Why I no longer do PSD to HTML

Occasionally whilst doing front-end work I have had to do the Adobe Photoshop PSD to HTML thing where a design is thrown ‘over the wall’ to a developer as PSD. Thankfully a changing landscape means I probably no longer need to do this again. Hopefully front-end specialists will also be increasingly spared.


I am sure most people (if not everyone) knows what I am talking about but in case not, I am referring to the workflow where webpage/s are designed in Adobe Photoshop. and then handed over to be sliced into images and inserted into an HTML structure.

I should be careful of absolutes maybe I will find myself again in the position where I have to do PSD to HTML, if I have to then I have to but I won’t (hope that is clear). If I was primarily involved in front-end development I expect I would have to continue working with PSD for some time still, fortunately at the moment I can pick and choose to some extent.

I am not the only person who is dissatisfied with this workflow, most of the concerns I have and a much better background can be found in this post at teamtreehouse.com and this post by Brad Frost.

There are some very good reasons.why the PSD to HTML workflow made good sense in earlier days of web development, for example certain effects and designs were only possible with imagery, the size of pages and designs were usually fixed, many designers came from a print background etc. These reasons don’t apply now.

The last two occasions where I have had to handle extensive amounts of front-end work I have been given HTML prototypes to work from, which made me very happy, the prototypes were working, responsive and incorporated most if not all of the required assets, my job was to take these and make them dynamic (content from a CMS) fully device friendly etc.

The days of the “Print Designer” who is now dabbling in webpages are hopefully almost over and many Designers have, and are expected to extend their skills and knowledge into UX, CSS and HTML.

Some bad experiences

Admittedly some of my worst experiences are mainly down to badly run projects (regardless of how the design was carried out). Photoshop used by a designer who understands web-sites, on a project that allows feedback and iteration, where assets are pulled out into asset-sheets etc. is not a completely broken process.

Occasionally I have been handed designs, that look good but are completely impractical, a client has signed off on them but even the Project Manager cannot tell me how things are supposed to work, which bits are editable, what inferred pages that are not in the design are supposed to look like (blog summaries on home page imply a blog page). Hover-states not represented (but expected), I am expected to finish the design (not in my skill-set). The psd doesn’t come even close to answering all the questions that arise.

I have had and been told tales of Developers who have been handed a PSD (or even a JPEG exported from Photoshop) of a few pages of a site, with no other information and been asked “How long will it take to develop that?”.

I am not a Photoshop guru, I use it grudgingly, I have PHP, servers, frameworks etc. to worry about, I have been handed designs that have some very ‘clever’ Photoshop tricks (for me hurdles) in them and that are completely disorganized and inconsistent regarding use of layers etc.

Photoshop is still useful

I don’t see this as the death of Photoshop, imagery and photography are an important part of many web sites and will still need to be processed, snap-shots of how a design may work can still inform and excite a client. My expectations however are that for the work that I do I should not need to interact directly with the PSD files in these use-cases.

Photoshop may still be used by a designer as part of their process on the road to a finished design.

What replaces Photoshop?

The answer to that question still eludes me, design is not my thing, so I am more interested in what gets handed to me to implement a site and the elements I interact with when feeding back on a design. I have a couple of personal projects where I want to try a few tools out (to understand the design process more than anything the final result doesn’t need to be too professional), I will probably follow some of the suggestions from Trevor Connolly


I was delighted to discover that the latest version of Gimp is really rather good at looking into PSD supplied assets, which at least removes the obstacle of having to have Photoshop installed (not trivial if your preferred OS is Linux and not cheap in anycase).

I will still do my utmost to avoid working this way however…

By Chris Hall on 13 Oct 2014

Add Your Comment