Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

A Quick-Start Guide to Teaching Yourself Creative Software

“I really need to learn how to use Photoshop.”

“I don’t know how people do all that stuff with After Effects.”

“If I only knew Ableton…”

Does this sound like you?

Learning creative software can be intimidating, but it’s not as hard as you might think. An ever-growing catalog of high-quality, online video tutorials available on sites like and Kelby Training are making learning on your own both efficient and engaging. To give you the downlow on where to go, we’ve rounded up a handful of the best tutorial resources across various creative categories – and follow up that list with some tips on how to stay focused and productive when you’re learning outside of a standard classroom setting.

For Photographers and Image Editors

Kelby Training ($25/mo, $200/yr) specializes in Photoshop and Photography by having skilled professional photographers teach courses in HD video. It’s an excellent resource for photographers who want to get more out of a DSLR, and for designers and editors who work with Photoshop on a regular basis. You can view all the video on the site for a 24-hour trial before buying.

For Adobe Creative Suite Users

AdobeTV (Free)
Adobe provides a series of free tutorials for all of their creative suite products, including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere, and more. Each software has a set of 5-10 ‘Getting Started’ tutorials as well as specific tutorials for certain techniques and effects. These tutorials are excerpted from the full courses at  (see below) that require a paid subscription.

For Musicians, DJs, and Sound Engineers

Groove3 ($25/mo, $100/yr, $15-20/course)
Groove3 offers video tutorials of all the latest audio production software, and new tutorials are released with new editions of each software to help you keep up with the changing environment.

Ableton Video Tutorials (Free)
If you’re trying to teach yourself Ableton, get started with the free videos available on their website, or this list of 17 amazing tutorials.

For Videographers and Editors

Izzy Video Final Cut Pro Tutorial (Free)
Izzy Video provides a detailed free tutorial course for Apple’s Final Cut Pro video editing software with 2 hours and 40 minutes of total HD video, as well as the practice files used in the course available with a paid download. The site also provides numerous general filmmaking tutorials on topics ranging from lighting to audio, which are accessible with a paid membership.

For Motion Graphics Designers and Animators

Video Copilot (Free) has a terrific series of tutorials that start with a piece of film illustrating a motion graphics technique and then show you how it was done. There is also a series of 10 basic tutorials for After Effects beginners.

For Web Developers

W3Schools (Free)
W3Schools provides lengthy (non-video) tutorials for learning HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL, and other coding languages with frequent interactive elements that let you test what you have learned.

For Everyone ($25/mo) offers video tutorials taught by experts on just about every piece of software out there, from AutoCAD to ZBrush. All of the courses also have the option of downloading the files used by the instructor in the videos at the cost of a higher monthly subscription. A small number of videos on the site are available without subscription, or you can try to cram as much as possible into the 7-day free trial. ($25/mo, $200/yr, $20/course) is similar in cross-genre breadth to, but focuses entirely on products available for the Mac. MPV has tutorials on signature Mac-only products like Logic and Final Cut Pro, but also multi-platform software like Adobe CS5. It boasts an innovative learning platform called N.E.D. (Nonlinear Educating Device), which allows you to smoothly browse the tutorial content and use keyword search.

Tips on Teaching Yourself

Now that you know where to go to learn your chosen software, you’re ready to start teaching yourself – which is no small task! You’re going to need a good dose of grit, and a plan. Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. Block out time.

One of the main reasons classroom settings are so effective is that they force you to show up and commit dedicated time to learning. Block out time in your schedule in advance for learning your software of choice, and then respect it just like you would a class where your grade could get docked for not showing up.

2. Use two monitors.

If you can find a cheap one, a second monitor empowers you to make much more effective use of video tutorials, by having the tutorial playing on one screen and having the application itself open on the other.

3. Find a forum.

There are going to be times when you just don’t understand how to do something in a tutorial. Fortunately, there are great support communities out there for most any type of software. Photoshop Gurus, Ableton User Help Exchange, and Creative Cow are a few examples, or you can just google your question and take it from there.

