Today I’m going to talk to you about one of my favorite topics...product mockups! You’d never have guessed, right? :-) I’ll compare 4 design programs and how they stack up against one another to make a professional product mockup.
What the &#$% is a mockup?
If you aren’t sure what a mockup is, it’s really just a way to show your design in a realistic setting, so people can get a clear idea of what it would look like in real life. You can write out a description of a design all day, but nothing gets your idea across better than a visual, or a “mockup” of it. I’ve been using mockups as a professional designer for years, showing web page designs in computer and mobile phone screens, and for my Etsy printables shop to show my digital prints in frames and on cards. It’s easy for a potential customer to grasp in a split second what it might be like to have your product in their hands.
Mockups are an essential method for filling out your Etsy shop quickly, communicating more clearly with clients, working through ideas, and looking like a pro. Christine over at cutting for business sums up the advantages of mockups for product images very nicely in her post here. If you stack the average shop with poorly lit, unfocused, photos next to a shop with beautiful photography, the beautiful photographs will win out every time. But what if you don’t have time to take photos? Or don’t have enough materials on hand to ‘waste’ any on design ideas just to take a photo of it? This is where mockups swoop in and save the day!
There are many free graphic design software programs you can use to make a mockup with, but in my opinion, Photoshop is the best choice for a variety of reasons, even though it isn’t free. And honestly...it’s not that expensive! Read on for my thoughts on Canva, PicMonkey, Silhouette Studio, and Photoshop.
Want to try this at home as you read along? No problem! I whipped up a free mockup just for you :-)
Basic version is free, Canva for Work version: $13/mo. Free trial available.
(I’m using the free version for this post)
Really easy program to work in and figure out
Limited functionality. Pretty much useless for mockups that aren’t just text lying on top of a photo.
I created my “design” in Silhouette Studio Designer Edition. It’s just simple text, using the Century Gothic font. It says “your design here”, on 3 lines, centered. I’m putting this text on top of a wine glass in a stock photo.
First, I tried typing it out fresh in Canva, but discovered that Century Gothic wasn’t an available font in Canva. I picked something close in the look and feel of Century Gothic. I was able to turn the text at an angle, and turn down the opacity a bit to make it look more natural in the image. Not bad, but also not acceptable because the “design” I’d made to sell to customers uses a totally different font. See image below:
Next I tried using my exact design from Silhouette Studio. This meant I had to “export” the design out of Silhouette (which really means I took a screenshot of it), pull that into Photoshop to pull it off of the white background (because a screenshot flattens it onto a white background) and save it as a transparent PNG. I uploaded the base stock photo into Canva and created a new design to add it to (I used the “facebook” size). Then I uploaded that PNG from Photoshop and placed it on the photo image. I rotated the text design a bit and adjusted the opacity to make it look more natural. See image below:
Not too bad. This could definitely pass as a decent mockup, but it wouldn’t work if the design has to fit the curve of the glass, or be at an angled perspective. Also, it’s not easy to use this mockup again and again for new designs I create. I’d have to pull them in and angle them and alter the opacity every single time. Possible...but time-consuming.
Basic Edition is free, or Royale version for $5/mo. Free trial available.
(I’m using the free version for this post)
If you’re new to graphic editing, this is a great starter program that’s fairly intuitive to learn, and has an amazing set of filters. If you want to have fun painting lipstick on images, this is the program for you! My kids love that effect.
All the best filters are the ones that aren’t free. If you use those, you get a big PicMonkey watermark on your image. I'm so used to total control I get in Photoshop that I felt a little hampered by the options in PicMonkey. I'll need to test it further on harder mockups. I'll report back here when I do. After saving the completed image to my desktop, when I opened it again later in PicMonkey, the effects were flattened and couldn't be edited. Perhaps with the Royale version, you can save it in a way that keeps it editable? If anyone knows, let me know!
I was able to bring in a screenshot of my text design from Sil Studio and lay it on the image using the "overlay" function (looks like a butterfly icon) in PicMonkey. I actually had trouble finding this feature because I was so accustomed to Photoshop's layers that I thought no layers palette, meant no layering ability. Then I needed to rotate the type a bit so it looked like it was on the glass.
