PHOTOSHOP: Tricks I Wish I'd Learned Sooner!

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PHOTOSHOP: Tricks I Wish I'd Learned Sooner!

Every now and then, when I'm in Photoshop, I stumble on something that makes me boggle because it's SO much easier/faster than the way I had been doing something before. I'm trying to collect a few of them here, as I remember them, and I'll try to add more as I find them.

1. Navigation with the keyboard and mouse scroll wheel. This is such a time saver when you're zoomed into an image and you're running off the edge of your field of view, or when you're zoomed out and want to zoom right in to check something quick.

Use the scroll wheel on your mouse! Alone, it scrolls up and down. Hold down Ctrl (or Option on Mac) and scroll the wheel to move side to side. Holding Alt and scrolling zooms in or out. Adding Shift to any of these jumps by the width of your current view instead of being a smooth scroll--so Shift-Ctrl-scroll would scroll left or right by the visible window width.

2. Using the Pen tool in shape layers mode lets you draw super-realistic custom shapes, especially if you're drawing them from an existing image. Shapes created this way make great clipping masks to extract the image they're drawn from, or can be defined as part of your custom shape library and used to create vector-style papers or fantastic layout templates.

3. You can apply two sets of layer styles to an element by making it a smart object. For example, take a doodle you've filled in with paint and add a stroke around the outside to make it a sticker, then turn the flat sticker into a smart object and add the layer styles to bevel/emboss it and a pattern overlay for texture.... Instant sticker element from a doodle in about 5 minutes, and that's if you have to spend time searching for the right texture!

4. Clicking on a path with the Type tool to add text that follows that path, like words around a circle or a frame made up of a favorite quote. MUCH nicer-looking than the old "Polar Coordinates" method for circles. Can be used creatively to make a line of journaling follow a butterfly's looped path, too.

How about you guys? Got any tricks that you've found that make things lots easier?

Holly, what sort of texture would you apply to make a sticker?

With no.4, just thought I'd add that if you hover over/around the path with the type tool selected, the cursor will change to indicate text inside the path, or text around the edge of the path. The cursor will look like an I-beam surrounded by a box to type along the path, to an I-beam surrounded by a circle, which will type inside the shape. Which is super handy if you are trying to fit your journalling around odd shapes.

Jade, I usually do a paper texture, though sometimes I'll use a fabric one.

And yes, I forgot to mention the text inside a path. I use that one a fair bit, but it took me way too long to learn that one, too! Knowing the cursors is handy for others who are just learning! smiley

Thanks! I didn't know about scrolling to the side! and I'm still trying to figure out that pen tool!

Don’t forget ctrl and + or – to zoom in and out. Or ctrl and 0 to zoom extents. I help a coworker with some small photoshop tasks and its painful to watch him use the actual zoom in and zoom out commands from the pull down menus no matter how much I remind him of the shortcuts! I always keep one hand on the keyboard for these commands and some of the shortcut keys. Plus I programmed a few shortcuts of my own to a few of the Function keys (like move to back, move to front, and layer off).

Maybe teaching him Alt-scroll to zoom with the mouse would stick better? I hear you though--it's really painful to watch how slow someone who uses the menus exclusively completes a task that would take me a half-second using mouse and keyboard. I've almost always got one hand on the mouse or graphics tablet and the other on the keyboard for modifiers or shortcuts.

Love this subject! Now let me think... I must have learned a lot since I've started scrapping so let's see.
Some shortcuts of course, like:
CTRL+T for transforming an object,
V for moving an object
ALT for the color picker so you can change your brush color in an instant
Also ALT+right mouse key for changing the brush size by moving the mouse to the left or right. That one was a real time saver!
When making selections, it was a real time saver to know that holding the shift or alt key could add or substract parts of the selection, respectively.

I was also really happy to know there was actually a way to change angles (and more...) of brushes, in the brushes panel in stead of placing each on a different layer and then using transform tools to move them around (yes I did it like that before smiley ).

What I also was really happy to find out a better way to make pngs from scanned paintings. Mine never looked good with the jagged edges but it especially took ages to cut them from the background. Since I know I can use blending options to remove a white background it is so much easier!

Hm. When I realize this I think it must have saved me hours of frustration if I would go follow a course in Photoshop instead of my trial and error method smiley

Ooooh, I didn't know that Alt-right mouse one! I usually use [ and ] to change them.

While I use the brush options to rotate and warp, I still make separate layers for them because sometimes a grouping will evolve as I'm making it and I'll decide that THAT one needs to be moved to the right and up to take the cluster from okay to awesome.

As far as cutting things from the background--mine always looked awful with that too, till I learned you can draw a custom shape with the pen tool and use it for a clipping mask. I made a full tutorial on how to do it on my website. It makes the cleanest extractions I've ever seen. Blend modes are great for times when I'm doing flattened papers, but they give me issues when I'm making clusters.

Hi all smiley

I stumbled across a handy feature accidentally not too long ago. With the 'move tool' selected and tapping the up, down, left or right arrow key nudges the image in the corresponding direction. Sometimes when I try to place my image 'just so' it will go and slip to the side by a pixel. The arrow key lets me get the image right where I want it.

Hey Mary, welcome! smiley

I've used the arrow keys to nudge stuff around for so long that I totally didn't even think of including it here, but you're right--it made a HUGE difference when I learned it in the frustration of trying to place something exactly where I want it.

