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Getting to Know the Photoshop Interface

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All about Photoshop

Even if you’ve never worked with images on your computer, you may have heard of Photoshop. Available for both Windows and Mac, Adobe Photoshop is an extremely powerful application that’s used by many professional photographers and designers. You can use Photoshop for almost any kind of image editing, such as touching up photos, creating high-quality graphics, and much, much more.

screenshot of photoshop

In fact, Photoshop has so many features that it may actually be too powerful for many users. It’s also very expensive, so unless you need to edit photos or graphics professionally, Photoshop may not be the best option for you.

You can use Photoshop for almost any kind of image editing, such as touching up photos, creating high-quality graphics, and much, much more. In this lesson, we’ll introduce you to the Photoshop interface, including how to open files, work with panels, customize the workspace, and change the display size.

Photoshop is a complex application, and it can feel a bit intimidating to use at first. Because of this, we recommend following along with the lesson by downloading our example file (right-click the link to save it). The more hands-on experience you have with Photoshop, the easier it will become to use.

About this tutorial

We’ll be using Photoshop CC throughout this tutorial to show you Photoshop’s features. If you’re using an older version of Photoshop—like Photoshop CS5 or earlier—some features may work a bit differently, but you should still be able to follow along. However, if you’re using Photoshop Elements, it’s important to note that some of the features we’ll discuss may be missing or work in a different way.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Opening files

Most of the time, you’ll want to start by opening an existing photo rather than creating a new blank image. Photoshop allows you to open and edit existing image files, such as .jpg or .png files, as well as .psd (Photoshop document) files.

To open a file:

  1. Select Fileright-arrowOpen.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC
  2. A dialog box will appear. Locate and select the file on your computer, then click Open.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC
  3. The file will appear in Photoshop.

If you don’t currently have Photoshop open, you can locate and right-click the file on your computer and then choose Open Withright-arrowAdobe Photoshop to open the file.

screenshot of Mac OS X

Overview of the Photoshop interface

Because Photoshop is designed primarily for professional use, the interface may feel a bit complex and intimidating for new users. Even if you have some experience with other image editing software, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different parts of the Photoshop interface.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to become more familiar with the Photoshop interface.

Working with Tools and other panels

The Tools panel

The Tools panel is one of the most important features in Photoshop—it’s where you’ll select different tools for editing images. Once you’ve chosen a tool, you’ll be able to use it with the current document. Your cursor will change to reflect the currently selected tool.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

You can also click and hold to select a different tool. For example, you can click and hold the Rectangle tool to select different Shape tools, such as the Ellipse, Line, or Custom shape tools.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Showing and hiding panels

You’ll also be able to view and modify a lot of information about the current document through the other panels in the workspace For example, you can view the document’s layers in the Layers panel. To show or hide any panel, click the Window menu, then select the desired panel—currently visible panels are indicated by a check mark. In the image below, we’re using the Window menu to turn on the History panel:

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

You can use the double-arrows to expand or collapse panels. This can be helpful if you want to temporarily hide a panel without removing it from the workspace.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

You can also press the Tab key on your keyboard to show or hide all active panels.

Moving panels

If you want to change a panel’s location, you can move it by clicking and dragging the panel to a new part of the workspace.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

However, if you’re planning to follow along with our tutorial, we recommend keeping most panels in the default location for now. To reset the panels to their default positions, select Windowright-arrowWorkspaceright-arrowReset Essentials. Note that this process may vary depending on which version of Photoshop you’re using. For example, in Photoshop Elements, you’ll go to Windowright-arrowReset Panels.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Customizing the Photoshop environment

If you want to customize Photoshop, you can adjust the default application settings. Most of these options are pretty technical, but we’d like to show you two basic adjustments you may find helpful.

To adjust the default unit:

By default, a document’s dimensions are measured in inches. If you’re not primarily editing images for prints, we recommend changing this setting to pixels.

  1. Select Editright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowUnits & Rulers. If you’re using a Mac, select Photoshopright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowUnits & Rulers.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC
  2. A dialog box will appear. Under Units, click the menu next to Rulers, select Pixels, and click OK. You may need to quit and restart Photoshop for the changes to take effect.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

To adjust the text size:

If you’d like the text of the Photoshop interface to be larger or smaller, you can adjust the application’s text size.

  1. Select Editright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowInterface (or Photoshopright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowInterface on a Mac).
  2. Under Text, click the menu next to UI Font Size, then select the desired size. You may need to quit and restart Photoshop for the changes to take effect.
Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Changing the zoom level

When you’re editing an image in Photoshop, you’ll often be viewing it at less than 100% of its full size. That’s because most modern digital cameras take large, high-resolution photos. These images are so large, in fact, that most computer screens can’t display all of the pixels in the image at once. This is actually a good thing, because it means you’ll have extra detail to work with as you edit the image.

If you want to zoom in or out, simply press Ctrl+ or Ctrl- (hold the Ctrl key and then press the + or key). If you’re using a Mac, you’ll press Command+ or Command-.

In the example below, you can see a document at 44.4% of its full size. Notice that you can see the current zoom level at the top of the document window, as well as in the bottom-left corner of the screen.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

By contrast, the example below shows the same image at 100% (full size). Notice that only part of the image is visible at this zoom level. If desired, you can use the horizontal and vertical scroll bars to view other parts of the image.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

To zoom the image to fit the document window, press Ctrl+0 (hold the Ctrl key and then press the zero key). If you’re using a Mac, you’ll press Command+0.

About Yesaya R. Athuman

Colleagues know me as a highly Creative Software Developer who can always be trusted to come up with the new approach. But I know that client's business come first, and I never try to impose my ideas on others. Instead, I spend a lot of time understanding business and the audience before suggesting ideas. I can (and often do) work well alone, but I'm at my best collaborating with others.

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