The first time you open Adobe Photoshop, it is easy to click around in confusion for a minute and then grab your freelancer phone number instead. Trust us, you are not alone in this.
It’s incredibly powerful design software that has a lot going on, including a wealth of tools that can be overwhelming at times. But Photoshop isn’t just for professionals.
With a little help, you can easily teach yourself how to use it to create beautiful, compelling graphics. All it takes is an introduction to the core elements – in plain English.
To get you started, we’ve picked 12 of the most useful tools in Photoshop, explaining what they do, where to find them, how to use them, and some tips and tricks to get the most out of them. We’ve also added some great resources in case you want to learn more about a tool.
What it does: A layer can be used for an image, text, brush strokes, background colors, patterns and filters.
I like to think of layers as sheets of glass stacked on top of each other that you use to create an end product. Each sheet can be changed individually without affecting the entire project. This saves you a lot of time when editing individual elements of your graphic.
Layers are by far the most important element of Photoshop – and one of the reasons a lot of people throw up their arms in frustration in my opinion. But once you understand how they work, I promise you that they will make your life a lot easier.
Where it is: It has its own module by default in the lower right corner of your Photoshop screen. It can also be accessed by clicking “Level” on the top menu bar.
Pro tip: Always name your levels. Keeping them organized will keep you sane, especially when you’re working on a project with a large number of levels.
In the top menu bar, select Layer> New> Layer …
The selected layer is highlighted in blue. In order to edit a specific part of your image, you need to select that specific layer.
You’ll also notice that there is an “eye” icon next to each layer: click this icon to toggle the eye on and off, which toggles the visibility of that layer as you work.
First, select a layer or group in the Layers panel. Next, either drag the layer or group onto the Create New Layer button, or right-click the layer to select “Duplicate Layer” or “Duplicate Group”. Enter a name for the level or group and click OK.
Pro tip: You can do all sorts of cool things with layers – believe it or not, animated GIFs are one of them. Check out our step-by-step tutorial here.
For more information on adding, deleting and duplicating layers in Photoshop, see this video tutorial.
2. The color and swatch tool
What it does: The Color & Swatches tool lets you use, change, copy, and save custom colors for your content. While this may seem like a pretty self-explanatory element, it has powerful features that keep your visual content alive and unify your color schemes.
Where it is: By default, it has its own module in the top right corner of your Photoshop screen.
Another place to find the paint tool is at the bottom of the toolbar on the left, indicated by two overlapping boxes:
To create your own color:
Open the color picker by double-clicking the upper field either in the color module or in this menu on the left.
From there, you’ll see a vertical spectrum of colors with a slider that you can adjust to create your own color. Alternatively, if you already have a certain color that you know about Hex value (i.e. # 1fb1ee), then type it into the appropriate box to automatically find that color. You can also choose your swatch based on RGB or CMYK values.
Any colors you create can be added to your “Swatches” when you click “Add to Swatches”.
Pro tip: Take your company’s colors and save them as “swatches” so that you can reference and reuse them in your visual content design.
3. Custom fonts and the text tool
What it does: The Text tool allows you to add custom fonts to your database and access advanced font settings that give your text a serious style.
Where it is: The toolbar at the bottom left.
Once you click the text tools icon, all of the settings and font options will appear at the top of the screen. These settings allow you to change the font, font size and spacing between characters, height, width, color and style. Make sure you select the layer of your desired text to edit.
To add text to your graphic:
The text tool works like any other text tool you’ve used. Click the “T” icon in the left bar, drag the text box over a specific area where you want text to appear, and you’re good to go.
When you create a text box, Photoshop generates a layer for it. You can choose color, size, stroke, font style, and a host of other options to change things up.
Pro tip: While Photoshop offers a wide variety of fonts, you can install your own fonts as well. Check out this blog post for a list of 35 beautiful fonts that you can download for free. Then read this post to learn how to install your new fonts in Photoshop so you can use them.
For more information on fonts and the text tool, check out this video tutorial.
4. Custom brushes and the brush tool
What it does: Just like with fonts, you can add your own royalty-free custom brush tips. The brush settings allow you to change the size, shape, and transparency of your brush strokes for a variety of visual effects.
Brushes are a great way to add visual accents to your content. Photoshop starts off with a nice selection of brush tips that you can use to clean up your graphics and create some basic visual effects.
Where it is: The toolbar on the left.
Once you click the Brush Tool icon, all of the settings and brush options will appear at the top of your screen. These settings allow you to change the brush size, opacity, flow, etc. You can find a variety of preinstalled brush tips, as well as custom brush tips that you install in Photoshop. (For royalty-free brushes, visit www.brusheezy.com if you really want to get creative.)
To use the brush tool:
The brush tool is perfect for adding design accents to your content content. Whenever you use the Brush Tool I always recommend adding a new layer so you can’t paint over any of your other elements. You can choose colors from your swatch library or use a custom color.
Changing the brush settings can give your brush a completely different look and style. Don’t be afraid to play around a bit with all of your custom brushes.
5. The selection tool
What is it: When used correctly, this tool allows you to select individual elements and entire graphics, and determine what is copied, cut, and pasted into your graphics.
