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This chapter is from the book

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There's a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian is trying to persuade his followers to think for themselves. He shouts, "Every one of you is different! You're all individuals!" One person raises his hand and replies, "I'm not." This is the situation we often find with Photoshop users. Even though each person uses the program differently, they think they need to use it just like everyone else. Not true. You can customize Photoshop in a number of ways through its Preferences submenu. (In ancient versions of Photoshop, you could find this in the File menu; now, it's in the Edit menu... except that in Mac OS X, it's in the Photoshop menu).

We're not going to discuss every preference. Instead, we'll take a look at some of the key items we think you should be aware of on the Preferences submenu. First we'll cover the General Preferences dialog box (press Command-K); then we'll look at some other preferences. (We explore Photoshop's color preferences more in Chapter 5, Color Settings.)


Return of Preferences. If you make a change in one of the many Preferences dialog boxes and then—after pressing OK—you decide to change to some other preference, you can return to the same dialog box by pressing Command-Option-K.


Navigating Through Preferences. The Preferences dialog box contains eight different "screens" or "tabs," each of which offers a different set of options (see Figure 2-28). Sure, you can select each screen from the popup menu at the top of the dialog box, or by clicking the Next and Prev buttons. But the fastest way to jump to a particular screen is by pressing Command-1 (for the first screen), Command-2 (for the second screen), and so on up to Command-8.


Propagating your Preferences. Any time you make a change to one of the Preferences dialog boxes, Photoshop remembers your alteration, and when you quit, saves it in the "Adobe Photoshop 7.0 Prefs" file. (In Mac OS 9.x, this is in the System Folder>Preferences>Adobe Photoshop 7 folder. In Mac OS X, it's in User>YourName>Library>Preferences> Adobe Photoshop 7 Settings. On Windows systems, it's in the Windows> Application Data>Adobe>Photoshop>7.0>Adobe Photoshop 7.0 Settings directory.) If anything happens to that file, all your changes are gone. Because of this, we recommend keeping a backup of that file, or even the whole settings directory (people often back up their images without realizing they should back up this sort of data file, too).

Certain kinds of crashes (mostly caused by software other than Photoshop) can corrupt Photoshop's Preferences file. If Photoshop starts acting strange on us, our first step is always to replace the Preferences file with a clean copy (if no copy of the Preferences file is available, then Photoshop will build a new one for you).

Note that if you administer a number of different computers that are running Photoshop, you may want to standardize the preferences on all machines. The answer: copy the Photoshop Prefs file to each computer. Finally, note that Photoshop doesn't save changes to the preferences until you Quit. If Photoshop crashes, the changes don't get saved.

Figure 2-28Figure 2-28 General Preferences dialog box

Export Clipboard. When the Export Clipboard checkbox is on, Photoshop converts whatever is on the clipboard into a PICT or WMF format when you leave Photoshop. This is helpful—indeed, necessary—if you want to paste a selection into some other program. But if you've got a megabyte or two or 10 megabytes on the clipboard, that conversion is going to take some time. In situations when you're running low on RAM, it may even crash your machine, though this is now rare. We recommend leaving Export Clipboard off until you really need it.

Dynamic Color Sliders. This one is pretty subtle. When Dynamic Color Sliders in the Picker is turned on, the bars for the sliders on the Picker palette change color as you drag. The target color changes as you drag, whether it's turned on or not—it just affects the sliders themselves. We tend to leave this one turned on.

Save Palette Locations. This does what it says—it remembers which palettes were open, which were closed, and where they were located on the screen the last time you quit. But if you change your monitor resolution, the palettes return to their default locations. We leave this turned on.

Use System Shortcut Keys. In Mac OS X, Apple appropriated two keyboard shortcuts that were crucial for Photoshop users: Command-H and Command-M. Photoshop users know these as "Hide Selection" and "Curves dialog box." The Mac OS X folks use these shortcuts for "Hide Application" and "Minimize Application." Fortunately, the folks at Adobe give us an option. By default, the old Photoshop keystrokes win. However, if you turn on the Use System Shortcut Keys option, Photoshop defers to the OS X features.

