Tips for a more productive Photoshop workflow
There really is no choice in what Photoshop can do. However, it is a very complex programme with many moving parts. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn the basic tools to bring your ideas to life, not to mention the fact that there are always at least three different ways to use each tool. The truth is: Photoshop is a jungle and we have to learn to survive in it every day.
In this post, I’ll show you some of my top tips, shortcuts and tricks to speed up your Photoshop workflow and get you started in no time.
Use Smart Objects
If you’ve ever resized a layer or rotated it several times in a row, you’ve probably noticed some blurriness or jagginess. This is normal: every time you transform a layer, Photoshop moves its pixels. The more it moves, the worse it gets, and this can become a big problem in projects with a lot of “get bigger/get smaller” changes.
Smart objects are Photoshop’s solution to this problem. You decide which layers should become Smart Objects, and Photoshop remembers your pixels and protects them from permanent damage. Now, every time you rotate, resize or apply an effect to a Smart Object layer, Photoshop calculates the final result based on those original pixels, giving you perfect image quality every time.
As you can imagine, Smart Objects are a much smarter way to handle compositing. For example, you can create a large version of a website icon, then convert it to a Smart Object and use it at a smaller size in your final design. If the client decides to make it bigger, just click on a conversion tool to change it to the size you want without any blurring or loss of quality.
To convert a layer or group of layers to a Smart Object.
- Select the layer in the Layers panel.
- Right-click and select Create Smart Object.
To edit the original contents of a Smart Object. 1.
- In the Layers panel, right-click the Smart Object you want to edit.
- Select Edit Contents.
- Photoshop opens the contents of the Smart Object in a new window as a separate temporary file.
- when you have made your changes, click File > Save.
- go back to your original file – you should see an updated version of your Smart Object.
Using layer masks
If you want to hide parts of a layer without deleting pixels, layer masks are your new best friend. They’re so easy and convenient, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.
The logic behind layer masks is simple
– everything that is 100% white shows 100% of your layer – everything in between shows pixels with different opacity levels.
Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.
To add a layer mask to a layer.
- Select the part of the layer you want to keep or hide.
- Go to Layer > Layer Mask and select Show Selection or Hide Selection.
- you should see a layer mask next to the layer thumbnail.
Tip: If you want to show or hide an entire layer with a mask, you do not need to make a selection. Just select a layer, go to Layer > Layer Mask and select Show All or Hide All.
To edit a layer mask.
- Click on the thumbnail of the layer mask.
- use any Photoshop tool to start editing (brush, eraser, effects, etc.).
To remove a layer mask.
- Select the layer in the Layers panel.
- go to Layer > Layer Mask > Delete
Using clipping masks
This technique is very similar to the layer masks mentioned above, but a little different and more flexible.
With layer clipping masks, you can use the transparency of one layer as a mask for one or more layers above it. It’s actually easier to do than explain, so fire up Photoshop and let’s try it out.
- Layer two or more layers on top of each other. Put the layer you want to use as a cut mask on the bottom.
- Select the top layer and go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask (or click Alt + Ctrl + G on Win systems / Option + Ctrl + G on Mac systems).
- Your layer will be masked by the layer below.
Quickly hide all layers except the selected layer.
If you’ve been using Photoshop for a while, you probably know that you can show or hide a layer by clicking on the eye icon in the Layers palette.
But did you know that by holding down the Alt (Win)/Option (Mac) key and clicking on the eye icon, you can instantly hide all layers except the selected one?
Very handy when you want to clear the canvas so you can concentrate on the details.
quickly increase/decrease the brush size.
This one is really simple but indispensable: use the left bracket to decrease the brush size and the right bracket to increase it.
converting between dotted text and paragraph text
If you want to convert straight text to paragraph text without the work of copying and pasting, Photoshop offers a simple but little-known solution.
Right-click on the text layer in the Layers panel and select Convert to Paragraph Text or Convert to Dotted Text, depending on what you are working on. That’s it!
Move a selection or a shape when creating it.
If you hold down the space bar while creating a selection or shape object, you can move it around on the canvas. This is especially useful when using a circle selection to separate a simple circular object from an image.
Embellish photos with Instagram-style actions.
The retro look is here to stay, and Instagram knows it. Its photo filters are so appealing that few users post “normal” photos anymore. Moreover, the retro look is making a strong comeback in terms of design and illustration.
However, achieving this particular look requires some manipulation of curves, vignetting effects and the like. Although this is a great exercise in colour manipulation, sometimes it’s easier to use pre-made actions.
Check out these resources to get started.
- 10 Photoshop actions to create Instagram-style effects.
- Photoshop Actions for Instagram Filters
- Photoshop actions for Instagram Valencia
Photoshop is a great app and working fast is key to getting good results quickly. It helps to know some basic shortcuts, tips and tricks for common or repetitive tasks.