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I've been trying to create a menu with Photoshop CS5 and I've come to realise there's probably an easier way to go about it. I've made a few menus in the past but any tiny modification seems to take a rather long time to recreate across the rest of the menu items.

As an example, let's say I have a horizontal website menu with 5 items. Right now, I'd create that using 5 text layers and positioning them by hand to figure out how far away they need to be. The problem is, if I then decide to try increasing the width between each item, I need to individually re-place each text layer. It doesn't seem like a huge deal, but my way of creating a fixed width between 2 layers is to create a fixed selection, drag it into place and then drag the next item into place. It seems as though there should be an easier way.

The problem for me is that I have very little design experience, so I tend to have to try an awful lot of things to get even the simplest of elements to sit nicely. That ends up with me spending what feels like more time re-placing items to create exact width, instead of actually trying out new ideas.

So that led me to wondering: is it possible to place a layer relative to another? At least this way, if the width of a (text) layer changed, the space between the elements would be preserved. If that isn't possible, it'd be great to hear of more efficient ways of doing this.

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4 Answers 4

There are alignment options, and there are grids and the ability to snap to them. If you enable the "show transform controls" option when the move tool in selected, you will see gadgets and a band selection around objects. you can eyeball-align the center gadget for an item with a grid line.

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This is a sort of personal answer. I am not aware of any way of doing that in photoshop. However, there are some things you can do to optimise your time:

1) Put all the text in one text layer and leave space between the words, that way at least you don't have to change font styles / blending options for different layers.

2) Create actions for certain changes. For example, when you modify the first test, record the action and apply it to the rest of them. Same for backgrounds and such (More on actions: http://blog.epicedits.com/2008/03/07/how-to-create-photoshop-actions/).

3) Use alignment tools for text layers.

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I'd never heard of actions before and #3 pointed to my answer below. –  John H Nov 24 '11 at 22:14
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If I'm reading the question correctly, here are some tips that will ease the pain.

Rather than clicking and typing to add text, make a text frame (drag it out with the Type tool) that is the size of a menu button, and type your text inside the frame. Center the text in the frame to automatically handle those situations where you change the length of the actual text.

Frames can be resized easily while your text tool is active in the frame. Unfortunately, the one thing that ought to make redistributing/resizing really simple (free transform the layer set) doesn't work, because not only does PS stretch or compress the text, the Character panel continues to report the character width as 100%, which it clearly is not, so there's no way to reset the text to standard width automatically. (I consider this a bug, or at least a misfeature.)

When you want to reposition, use Snap to Grid, as Horatio suggests, or select all your text layers and drag out guides (which will snap to the edges of your text frames), then adjust the guides and snap your text frames to the new guide positions.

Photoshop is not the best tool for layout under any circumstances, so one tends to end up fighting the tool a bit, but it can be worked with. Fireworks, Illustrator and even InDesign all provide better layout tools for mocking up web designs.

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Thanks for the tips. This sort of information is pretty valuable to people like me who are really inexperienced. I do have one question though: would you use InDesign/Fireworks to design a menu or simply to lay one out? It seems as if it's for the latter but the former is what my question really relates to. –  John H Nov 23 '11 at 23:37
    
Restaurant or web? (Just kidding.) Fireworks gives you all the right design and layout tools, and is made for creating website mockups. E.g., you can create and export different button states (normal, mouseover, etc.) very easily. FW understands these things. InDesign was built for print design, but it's acquired pretty good web chops, including Flash and HTML export, and they get better with each version. –  Alan Gilbertson Nov 24 '11 at 1:22
    
Haha, thanks bud. I think I need to invest some time looking into those other programs. The last time I used Fireworks was when Macromedia still had its name on it. The biggest problem I find, and I don't seem to be alone here, is the difference between each package. It can be pretty difficult to distinguish the right tool for the job. That's enough derailing from me anyway. I appreciate the insightful comments. –  John H Nov 24 '11 at 1:40
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Thanks for the answers. These have led me to the solution and I feel a bit embarrassed for having not seen it before. If you select all of the layers you wish to align/distribute, then go to Layer -> Align/Distribute and choose an option, you can align the layers without any fuss.

Hope you guys find that as useful as I will.

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