Tilting the text was easy, but there’s no option to make it look a little rounded on the surface of the glass. You just tilt it right or left.
You can adjust the opacity on the text to make it slightly see-through to mimic the look I created in Photoshop or use the blend modes. The "difference" blend mode was a pretty good imitation of the glossy effect I was trying to match from Photoshop.
We were able to use PicMonkey to make this wineglass mockup look pretty good, but it's not set up to use those same effects instantly on multiple other designs, which is the true power that Photoshop brings with its "Smart Object" functionality.
Basic edition is free, Designer Edition $25-$50 (I’m using Silhouette Studio Designer Edition for this post)
If you’re a silhouette-based shop, you probably already have this program.
Really only works for head-on flat designs - not rounded objects like wine glasses, or items in perspective like a printable paper lying on a table. You can shear in Sil Studio DE, but it’s clumsy at best.
When I saved it out as a jpeg screenshot, quality was less than optimal:
If you have a PDF printer set up you can save out of Silhouette as a PDF and that image looks much sharper. However, if you need jpeg or png versions of this image in future, you’ll need Photoshop to turn that PDF into those other formats.
Side note...wondering about the difference between Silhouette Studio Basic and Designer Edition? If you have a Silhouette, you’ll need some version of Sil Studio anyway and I HIGHLY recommend the designer edition. Melissa, over at the Silhouette School blog explains the advantages of Sil DE in amazing detail, so check that out if you are on the fence!
$10/mo, and includes Photoshop and Lightroom. Free Trial available)
Extremely powerful program, capable of way more than just mockup creation.
Learning curve can be steep, but I'm here to help if you need it! You only need a few tools at a time, so no need to learn about every Photoshop nook and cranny. Just what you need to get your task accomplished.
I brought the base image into Photoshop, and added my text design. I could either type it up fresh, matching the look of what I created in Sil Studio, or go through my import process to get the design out of Sil and into Photoshop. Both ways work in this instance because the font I used is available in both programs on my computer.
I created a smart object layer, on the wine glass surface that was rounded a bit, rotated to a natural angle, and had layer effects to make the design look glossy.
Here's how it looked without the glossy effect:
And here it is with the glossy effect over top of the text:
Looking great, and best of all, I can easily update this with new designs.
By just pasting a screenshot into the smart object layer. Then it “automagically” puts the design at the right angle/perspective and adds the glossy effect instantly. This means I can save out tons of new designs anytime, in minutes!
After experimenting with all these graphic programs, it’s clear that Photoshop can do everything I want to do and affords me the most control on an image, as well as letting me save a style and use it on other images for a standard “branded” look.
If you are in a rush, and unsure how to do something in Photoshop, a combo of some of these other tools could really ease the process for you.
I often turn to Canva when I’m making a quick image for social, like an Instagram pic, or Facebook image, because the sizing is built right in. So I’ll create the base image in Photoshop, bring it into Canva to size it, export it and bring it back to Photoshop to finish it up.
PicMonkey is a wonderful option for touch ups of photos, especially people’s faces, so I think it’s a great option for when you’re making your avatar or creating an about page for yourself. Again, you can do all this in Photoshop, but if you’re still learning, pop into PicMonkey to save some time. Save out your image, then bring it into Photoshop to finish off.
Silhouette Studio is handy for a very quick, non-professional looking mockup. So if you’re in a hurry to show a customer how their logo could fit onto a product, it might be worth it to do it in Sil Studio because you’re probably in there already working on new designs.
For a polished product mockup to showcase designs in your shop, you definitely want to use Photoshop. It will look amazing, and you can set up automated systems to create new mockups for tons of new design ideas, in minutes.
I hope this was helpful and you can see the value in a paid product like Photoshop vs. some of the free graphic design software that's out there! If you’re convinced that Photoshop skills are a must for your business, but are intimidated, don’t worry - I’ve got you covered in my Photoshop Mockup Mastery course.