Extra Shadows". Just as the name of the new layer implies, we are going to want to add one additional layer of even darker shading. Using the same soft brush, pick a slightly darker shade of green (#498601) and repeat the same technique that we used in the previous step when applying these shadows. This will help in adding a bit more variation and depth to the letterforms.

Extra Shadows

Step 21: Add an Outer Glow Layer Style

Now what we will do is double-click on the Smart Object layer to bring up the Layer Styles dialog window so that we can add an Outer Glow layer style. For the color of the glow, use a bright green (#88f05a) and apply the settings shown in the image below.

Add an Outer Glow Layer Style

This layer style will help to add a bit of a diffused fuzziness around the letters and can also help them appear softer and more rounded.

Step 22: Add a Drop Shadow Layer Style

Next, we will add a bit more styling from the Layer Styles dialog window. Check off Drop Shadow to apply this layer style, and use the color #012c03, which is a very dark shade of green (close to black). Apply the settings shown below in the image and click OK to apply both the glow and the shadow.

Add a Drop Shadow Layer Style

Step 23: Almost There!

You should now have something that looks like the image below. We are close to finishing this up and only have a few more steps to get through, so let’s keep going! Check your work against mine:

Add a Drop Shadow Layer Style

Step 24: Grouping the Type

Next up, we are going to group the Smart Object along with the highlights and shadows that we have added by placing them in a layer group. One way to do this is to click on the small folder icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel next to the Add new layer icon. Drag it up the layer stack to the very top and also name the layer group as "Type".

Now that we have this layer group created, simply drag the layers related to the text into the group. By doing this, we can move the type and all of the highlights/shadows around just by moving the layer group.

Grouping the Type

Step 25: Reduce and Angle

Now that we have our type all grouped nicely together inside of the "Type" layer group, we are going to select the folder in the Layers Panel and drag it down to the new layer icon to make a copy of the group and all of the layers contained within.

Once you have a copy of the group, click the small "eye" icon to turn off the visibility of the original group.

Click on the newer copy of the "Type" layer group in the Layers Panel folder that we just duplicated and then press Ctrl/Cmd + T to enter Free Transform command (or choose Edit > Free Transform).

While holding down Shift to keep the dimensions proportional, reduce the size of the type so it becomes a bit smaller.

Also, angle the type a bit more so that the right of it is pointing upwards. This will make the type a bit more dynamic rather than having it sit perfectly straight across the sofa. Until now, we have left it straight so that we could airbrush the highlights and shadows easier (it would be more difficult to do them with angled type).

Once you’re happy with your free transformations, just press Enter to commit the changes.

Reduce and Angle

Step 26: Reflected Light

Next, create a new layer just above the Background layer and underneath both "Type" layer groups.

Choose a light green color (#6bff67) and pick the Gradient Tool (G) from the Tools Panel.

Choose a radial gradient that fades from the solid green color we have just picked to completely transparent (set these options in the Options Bar of the Gradient Tool).

On the new layer we have created, click and drag from the center and outwards to create the radial gradient.

Change the Blend Mode of this layer to Overlay and position it behind some of the first few letters so that it appears to be ambient light reflecting on the cushions of the couch.

Duplicate this layer a few times and spread them out behind the letters to enhance the effect.

Reflected Light

Step 27: Merging the Layers

Select the topmost gradient layer that you have created in the previous step and while holding Shift, select the very bottom gradient. This should select all of the radial gradient layers that you made. Just press Shift + E to merge them down to one layer, just like we did earlier in the tutorial.

Note: Once you merge the layers, you will have to once again change the blending mode of the merged layer to Overlay.

Merging the Layers

Step 28: Enhancing the Light

Alright, final step! Now that we’ve merged the gradients that created the ambient light, duplicate that layer one more time by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + J while it’s selected in the Layers Panel.

Next, lower the opacity of the duplicated layer to about 50%.

As a finishing touch, grab the Eraser Tool (E) and use a low-opacity setting with a round soft brush selected. With the Eraser Tool, erase some of the reflected light spilling on the wallpaper so that it doesn’t look quite as harsh and prominent; we just want to tone this down a bit to keep the focus on the type and the couch.

Enhancing the Light

Tutorial Summary

You have successfully completed this tutorial! We’ve covered quite a lot, but I hope that you have found some useful tips from this that you can use in some of your own work.

Airbrushing can take a bit of time to get down, but as they say, it’s not so much the destination as it is the journey getting there.

Make Illustrious Type Using Airbrushing Techniques

Download Source Files