Explore Photoshop



Let’s start by getting to know the Photoshop workspace. When you first start Photoshop with the default preferences, you should see something like the screen shot here. If the workspace looks vastly different to you, you’ll want to reset your Photoshop preferences back to default settings. To do that in Photoshop, hold down Ctrl-Alt-Shift (Win) or Command-Option-Shift (Mac) immediately after launching Photoshop, then answer Yes when asked if you want to delete the settings file.

My screen shot shows the Windows version of Photoshop. If you are using a Macintosh, the basic layout will be the same, although the style may appear slightly different.

These are the main counterparts of the Photoshop workspace:

  1. Menu Bar
  2. Tool options bar
  3. Adobe Bridge shortcut button
  4. Palette Well
  5. Toolbox
  6. Floating palettes

You can explore each one of them in more detail on the following pages.





The menu bar consists of nine menus: File, Edit, Image, Layer, Select, Filter, View, Window, and Help. Take a few moments now to look at each of the menus, starting with the File Menu.

You may notice that some menu commands are followed by ellipses (…). This indicates a command that is followed by a ‘dialog box’ where you can enter additional settings. Anytime input is needed from the user, it is presented in a dialog box. For instance, if you click File in the Menu Bar and then the New command, you will see the new document dialog box. Go ahead and do this now. Click OK in the new document dialog to accept the default settings. You’ll need an open document to explore the menu commands.

Throughout this course, I will use the following syntax for instructions which involve navigating menus in Photoshop: File > New

Some menu commands are followed by a right pointing arrow. This indicates a submenu of related commands. As you explore each menu, be sure to take a look at the submenus as well. You’ll also notice that many commands are followed by keyboard shortcuts. Gradually, you’ll want to get to know these keyboard shortcuts as they can be incredible time savers. As you make your way through this course, you’ll be learning the most useful keyboard shortcuts as you go.




Below Photoshop’s menu bar is the tool options bar. The Options Bar is where you would go to adjust settings for the currently active tool. This toolbar is context-sensitive, meaning that it changes according to which tool you have selected. I’ll cover the options for each tool as we learn the individual tools in future lessons.

The options bar can be pulled away from the top of the window and moved around in the workspace, or docked to the bottom of the workspace, if you prefer. If you’d like to move the options bar, click on the small line on the far left of the toolbar and drag it to an new position. Most likely, you’ll want to leave it right where it is.

Adobe Bridge Button

To the right of the palette well, is the Adobe Bridge shortcut button. This launches the Adobe Bridge, which is a separate application for visually browsing and organizing your images.



Photoshop’s toolbox is the tall, narrow palette that sits along the left edge of the workspace. The toolbox contains many of the tools you will be working with in Photoshop. That makes it pretty important!

If you’re new to Photoshop, it’s very helpful to have a printed toolbox reference. If you’d like to make your own, you can do so by printing page 41 from the ‘Photoshop Help.pdf’ file that came with Photoshop, or you can look up “About tools and the toolbox” in Photoshop online help and print the toolbox overview. Keep this printout handy so you can refer to it throughout these lessons.

When you look at the toolbox, notice how some of the buttons have a tiny arrow in the lower right corner. This arrow indicates that other tools are hidden under that tool. To access the other tools, click and hold down on a button and the other tools will pop out. Try this now by clicking on the rectangle marquee tool and changing to the elliptical marquee tool.

Now hold your cursor over one of the buttons and you should see a tooltip appear that tells you the name of the tool and its keyboard shortcut. The rectangle and elliptical marquee tools have a shortcut of M. An easier way to switch between the different hidden tools is to use the keyboard shortcut along with the Shift key modifier. For the marquee tools, the Shift-M combination toggles between the rectangular and elliptical marquee tools. The single row marquee tools are used less often and must be selected from the toolbox flyout. Another shortcut for cycling through the hidden tools is to Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) click on the toolbox button.

Take a few moments now to familiarize yourself with the tool names using the tooltips. Use the shortcuts you’ve just learned to explore all the hidden tools. Don’t worry about using each tool for now; we’ll get to that soon enough. For now, you should just get to know the tool locations and their icons.



In the lower part of the toolbox we have the Color Well, Edit Mode Buttons, and Screen Mode Buttons.

The Color Well

Moving down in the toolbox, we come to the color well. This is where the foreground and background colors are displayed.

  • The foreground color is used when you paint, fill, and stroke selections.
  • The background color is used when you make gradient fills, to fill in the erased areas of an image, and when you expand the canvas.
  • Foreground and background colors are also used by some special effects filters.

The small double arrow at the top right of the color well allows you to swap foreground and background colors. The tiny black and white swatch symbol to the lower left allows you to reset the colors to the default colors of black foreground and white background. Hold your cursor over those two areas to learn the keyboard shortcuts. To change a color, simply click on either the foreground or background color swatch and select a new color in the color picker. Experiment by changing the foreground and background colors and then resetting them back to defaults.

