Business Advice

Everything you need to know about Midjourney and AI graphics

by FESPA Staff | 23/02/2024
 Everything you need to know about Midjourney and AI graphics

Marshall Atkinson, author of the Midjourney Experience newsletter, discusses how this incredible AI tool can unlock design creativity.

“I’m an art director and I design professionally, but I’m old enough to remember the time before computers when graphic designers created everything by hand,” says Marshall Atkinson. Then, when computers were introduced, what used to take us several days only took a couple of hours. Now, with Midjourney AI image generation, we have the next evolution in design: what used to take several hours, now only takes 10 minutes.”

As somebody who works with and teaches Midjourney and who offers consulting services and who writes about Midjourney in his dedicated Midjourney newsletter, Marshall understands better than anybody that to achieve the very best results from AI image generation it is important to have a completely different approach to traditional graphic design. As a system that produces images based on text prompts, Midjourney offers almost limitless potential but “only if you have a good vocabulary”.



“With Midjourney, you have to describe exactly what you want with words. That’s very awkward for many people,” Marshall says.

Midjourney works by users typing in a word or a word prompt sequence. Each word is converted into an algorithm and, as with all AI image generators, the prompts are paired with trillions of images and image-to-text pages in a typical large language model (LLM). “When we write the word ‘dog’, the system detects images on the internet with the word ‘dog’ next to it, and so it knows that the item in that image is supposed to be a dog. The system then converts that to a mathematical formula, it assigns pixels to it and, like a piece of clay, it shapes it into your picture,” Marshall says. 

However, even if you use the same prompt twice, it will never give you the exact same result. 



“I like to describe Midjourney as being like a genius four-year-old child. It knows a lot, but it doesn’t understand a lot,” Marshall says.

“A lot of the time, people are trying to create something but they don’t get the outcome they want because their vocabulary is limited. They are using the wrong words; they are putting the words in the wrong order; they’re giving prompts that Midjourney doesn’t understand. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you get a complete disaster, and you have to start again with new words.”

Perfecting the basics

The first step to becoming a more proficient Midjourney user is simply to start using it. For new users of Midjourney, the system is accessible from a Discord server where novice users can start to understand the technology (subscription prices start from $8 a month). More advanced Midjourney users have a dedicated Midjourney alpha website. 

Midjourney will go where it wants to if you let it. Even ‘nonsense’ will produce a result

Once you’re signed up, it’s time to start exploring the possibilities that can be achieved with Midjourney. 

“Midjourney will go where it wants to if you let it. Even ‘nonsense’ will produce a result. The challenge is, is this the result that I want? The prompts really do matter,” Marshall says.
“First of all, it ignores anything over 60 words. If you typed in 200 words, it will only use the first 60. Then the words at the beginning of a sequence matter more than the words at the end of a sequence. You don’t have to use good grammar – you don’t have to say: ‘A cactus flower at sunset’, you can just say ‘cactus flower sunset’.

“Grammar doesn’t matter at all to Midjourney, although if you use a plural version of a word, you might get two versions of something. 


 

“Many happy accidents can occur with Midjourney – that’s what makes it fun and it’s also what makes it frustrating. But quite often, what Midjourney produces is better than what you had in your brain.”

Creativity with prompts is key. “For people trying to learn Midjourney, the first step is to use Google or a thesaurus. If one word doesn’t get the results you want, put the word into a thesaurus and you’ll get 16 back. Try one of those to generate better images,” Marshall says.

Meet the super users

All images created are completely native to Midjourney and take only minutes or even seconds to make. Over the course of the last year, Marshall has been conducting an experiment where he spends 10 or 15 minutes each day to see and then document the images created by more than 850 prompt words. To see Marshall’s images and the prompts he used to create them, visit hisInstagram. He has also discovered the value of using some common suffixes.

“One of the fun aspects of Midjourney is that you can put any word in front of ‘punk’ and it has a whole art movement behind it. The same thing with ‘core’. Everybody has heard of steampunk, but there’s also junglepunk, or dieselpunk or zombiecore, or all sorts of crazy items that produce interesting images. It’s an example of needing to use the right words to get the desired result.

“One useful prompt I’ve used for garment designs is the term ‘ghost mannequin’. That makes an image looks like somebody is wearing the garment I am designing without anybody actually being in the image.” 


Over the course of an hour-long conversation with Marshall, he showed us more in-depth elements of the technology that allows users to really spread their wings. For example, Midjourney has a stylisation parameter, which allows you to adjust how much creativity you want to give it. 

“You can go from 0 to 1000, with 0 telling Midjourney to stick closely to the prompt words, and 1000 allowing it more freedom. High stylisation values create images that are very artistic but less connected to the prompt,” Marshall says.

