Design Tool Overlays Imagery Onto Surfaces In Real-Time

Design Tool Overlays Imagery Onto Surfaces In Real-Time

Illustrator plugin that gets rid of the tedious process of creating physical prototypes and mockups.

Ross Brooks
  • 30 october 2013

Turning an idea into a physical prototype is a process that can be challenging for even the most talented designers, many of whom have to resort to blank stock photography, Photoshop, and other methods that don’t quite produce the desired result. Joshua Distler is an ex-Apple and IDEO employee that decided to solve this problem by developing an app called Context which allows designers to mock up their designs and see them in real-world environments as they work.

Speaking with, Distler described how he got to the point where he thought an app was the solution:

I was doing a lot of print and packaging work and it was always difficult to communicate the physicality of a package, signage or even just a business card. There was a lot of printing and plotting and cut and pasting happening.

The principle of Context is to make the process of choosing a winning design that much easier, which it achieves by allowing designers to see their work three-dimensionally as they’re in the creation process. This frees up more time to brainstorm great ideas and reduces the amount of time spent on bringing them to life.

The idea is that designers can figure out what works and what doesn’t while they’re brainstorming,” Distler says. “The idea that ‘process makes perfect’ is really just about testing a lot of ideas quickly and throwing out the ones that don’t ‘have legs.’ Context is about making that prototyping process as fluid and fast as possible.


Before the launch of Context, Distler created LiveSurface, a library which is linked to the app and provides more than 350 Photoshop image templates that allows designers to apply their designs onto various 3D-rendered objects like bags, posters and books. Other notable features include a Live View window that renders artwork onto an object in real-time, Live Inks, which can simulate metallic foils, silk screening, embossing and other effects that would normally take hours to create in Photoshop. There is also Plus Surfaces, which once pulled from the LiveSurface store, gives designers the ability to resize their surfaces to a precise size for their concept.

While many of the features might seem like no-brainers, that is precisely the reason that so many people are excited about the app. It could fundamentally change the way designers work, taking back time from mechanical processes and feeding it into the process of coming up with ideas. There is a free trial available for the app, which then costs $9 per month or $89 yearly for unlimited access to the Surface Store.



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