Getting Started with Photoshop: Tools

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This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Getting Started with Photoshop

Getting Started with Photoshop

Layer Shortcuts and Tasks

  • Rename layers by double-clicking on the layer name.
  • Change the transparency of a layer by changing its opacity with the Opacity slider, or typing a value into the Opacity box (which is visible when you have the Selection, Move, or Crop tools selected).
  • Duplicate a selected layer by pressing Ctrl-J (Command-J on a Mac). You can also duplicate a layer by dragging it while pressing the Alt (Option) key.
  • Select multiple layers by holding down Ctrl (Command on a Mac) and clicking the layer names. This forms a temporary link between the selected layers that allows you to move them as one unit, delete them all, and so on.
  • You can also link layers together. Select layers by clicking on them while holding down Shift or Ctrl (Command on a Mac). Once you have selected all the layers you wish to link, click the Link Layers button at the bottom-left of the Layers palette (signified by the chain). Linking layers allows the link relationship to remain even after you select a different layer (unlike the process of simply selecting multiple layers).
  • To unlink all the layers, select one of the linked layers and go to Layer > Unlink Layers. To unlink a single layer, select the layer you wish to remove from the link and click its corresponding link icon; the other layers will stay linked. To temporarily unlink a layer, hold down Shift and click on its link icon (a red “X” will appear over the link icon). Reactivate the link by holding down Shift and clicking the link icon again.
  • Rearrange layers by dragging the layer above or below other layers. Use the “move down” shortcut Ctrl-[ (Command-[ on a Mac) and the "move up" shortcut Ctrl-] (Command-]) to move selected layers up and down. Shift-Ctrl-[ and Shift-Ctrl-] (Shift-Command-[ and Shift-Command-] on a Mac) will bring layers to the very top or the very bottom of the stack.
  • Select a layer by using the keyboard shortcuts Alt-[ and Alt-] (Option-[ and Option-] on a Mac). These keystrokes let you move up and down through the layers in the Layers palette.
  • Create a new layer by pressing Shift-Ctrl-N (Shift-Command-N on a Mac). This will bring up the New Layer dialog box. Want to create new layers quickly without having to deal with the dialogue box? Simply press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-N (Shift-Command-Option-N).

Merge a layer into the one beneath it by pressing Ctrl-E (Command-E). If you have selected layers, this shortcut will merge those selected layers together.

Quick Keyboard Shortcuts
Naturally, most of the tools in the toolbox have a keyboard shortcut. You can learn each tool’s shortcut by hovering your cursor over a tool for a few seconds: a tooltip box will appear, displaying the name of the tool and its shortcut. If additional tools are available in the flyout menu, you can cycle through them by pressing Shift-[keyboard shortcut]. Keyboard shortcuts can save you valuable time — pressing “V” to bring up the Move Tool is certainly a lot quicker than moving the cursor over to the toolbox to select it. It may not seem all that significant right now, but the time you take to access tools will add up over the course of a project! For your convenience, whenever I mention a tool, I’ll list its shortcut in parentheses, e.g., the Move Tool (V).

Tooltip for a keyboard shortcut

Photoshop Toolbox

You’ve probably been hanging out to get stuck into the very nifty Photoshop toolbox. In this section, I’ll introduce some of the most frequently used tools found in the toolbox. I’ll discuss some of the other tools in later chapters as we apply them to solutions.

Finding the hidden tools

You’ll notice that some of the tool icons have small black triangles in their bottom right-hand corners. These icons contain hidden treasures! The triangle indicates that there are more related tools available; if you click on the tool icon and hold it down, a “flyout” menu will appear,displaying the additional tools.

Secret Selections
Selections can have varying levels of transparency, known as the degree of opacity. It’s actually possible to make a selection with an opacity of 100% in one area, but only 20% in another area. If a selection contains any pixels for which the opacity is more than 50%, they will be displayed with a border of dotted lines. Photoshop won’t visibly outline areas with less than 50% opacity (though they will still be selected). Selection tools automatically select at 100% opacity. We’ll learn about creating transparent selections using Quick Masks and alpha channels later in this chapter.

Selection Tools

You can use the selection tools to select certain areas of your document for editing. If you use a selection tool, only the area that’s selected will be affected by any changes you make. You can “feather” selections (specify a fuzzy radius for them) using the Feather field in the options bar. The example at the top of the next page shows two rectangles: one created by filling in a selection with a feather of zero pixels, and one that’s created by filling in the same selection with a feather of five pixels.

“Fuzzy” edges with feathered selections

The Marquee tools

Marquee tools (M) are used to create rectangular or elliptical selections, including selections that are “single row” (one pixel tall, stretching across the entire width of the document) and “single column” (one pixel wide, stretching through the entire height of the document). To make single-row or single-column selections, click with the appropriate tool on the image area where you want to select a row or column.

Lasso tools

You can use the Lasso tools (L) to create freeform selections. The Lasso Tool comes in three different forms:

  • Lasso Tool (L) – Click and drag the Lasso Tool to draw aselection area. Releasing the mouse buttonwill close the selection by joining the start and end points with a straight line.
  • Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) – Click at different points to create vertices of a polygonal shape. Close the selection by moving your cursor to the beginning and clicking once, or pressing the Enter key.

No Selection Sometimes Equals All Selected
If you’ve made a selection, only the pixels within the selection are active and can be worked on. Some tools can be used without making a selection at all. However, be aware that if you have not made a specific selection, Photoshop will assume that you are working on the entire layer and any changes you make will affect all pixels in the layer.

  • Magnetic Lasso Tool (L) – If you think you need help with making your selection, try the Magnetic Lasso Tool. Photoshop will attempt to make a “smart” selection by following the edges of contrast and color difference. Click once near the “edge” of an object and follow around it — Photoshop will automatically lay down a path. You can also click as you follow the line to force points to be created on the path. Close the selection by pressing the Enter key or clicking at a point near the beginning of the selection.

Using the Magic Wand to create a selection

Magic Wand

The Magic Wand Tool (W) selects areas of similar color. You can change the tolerance (how close the color values should be to the sampled color in order to be selected) of a Magic Wand selection, and choose whether you want the selection to be contiguous (pixels that are touching) or not (in which case, matching colors across the entire document will be selected).

Selection Shortcuts and Tasks
Hold the Shift key to add another selection to the first. Hold the Alt key (Option key on a Mac) to subtract your new selection from the first. Hold Shift-Alt (Shift-Option) to select the intersection of your first and second selections. Use the arrow keys to move the selection pixel by pixel. If you feel that this doesn’t move your selection quickly enough, hold down Shift and use the arrow keys to move the selection ten pixels at a time. Press Ctrl-J (Command-J on a Mac) to copy the selection into its own layer. To cut the selection into its own layer, press Shift-Ctrl-J (Shift-Command-J). If this seems familiar to you, it’s because I mentioned earlier how to copy a layer using the same keyboard shortcut. Now that you know that not selecting anything sometimes means that everything is selected, it makes sense that simply by selecting a layer in the Layers palette, you can copy the entire layer by pressing Ctrl-J (Command-J). To deselect a selected area, click outside of it with one of the Marquee tools, or press Ctrl-D (Command-D on a Mac). To reactivate your last selection, press Shift-Ctrl-D (Shift-Command-D).

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