4. Give yourself a project.

If there’s anything that will help keep you on-track with your learning and provide a meaningful structure, it’s setting up a real, tangible project that you will execute with the knowledge you’re gaining. (It will also keep you from feeling overwhelmed about learning software features you may not really need.) Whether it’s building a small website, making a song, or creating a short film, use your new learning to create something real. That’s what’ll make it stick.

What Do You Use?

Are there any great software learning resources that we missed? How do you teach yourself new software skills?

Todd Anderson

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Todd Anderson is an editorial assistant for 99U. He is also an NYC-based performance poet and the producer of the Poetry Observed video series.
load comments (28)
  • sincarne

    Please do not use W3Schools to teach yourself web development. Many of their tutorials are out of date or just plain wrong. You can read more here:

    There are a number of free tutorials listed on that site that you can use. On the paid side, I personally have used and would recommend Learnable (, Nettuts (, and Peep Code ( Other people I know have enjoyed Think Vitamin (

  • Quiet Entertainer

    I’m trying to teach myself Ableton. There are a lot of great websites out there. Maybe too many. Right now I see that I’m addicted to watching tutorials but then I never do anything. But I appreciate this post for sure.

  • Toploader

    I’ve been doing this for years, teaching myself stuff from video editing to video game development, and the above is sound advice.  I’m currently unable to use a 2nd monitor but I do have a tablet that I load my tuts onto, works as well. 

    The best tutorial site I’ve ever come across is which is mostly aimed at 3D design (Max, Maya) and the popular Video game creative tools (or engines).  They also cover Photoshop.  The amount of tutorials on there are not quite as expansive or as frequently updated as but their approach to teaching is second to none.

  • Dawn Groves

    Great resources! Thanks. I want to learn everything right now… an attitude that hoses my focus and retention. To get serious about learning something, I set aside a regular time at starbucks or some other location — not work– to meet with friend. We both open our computers and churn for an hour. We dont talk much. It doesnt have to be on the same subject. Mostly its accountability and someone else who wants to accomplish something. We support each other in our desires, and we honor each other by getting down to business. If I cant meet up in person, I’ll set a skype meeting or if nothing else, a google chat. But face to face is best, less cheating. More support. It works with everything. Learning, development, writing, whatever.   
    I’ll tweet this article. Xlnt job, as usual.
    dawn groves

  • Heather Huhman

    Great post, Todd! These are some great tips to learn marketable skills on your own – you never know what job opportunities may lie ahead because of it.

  • Max Rivest

    I simply youtube like crazy and google my exact question, because chances are someone else has asked it before.

  • Chris King

    NetTuts has some great tuturials too!

  • mparadies

    I’m a big fan of project-based learning. I look for something I want to be able to do, define the scope of the project and get started. On the way, if I encounter problems, I look for tutorials and try out the solution and modify it to my needs. That way, I work really slowly – but I learn the foundation and how it’s applied. Always helped me more than to say I am “learning” something, without applying it.

  • somejerk

    it’s “ableton live”. calling the program “ableton” is like referring to photoshop as “adobe”. smh.

  • Marie

    Thanks a lot for this really nice and complete article, it is always useful to find free tutorials ! 

  • Guest

    for webdesign & webdevelopment you should consider treehouse.

  • Jonnel Mamauag

    I may be part of minority here. But digital modeling in the line of architecture and interiors are a missing subject here. Although, with those type of softwares – usually the companies that provide usually also provide the training. And is very expensive to note. 

    There should be a cheap alternative.

  • Chip Dizard

    I think so many sites focus on the “how” of software and I created a site on the “why” of video software.  Once you learn the “why” you become an expert and not just a button pusher.   

    Check out my 4 part series called Start Rocking Video

  • Quantize Courses Some free Ableton videos here as well as online courses available. We focus on teaching Music Production using Ableton Live as a tool rather than teaching ableton live software on its own.

  • Todd Anderson

    Thanks toploader, I had never been to 3Dbuzz before but their stuff looks really great. I like the user-friendly ‘getting started’ pages.

