December 20, 2010

Mordy's Favorite (technology) Things: 2010

As yet another year winds down, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite technology things. These are utilities, accessories, apps, and a collection of tips that I rely on throughout my day as a graphic designer. The items I've listed here can all be had for under $100 each, and many of them are free. Of course, the AI, ID, and PS tips are free too :)

I've also gone over this list on a recent episode of Fridays with Mordy, my weekly live chat.

If you've got your own favorites, please feel free to share them with everyone in the comments below.

LYNDA.COM ($25 per month/other plans available)
I know I probably sound biased with this one, being I'm an author for But hear me out. I use all the time to learn how to use apps that I'm less familiar with. I also love's Creative Inspiration series, which are documentaries about incredibly creative people. It's a chance to see how others do their amazing work.

If you aren't already a subscriber, you can sign up for a free 24 hour pass to

Quick tip: Watch movies at double speed! Once you’ve logged in, choose My Account and then click Site Preferences. For Player Preference, choose QuickTime Custom, and then save your preferences. If you have a PC, make sure you have QuickTime installed. Then, when you watch movies you’ll see a control to play movies at 2x speed. Learn twice as fast!

DROPBOX (Free for 2GB, plans for additional space available)
Dropbox is an incredibly valuable utility. In its most simplest form, Dropbox is an easy way to back files up to the cloud. However, it can be used to share files across computers and devices, and it's a really easy way for you to share files with others. Perhaps the best part of Dropbox is how well it integrates into your system (Mac/Windows/Android/iOS/Blackberry). Don't have an account yet? Sign up here.

Handbrake (MacOS/Windows) is probably best known for its ability to RIP DVDs so that you can view them on your iPod. But it's a fantastic video utility for compressing movies if you're trying to put content online or on portable devices. The user interface is done well. Find more information about Handbrake here.

While Handbrake is nice, if all you're looking for is a utility that will crunch and compress videos for placing them on an iPad for example, I've found that MPEG Streamclip (MacOS/Win) gives better results. The UI leaves much to be desired, but it works. More info here, and some instructions on how to use it here.

If you aren't using Twitter, what are you waiting for? I'm not talking about the pure social aspects of it. I'm talking about using it as a resource. That's how I use twitter anyway. How often do you do a search on Google only to waste another 30 minutes following links to really get the info you need? Instead, try posting a question on twitter and wait for someone to respond with the exact link you need.

But just being on twitter won't help unless you're using it the right way. For me, that means doing live searches on twitter, and for me, nothing manages that better than TweetDeck. It's available for mobile devices as well as MacOS and Windows -- but I am really only happy with the desktop version. On one screen, you can manage your twitter, facebook, and linked-in feeds, and also do live searches across twitter. You can find more info on TweetDeck here.

Transmit (MacOS) from Panic Software is probably the best MacOS application ever. It makes FTP transfers virtually transparent. Transmit is easy to use, is fast, and it works. It's also another great way to integrate with Dropbox. You can find more information on Transmit here.

Clients are always sending me emails with attachments, and being that I'm on a Mac, there are times when attachments arrive in my inbox in an unusable "winmail.dat" file format. Rather than keep asking clients to resend or send files via FTP, I got a hold of this free utility called tnefDD (MacOS). Simply drag any winmail.dat file onto this utility and like magic, the full file appears.

If you're on a Mac, and you work with Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop files, you need this utility. Many people are aware of a feature of MacOS called QuickLook. This feature allows you to press the Spacebar to see a preview of any file format, no matter where you are in the OS. For example, if you're navigating through an Open or Save dialog, or if you're reading an email with an attachment, you can tap the spacebar and see a preview of the file. However, that won't work if the file you're trying to preview is a native Illustrator or InDesign file.

Sneak Peek Pro and Sneak Peek Photo (MacOS) by Code-Line Software (the same guys who bring you the Art Director's Toolkit and Art Files) are QuickLook plugins. Once installed, QuickLook not only displays hi-res previews of native Illustrator and InDesign files, it also lets you view metadata like fonts and color swatches. It's like Bridge, only it's super fast, and it's available anywhere throughout your system.

