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Get started with Photoshop for eLearning design

Get Started with Photoshop for eLearning Design

Before I joined LearnUpon, I taught college-level eLearning design courses for a number of years. During that time, I also designed content that aimed to offer online students the same high-quality experience as their classroom-based peers. As a designer, it’s easy for me to create all of the visual assets a good eLearning course needs. But I’ve seen colleagues who don’t specialize in design struggle, as they lose hours attempting to create, edit, or crop an image correctly. With just a few quick lessons in Photoshop, I was able to help these colleagues become confident about using this great eLearning design tool. Those experiences inspired this tutorial. By the end of this series, you’ll be able to create attractive eLearning design, without the help of a professional designer. Trust me, Photoshop is actually easy and very cool. Once you start to dig in, you’ll love it. If you don’t have Photoshop already, you can download it here and try it free for 30 days. In this post, I’ll use practical examples to guide you through essential terms like raster graphics and resolution, concluding with an important lesson: how to create a new document in Photoshop. In later posts, we’ll look at more advanced features, including selection, image and canvas size editing, layers and masking, image retouching, transformations, and how to save the content you create for use in online courses.

Essential Photoshop terms


As a software program, Photoshop is mostly used for creating and editing raster images and graphics. Although it’s also used for other things, like creating vector graphics and editing videos, raster graphics are the foundation of creating great eLearning images. To explain raster, we’ll complete a quick task. Take a close photo of your laptop screen with your phone. Zoom into the image and you’ll see that it’s composed of a grid of the smallest units in raster – pixels.

Photoshop for eLearning design

You can think of a pixel as a little bulb that produces light of a certain color. When it’s combined with other pixels, they create an image our imperfect vision perceives as a unit. The viewer won’t actually see the grid of pixels, unless it’s a very low resolution image. So when you view an image on-screen, remember that it’s a grid of pixels (or units of light) that your vision converts to forms and patterns you can recognize. Photoshop allows us to play with those pixels to create lots of interesting images and effects.


Resolution measures pixel density – how many pixels are present on a standard area of one square inch. When you hear that a new phone or laptop has a resolution of 500dpi, it means that 500 “light bulbs” are present in a grid of one square inch. The more pixels it includes, the better the screen quality of an image or device will be. When you read that a camera has 15Mp (megapixels), it means it’s able to form a complete image out of a 15 milion pixel grid. Resolution is usually measured in DPI, which stands for Dots Per Inch. You’ll also hear people mention PPI, or Pixels Per Inch. But the measurements are basically the same and the terms are interchangeable. It’s important to know that a standard screen resolution is 72ppi and a standard print resolution is 300dpi. While the resolution of a printed and on-screen image work in the same way, the printed version is composed of colored dots instead of pixels.


We’ve learned that on-screen images are made of light. But how do we see the individual colors of pixels? Believe it or not, the 16,777,216 different colors that most modern devices can display are made from from the three base lights that every pixel contains:

Each of these has 256 shades of color, from the darkest with a value of 0, to the brightest with a value of 255. If you’re wondering why 256 exactly, it’s because images are 8-bit (and multiplying 2*2 eight times = 256).

Use Photoshop for eLearning design

So if the red light in one pixel has a value of 0, that means that the red part is turned off. Or if R has a value of 255, that means it transmits the lightest red. By combining these three fundamental lights, a pixel of any color in the spectrum can be created. If all three components have a value of 0, that means that the light of the pixel is turned off. If all three have a value of 255, the pixel will transmit a white color on-screen. This well-known color mode is called RGB.

This well-known color mode is called RGB

A second well-known color mode is called CMYK. The opposite of RGB, CMYK is used for printing. The mode uses paint instead of light to create color combinations. CMYK usually begins with white paper. The bigger the value of the channels, the darker the color  gets. But we won’t spend much time on the CMYK printing mode since we’re focused on creating eLearning content designed in RGB.

New document settings in Photoshop

Now that we’ve covered some essential terms, I’ll show you how to create a document in Photoshop. When you open Photoshop, there are two main ways you can create a new document. You can use the top left drop-down menu: File>New. Or you can use a keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+N (cmd+N for Mac users). Either command will open the “New” dialog box. I previously covered the importance of consistency in eLearning design. When you create visual content, you should use standardised image sizes for different types of graphics, depending on how they’ll be used. Here are some settings you’ll need to consider when you create a new document in Photoshop.

New document settings in Photoshop

Name: You can give your file a name before you work on it or you can leave it untitled. You’ll need to name the file to save it to your computer. Document type: This useful setting allows you to choose from preset document templates. You can also create a new preset document template by saving the dimensions of any image you make. After selecting all settings, click the “Save Preset” button in the right sidebar of the dialog box. You can then name the preset and choose the parameters you would like to save. 

Document settings in Photoshop

But before saving presets, it’s best to keep the “Default Photoshop Size” option for eLearning content intended for use online. If you want to print a document, choose “U.S. Paper” to apply US standards, “International” for European metric standards, and “Photo” for standard photograph sizes. This setting creates parameters you can easily change as needed. Size: Depending on which document type you choose, this setting offers a number of standard and common sizes. If you choose the “Web” setting, your document will be created to standard screen resolutions. 

If you choose “International Paper”, you can choose from standard metric paper sizes, like A4, or A5.

Width & Height: This setting defines the basic size of the raster grid for the document you will create. On the right, beside the size you’re using, you can set the unit to be used on the ruler (which we will cover in the next blog post).

Resolution: Do you remember which resolution we selected for eLearning content? That’s right! The resolution of all web content should be 72ppi.

Color Mode: And since we’re not printing images but designing them for use online, we’ll select the RGB color mode. We can change that setting later if we need to. In this post, I’ve explained important terms that will make your Photoshop journey easier. Next time, I’ll dig deeper into the software and show you how to set up the interface and explain how navigation in the pixel grid works. By the end of the series, you’ll understand how to create and edit eLearning content, without the help of a designer.

I’ll include intermediate tricks to help you manipulates images and edit photos you take. If you don’t use Photoshop, you can still use the practical examples of fundamental design principles to learn how to create attractive and effective eLearning content.




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