Editing Mode Buttons: Selection Mode and Quick Mask Mode

The next two buttons on the toolbox allow you to toggle between two editing modes: selection mode and quick mask mode. We’ll learn more about this later in future lessons.

Screen Mode Buttons

Below that you have a set of three buttons that allow you to change the appearance of the workspace. Hold your cursor over each button to see what it does. Notice the keyboard shortcut for all three is F. Hitting F repeatedly toggles between all three modes. Try it now.

This is a convenient place to mention a few more shortcuts for modifying the workspace appearance. Feel free to try them out as you read. When in either of the full screen modes, you can toggle the menu bar on and off with the Shift-F key combination. In any screen mode you can toggle the toolbox, status bar, and palettes on and off with the Tab key. To hide only palettes and leave the toolbox visible, use Shift-Tab.

Tip: If you want to see the image you’re working on with no distractions, just do: F, F, Shift-F, Tab and you’ll have your image on a plain black background with no other interface elements in the way. To get back to normal, press F, then Tab.

The last button on the toolbox is for moving your document to ImageReady. We will not be exploring ImageReady in this course.




Next to the Bridge button is the palette well. This is a space where you can keep palettes that you don’t use as frequently or don’t want occupying your workspace. It keeps them easily accessible, but hidden from view until you need them.

In the default workspace, you should have title tabs for the Brushes, Tool Presets, and Layer Comps palettes in the palette well. You can drag other palettes to this area and they will remain hidden there until you click on the palette tab to reveal it. When you need access to one of these palettes, just click on the title tab, and the full palette will expand below its tab.

Tip: If you cannot see the palette well on the options bar, you will need to adjust your screen resolution to at least 1024×768 pixels.




Collapsing and Expanding the Floating Palettes

When you first open Photoshop, several additional floating palettes are stacked along the right edge of your screen in 4 separate palette groups. The first group contains the Navigator, Info, and Histogram palettes. Next is the Color, Swatches, and Styles palettes. Below that are the History and Actions Palettes. Finally, you have the Layers, Channels, and Paths Palettes.

Palette groups can be moved around in the workspace by clicking on the title bar and dragging. Each palette group has a collapse and a close button in the title bar area. Try the collapse button for each of the palette groups now. You’ll notice the button works as a toggle, clicking the button a second time after the palette is collapsed will expand the palette again. You may also notice that some palettes do not completely collapse when you click this button. Try collapsing the color palette and you’ll see that the color ramp is still visible.

For palettes that partially collapse, you can completely collapse them by holding down the Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) key as you press the collapse button. You can also collapse a group by double clicking on any of the palette tabs. To display a collapsed palette, just click once on the palette tab if it’s in the back of the group, or double click if it’s in the front of the group.



To bring a grouped palette to the front of the group, click on the palette’s tab. You can also ungroup and rearrange the palettes by clicking on a tab and dragging it outside of the group or to another group. Try it now by dragging the navigator palette out of its default group. Then put it back by dragging it back onto the palette group.

Palettes can be resized either by holding your cursor over an edge and dragging when the cursor changes to a double pointing arrow, or by clicking and dragging on the lower right corner. The Color palette is not resizable.

When you click the close button on a palette group it closes all the palettes in the group. To display a palette that is not shown, you can either choose the command from the Window Menu, or display the palette using its keyboard shortcut. Refer to the Window menu for the keyboard shortcuts for your operating system.

We went over these on the previous page, but a couple of palette shortcuts worth reviewing are:

  • Tab = Show/Hide Toolbox, options bar, and all palettes
  • Shift-Tab = Show/Hide all floating palettes




Several palettes can be joined into one large super-palette. To do this, drag a palette to the bottom edge of another palette group. An outline will appear long the bottom edge and then you can release the mouse button. The two palettes will become attached, but not overlapping. You can adjust the height of each palette group by dragging the divider between them.

You can attach several palettes this way to create one massive palette collection. This can be useful if you use multiple monitors and you want to move all your palettes to a second monitor. By docking all the floating palettes together, you only need to drag one thing to move all your palettes to the second monitor.



Another common feature of all the palettes is the palette menu. Notice the small arrow in the upper right corner of each palette. If you recall from our lessons on the menu and toolbox, a small arrow indicates a pop-out menu. Whenever you see me refer to a palette menu throughout these lessons, you’ll know I mean this menu for whichever palette is being discussed.

When a palette is not in the front of a group, you will have to click the title tab for the palette to bring it to the front, and then the palette menu button will appear. This is also the case for palettes docked in the palette well. Take a look at the palette menu for each of the palettes now. Notice that each individual palette has a unique menu.

