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Photoshop Killer Tips

Instant Background Layer Unlocking


This is one of those little tips that just makes you smile. To instantly turn your Background layer into a regular layer without having a dialog pop up first, just click-and-drag the little lock icon to the right of the word “Background” straight into the trash (thanks to Adobe’s Julieanne Kost for sharing this one).

Get Your Channel Shortcuts Back

Back in CS3, and all earlier versions of Photoshop, you could look at the individual color channels for a photo by pressing Command-1, Command-2, Command-3, and so on (on a PC, you’d use Ctrl-1, Ctrl-2, etc., instead). In CS4, they changed the shortcuts, which totally bummed out a lot of longtime users, but you have the option of bringing those glory days of channel shortcuts back to the pre-CS4 era. Go under the Edit menu, choose Keyboard Shortcuts, then near the top of the dialog, turn on the Use Legacy Channel Shortcuts checkbox.

Set Defaults in Layer Styles

You can set your own custom defaults for layer styles like Drop Shadow or Glow. All you have to do is create a new layer in the Layers panel by clicking on the Create a New Layer icon, then choose the layer style you want from the Add a Layer Style icon’s pop-up menu (like Outer Glow, for example). In the Layer Style dialog, enter your own settings (like changing the glow from yeech yellow to white, or black, or anything but yeech yellow), then click on the Make Default button near the bottom of the dialog. To return to the factory default (yeech) settings, click the Reset to Default button.

How to Know if You Used the “Blend If” Sliders on a Layer

Photoshop now adds an icon on the right of any layer where you’ve adjusted the Blend If sliders in the Blending Options of the Layer Style dialog. The icon looks like two little overlapping squares, but it’s more than an icon—it’s a button. Double-click on it and it brings up the Blend If sliders in the Layer Style dialog.


Layer Mask from Layer Transparency

Here’s a nice time saver: you can make the transparent areas of any layer into a mask in just one step: go under the Layer menu, under Layer Mask, and choose From Transparency.

One Click to Close All Your Tabs

If you’re using the Tabs feature (all your documents open as tabs), then you’ll definitely want to know this tip: to close all your open tabs at once, just Right-click on any tab and choose Close All.

Seeing Your Final Crop in Camera Raw

When you crop a photo in Camera Raw, you can see the final cropped image without having to open the image in

Photoshop. Once your cropping border is in place, just change tools and you’ll see the cropped version (in some previous versions, the cropped away area was still visible; it was just dimmed).

Save 16-Bit to JPEG

Back in CS4, if you worked with 16-bit photos, when you went to the Save dialog to save your photo, there was no option to save your image as a JPEG, because JPEGs have to be in 8-bit mode, so you’d have to close the dialog, convert to 8-bit, then go and Save again. That has changed and JPEG is now a choice, but what it does is makes a copy of the file, which it converts to 8-bit, and saves that instead. This leaves your 16-bit image still open onscreen and unsaved, so keep that in mind. If you want to save the 16-bit version separately, you’ll need to save it as a PSD or TIFF like before. For me, once I know it has saved an 8-bit JPEG, I don’t need the 16-bit version any longer, so I close the image and click the Don’t Save button, but again, that’s just me.

Lens Corrections Grid

If you’re using Camara Raw’s Lens Corrections panel to do things like straighten buildings or flatten rounded horizon lines, press the letter V on your keyboard, and an alignment grid appears over your image to help you line things up. To hide it again, press V again.

Assign a Keyboard Shortcut to the Color Picker

You can assign a keyboard shortcut to bring up the Foreground (or Background) Color Picker (this is handier than it sounds). Go under the Edit menu, under Keyboard Shortcuts, and from the Shortcuts For pop-up menu, choose Tools. Then scroll down near the bottom, and you’ll see Foreground Color Picker and Background Color Picker. Click on whichever one you want, and type in the shortcut you want. I have to tell you up front: most of the good shortcuts are already taken (in fact, almost all combinations of shortcuts are already taken), but my buddy Dave Cross came up with a good idea. He doesn’t use the Pen tool all that much, so he used the letter P (for Picker). When you enter “P,” it’s going to warn you that it’s already being used for something else, and if you click the Accept and Go to Conflict button at the bottom left, it assigns P to the Color Picker you chose, and then sends you to the Pen tool to choose a new shortcut. If you don’t need to assign one to the Pen tool (you don’t use it much either), then just leave it blank and click OK.

Visual Way to Change Your Brush Size and Softness

This is incredibly handy, because you can actually see and control the exact size and amount of softness for your current brush tip. Press-and-hold Option-Ctrl (PC: Alt-Ctrl) then click-and-drag (PC: Right-click-and-drag) up/down to control the softness/hardness of the brush, and left/right to control the size.

Working with Tabbed Documents

When working with multiple documents while using the Tabs features, to see any tabbed image, just click on its tab at the top of the image window or press Ctrl-Tab to cycle through them one by one. To turn tabbing off, go under the Photoshop (PC: Edit) menu, under Preferences, and choose Interface, then turn off the Open Documents as Tabs checkbox. Also, you’ll probably want to turn off the Enable Floating Document Window Docking checkbox, too, or it will dock your single open image.

Setting Up Your Workspace

Photoshop comes with a number of built-in workspace layouts for different tasks with just the panels visible Adobe thought you’d need. You can find them by clicking on the pop-up menu at the right end of the Options Bar. To create your own custom workspace layout, just click-and-drag the panels where you want them. To nest a panel (so they appear one in front of another), drag one panel over the other. When you see a blue outline appear, release the mouse button and it nests. More panels can be found under the Window menu. Once your panels are set up where you want them, go under the Window menu, under Workspace, and choose New Workspace, to save your layout so it’s always one click away (it will appear in the pop-up menu). Also, if you use a workspace and change a panel’s location, it remembers. That’s okay, but you’d think that clicking on your workspace would return things to normal. It doesn’t. Instead, you have to go into that pop-up menu and choose Reset [your workspace name].

Getting Sharp Edges on Your Stroke Layer Effect

If you’ve applied a large stroke using the Stroke layer effect (under the Edit menu) or Stroke layer style (by clicking on the Add a Layer Style icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choosing Stroke from the pop-up menu), you’ve probably already noticed that the edges start to get rounded, and the bigger you make the stroke, the rounder they get. So, what’s the trick to nice, sharp straight edges? Just switch the Stroke position or location to Inside.

White Balance Quick Fix

If you have an image whose white balance is way off, and you didn’t shoot it in RAW, try this: go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose Match Color. When the Match Color dialog appears, just turn on the Neutralize checkbox in the Image Options section. It works better than you’d think for most white balance problems (plus, you can write an action to do all that for you).

Change Ruler Increments

If you want to quickly change the unit of measure in your ruler (say, from pixels to inches or from centimeters to millimeters), just Right-click anywhere inside the Rulers and choose your new unit of measurement from the pop-up menu that appears.

Using “Scrubby Sliders”

Anytime you see a numerical field in Photoshop (like the Opacity field in the Layers panel, for example), you can change the setting without typing in a number, or dragging the tiny slider. Instead. click directly on the word “Opacity” and drag left (to lower the opacity) or right (to increase it). This is very fast, and totally addictive, and if you’re not using it yet, you’ve got to try it. There’s no faster way to make quick changes (also, press-and-hold the Shift key while using it, and it goes even faster).

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