The PhotoshopCAFE Story

Back in the 90s while working as a corporate designer. from time to time I would see an effect. One time I called the design studio responsible for a "brushed metal gold" effect and asked if they bought it on a stock CD or if they created the effect themselves. They arrogantly told me "we do not disclose any of our techniques." From that day on, I decided that I would give back whatever I learned to the design community.

It was about this time that I began to really get deep into Photoshop and began experimenting with Photorealistic illustration. Two things triggered this desire, the first I was constantly retouching really bad photos for the magazine I was Art Directing and it got to the point where I was recreating such a large portion of the photo, that I wondered what would happen if I just started without the photo. The second inspiration came from Star Wars. I found out that Photoshop was used in these movies (I later discovered that Photoshop was invented by Thomas Knoll with the encouragement of his brother John Knoll, for the use of ILM). I put a challenge to myself to see if I could create an image so believable that it would look like a photograph. Alien Station was my first attempt at this imagery without the use of references or photos. The image is not exactly a masterpiece, but I am still happy with the reflections and the lighting particularly on the floor. From there I began what I call "Digital Still life" and created images such as the gameboy and cell phone, by using real objects as references. I had a goal to one day draw my camera in Photoshop but wanted to develop my skills first with simple things. I was after believability more than complexity, knowing that complexity can came later after a developed skill set. I began to branch off into images without references again with the CAFE Station and raygun in my desire to create things that don't yet exist. Along the way I begin to develop a lot of techniques by trial and error. At this time I was in a design bubble and had no idea what other people in the industry were doing.

I decided to attend a photoshop seminar early 2000, just to see what everyone was doing an to see if I was doing things "right." I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was already doing most of the techniques that were demonstrated and this gave me new confidence.

It was shortly after this that I was asked to moderate the forums at the newly launched planet photoshop. I found that I really enjoyed helping out other people and wrote a couple of tutorials which won the tutorial of the month contests over at the NAPP members site.

Shortly after this I wanted to start my own site where I could share tips and tutorials freely with the comminity. This was where PhotoshopCAFE was birthed. It took me about a weekend to produce v1 which was a hideous lavender color, but an outlet for writing tutorials and tips on photoshop. By now I had the confidence to create my Camera image and I entered it in the International Photoshop World Guru awards just for kicks. I really expected nothing from this but was stunned when I received an email stating that I was chosen as one of 3 finalists for the award. I was to go to Los Angeles 2001 where the winner would be announced at a ceremony at Photoshop World. To my stunned amazement, my image won first place! (This was to be my first of many awards and no one was more surprised than me!)

By this time I had begun to write more tutorials on PhotoshopCAFE and added the gallery of my art. I also came up with a redesign while traveling in Europe, which lasted until November 23rd 2005. The popularity of the site took me by surprise as numbers of visitors began to swell. I befriended a number of other people running similar sites such as neofrog, GFX, Eyes on Design, deepspaceweb, Actionfx, Eyeball design, Effectlab and more (Sadly many of these sites have hung up their mice) and we helped each other out as we shaped the face of online photoshop tutorial sites together.

One morning I opened my email to see an invitation from a Publisher called Friends Of Ed, they were compiling a book called New Masters Of Photoshop and were searching for the top Photoshop artists from around the globe to put together a unique book to document their work and inspirations. A sister book "New Masters Of Flash" had smashed records and exposed such designers as Eric Jordon (2Advanced), Yasuto Suga (RayofLight), Joshua Davis (Praystation) and Todd Purgason (Juxt). They mentioned that my Photorealistic Illustrations has gained their attention and invited me to become one of the "New Masters" along with such designers as Jens Karlsson, Mike Cina and Derek Lea. I accepted with much fear and trembling, hoping to not let them down. As it turns out the book was a huge success and once again bolstered more traffic to PhotoshopCAFE. Not only this, but it triggered a start to my book writing career and I penned a total of 7 books with Friends Of Ed including Photoshop Most Wanted (co-authored by Al Ward) which became their best selling Photoshop book ever and triggered the entire Most Wanted series of books. From this beginning other publishes have asked me to write books and I accepted as many as practical but realized that only so many books can be written without killing me (15 so far). I saw the need for a new kind of training, one that is easy to follow along and inspiring as well as educational. This is when I created my first video CD, PhotoshopCAFE LIVE. I took the essence of what has driven PhotoshopCAFE, the constant requests for certain types of effects and techniques and made a video. This took about 2 years because frankly I didn't know how to go about it, so there was much trial and error. The vision was a training video that would teach people how to use Photoshop while doing fun and useful projects. I kept all the jargon out and threw in as many extra tips and variations as possible and it paid off! People loved the CD and it sparked off the entire series which is also getting amazing feedback. I began to accept speaking invitations to conventions, conferences and special events.