Practice showing, hiding, docking, and moving the various palettes. Click on the palette tabs to familiarize yourself with each palette, and take a look at each of the palette menus while you’re at it.

To return the palettes to the default locations after you finish experimenting, go to Window > Workspace > Reset Palette Locations.



Now let me show you some ways you can customize the workspace. I find that I rarely use the Color or Swatches palette, so I like to drag those into the palette well and keep them there. Go ahead and do this now.

That leaves the Styles palette all by itself. I like this palette large, with large thumbnails, but I don’t want it taking up all that screen space. Here’s how to customize it:

  1. Click the title tab for the Styles palette and move it away from the other floating palettes.
  2. Next open the styles palette menu and choose “Large Thumbnail” from the menu.
  3. Now drag the lower right corner of the palette down and right so that you can see 5 columns and four rows of thumbnails.
  4. Finally, drag the Styles palette up into the palette well, or choose “Dock to Palette Well” from the palette menu so it doesn’t use screen space.

Now when you click on the styles palette from the palette well, you’ll see that it opens quite large, but quickly tucks away when you click away from it.



Next let’s join the remaining palettes into one large palette group.

  1. Drag the title tab for the History palette to the lower edge of the Navigator palette.
  2. When you see a narrow outline at the bottom edge of the Navigator palette, release the mouse button and the History palette will be joined to the Navigator, Info, and Histogram palettes.
  3. Now drag the Actions palette next to the History palette.

Now this palette super-group has one title bar, but it is divided into two palette groups with the Navigator, Info, and Histogram palettes on top and the History and Actions palettes on the bottom. You can drag the title bar and whole group moves; click the collapse button and the whole group collapses.

Now repeat the steps above to join the Layers, Channels, and Paths palettes below the History and Actions palettes so you have something like the screen shot above.


Experiment on your own by customizing the palettes into an arrangement you think you’ll like. If you work with many large images you may prefer to keep your palettes collapsed along the bottom edge of the Photoshop workspace to give you the maximum space for documents. If you use multiple monitors, you may want all the palettes joined into one and moved onto a second monitor.

When you are happy with your custom arrangement, go to Window > Workspace > Save Workspace. Type a name to identify the palette arrangement, make sure the “Palette Locations” checkbox is enabled, and click Save. Now when you go to the Window > Workspace menu, you will see your new saved workspace at the bottom of the menu. You can choose this from the menu anytime you want to go back to this palette arrangement.

If you’d like, check out some of the other custom workspaces under the Window > Workspace menu. Also practice rearranging the palettes and re-loading the customized workspace you saved. When you’re finished exploring, you can reset everything back to the defaults by going to Window > Workspace > Default Workspace.

We’ll take a closer look at each of the individual palettes in future lessons.



When you have a document window open in Photoshop, there are a few more workspace elements you’ll need to be able to identify. Go to File > Open and navigate to any image file on your computer and open it now. Ctrl-O (Win) or Cmd-O (Mac) is the keyboard shortcut to open a file. This is the same shortcut used by most applications, so it should be an easy one to remember. Windows users can take advantage of a handy shortcut for opening a file — just double-click on the Photoshop application window background.

If your image is small, drag the lower right corner of the document window to make it large enough that you can see all parts of the document window shown in the diagram above.

The Title Bar

The title bar shows the filename, the zoom level, and the color mode of the image. On the right are the minimize, maximize/restore, and close buttons that are standard in all computer applications.

Scroll Bars

You’re probably familiar with scroll bars for moving around the document when it is larger than the workspace. A good shortcut to know for avoiding the scroll bars, is the Spacebar on your keyboard. No matter where you are in Photoshop, you can temporarily switch to the hand tool by pressing the Spacebar. We’ll practice this shortly.

Context-Sensitive Menus

In addition to the menu bar, Photoshop often has context-sensitive menus for accessing some of the most likely commands depending on which tool is selected and where you click. You access the context sensitive menu by right clicking, or by pressing the Control key while clicking on a single-button Macintosh mouse.

One of the most convenient contextual menus can be accessed by right clicking on the title bar of a document for quick access to the duplicate command, image and canvas size dialogs, file information, and page setup. Go ahead and try this now on your open document.

Next select the zoom tool from the toolbox, and right click anywhere on your document. This context-sensitive menu offers quick access to commands for Fit on Screen, Actual Pixels, Print Size, Zoom In, and Zoom Out.

Note: Each document appears in its own floating window, unless you maximize the document window, in which case only the top-most document will be visible in the workspace. When you maximize a document window in Photoshop, the document title bar merges with the Photoshop application title bar, and the zoom indicator and status bar go to the bottom edge of the Photoshop application window.