But wait, there's more: If you hold down the Control key, you get the opposite result. That is, when Use System Shortcut Keys is turned off, you can press Command-Control-H to get Hide Application, and so on.

Image Previews. When you save a document in Photoshop, the program can save little thumbnails of your image as file icons. These thumbnails can be helpful, or they can simply be a drag to your productivity. We always set Image Previews to Ask When Saving, so we get a choice for each file (see "Preview Options" in Chapter 15, Storing Images).

Ask Before Saving Layered TIFF Files. Most people don't realize that TIFF files can include Photoshop layers. We discuss this in detail in Chapter 15, Storing Images, but we should point out one thing here: When the Ask Before Saving Layered TIFF Files option is turned on in Preferences (it is by default), Photoshop will always alert you when you try to save a file that was a flat (non-layered) TIFF but now has layers. For example, if you open a TIFF image and add some type, the text shows up on a type layer. Now if you press Command-S to save the file, Photoshop displays the TIFF Options dialog box, in which you can either flatten the layers or keep them.

If you find yourself staring at this dialog box too much, and you keep thinking to yourself, "If I wanted to flatten the image, I would have done it myself," then go ahead and turn this option of in the Preferences dialog box. Then Photoshop won't bother you anymore. Personally, we like this option and we leave it turned on.

Always Maximize Compatibility for Photoshop (PSD) Files. We used to think that the Always Maximize Compatibility for Photoshop (PSD) Files feature (previously known as "Maximize Backwards Compatibility in Photoshop Format," "Include Composited Image with Layered Files," or "2.5 Format Compatibility") was completely brain-dead. Now we think it's only "mostly useless." Basically, when this checkbox is turned on, Photoshop saves a flattened version of your layered image along with the layered version. The result: if you give the file to someone who is using Photoshop 2.5 (we don't know anyone who does), they can open it. Of course, if they do anything to the file and resave it, then all your layers are deleted. Not very helpful.

The main problem is that this feature (which is on by default) makes your image sizes larger on disk (sometimes several times larger) than they would otherwise be.

We've always said: turn this off and leave it off. However, there are two very good exceptions. First, leave it turned on if you're using some other program that claims to open native Photoshop files, like Macromedia FreeHand, but which requires this flattened version to work. A second reason to leave it on is that future versions of Photoshop may interpret blending modes slightly differently than they do today. Adobe won't say what might change (or even if there will be changes), but if they do change something, and that change affects the look of your file, then you would at least be able to recover the flattened version if there is one. That said, we would still rather leave this option turned off, and just keep an archived, flattened version of color-critical images. We discuss this in more detail in Chapter 15, Storing Images.

Diffusion Dither. If, for some bizarre reason, your monitor is set to 8-bit color (we hardly ever work with Photoshop in less than "Thousands" of colors), Photoshop has to do even more work at displaying its plethora of colors on your screen. This is usually done with dithering of some sort. You can choose the method: when Use Diffusion Dither is turned on in the Display & Cursors Preferences dialog box, Photoshop generates colors using a "random" pixel placement. Otherwise, it uses a standard pattern. Neither of these methods is all that attractive, though Diffusion Dither often produces a nicer look when zoomed in closer than 1:1.

Brush Size. When you painted or edited pixels in pre-3.0 versions of Photoshop, the program would display the cursor only as a Brush icon (or Clone Stamp icon, or whatever you were using). Because it was often difficult to tell which pixel the tool would affect, Photoshop implemented the handy crosshairs feature—when Caps Lock is down, the cursor switches to a crosshair icon displaying precisely which pixel Photoshop is "looking at." But most brushes affect more than one pixel at a time, so now when you set Painting Cursors to Brush Size (in the Display & Cursors Preferences dialog box), Photoshop shows you exactly how large the brush is while you're painting or editing (see Figure 2-29). After working with this for a while, you'll wonder how you could ever go back. You can still get the crosshairs with the Caps Lock key.