  • Todd Anderson

    You make a good point, a lot of the more complex architecture software offers training through their own website, but its not always expensive. Autodesk has some free AutoCAD tutorials on their website, and I’m sure other softwares do too. You should also check on, because they seem to have just about everything.

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  • MamtaSoni

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  • Damon Muma

    In my long experience with looking things up on the internet I’ve found w3schools is incorrect enough to never make it a go-to. It can get you through most basic things, but I would definitely not put it up there as the only source of internet learning. teamtreehouse is a great (non-free) resource.

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  • Todd Anderson

    Thanks for the tip, teamtreehouse seems like a solid resource.

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    It is a nice post.thank you.

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     I was suggested this website by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  • RgularPerson

    Can’t forget about the Gnomon Workshop.  With SO MANY ultra useful tutorials, they cover many aspects of visual art (2d, 3d, tatooing, drawing the figure, video game animation, too many too name)   And their courses are taught from industry pros with preduction credit resumes to back up their techniques.  I looked at some of Alex Alvarez’s training videos in Maya, and he was talking in a regular way, but the screen was moving so FAST, I didn’t know it was humanly possible to use MAYA in that way.  Buts that an example of someone who is an undefeated super champion of Maya.  Anyone can get that good with practice.

    Digital Tutors is another AMAZING subscription site that covers 2d and 3d things.  This site is rumoured to be used my major studios to assist in training their staff.  

    I attempted to take 3dbuzz’s “Maya fundamentals” course and its so super comprehensive it seems to cover all of the bases, its like 400 videos.  They really know what they are talking about and teach it in a fun way.  That course uses Maya 2008 and menu items have since changed.  So it was challenging finding items that are now located in a new place.  But this gave me an even better understanding of the software, since i had to find things myself.  Also, the course covers 3 animation projects that build progressively on the previous project.  

    Videocopilot is SUPER for Aftereffects training.  You can just hover your mouse over thumbnails to get a preview of what the VFX will look like, and then decide if you want to learn that tutorial or not.

    Can’t forget about the Gnomon Workshop.  They cover so many aspects of visual art (2d, 3d, tatooing, drawing the figure, video game animation, too many too name)  And their courses are taught from industry pros with preduction credit resumes to back up their techniques.

    I know some of these were already mentioned, but oh well, its just my personal experiences

  • John

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  • Todd Anderson

    Thanks for all this, I hadn’t heard of Gnomon Workshop or Digital Tutors before, and they seem like great sources for CG etc.

  • Anthony Arroyo

    About a year ago, I started an Ableton Tutorial blog to share my Ableton skillz (with a z) and one of my main resources for turning my inspiration into reality has been this very blog! I know you can’t add yourself as a resource, but I recommend as key resource for teaching yourself much of anything. Thanks for everything!

  • Raph

    under “for web developers” you should list Tree House , it’s an excellent resources for learning web design and web development 

  • Rose Ector

    Heeh, that’s a very clever and entertaining Angry Birds clip! The video was well-edited, and the camera used produced a clear video images. Did you use an HD camera to shoot that one? That will definitely help you get more fans on the web!

  • Rose Ector

    Hmm, if you like video shooting, editing, hosting and other stuff related to video production, you don’t feel pressured to learn those stuff. There are online tutorials and manuals that can help you. And I agree. Using two monitors is very efficient and practical.

  • shadowmason

    Two monitors… I use an IPad and my laptop. Works great.

  • Ulises

    Great article, there also before and after magazine that gives some really good tips for designers. 

  • Margot Terc

    This is really helpful. There are so many things I want to do, and all these projects seem to involve certain skills I do not have. I love the idea of learning them, but its really overwhelming. But yeah, thanks for the tips. I will make sure to check out the sites.

  • photoshop training

    Photoshop is definitely the market conventional when it comes to expert document image resolution, design and picture modifying. In fact there is no other system that does so much when it comes to design power and versatility.

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