Here are some of the top must know Photoshop tips for any regular user. I cover many of these when I'm teaching Photoshop courses, others are a bit more obscure but still useful to know though. Once you have turned some of these into habit, you will be amazed at how more productive you become when using this powerful image editor. These Tips and Tricks generally work the same in previous versions of Photoshop, but if you notice any issues on older / newer versions just let us know as things can change occasionally.
Photoshop Shortcuts that improve productivity
1) Hide the panels or toolbars
Many people known that Tab will hide the panels and toolbar (if you didn’t that’s a bonus tip) but what is less well know is that Shift + Tab pressed together will hide only the panels. This is really useful on smaller screens where space is in short supply.
2) Undo / Redo
It’s generally well known that Ctrl/Cmd + Z enables you to undo your last action in many Win / Mac applications. Holding alt with those pressed will also let you keep stepping backward in time after that. What if you want to redo though? You could of course go to the Edit menu but why not just hit Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Z instead. If you have gone back a few steps in history with Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + Z, pressing Ctrl/Cmd + Z will bring you back (or should I say forward) through your history again to the end.
3) Resizing Brushes and more
For those often using the brushes in Photoshop you will probably already know that pressing the left “[” and right “]” square bracket buttons will reduce and increase brush size respectively. What you may not know is that holding shift while pressing either of those keys will allow you to increase or decrease the brushes hardness, letting you paint with a nice soft edge rather than a hard brush. If you want to change brush size another way in Windows, then just hold the Alt key down and with a right mouse click drag the mouse left or right.
You can also use the above shortcuts to resize other tools as well, for example the Quick Select tool or the Burn tool.
4. Reset Foreground / Background colours
Press D on the key board to reset the foreground colour to Black and the background colour to White. This can be especially useful when working with masks.
5. Switch between Forground and Background
Another useful shortcut can be the X key when painting on masks or working with something like the Quick Mask tool. This lets you quickly swap the background/foreground colours around.
6. Tool shortcuts
Common tool shortcuts to streamline your workflow: V – Move, B – Brush, E – Eraser, A- Direct Selection Tool, P – Pen Tool, C – Crop tools, J – Cloning tools. Press these once to switch over to that tool permanently. If you only want to use a tool for a couple of seconds however try holding the key down to quickly use the tool then releasing it again when you are done, Photoshop will then jump back to your original tool. Handy for example if you are on the brush and quickly just want to spot heal an area you missed, before continuing with the brush again.
7. Alt Clicking Tools
Alt clicking any tool that is a part of a set will select the next tool in the set. For example you are on spot healing and want to select the healing brush, just hold Alt and click on the tool.
8. Changing Numbers and Opacity
Want to change number for things like opacity, brush size etc. in a more visual way. Simply click the label for something like opacity, fill or size and drag the mouse left to right to change the number.
9. Shift + Alt + Ctrl/Cmd + K
Bored or don’t like the default shortcuts? Use this one to completely personalise your Photoshop experience. Careful though, you’ll need to remember to migrate your shortcuts, for example if you move to a new machine.
10. Invert Selection
Sometimes it’s far quicker to select what you don’t want than what you do. If so why not do exactly that, then just hit Ctrl / Cmd + Shift + I to invert the selection
Tips and Tricks to improve your workflow
11. Tips for Layer Masks
To disable a layer mask, Shift click the mask in the layers palette. To perfect your layer mask without the distraction of the image simply Alt click the mask in the layer panel. Alternatively to see the layer mask along with the layer hold Alt + Shift when you click the mask in the layers panel.
12. Duplicate Layer
Hold Alt when you drag a layer in the layers panel to duplicate that layer. To duplicate a layer into another document you have open, drag and drop the layer in the layers panel to the new layer button at the bottom. The popup dialog will then give you the option to select a different document to duplicate it to.
13. Hide Everything Else
There is often a need to only see one layer, but when working with many it can take time to hide all the other layers by clicking each eye. A much faster way is to Alt click the eye button on the layer you want to keep shown; all the other layers will hide. If you Alt click the same layer again Photoshop will bring them all back.
14. Aligning Identical Layers
If two identical layer do not snap into place when aligning them, change the top layer’s mode to Difference and then use the nudge tools to move the top layer around. When the top layer goes completely black the layers are aligned and you can change its mode back to normal.
15. Adjustment Layers
Adjustment layers, as standard, will affect everything below them. When you need it to only affect the layer directly below it, and not the rest, Alt click on the line between the two layers to “clip to layer” ensuring the adjustment only affects the layer immediately below it.
16. Tools don’t appear to be working?
Ever had a situation where you can’t clone part of an image for example or the brushes just won’t paint at all. We have all been there at some point, and you want to slap yourself when you realise why. The most common reason this happens is you have a very small active selection somewhere on the image, and Photoshop will only apply changes within that selection. Just hit Ctrl / Cmd + D to deselect everything, and lo and behold your tools should start making a difference again.
17. Quickly resize the canvas
If you want to quickly resize the canvas why not use the crop tool to do it. Just click on the crop tool and then drag the handles out to enlarge the canvas. Once you have the size you want simply hit Enter to commit the changes. Job done.
18. Copy a selection area to a new layer
The real power of Photoshop comes when you have everything in separate layers, allowing you to make independent changes. If you want to copy a selection of an area on one layer into an independent layer of it’s own just hit Ctrl / Cmd + J. If you want to do this but remove it from the original layer at the same time then hit Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + J.
If you have a layer where the background has been cut out, but there are some pixels around the edge that still remain, choose Layer > Matting > Defringe to change the colour of the edge pixels to the same colour as the pixels just inside from them. You can change the width to higher values to change the colour of more pixels.
20. Selection Tips
Accurate selections are vital when working in Photoshop. Don’t forget to use the options for add (Shift), subtract (Alt) and intersect (Shift+Alt) to perfect your selections. Also remember you can hold the space bar to move a selection around as you are creating it. This can be really handy for example when using the elliptical marquee tool to select a round object.
We hope these prove useful and if you have any other stand out tips you find especially useful in Photoshop feel free to add it to the comments below.