Where it is: The toolbar on the left.
The selection tool is considered to be one of the most basic and frustrating tools in Photoshop. The first thing you should know is that it only works when a layer is highlighted. So if I want to cut or copy a piece of Layer 4, Layer 4 needs to be highlighted on my Layer’s toolbar. Marked areas are indicated by a flashing dotted line.
Once you remember to pay attention to which layer you are working with, using the selection tool becomes a lot easier.
First, mark the area of your choice. Then just right click and choose what you want to do from the pull-down menu. For example, you can cut objects from a current layer and create your own layer.
To select an image to include in your graphic:
Open the image you want to use in Photoshop and use the selection tool to determine how much of the image you want to copy. When you’ve selected the area of the image, just copy it.
Next, open the tab for your current project and paste it as a new layer. Highlight the level of the objects you want to select. You can move several objects at the same time by marking several layers.
Then right click on your selection and you will have a couple of options including:
ONE) Choose Layer Above Copy to copy the objects from this layer and create your own layer.
Pro tip: To select all of your artwork and include all of the layers, highlight all of the layers and then use the selection tool. When you have determined the area to copy, use the menu bar at the top and click Edit> Copy Merged. This will copy the entire graphic so you can paste it as a layer of its own.
B) Choose “Free Transform” to scale, rotate, move, and flip your selection. (See the Move Tool in the next section of this post for more information.)
Pro tip: A really nifty trick you can do with Free Transform is overlaying Screenshots of a PDF document to create a 3D image, like the following for our introductory Pinterest eBook. Below is a visual overview of the steps. However, you can find step-by-step instructions in this blog post.
For more information on all of the selection tools available in Photoshop, check out this video tutorial.
6. The move tool
What it does: This is a pretty simple tool that you can use to move individual elements of your graphic.
The move tool works for individual layers and for the entire graphic. When you (remember how to do that) mark all of your levels. This is useful when trying to reposition images, text, and other design elements.
Where it is: The toolbar at the top left.
To use the move tool:
Click the move icon in the left menu bar and just drag the objects you want to move. To move all objects in a layer, simply select the layer and use the move tool. You can also right-click the object for more options.
To scale, rotate, move, and rotate things:
With the free transformation tool you can scale, rotate, move and mirror any element in your or several selected layers. Use the shortcut CTRL + T. or Command + T. (for Macs) to launch Free Transform and check out the options that appear at the top of your screen. Shut SHIFT Keys during transformation to maintain the proportions of your elements.
7. The zoom tool
What it does: The Zoom tool lets you zoom in and out on specific areas of an image to see more of a bird’s eye view of what’s happening.
Where it is: Select in the top menu bar view > Zoom in or view > Zoom out.
To use the zoom tool:
Either choose the zoom options from the View menu (as shown above). Press and hold the key to use the keyboard shortcut OLD (PC) or command (Mac) and press + to zoom in and OLD (PC) or command (Mac) and press – to zoom out.
8. The eraser
What it does: The eraser works similarly to the paintbrush tool. You can change the size and hardness of the eraser tip to create a variety of effects such as blending and dissolving. The background eraser uses color differences to erase unwanted areas of the background from your pictures.
The eraser is one of the most useful tools in Photoshop. Yes, I understand that technically it’s just an eraser, but you’ve never used an eraser like this before.
Where it is: The toolbar on the left.
To use the eraser:
Once you click the eraser icon, all of the settings will appear at the top of your screen. These settings allow you to change the eraser size, hardness, and other aspects of the tool.
Like most tools in Photoshop, the eraser only works on a specially selected layer. Make sure you have selected the layer you want before you start deleting.
To use the eraser:
This tool is a time-saving wonder. You can see how easily background colors are removed from images. This is especially useful when you need an object with a transparent background.
To use the eraser in the background, click and hold the eraser icon until the pull-out menu appears. Choose “Eraser”.
Now you can seriously delete it. Adjust the size of the eraser and just click the color you want to delete from the selected layer. Remember to select the layer that you want to erase on.
Pro tip: Haben Sie keine Angst, eine übergroße Radiergummispitze für den Hintergrundradierer zu verwenden. Da bestimmte Farben aus dem Bild entfernt werden, werden nicht ausgewählte Farben nicht gelöscht.
Weitere Informationen zum Entfernen des Hintergrunds eines Fotos in Photoshop oder PowerPoint finden Sie in dieser schrittweisen Anleitung.
9. Das Zuschneidewerkzeug
Was es macht: Mit dem Zuschneiden-Werkzeug können Sie ein Bild zuschneiden. Es funktioniert wie jedes Zuschneidewerkzeug, auf das Sie jemals gestoßen sind: Wählen Sie einfach Ihren Bereich aus und schneiden Sie es aus.
Ich weiß, dass dies ein grundlegendes Werkzeug ist, aber Sie werden es genauso oft verwenden wie jedes andere Werkzeug in Photoshop, insbesondere wenn Sie Ihre Grafik fertiggestellt haben und einen Teil des freien Speicherplatzes an den Rändern bereinigen müssen.
