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Preparing Photoshop Files for Web Developers

Whether you’re a freelance Web designer or part of a team at an agency, handing off Photoshop files to a client, developer, development team or even another designer is part of the process of building websites.

Prepping the File

First and foremost, make a copy of the Photoshop file that contains the approved design and add the suffix -prod to the file name. This way you can recognize a production file immediately and know that this file type is for development use only and not for further design refinements.

Guides and layout

Properly align and remove any unnecessary guides in the document. Keep guides to a minimum and only section off the major regions of the layout by outlining blocks of page content such as the masthead, content area, sidebar, and footer so that the developer understands what basic structure the page should follow. Keeping the number of guides to a minimum also allows the developer to then add guides were needed to aid them in visually mapping out layout details in the code such as nested divs and navigation menus.

Include a color palette

Create a layer group with its visibility turned off at the top of the Layers panel named “Palette.” Populate this group with layers using Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color… which are named to correspond to elements that will be colored using CSS. This allows developers to simply Double+click the layer thumbnail to get the color values they need from the Color Picker while coding.

Navigation and Button States

During the design process, it’s easy to overlook that navigation graphics should have at least three states of user interaction that will need to be defined in a stylesheet. Place each state on its own layer and name that layer to correspond to its function. As an example, using the following for the layer names of a top navigation element (topnav, topnav:hover, topnav:active) will help to establish a common naming convention and language that both the designer and developer mutually understand and recognize.

Smart objects

Smart objects are invaluable during the design process. They allow for resizing and styling with Smart Filters while remaining completely editable. However, once a design is approved these layer types should be rasterized or merged with other layers to reduce the overall file size as smart objects can often contain photos or other artwork that have a higher resolution (e.g. 300dpi) than is required for the final output of 72dpi.

Handing off the PSD

When the file has been prepared, don’t just send the file in an e-mail or upload it to the development server. Schedule a hand-off meeting and take the time to go over the file(s) with the developer to ensure that they have a firm understanding of how the end product is supposed to not only look but behave in terms of user interaction. In the end, both designers and developers will save valuable time.

Last word

Use nested layer groups that reflect the hierarchical structure of the layout. A layer group called “Sidebar” might contain layer groups “search” and “advertising.” Nested layer groups can also illustrate to the developer how elements are arranged structurally within the HTML.

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