The folks at Code-Line are also hard at work on an iPhone/iPad version of Sneak Peek, so keep an eye out for that -- which will let you preview native files on those devices.

I'm not really a "note taker" but often enough throughout the day, I find a link to an article I want to read, or I get some information that I know I'll need later. With Evernote, you can capture these little bits of info and then have them synced automatically to all of your devices. In this way, I can grab a link at my desk, but follow up on it later on my iPhone when I have a free moment. It's also a way to quickly record a note or two while on the road, and be assured that info will be at my desk when I get back.

ADOBE IDEAS (Free, $5 for Layers in-app purchase)
If you own an iPad, you should give a look at Adobe Ideas, a fun application for sketching and jotting down notes and ideas. You can then transfer content directly into Illustrator as a PDF file. If you'd like a closer look at Adobe Ideas in action, check out this episode of Fridays with Mordy: Sketching with Illustrator and Adobe Ideas.

My buddy David Macy, the product manager for Illustrator, shared this cool link with me, and I've made good use of it. If you're tired using run-of-the-mill Lorem Ipsum copy in your mockups, you might consider jazzing things up with the Gangsta version.

I'm at my computer for most of the day, so the tools I use to interact with it are important. Over the years I've tried just about every kind of input device including mice, trackpads, trackballs, and pens. None have come close to the experience of Apple's Magic Mouse. I am so thrilled with this device. It feels extremely comfortable in the hand (left or right), and the gesture support it offers is wonderful. I can't use any other mouse, ever again.

If you already own a Wacom tablet, and if you use the new brushes in Illustrator CS5 and Photoshop CS5, you should look into getting the Wacom Art Pen. It adds additional support, including rotation tracking, that makes digital drawing and painting so much more wonderful.

Throughout a stressful day, it's the little things that really make a difference. Lately, I've found that my Staples "That was easy" button brings me great joy when I complete a task. Just be careful if you work in close proximity of others, who may get annoyed from its constant use :)

Many people use the Align panel in Illustrator, but many also miss out on some of the more subtle features that really can add a lot. These things include aligning to key objects, and using the distribute spacing functions. Check out this episode of Fridays with Mordy: Smart Guides and Alignment in Illustrator for more details on the Align panel in general.

I call it the "sleeper" feature of Illustrator CS5. The Shape Builder tool acts much like a "Pathfinder Brush" and lets you quickly and easily build artwork in Illustrator. If you own Illustrator CS5, and if you aren't using the tool daily, you should really take a closer look. Check out this episode of Fridays with Mordy: Building Art in Illustrator for more information on using the Shape Builder tool. Folks have claimed this was the single best episode of Fridays with Mordy ever.

Photoshop has always wowed us with magical features, but by far, Content-Aware Fill is the best. Not only because of how amazing it is, but because of how useful it is. In my live recording (link at the top of this article), I demonstrate how I use the feature to quickly extend backgrounds.

I've seen so many folks use the "Convert to Grayscale" command in Photoshop when trying to convert full-color images to grayscale. And it hurts me to see them throw all of that detail away. I use any of three methods, depending on the image, which I discuss in the recording (link can be found at the top of this article).

- The Black and White adjustment, updated in recent versions of Photoshop, allow you to click and drag directly on the image itself to make adjustments in tone and detail.

- The Channel Mixer lets you control how much tone is added from each of the channels in the image.

- Pull the Lightness channel out of the LAB version of the file. This gives you a crisp and clean "Ansel Adams" type of quality to your black and white conversions.

As a side note, you should really learn more about channels in general, and I mentioned a terrific resource: Deke McClelland's incredible Channels and Masks (O'Reilly). Deke also offers his Channels and Masks wisdom in a dedicated title in the Online Training Library over at

Just about everyone placed native Photoshop and Illustrator files into InDesign layouts, but most people are unaware that you can place native InDesign documents into InDesign documents as well. In addition to the tip I showed in the live episode mentioned at the top of this article, you might find this read interesting as well: InDesign Inside InDesign.

