1. Learn to use keyboard shortcuts for accessing tools
Move your mouse cursor over to the toolbox, scan the toolbox for the
tool you want to use, click on it, move back to your canvas. Is this
what you do to change tools in Photoshop? Switching tools by going back
to the toolbox and selecting your new tool each time takes up precious
seconds that add up to minutes and hours over longer projects .
Becoming familiar with Photoshop’s keyboard shortcuts for accessing
tools shaves off that time and keeps your cursor within the canvas area
so that you don’t have to figure out where you were before you switched
Keyboard shortcuts for the tools are displayed in a
tooltip along with the name of the tool when you hover over the tool.
In the diagram below, I’ve hovered over the Move tool. The keyboard
short cut shows up in parentheses – in this case, if you’re in
Photoshop and simply hit “v” on your keyboard, you’ll automatically
switch to the Move tool.
Some tools have flyout menu options for selecting from similar
tools. Often, these tools share the same shortcut. In the example
below, you can see that the Brush tool, Pencil tool, and Color
Replacement tool share “b” as the keyboard shortcut. Simply hitting “b”
on your keyboard will switch to whichever tool was previously selected
(in this case, the Brush tool). To switch to the Pencil or Color
Replacement tools, you’ll have to type Shift-B to cycle through the
The easiest way to begin learning keyboard shortcuts is to focus on a
couple of the tools that you use most often and practice using the
keyboard shortcuts for them. As you commit them to memory and instinct,
you can add on other tool shortcuts as you go! Here are the ones that I
personally use most often:
- M – Marquee tools
- V – Move tool
- C – Crop tool
- B – Brush, Pencil tools
- U – Vector shape tools (rectangle, ellipse, etc.)
- P – Pen tools
- A – Direct Selection and Path Selection tools
- D – Changes the foreground color to black and the background color to white
- X – Switches the foreground and background colors
- Q – Changes between Quick Mask and Standard modes
2. Learn more keyboard commands to make your life easier
Photoshop is chock full of other keyboard shortcuts for commands.
You’re probably already familiar with some of the basics – Ctrl-S to
save, Ctrl-O to open a file, Ctrl-C to copy, Ctrl-C to Paste – which
are common to other types of software. Many of these shortcuts can be
found listed next to the command when you click an option from the top
But there are many, many other “hidden” keyboard commands for
performing a variety of actions. Here are some that I’ve found to be
indispensible in my daily Photoshop workflow:
- Holding the Shift key generally constrains movements
to straight horizontal, vertical, or 45-degree angles. For example, if
you’re using the Move tool to move a layer, holding the Shift key will
allow you to move it perfectly horizontally (or vertically, or at a
45-degree angle) so that you don’t have to guesstimate your placement.
- The Alt key will often allow you to copy things,
depending on the context. When you have the Move tool selected, holding
the Alt key and then using the Move tool will allow you to copy the
selected layer to a new layer. Or, if you’re working in the Layers
palette, holding the Alt key down, clicking on a layer, and dragging it
to another spot in the Layers palette will create a copy of that layer.
The same thing works with the Path Selection tool when you’re working
- Holding the Ctrl key and then clicking on a thumbnail in the Layers palette makes a selection based on the pixels in that layer.
- Ctrl-D will clear all selections, such as selections you’ve made with the Marquee or Lasso tools.
- Holding the space bar temporarily switches you to the Hand tool so that you can easily move your canvas around.
- Change the layer opacity by simply typing in a number.
There are also more obscure keyboard shortcuts that you may or may
not find useful. For example, here is a very small sampling of commands
that you can use just for navigating around the Layers palette:
- Alt-[ and Alt-] allow you to select different layers in the Layers palette by moving up and down the layers
- Ctrl-[ and Ctrl-] allow you to move the selected layer up and down the Layers palette, thus changing the layer order
- Shift-Ctrl-[ and Shift-Ctrl-] move the selected layer to the very bottom or the very top of the layer order, respectively.
- Holding Shift-Alt and then using the [ or ] keys allow you to select multiple adjacent layers.
It’s pretty fun to try finding these hidden shortcuts by holding the
Shift, Ctrl, and Alt keys while clicking away at the screen. You can
also scour blogs and web sites for “photoshop shortcuts” or “photoshop
keyboard commands” to find more. One resource you might find helpful
are the PDFs at http://morris-photographics.com/photoshop/shortcuts/.
However, even these extensive PDFs don’t include tricks like
double-clicking in the grey Photoshop work area to bring up the “Open”
dialog box if for some reason you’re not fond of the Ctrl-O keyboard
shortcut! There is a lot to discover in Photoshop; while you may not
find some of the “shortcuts” to be worth retaining in your memory,
you’ll inevitably find some that you will use every time you open
3. Create Actions
If you find yourself doing a task in Photoshop that follows the
exact same steps over and over again, you may find it helpful to create
a Photoshop action to automate those steps. A common example is if you
have a bunch of photos that you’re resizing from high resolution to
web-ready formats. Let’s say that your boring, repetitive steps consist
- Opening the photo.
- Going to File > Image Size and entering in a new width or height, then clicking OK.
- Saving the photo for the web in a different folder.
- Closing the photo without saving.
Instead of going stir-crazy by doing this for all of your 257
photos, let Photoshop do the work by creating an Action! Here are the
basic steps for making your own custom Action:
- Open the Actions palette by going to Window > Actions.
- Click the “Create new action” icon in the bottom of the Actions palette.