Finally I got to the place where I could quit my day job and concentrate full time on writing, speaking, designing and running PhotoshopCAFE. What began as a hobby took a life of its own and has grown to one of the most popular Photoshop sites on the web. Demand for more training has seen the release of a series of training videos and this has allowed me to take photoshopCAFE on the road and exhibit at some of the top conventions around the country. As of 2005 we have seen PhotoshopCAFE pass the 3.5 million visitor mark with almost a million page views a month. The future looks bright and I'm excited to launch Version 3 Midnight Nov 23rd 2005. (Thanksgiving day). This way I can give thanks to the loyal fans and visitors of PhotoshopCAFE and give back a little to the art community. (Update) As of 2009, we have hit the 20 million visitor mark, our annual contests have prize pools that exceed $20,000 USD in prizes. We have full page ads in most major design and photography magazines and PhotoshopCAFE has passed 20 titles in our DVD library.

Don't forget the spirit of sharing! This is what caused the success of the internet in the early days, an honesty system. If you receive something of value, show your appreciation by giving something back and thus spreading knowledge, inspiration and sharing the love!

Thanks to everyone who has helped make this place a success!

Sign me up for the latest Photoshop tips and info


Colin Smith is a best-selling author, trainer, and award-winning digital artist who has caused a stir in the community with his stunning Photoshop work. Colin is also known as a pioneer of HDR photography. Colin is an Adobe ACP (Adobe Community Professional), He is founder of the world’s most popular Photoshop resource site,, which boasts over 30 million visitors.

With over 18 years of experience in the creative industry, Colin was formerly Senior Editor and Creative Director for VOICE magazine. He is a regular columnist for Photoshop User magazine. He has been featured in most major imaging magazines including, Computer Arts, Macworld, After Capture, PSD Photoshop, Advanced Photoshop, Photoshop Creative, Digital Photographer, Web Designer magazine and a host of others.

Flash ForwardColin’s digital imaging work has been recognized with numerous awards, including, MacWorld Digital Design and 3 Guru awards at Photoshop World 2001 and 2002. He’s authored or co-authored more than eighteen books on Photoshop, including the best-selling How to Do Everything with Photoshop (McGraw-Hill/Osborne) and award-winning Photoshop Most Wanted, as well as being pominentely featured in the Hall Of Fame book, New Masters Of Photoshop and New Masters of Photoshop 2 (The only artist featured in both editions). Colin is also creator of the Photoshop Secrets Video training series ( He is in high demand across the United States as a lecturer, presenting his Photoshop techniques to Photographers and graphics professionals across the nation. He has been a speaker at such conferednces as WPPI, Flash Forward, NVision, Photoshop World, PIDE, PIDE, DL Expo, Creative Suite Conference, Cre8, Create Chaos, Deviant Art Summit and many more. In 2012 Colin was the featured speaker for a Multi-City Tour (Route CS6) Sponsored by Adobe. Colin has consulted such companies as Adobe Systems, Edison International, Apple and Disney Studios.


Contacting us for help:

If you have any Photoshop, photography, design or technical related questions, please post them in the forum where I or the staff will be happy to answer them in a timely manner. THE CAFE