I've got a new one for the list, too.
This one has to do with bringing images into your layouts.
If you drop an image over your open layout image, it'll be placed as a smart object on a new layer. You can edit the smart object by clicking on its thumbnail in the Layers palette. It's a copy of the original inside the image you've added it to, with any layers intact.
If you drag and drop onto the Layers palette, it'll open the image as another image that's open.
I've been using these a lot while designing to be able to tweak papers while I'm working on journal cards for my new kit (since a smart object can be a layered file). Once I know what tweaks I need on the smart object to make it work with the rest of the papers, I can open the original file by dropping it on the Layers palette and make the same adjustments.

Holly, is there a way to use the left and right clicks on the mouse to flood fill layers without having to switch the foreground and background colors first? PSP has this feature and it was so handy to be such a minor thing! I've looked to see if there's anything in the preferences, but don't see anything there.


Not that I've found yet, Lisa...though adding a color overlay to the layer can do it pretty well, or hitting G for the paint bucket and flood filling with a left-click that way.

For me, one of the best things is the possibility of creating actions for sequences of commands you use very often and asign a shortcut (usually the function buttons) to play them just pressing the shortcut. A simple one that I use a lot is Select>Inverse / Delete / Deselect. Using layer masks is cool too, but it´s a bit difficult to learn ar first.

I found that when I make my images smaller it sharpens the images too much.
Using the Unsharpen mask helps.
Do you have any other ideas

Thanks, Holly smiley

Natasha - I like using the Unsharp Mask better, too, when sizing previews down.

Lorien - I'll have to try that. There are so many things I use that PS doesn't have shortcuts for.


I am a really big fan of creating actions for things that I tend to do frequently. I also love quick mask mode and layers. Some of my new favorites have been the background erase tool (I have been taking pictures of household things to use as embellishments lol) I literally stumbled across the paint bucket tool, which is silly as I have been wishing for years that Photoshop had it the whole time! I will have to think on this some more but I have a ton of fun shortcuts I use mostly in my photography editing but has also become really useful in digital design and scrapbooking! I will reply again later lol! I learned some awesome things from other people's comments on this post so I would like to say THANK YOU for posting it smiley

The issue I've found with background erase is that it tends to leave a lot of stray pixels for me. It can work with some things, but using a pen-tool-drawn shape layer as a clipping mask is often faster and cleaner, so I primarily do that now.

If you get most of the background with the background eraser tool and then switch over to the regular eraser tool it will erase the rest of the stray pixels smiley I also recommend using the quick selection tool, Its the paintbrush in the middle of the oval for anyone who doesn't know which one I am talking about right below the lasso tool, I select the image part that I want to keep making sure to zoom in so that I selected all that I wanted and then up at the top click the Select drop down menu, Inverse. (you can also try and just select the background and therefore won't have to inverse) Once you have done this you can erase the background without worrying about erasing any part of the image you don't want erased. I don't know if that makes any sense?! Its always been useful for me to use, I use it when editing pictures and or digital design.
So long story short:
By selecting a part of the image you don't want (and or if its easier that you don't want) you can prevent the eraser tool from erasing where you don't want to and therefore make your life a lot easier.

If I'm not clear on that ask me and I will try and explain better lol! I don't know if I could ever be a teacher, its hard to explain things that I do on a daily basis sometimes lol!

Another thing I didn't know when I first started is that you can adjust the opacity of pretty much any tool you are using! Its nice sometimes if you don't want to completely take something out but want to tone it down a bit. Very useful tools I use on a daily basis also are: History brush, color changing brush (so awesome but doesn't work on black and white). Not sure if I mentioned those before but if you haven't used the color changing brush you will love that I mentioned it lol!

Probably the biggest thing I learned pretty late in the game was how to lock the layer to recolor it easily.

I loved finding out the things you can do in Blending Options and Brush Options!

For whatever reason, this wasn't working for me in CS6, BUT pressing ALT SHIFT DELETE does! Just make sure the color you want is the foreground color!

The biggest life-changer for me was setting up Libraries in Photoshop!

@Laurel: Are the libraries new to Photoshop CC? I haven't taken the time to figure out what it is, what do you like about it?

This is the best definition that I found: The new Libraries panel in Photoshop CC (Window > Library) is a powerful way to store different design elements in an easily accessible panel, which can then be quickly applied across multiple documents as well as shared with Adobe Illustrator.

I don't think they are- I've been using them for a while. I have Adobe Creative Cloud so not sure at what point they were added, but it has been a long time smiley

What do I love? Where to start lol! What you can do with libraries is put an entire kit into a library so everything you need is visible- if kits are REALLY big, then I break libraries up into paper, elements, alphas, etc. But it is nice because everything I need is right in front of me instead of having to open or place files every time. I *think* you can have an endless number of libraries with up to 1000 items in each one.

I've found them especially handy when I am creating a book and using things from different designers (like if I need a specific color scheme and take all the blue and red elements from everything I have in my digital "stash." It prevents me from having to go through thousands of files looking for just the right thing more than once. I look for items one time, open and add to library, then never have to spend time looking for it again.

I hope this makes sense?

I've heard Adobe is adding functionality to the libraries, also, because it would sure be handy to have some sort-of "add all open files" button smiley

Cool. I'll have to check it out.

What kind of set up you are talking about? Oh have not done that library setup yet!

When I am starting to work on an album, I set up libraries in Photoshop- that way all the elements, papers, alphas, etc. are right there in Photoshop for me to access at any given moment, instead of having to go through files every time I want something. Next week I can try to do a tut for it...

It literally took me almost 15 years to notice the Trim feature in Photoshop. Mind. Blown.

I just taught my mom who has been digiscrapping for a while, how to enlarge or shrink an image from the center of it by holding alt + shift and then dragging the transform corners in the direction you need. It has helped her a lot be able to place an image where she wants it, and then size it without it moving!

Thanks awesome ladies for all the tips and tricks! I learned a few things too!!