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Image of Hand Staff Handbook: Tools : Photoshop

Getting Started | The Toolbar | The Menus |Common Tasks | Links to Additional Help

Getting Started

Before you start working with Photoshop, you should at least have read the general section on images.

The features of Photoshop change from version to version, sometimes significantly. Your best reference for up-to-date information about Photoshop is either the integrated help files and tutorials, or the printed documentation (if available).

The Toolbar

When you first open Photoshop, open a new window and take a moment to try out a few of the tools on the toolbar (at right). The tools you should be most concerned with are the pencil tool (pencil icon), the airbrush tool(airbrush icon), the eraser tool (eraser icon), the select tool (select icon) and the crop tool (crop tool icon). The function of each tool is described below.

The pencil tool is used to create very fine lines and dots of a single color. The airbrush tool is used to create softer lines and dots. The eraser tool makes everything in its path the same color as the background, or transparent, depending whether the image has more than one layer.

All of the drawing tools share some common characteristics. Here are a few tips for making effective use of all three:

  1. To draw a straight line, click and hold down the mouse icon at the starting point of the line, then hold down the shift key while dragging in the desired direction.
  2. To draw a line from one point to another, click on the starting point of the line and release, then hold the shift key and click on the desired end point.
  3. To change the cursor to a crosshair, click on the caps lock key.
Photoshop Tool Bar

color control panel The color control panel (see inset) is used to select the foreground and background colors used for drawing operations. The upper left square displays a swatch of the currently selected foreground color, the lower right square displays the background color. Click on either to select a new color from the range of available colors. To select a color already present in the current image, use the eyedropper tool (eyedropper tool icon). If you are already using a drawing tool such as the pencil or airbrush, you can select a new foreground color from the current image by holding the option key and clicking on the desired color. To reset the foreground colors to black and white, click on the small black and white squares to the lower left of the current foreground and background colors.

The rectangular selection tool (select tool icon) is used to select an area of the current image to edit. Once you have selected an area, any changes you make will only affect that area. To move an area that has been selected, or a selection that has been pasted into an image, use the move tool (move tool icon).

The Menus

You should also take a minute to familiarize yourself with the menus in Photoshop.

  • File
    this is quite standard, but pay attention to the Import and Export options. The Import option is where you'll find the option to scan an image (if a scanner is installed). The Export heading includes the option to save in GIF89a format (which is used for GIFs that use transparency).
  • Edit
    includes the standard cut, copy and paste commands, but also contains commands to fill an area, or to transform a layer or selection. The transform commands you'll probably use most often are rotate (see below) and scale.
  • Image
    If you do a lot of converting and resizing, you may use this menu more often than the File and Edit menus. The Mode heading includes the command to switch to indexed color, which you'll need when working with GIFs. The "Image Size" command is used to resize and/or resample an image (see below). The "Canvas Size" command is invaluable when adding space for additional text. Finally, the "Rotate Canvas" command is useful when you need to rotate an entire image (see below), and not just a layer or selection.
  • Layer
    The only thing you'll need for basic work is the "Flatten Image" command, which combines all layers into one.
  • Select
    Tools to change what areas of the image are selected. The "Color Range" command creates a selection based on a color range, which can be quite useful.
  • Filter
    Most of these you probably shouldn't spend your time playing around with, but oh are they fun. If you must try a few filters out, you may actually have a legitimate use for the Sharpen tools.
  • View
    In addition to allowing you to zoom in and out, this panel allows you to show and hide guide and grid lines.
  • Window
    Gives the option to show or hide additional control panels.
  • Help
    self explanatory

Common Tasks

Here are a few common image manipulations Photoshop is often used for. If you've tried out some of the tools and menu options listed above, you may have already figured some of these out.


To rotate an image:

  • Under the Image menu, choose Rotate Canvas and one of the following options:
    • 180º rotates image by a half-turn
    • 90ºCW rotates image clockwise by a quarter-turn
    • 90ºCCW rotates image counterclockwise by a quarter-turn
    • Arbitrary rotates image by your specification, clockwise/counterclockwise, between -359.99 to 359.99 degrees
    • Flip horizontal flips the image along the verticaal axis
    • Flip vertical flips the image along the horizontal axis

To rotate a specific layer or area in an image use the transform command. First select the layer or area to rotate. Then, under the Edit menu, choose Transform and one of the following options:

  • scale
  • rotate
  • skew
  • distort
  • perspective


The most reliable way to resize an image is as follows:

  1. Under the Image menu, choose Image Size .
  2. Check the constrain proportions box.
  3. If you want to change the size of the image without changing the resolution, check the resample image box.
  4. Change the resolution as desired (see the section of the handbook on images for more information).
  5. Under pixel dimensions, enter the new height or width.
    (to change by percentage, change the unit of measurement to percent, then type in the percentage increase or reduction desired.)
  6. Click OK


If an image includes extraneous white space or unneeded content, it is sometimes preferable to crop an image rather than resize it. There are two ways to crop an image:

  • Drag the crop tool (crop tool icon) over the part of the image you want to keep. Click and drag the square handles on the corners and sides of the selected area to change the size of the selected area. To change the size of the selected area while keeping the same proportions, hold down the shift key while dragging one of the handles. While you have an area selected, you can also rotate and resample the area. Once you're happy with the area that's selected, double-click in the center of the selected area to crop the image.
  • Use the rectangular marquee tool (select tool icon) to select the part of the image you want to keep and then chose Crop under the Image menu.

Converting to Different Image Formats

To save a file in a different format such as gif, jpeg, tiff, etc.:

  1. Under the File menu, choose Save As
  2. Type a filename and choose the correct format
  3. Hit save

Some formats are available only in certain color modes or if the image is flattened. You can save a duplicate (flattened version) of the file in those formats by selecting Save A Copy.

To create an image for the web you need to save it as a gif. Under the File menu, choose Export > GIF89a Export.... You'll see a screen like the following:

Links to Additional Help

Photoshop Tutorial at Webmonkey

A good range of introductory material.

Photoshop Tutorials from

If you don't know, is a bunch of mini-sites run by experts on a given topic. This mini-site lists a bunch of tutorials on Photoshop.

Photoshop Tutorials from Adobe

Much more advanced concepts. A warning: many of these demonstrate the use of Photoshop with other Adobe products, which is definitely in their interest but not necessarily in yours. Stick to the tutorials that use Photoshop only and you'll be a lot happier.
Last updated on: Wednesday, 15-Aug-2001 18:07:37 EDT


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