- Name your action – for example, “Resizing photos.”
that the recording button is immediately active, so any commands that
you do in Photoshop will be recorded. If you’re not ready to record,
hit the Stop button. When you’re ready, click the Record button to
begin recording again.
would start with the photo already open before recording (you’ll see
why later on). Then, you can proceed with your normal steps and perform
your tasks on the photo, including saving the photo for web and closing
the photo without saving. As you perform your tasks, you’ll see a list
of Photoshop commands building under the Actions palette. When you’re
done, hit the Stop button.
- For this particular example, however, I’m going
to deviate slightly from what I would normally do. Let’s say you have a
mixture of landscape and portrait photos. When resizing the image, you
would pick the larger dimension and change that size. Creating an
action this way, however, would force you to make two separate actions
– one for portrait photos, one for landscape photos. Luckily, Photoshop
has a built-in command for “fitting” the resized photo into a certain
area. So when recording my action, instead of going to Image > Image
Size, I’ll go to File > Automate > Fit Image and type the width
and height that I want the image to be resized within.
- So, my Action would really look more like this, with the Fit Image instead of Image Size command:
With your action complete, let’s test the action. Open up another
photo, click on the name of the action in the Actions palette, and hit
the Play button. Photoshop will go through the steps of your action.
Check to make sure that the photo was resized and saved for web
If all looks well, you’re ready to batch and
automate! Go to File > Automate > Batch. Most likely your new
action will already be selected, but if not, select it from the
dropdown list. Change the Source to Folder and click the Choose button
to set the folder to your collection of high-res photos that need to be
resized. Also set the Destination to Folder and set this location to
where you want the web-ready photos to be saved. Finally, you can set
the other options for renaming the saved file or overriding commands as
necessary. One important option to set is to change the Errors dropdown
to Log Errors to File, click the Save As button, and select the
filename and location for your error log file – this way, if Photoshop
runs into a problem, it will log the issue and keep going instead of
stopping the process completely.
Then click OK, sit back (or go take a lunch break), and watch Photoshop perform its magic!
4. Learn non-destructive editing techniques
“Non-destructive editing techniques” describe ways to modify and
adjust layers without actually changing the pixel content of the layer.
This is a roundabout way to save time in Photoshop – you don’t actually
save time on the front end, but you save lots of time and trouble on
the back end if you need to go back and make new edits!
me give you an example of the difference between “destructive” and
non-destructive editing. One common modification for pumping up the
contrast on a photo is to use the Image > Levels command and
dragging the outer sliders towards the center:
This permanently changes the photo (i.e., once you save and close it,
there’s no going back), so it’s an example of destructive editing.
To change the levels non-destructively, you can add an Image Adjustment
layer in the Layers palette. Click the Create new adjustment layer icon
in the bottom of the Layers palette and choose Levels.
The same Levels dialog box will come up and you can make the same
changes, but instead of permanently changing the photo layer, you’ll
see an additional layer come up in the Layers palette.
The beauty of adding the adjustment layer is that you can always go
back and change the adjustment by double-clicking on the Levels 1
thumbnail. Or, you can turn it off by clicking the eye icon to hide the
layer. Or, you can remove it completely by deleting the layer! You can
add more adjustment layers on top of this one to continue to make
“changes” to the photo – all without touching the original photo. In
contrast, using the Levels command directly on an image means that if
you change your mind and want to redo your adjustments, you’d have to
start over with a fresh copy of the original photo.
Other tips for non-destructive editing:
- Use adjustment layers for photo-type adjustments. Most
of the adjustment-type changes you would make to an image layer can be
done using adjustment layers for non-destructive editing, as I’ve shown
in the Levels example above.
- Use vector shapes with layer style effects.
Using the marquee tool to create a rectangle selection, filling it with
the paint bucket tool, and adding a gradient using the gradient tool,
results in a pixel- or raster-based layer where you’d pretty much have
to recreate the layer if you wanted to make significant shape or color
changes. In contrast, creating a vector rectangle and applying a
gradient layer effect allows you to change the shape of the rectangle
or change the gradient effect at any point very easily.
- Use layer masks to hide portions of layers.
Using the eraser tool will permanently remove information from a layer.
Instead, add a layer mask and use it to hide the parts of the layer
that you don’t want to show. You can then always go back and edit the
layer mask to hide or show more of the original picture or remove the
layer mask altogether.
5. Get organized
When you’re working with files that have multiple layers, there’s
nothing more frustrating than going back to it later and trying to
figure out if that small bullet icon is on Layer 1, Layer 15, or Layer
36. Invest some time in the front end to keep your Photoshop documents
organized so that you can save time later on when you open the document
for editing. And if you pass your file on to someone else for editing,
they’ll thank you profusely as well! Here are the two main ways that
you can get organized in Photoshop:
- Name your layers descriptively. Double-click the name of the layer to rename it from “Layer 3” to something more helpful, such as “left column background.”
- Group layers together.
Photoshop allows you to group layers together into “folders.” If you’re
making a web site comp, you may find it helpful to group together the
layers that hold objects related to the top header area, for example.
You can also name the groups descriptively. You can even group groups
together into subfolders. Click the folder icon in the bottom of the
Layers palette to create a new group. (And a keyboard shortcut: Select
your layers first, hold Shift, then click the folder icon. This will
automatically create a new group with those selected layers so that you
don’t have to drag them into the folder later.)
Integrating these skills and tips into your Photoshop workflow will save you time – and we always need more of that!