InDesign has had Quick Apply for quite some time now. It's a feature that allows you to quickly apply styles to text without having to move your hands off the keyboard. However, in recent versions, Adobe has added more functionality to this feature. So much so, that I now dub this feature "Google for InDesign". Check out the recording mentioned at the top of this article for a demo of the feature, and check out this article from Anne Marie Concepcion: A Quicker Quick Apply.

In closing, I hope you've found this information helpful, and I want to personally thank all of my readers and followers for all of your continued support. Have a GREAT New Years -- be safe, be healthy, and have fun -- and we'll see you all in 2011!


James Williamson said...

Good stuff Mordy, thanks for sharing. Going to check out Transmit fo' sho'...

Anonymous said...

oh dropbox, life would be a mistake without ya

marty said...

Mordy, good stuff, thank you. I was surprised by your enthusiasm for the Magic Mouse. When I used it in Illustrator I was frustrated how my slightest touch would cause the screen to scroll in a crazy, wild manner. I've since put it away. Did I not make proper adjustments so I could make it work better?

Mordy Golding said...

@marty I'll admit that it took me about a week to adjust to the Magic Mouse. I too struggled with the fact that every little touch seemed to scroll like nuts. But it was really all in the way I was holding the mouse. I found that I always had two fingers resting on the surface, which was causing the jumps. After learning to better hold and control the scrolling, I just can't go back to any other mouse.

SgtPeper said...

Dear Mordy,

Thanks for all the sharing. It was a really busy year (2010) and I couldn´t assist to your webshows live but I saw them latter. I´m a subscriber and now I’m following your movies. They´re great. BTW, how in the world you know all those things? Hehehe, it was a joke. I got your latest book, but I prefer the videos. When I’m reading it, I want to throw it and jump back into the screen to press buttons in my computer, hehe.

Any way, thanks again. I hope that you´ll get a terrific new year -I prefer to call it a new 365-days-cicle-, to have health, love and off course tons on money in your bank account.



PS. Thanks for the Typography part one episode. Priceless!

SgtPeper said...

Hi Mordy,

About the Fridays with Mordy show, I would like to share a couple of ideas as well.

TextEdit it´s kind of cute, but since I started designing web pages I found line numbers very useful so I found this text editor application very practical: Komodo Edit. It´s open source. If you´re a developer there is a IDE as well. (free)

For designing webpages a favorite icon in the browser is essential so I use this free online tool to create them. I started in Illustrator, save as PNG and then I upload the image to this site: (free)

For Small files (under 100mb), besides Dropbox I use youSendIt express. Practical, faster and I can drag and drop files. It remembers the email addresses I typed and well, I love it. (free) Paying a subscription fee you can upload more than just 100 mb.

For making webad, banners, radio commercials, tv spots, storyboards, schedules and more I use Celtx, a very powerful tool that I combine with Illustrator to create the sketches, its also Open Source. (free) For an extra price you can use ann app for on iPhone and iPad.

I have a rule, when I’m working I need to stop every hour or every to hours to reboot myself and refresh my eyes (I also use this time to serve myself more coffee), so I use a free app, Apimac Timer, so If I’m going to read my mails I set up a 30 minutes session and so on and so fourth for other activities. I miss the baby alarm that was built in my G3 iMac.

Finally, for testing webpages a use XAMPP Server. I used to use MAMP, but after a Apple update it never worked again, so with rush death lines I had to move and it never fail.

Well, that´s a very simple ideas but I hope that they could help someone as they helped me. Mordy, great episode. I´m late I know, but I really enjoy it.

Best regards,


SgtPeper said...

Guys, I forget to mention my primary creative weapon Xmind. When I’m going to create a logo, a webpage, a podcast or you mention it; I use mind mapping. As a visual artist it lets me just write down ideas and put them in some order as I’m creating them. I really enjoy using it and hey, it´s also open source!



Gary Spedding said...

Nice new series over at Lynda. Insider Training. When will new installments be coming?


Mordy Golding said...

Hi Gary! The goal is every 6 weeks.

mac software said...

Handbrake is one of those amazing apps you have to talk about.