advanced photoshop

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop

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Tips & Tutorials, by Anna-lisa Saywell

Freelance illustrator Steve Simpson explains how he created an attractive restaurant menu in Photoshop

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop

Can you tell us about the brief you were given? What visual cues did you need to achieve?

At the end of June I was contacted by the design company Neworld and asked to quote on illustrating the menu cover for Dylan McGrath’s new Fade Street Social restaurant in Dublin city centre. Dylan wanted a busy kitchen scene and I suggested using animals rather than people to populate the kitchen. There was also talk of framing the menu for the wall.

Can you please discuss the making of the image?

I’ve been using Photoshop since about 1992, back when it came on floppy disks! With the exception of the very occasional AI job, all my work is created or more accurately finished in Photoshop.

I start every project with a series of sketches, very basic to start out with, that I resolve and refine with each rough. Sometimes I’ll scan the rough, manipulate it slightly in Photoshop to fit the format and print out a larger version to work over using a light box. When I’m happy with the direction, I’ll email a JPEG to the client for feedback.

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop
The next step is to make the artwork file. In this case I needed to make it big enough so it could be hung on the wall. The working file was 100cm across at 300dpi – I tend to work in RGB instead of CMYK to keep the file size down a little.

I paste the final sketch into the file and size it to fit. This is kept as a guide on the top layer and multiplied, with Opacity reduced to about 30%, then locked off.

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop

What Photoshop tools were particularly useful for the creation of this project?

With this illustration I had sketched my own wonky versions of The Gastro Bar and Fade Street Social logos, so I started with them. I created a new folder (sometimes I even remember to label the folders) to isolate and keep track of the main elements. I’ve attempted many times of the years to get a grip of the tablet but in the end I find the mouse much easier to work with. I use vector paths to create layers of the various shapes. I colour these – usually with any colour that’s handy – by filling the path.

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop
When I have all the shapes of a particular element on different layers, I lock the transparency… and start playing around with the colours. My colour palettes are an integral part of my style, so I usually know which ones work together and which ones don’t. I’m not keen on solid black or pure white, so the rest of my colours have to reflect that spectrum. I’ll fill the shapes with a colour that I feel is close to what I want, then I use Hue/Saturation to adjust it until I’m happy with the balance between that and the rest of the colours. This will be the basis of my colour palette for the rest of the illustration . Once I’m happy with the palette, I’ll add light and shade using adapted brushes. I particularly like to use textured brushes to prevent it looking too clean and digital.

Did this particular project pose any Photoshop-related challenges?

The main challenge with this project was the number of layers. I generated well over 1,500 layers, which left me with a working file in excess of 1.5GB. Obviously this was mainly due to having to work larger to accommodate the print for the restaurant wall. The only solution was to flatten characters and save versions as I went along.

A second major challenge occurred after the illustration had been signed off. There was a change to the size of the menu, which was considerably thinner. As my machine, 8GB 27” iMac, had been creaking under the pressure of simply saving or opening the previous working PSD, we decided I should work actual menu size for the resizing, leaving the previous version for the framed print. This made the file (a little less than 500MB) a lot easier to work with. I flattened as many of the folders as I could and jiggled, resized and extended the characters, props and lettering to work in the new shape format. There was about 20 hours of tweaking needed, but I think the end result was worth the extra work.

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop

What advice would you give to other artists looking to create a similar image?

My best advice on a large project like this would be to be organised, be sure you’re completely happy with the sketches before you even open Photoshop and always double check the client is happy with the size of the menu before you start!

Design an appealing menu in Photoshop

  • Ed Nichter

    Love his style!