Wo es sich befindet: Die Symbolleiste links.
So verwenden Sie das Zuschneidewerkzeug:
Wählen Sie das im Screenshot angegebene Symbol in der Seitenmenüleiste aus und ziehen Sie das Feld über den Bereich, den Sie zuschneiden möchten. Um die Zuschneidebox anzupassen, klicken und ziehen Sie einfach die kleinen Ankerfelder an den Seiten und Ecken der Zuschneidebox.
Pro tip: Sie können Ihre Leinwand größer machen, als es sein muss, damit Sie mehr Platz zum Verschieben Ihrer Designelemente haben und sie anschließend auf die richtige Größe zuschneiden können.
Read this blog post to learn how to crop images in Photoshop to a specific ratio. If you want to learn some cropping tricks — like how to rotate an image using the Crop tool — then check out this article from Digital Photography School.
10. The Fill Tool
What It Does: The Fill tool, formerly the Paint Bucket tool, fills any solid area with the color of your choice. It’s great for solid backgrounds or coloring large areas. It can also be used to apply patterns to your images. The Gradient tool within the Fill tool lets you create a nice, faded background effect of the color of your choice.
Where It’s Located: On the top menu bar, choose Layer > New Fill Layer. From there, you have the option to choose “Solid Color,” “Gradient,” or “Pattern.”
To fill a solid area with a color:
First, select the layer you’d like to fill with a solid color. Then, from the top menu bar, choose Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color… From there, a “New Layer” window will pop up and prompt you to name the new color fill layer. Don’t worry about choosing the color you want right then and there — simply name the layer and press “OK.”
Next, the Color Picker window will pop up. Here, you can choose which solid color you’d like to fill. Since I’d selected my background layer to fill in (i.e. the color of the sky in my graphic), the color I select in the Color Picker dictates the color of the sky:
To apply patterns to your images:
These patterns can be manually created if you have the time and patience, or you can find a variety of royalty-free patterns available for download through a basic Google search.
To apply a pattern, first select the layer you’d like to fill with a pattern. Then, from the top menu bar, choose Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern... From there, a “New Layer” window will pop up and prompt you to name the new color fill layer. Don’t worry about choosing the color you want right then and there — simply name the layer and press “OK.”
Next, you’ll see the “Pattern Fill” window pop up. From there, you can choose the pattern and its scale. Since I’d selected my background layer to fill in (i.e. the color of the sky in my graphic), the pattern I select in the Pattern Fill changes the sky:
To use the Gradient tool:
To apply a gradient, first select the layer you’d like to fill with a pattern. Then, from the top menu bar, choose Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient... From there, a “New Layer” window will pop up and prompt you to name the new color fill layer. Don’t worry about choosing the color you want right then and there — simply name the layer and press “OK.”
Next, a “Gradient Fill” window will pop up. Play around with these options, including the style, angle, and scale. To choose a different gradient than the one offered by default, click the arrow on the right-hand side of the default gradient to open the Gradient Editor, shown below:
11. The Eyedropper
What It Does: This handy little tool lets you extract and use any color from any image in Photoshop.
Where It’s Located: The toolbar on the left.
To use the Eyedropper tool:
Select the icon from the sidebar. Next, locate that color you would like to extract, and simply click that area to clone the color.
Once you’ve extracted the color, you’ll see it indicated both in the Color module at the top right of your screen, as well as the bottom of the left sidebar. You can double-click that color box to bring up the advanced color picker, where you can then adjust and save the color to a swatch for future use.
12. Blending Options
What It Does: Blending options include quite a number of features to enhance the look or your graphic. For example, you can use the “Outer Glow” effect to make letters appear like they’re glowing. Or you can use the “Drop Shadow” effect to add a shadow to your letters. Take some time to play around with all the layer effects and find out which ones tickle your fancy.
Where It’s Located: From the top menu bar, choose Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options… You can also double-click any layer to bring up the options for that particular layer.
To use Blending Options:
First, select the layer you want to apply your blending options and effects to. Then, open up your blending options and choose the one you’d like to apply. With the variety of options available, you can achieve a number of great effects to finalize your graphics. Have fun with these and experiment on different layers, images, and texts. Here’s a look at what’s offered:
For example, in the image below, I selected my text layer and chose “Bevel & Emboss.” Looks pretty cool, eh?
Before we send you on your way, it’s worth noting that if you’re working with a limited budget and a tight schedule, you can save yourself tons of time and money by using free, royalty-free stock photos. Here’s a list of 17 of the best free stock photo sites you can look through.
Also, Photoshop offers a number of really helpful keyboard shortcuts for things like zooming in and out, changing canvas size, creating a new layer, and so on. Check out this blog post for a full list, including shortcuts for some of the tools mentioned above.
Now, it wouldn’t be realistic to guarantee that you’d be a Photoshop wiz at this point — but that isn’t what this guide designed to do. We hope we’ve provided you with the understanding you’ll need to use the powerful tools in Photoshop in a timely, efficient, non-hair-pulling manner, so that you can elevate your visual content game, like, today.