The Zoom Level Indicator

Located at the lower left corner of the document window, the zoom indicator shows the magnification level of the document. You can swipe your cursor in here and type a new number to change the zoom level. Go ahead and try it now.

To return your document to 100% magnification, locate the zoom tool in the toolbox and double click the button. The keyboard equivalent to this shortcut is Ctrl-Alt-0 (Win) or Cmd-Option-0 (Mac).

Status Bar

To the right of the magnification display on the status bar, you will see a display of document sizes. The number on the left displays the uncompressed size of the image if it were to have all layers flattened. The number on the right displays the uncompressed size of the document including all layers and channels. If the document was empty, you would see 0 bytes for the second number here.

Note that both of these numbers will usually be larger than the final file size of the saved document. That’s because Photoshop documents are usually compressed when saved. For more on the Document Sizes display, look up Document Sizes option in the Photoshop Help file.

Status Bar Display Options

Next to the Document sizes display there is a small black arrow that pops up a menu. Some menu items may be faded out, for instance, if you don’t have Version Cue installed.

The “Reveal in Bridge” menu option opens Adobe bridge to the folder where the image resides on your computer.

The “Show” sub-menu allows you to change what is displayed in this area of the status bar. In addition to Document Sizes, you can optionally choose to display other information about Version Cue, the current document, Scratch Sizes, Efficiency, Timing, the name of the current tool, or 32-bit exposure information. You can look up each of these items in Photoshop’s online Help for more information.



I mentioned already that you can use the Spacebar on your keyboard to temporarily switch to the hand tool at any time. To practice this:

  1. Open an image and drag the borders of the document window so it is smaller than the image.
  2. Press the Spacebar and click on the image.
  3. While holding the Spacebar down, move the mouse around to move the image around within the window.

We don’t need any scroll bars! Another handy shortcut is to double-click on the hand tool in the toolbox to quickly fill the available workspace with your image. This will set the magnification level to whatever size it needs to be to make the image fill the screen. Check the title bar or the status bar to see what the actual magnification level is.

While you have the hand tool active, take a look at the options bar for the hand tool. You’ll notice three buttons there for Actual Pixels, Fit Screen, and Print Size. Do you remember these from the zoom tool’s context sensitive menu?

  • Actual Pixels shows the image at 100% magnification.
  • Fit Screen scales the image to fit inside your workspace. This may make the magnification higher or lower than 100% depending on the size of the image and your screen resolution and workspace layout.
  • Print Size approximates the size that the image will be when printed, taking resolution into account. Since all monitors vary, this should only be considered an approximation. Well learn more about resolution later.

Since these options are also available in the Zoom tool, and now that you know the Spacebar trick, there is very little reason you’ll ever need to use the hand tool from the toolbox!


Now select the Zoom tool in the toolbox. Notice the same three “fit” buttons in the options bar, just like the hand tool. If you want the document window to resize as you zoom in and out, check the “Resize Windows to Fit” box on the options bar. You’ve already learned a few different ways to change the magnification of your image — the zoom control in the status bar, the context-sensitive menu, and double clicking the zoom tool. Let’s look at a few more.

When the zoom tool is selected, the cursor becomes a magnifying glass with a plus sign. The plus sign indicates that you’re all set to zoom in. All you need to do is click to increase magnification. If you want to zoom in on a specific are of the image click and drag a rectangle around the area you want to magnify. This will enlarge the selected area to fill the workspace. Try it now. To return to 100% magnification, use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl-Alt-0 (Win) or Cmd-Option-0 (Mac). To zoom in without switching to the zoom tool, use Ctrl-+ (plus sign) on Windows or Command-+ (plus sign) on Macintosh.

To switch to zoom out mode, you can click the zoom out button on the options bar. However, it is much easier to use the keyboard shortcuts. When you hold down the Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) key, the zoom cursor will change to a minus sign in the magnifying glass, and you can click to zoom out. To zoom out without switching to the zoom tool, use Ctrl– (minus sign) on Windows or Cmd– (minus sign) on Macintosh.

Let’s review each of the zoom tool options:

  • No modifier key = click to zoom in; click and drag to zoom into a specific area
  • Double click zoom tool button = zoom to 100% magnification
  • Ctrl-Alt-0 (Win) / Cmd-Option-0 (Mac) = zoom to 100% magnification
  • Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) = click to zoom out

Here are a few more zoom shortcuts we have not yet covered:

  • Ctrl-0 (Win) / Cmd-0 (Mac) = zoom to fit the screen
  • Ctrl (Win) / Cmd (Mac) = temporarily toggles to the move tool

Working in Photoshop generally involves a lot of zooming and panning, so now you are well on your way. By memorizing the most common keyboard shortcuts related to zooming and panning, these functions will become second nature to you and you’ll be able to work much faster.


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