6 Top Tips for working in Photoshop
February 15, 2013
Photoshop is one of these programs that you just use for everything, so much so that you start assuming everyone else uses it then you get frustrated when they try to do something in any other program where you would just go into Photoshop and have it done in 5 minutes. Need to shrink a graphic, Photoshop; need to make a document, Photoshop; making a video, well you probably should use Photoshop. If it’s not your go-to program for, well….life, then perhaps you’re not doing it right.
I am by no means an expert, but it seems I’m always asked how I did certain things, and while there’s not enough time to go into the nuts and bolts of everything, here’s a few tips that make my workflow and Photoshop experience a lot better.
6. Use, and continue to use, GuideGuide
There’s the link now you don’t have an excuse. In a previous article I talked about the Must Have Plugins for After Effects, and while there’s not as many that I use in Photoshop, GuideGuide is essential. Providing an additional panel, GuideGuide enables you to create guides with specific settings. When nothing is selected, GuideGuide has the option to create guides for margins, as well as columns or rows, with padding and margins. Using the Marquee or lasso you can lay out an area which then GuideGuide will work within. This is primarily useful for working in web as you can layout margin lines per pixel with relative ease. It also can detect the center of your document, or selection. Additionally it adapts to any measurement so it’s just as useful in specifying inches or millimeters in print work. It appears in your history panel as one action rather than each guide creation being a separate one so you can easily undo if you make a mistake, and the panel itself has a clear guides button rather than trying to navigate the menus.
5. Stop using Bevel or the Layer Effects in their default mode
Bevel is a cheap way to try and make things look 3D. Unless you have a specific way you plan on using it, don’t. It makes anything look tacky. Take the time to explore the settings it has available, and research how to best use it, then and only then do you have permission to attempt to apply it to anything.
4. Use more than one monitor and have all your panels visible
The more screen space the better. It’s better to be able to see all that you’re working on than to have it covered by panels and have only a small space to work. In Photoshop I have only my layers panel and tools on my primary screen that i work on, to the left is all my other panels, and to my right is the Navigator and Properties panel. Why have all the panels on the one screen when some of them you rarely use? Even if you are not using them, you’re learning where they are, getting exposed to the layout of the panel, and occasionally you’ll notice a setting or two. Spread that across months and you’ve learned where all your panels are, and probably have a general idea how half of them work, not including the ones you use on a day-to-day basis. I may not need my brush panel, but when working if I come across a moment that I need to use it, I don’t need to go looking for it, I know where it is and a general idea of how to use it. The easier it is to get to your panels, the quicker your workflow will be.
3. Layer Mask instead of erasing
If you’re not already doing this then you should start today. Raster layers is what Photoshop is all about, as much as I can do total vector projects in it, raster has all the effects, and can use more of the features of Photoshop. However raster is also destructible, so when you rub a piece out with the eraser, the only way to get it back is to re-import that asset if it’s from a source file, or peddle back through your history to undo what you did. Neither of those scenarios is ideal. Instead of erasing, use Layer Masks. And I mean for everything. It makes it easier to refine your erasing, it lets you do effects on your alpha channel for that layer, and it’s non-destructive. The great thing about layer masks is you can use them on groups of layers just by adding it to the folder in the layers panel. This allows erasing without having to merge layers, enabling you to cycle through contents, adjust if need be, and that mask is continuously applied.
2. Learn your hotkeys
Off the top of your head what does “F” do as a shortcut? What about “X” or “D”? You need to learn your hotkeys, especially how they work with modifiers (Alt, Ctrl, Shift, and combinations of them).
Here’s a few you should really know.
- “F” cycles Screen modes from standard to full screen with menu bar to full screen with black background. If you’re working on something and want to preview it on black then cycling screen modes is the easiest, it makes it easy to grab assets, colors, etc from another window and then quickly go full screen on the window you’re working in.
- “D” resets your foreground and background to black and white respectfully. This is best used in combination with the next hotkey.
- “X” swaps your foreground and background. Working with colors you can swap between two main colors you’re working with, or using “D” you can quickly grab either black or white if you’re adding a gradient, vignette, or using either to lighten/darken a layer with various blending modes.
- “Shift” cycles the tools different options, meaning for “M” it cycle the various marquees, “L” the various lasso types, “A” letting you either select a full vector path or shape or just a point.
- “Ctrl+Shift+F” will give the option to Fade and/or change the blending mode of the last action you did, this is very useful as it applies to Filters as well, enabling you an opportunity to add them to a layer and dictate how much even though it’s destructive.
1. Learn how to use High Pass
High Pass is a Filter located under the “Other” menu. It pulls out contrasting areas in the selected layer and exports purely that on neutral gray. Basically it creates a pseudo bump-map for the selected layer. You have the option to select the radius that it uses to detect the edges and contrasting sections. Remember as a filter it’s destructive, so either duplicate the layer or use “Ctrl+Shift+F” to Fade and change the blending mode. There are two major ways High Pass can be used. To create contrast and make thing pop, or to soften and add diffusion.
Using a small radius and then applying the “Overlay” blend mode will make the layer contrast more.
Using a slightly larger radius then Inverting the High Pass layer then using “Overlay” or “Soft Light” will soften the tones, such as to smooth out skin bumps or to add a diffusion look.