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Mouse or tablet?

Mouse or tablet? Which is better? It’s a question that I get asked quite often, so I guess a few words are necessary to get us going and finally start retouching. Nowadays graphics tablets are quite popular, so popular in fact, that some people think it’s necessary to have one to even start retouching. And if we were talking about hi-end or beauty retouching, I would definitely say: “Yes, it’s a good idea to get yourself a tablet, because it gives you more control over your pointer than a mouse”. But in retouching for online catalogues, it’s not that simple.

When people ask “which is better”, they actually mean “which is faster”, because when you're retouching for online stores, speed is essential, and we don’t usually do a lot of free-hand drawing, at least not as much as beauty retouchers with their mandatory dodge & burn technique. So if you want to know, which is faster, the answer is quite simple: “The keyboard. The fastest product image retoucher is the one who uses their keyboard efficiently”. As we are constantly switching between tools and commands and filter windows, if you remember all the respective keyboard shortcuts instead of going all over the screen looking for them in menus and panels, you can retouch really fast.

There’s a separate section of the course where we will discuss which shortcuts we need and why we need them, so we’ll get to it later. As for the mouse vs tablet situation, I can only say that it’s a matter of preferences and habit. I’ve always used a mouse and I’ve never felt restricted or uncomfortable with it, and I know many great catalogue retouchers that manage to work quite fast and efficiently without a tablet. And I know many great retouchers that use a tablet and can’t work well with a mouse. Normally, graphics tablets are provided to all the retouchers when they work on-site, it’s just that not everyone uses them. If you don't feel comfortable with a tablet, don't think that there's something wrong with you. When people say it's a must-have for retouching they are either advertising tablets or can't imagine their own life without one. But it's pretty evident that all the people are different and what's comfortable for one, might be a pain for another. Make your own impressions and decisions.

PC or Mac?

Another weird question, well, at least for me it sounds extremely weird. The only major differences between Mac and PC that matter when you work in Photoshop are these two: first, you use the Option key instead of the Alt key and the Command key instead of the Control key. Second: your default folder for scripts is in a different place, and you can’t run scripts from the same locations as PC users. If you have an action that calls for a script from a local directory, you’ll have to rewrite the path, otherwise, it won’t work. Is this a big deal? Definitely not. It really surprises me when I see retoucher job vacancies that demand applicants to be proficient Mac users. Well, I do understand why they want it. When you have everyone in your company working in a Mac environment, you don't really want to deal with people that are not familiar with it. But stating Mac proficiency as a strict demand is a bit discriminating.

If you own a Mac and are used to it, don’t worry. Even though this course is PC-based, the only difference important to you is that you don’t have Alt and Control keys on your keyboard, so use Option and Command keys respectively. As for my actions and scripts – they are all Mac-compatible. And even if you have actions and scripts that are not Mac-compatible, don't worry: they work just the same, but from a different folder on a hard drive. You can make any action or script Mac-compatible by just rewriting all steps that address any files, and no problems should arise with that matter.

Retina and other HD displays

Some displays have higher resolution than others. If you're on a Mac, I bet you're seeing images twice as small as users with regular displays see them. And believe it or not, it's a problem, not an advantage. When you see images smaller than others, it means you can't make out the details other people can. I worked on a NEC monitor with an IPS technology based screen for several years, and then I switched to a QHD (quad high definition) laptop, which is practically the same as a Retina screen. So all the images appeared two times smaller. As you progress through the course you will hear me saying things like: "Now scale the image to 100% or you won't be able to see the image for real". It's very important.

When you see an image scaled to some percentage of its original size, you don't see it properly. What you see is a preview, that is, the original image interpolated by a program like Photoshop or your web browser. It will look different at 10% and 50% and 60%, so if you want to see how it really looks, you should only scale to 100% to avoid all these interpolation issues. So if you sharpen images at any scale other than 100%, you don't see what you're doing. Most of my life as a head of a retouching team, I kept telling people this, as it really matters: scale to 100% if you want to see the real image, otherwise it's just pointless.

What happens with retina and QHD screens is practically the same. You don't see images at 100%, you see them smaller than they actually are. Pixels on your screens are smaller and you can fit more pixels in the same space because of that. When the whole world switches to high-resolution displays, we'll take that as 100%. But as catalogue retouchers, we work for random people. Most of them do not own expensive professional monitors or Apple products. They use their cell phones or cheap office monitors, sometimes IPS, but more often TN, which is kinda bad.

This is a test image. Its full size is 714 by 1000 pixels. Now let's see what happens when we try to open this image on different devices.

This image here is a photograph that I made using my cellphone. To the left is a 13 inches QHD laptop. To the right is a 17 inches regular HD laptop. There's the same test image opened and scaled to 100% percent on both laptops. As you can see, it looks much smaller on the QHD laptop.

This image is a screenshot from an old 17-inches laptop. The screen resolution is just 1366 by 768 pixels, that's why the same test image looks so huge on it. Resolution matters more than screen size in inches, make sure you understand that.

I've also got a screenshot of the same image as a MacBook user would see it on a 15 inches Retina screen. It looks very small compared with what most people that use regular screens see. When we retouch images, we should be able to see them close to how other people, customers, will see them. There's no point in retouching on high definition screens if you're not able to see what you're doing. I don't want to say you should throw your MacBook away, I just want you to be aware of the fact that if you're using one, you see images differently. The first thing I did when I started using my QHD laptop was setting Photoshop in such a way that when I press Ctrl-1, it scales the image to 200%, not 100%. It's was not possible to see any details I was used to otherwise.

That is, of course not a perfect solution, as there are tons of displays on the market and everyone sees different images. But it can't really be helped. With my 200% scale on a QHD screen, I don't see the same images as people with normal screens at 100% scale. But it's more or less the same, which is enough. But if I just let it be and stay at my original 100% which makes images look twice as small, I won't be able to see if my images are sharp or not, whether there is some trash that can't be seen because of the resolution. And customers will see all the trash because they mostly use normal screens.

So please, if you have a high-resolution display, make sure you don't miss all the details.

Next: Non-destructiveness myth


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