“The ‘weirdness’ parameter is just what it sounds. Set it to maximum if you want to generate something that looks very bizarre. There is also the ‘variety’ parameter, which is the amount of freedom you allow Midjourney to have. For my purposes – trying to understand Midjourney’s reaction to keyword prompts – I leave that at 0. 

“As we increase creativity, the images display greater detail. Some of the images are ridiculous, with their size and perspective not quite realistic, but it offers a way to iterate and create lots of amazing designs extremely quickly. Whether its images for t-shirts or patterns for fabrics, we can create a huge range of options in the blink of an eye, meaning you can give some really interesting ideas to clients or your design team incredibly quickly.”

Restrictions

That occasional lack of realism points to one of Midjourney’s potential disadvantages and something that has to be understood: while every image it creates is new and unique, when you want to include something ‘real’, it too will be depicted in its own unique way.

“The other day, I was looking at 2024 BMW M3 sedans, so I generated several images from the prompt words ‘2024 BMW M3 sedan’,” Marshall says.

“But, with those generated images, is the grille correct? Is the hood scoop exactly right? Or the logo on the front? When we compare it to a real car, we will probably find little differences because it is not copying a BMW car. What it is doing is finding millions of images of this car and then creating something similar. If you want something hyper-specific, then Photoshop is your tool. If you want something that is close enough, Midjourney is an option. 


“This also means you can’t retain the same picture and tweak it via the prompt. When you put the prompt in again – even if you don’t change it at all – you will get something different. Therefore, if you have an image that you really like but you want to change some aspect of it – say the colour of the object – that’s a project for Photoshop.” 

Midjourney also has some content restrictions. “Midjourney doesn’t do nudity, it doesn’t do blood or gore, and it is clamping down on political stuff. There is also a big ethics issue when it comes to other people’s art,” Marshall says. 

“Midjourney creates images that don’t exist anywhere else; Midjourney isn’t copy and paste. It might have been trained on Edward Hopper or Pablo Picasso, but that doesn’t mean it is copying their work, it just understands their aesthetic. For me, I don’t use artist’s names, but I will use prompt words that point towards a type of art. You don’t need to quote an artist to get good results – that’s just lazy.”

Commercial impact

One area where Midjourney is ahead of other AI image generators is the ability to design words, which opens possibilities for personalisation.

“Recently, I was exploring designs using the word ‘JET’, looking at colours and letter shapes. Using these results for personalisation with digital technology – heat transfer or DTG technology, is perfect for t-shirt designs and anything that needs graphics faster,” Marshall says.



“However, if I am designing something for real, I am nowhere close to using Midjourney for my typeface, because I know exactly what I want and you can’t choose the font, or the kerning, or the colour. You have to use what it gives you. 

“What I might use Midjourney for is the background art element in a t-shirt project, or a specific image on a project. I can create that incredibly fast, and then I just typeset or add the client logo. Therefore, the key is in the way we use Midjourney. We’re not going to design the whole t-shirt with it.” 

And that means, despite the potential efficiencies that Midjourney offers, Marshall believes the use of AI in design will not mean the end for graphic designers.

“A lot of people are scared of AI and perceived it as a threat, and perhaps rightfully so – you can create different designs and come up with ideas in seconds that would have taken you lots of time previously,” Marshall says.

“But you don’t need to reduce the size of your art team, you can simply give them more projects to do. All the marketing projects or all the tasks you need to do that you normally can’t do because you’re so busy, now you have time for them because now we are working faster.

You’re not getting these images by accident, it’s all about using the right words to get the desired result

“It’s a huge benefit for companies who are really busy, who need to solve problems, and who need to move on to the next project as quickly as possible. It’s also a way for people who are not as gifted in design to really create great work.”

But, importantly Marshall says Midjourney won’t do everything without guidance – it still requires skills, albeit new skills in prompt creation.

“What I’m interested in is finding the exact words that get to the destination that I want to get to. That’s the discipline,” he says.

“You’re not getting these images by accident, it’s all about using the right words to get the desired result. If you’re a professional designer, you need to be using this. If you are fearful of the unknown, then this is especially meant for you. If you are not taking the opportunity to learn about AI in design your competition certainly is or will be.” 

Elevate print creativity

Marshall’s ‘Midjourney Experience: Elevate Print Creativity’ newsletter is available here
“The newsletter is aimed at professionals who want to read inspiring articles about how to do their work better,” Marshall says. 

“I guide people through processes and use videos to show them how to really get the most out of Midjourney. And even if you don’t want to subscribe, subscribers receive free access to the first edition that provides instructions on how to start using Midjourney.”


 
by FESPA Staff Back to News

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