Figure 2-29Figure 2-29 Brush Size


Using Big Brushes. Photoshop 6 limited brushes to no larger than 999 pixels. In Photoshop 7, the limit has increased to a more respectable 2500-pixel radius. This is very useful when you're working on really large images. However, watch out: if your image is smaller than the brush size, your brush cursor may disappear or behave erratically.

Gamut Warning. Bruce thinks the Gamut Warning is basically useless—he'd rather just see what's happening to the out-of-gamut colors when they're converted—but for the record, when you turn on Gamut Warning from the View menu (or press Command-Shift-Y), Photoshop displays all the out-of-gamut pixels in the color you choose here. (For more on Photoshop's out-of-gamut display features, see "Gamut Alarm" in Chapter 7, Color Correction.) If you do want to use this feature (David likes it), we recommend you choose a really ugly color (in the Transparency & Gamut Preferences dialog box) that doesn't appear anywhere in your image, such as a bright lime green. This way, when you switch on Gamut Warning, the out-of-gamut areas are quite obvious.

Transparency. Transparency is not a color, it's a state of mind. Therefore, when you see it on a layer, what should it look like? Typically, Photoshop displays transparency as a grid of white and gray boxes in a checkerboard pattern. The Preferences dialog box lets you change the colors of the checkerboard and set the size of the squares, though we've never found a reason to do so (see Figure 2-30).

Figure 2-30Figure 2-30 Transparency Preferences

Legacy Photoshop Serial Number. Photoshop 7 has an all-new serial number scheme—old serial numbers won't work. This could create problems if you want to use third-party plug-ins whose copy-protection serializes them to your old Photoshop serial number, so Photoshop lets you enter your old serial number in the Plug-ins & Scratch Disk tab of the Preferences dialog box. Your old plug-ins can then find the serial number they're expecting, and run happily in the new version. (Of course, they still won't work if you're running in Mac OS X and the plug-ins aren't designed for that operating system.)

Image Cache. Adobe has been getting yelled at for years about Photoshop's handling of large images. Finally, in version 4, Photoshop introduced a nominal concession towards large-image handling with the Image Cache feature. It wasn't a great step forward, but it was a step nonetheless (Photoshop 7 hasn't progressed any farther down the road). When Image Cache is on (as it is by default), Photoshop saves several downsampled, low-resolution versions of your image. That way, if you work on your image in a zoomed-out view, Photoshop can update your screen preview more quickly by displaying the cached image instead of downsampling the full-resolution one.

If you're low on RAM, you should probably turn off image caching (set the number of caches to 1 in the Image Cache Preferences dialog box; see Figure 2-31), because these downsampled versions of your image take up extra RAM (or space on your scratch disk, if you don't have enough RAM available). If you've got plenty of RAM and you spend a lot of time working at zoom percentages less than 100 percent, an Image Cache setting of 4 or higher could help speed you up. Each cache level caches one increment of zoom, so a setting of 4 caches the 66.7-, 50-, 33.3- and 25-percent views, while a setting of 6 adds the 16.7-percent and 12.5-percent views. The highest setting, 8 levels, caches all views down to 6.25 percent. This is really only useful on very large images, but the incremental difference in RAM footprint between 6 levels and 8 levels is so small that even if you'd benefit from a setting of 8 only occasionally, you'd probably be best off just setting the Image Cache to 8 and leaving it there.

Figure 2-31Figure 2-31 Image Cache Preferences

Note that we strongly urge you to keep the "Use cache for histograms" checkbox in this Preferences dialog box turned off. While turning it on will speed up your histograms at views other than 100 percent, it renders these histograms useless (see "Turn Off Use Image Cache For Histograms" in Chapter 6, Tonal Correction).

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