Getting to Know the Photoshop Interface

Become more familiar with the Photoshop interface in this free lesson. It includes interactives to make you more comfortable with the program.

Introduction

Video: Getting Started with Photoshop

Launch "Getting Started with Photoshop" video!Watch the video (5:13).

You can use Photoshop for almost any kind of image editing, such as touching up photos, creating high-quality graphics, and much, much more. In this lesson, we'll introduce you to the Photoshop interface, including how to open files, work with panels, customize the workspace, and change the display size.

Photoshop is a complex application, and it can feel a bit intimidating to use at first. Because of this, we recommend following along with the lesson by downloading our example file (right-click the link to save it). The more hands-on experience you have with Photoshop, the easier it will become to use.

About this tutorial

We'll be using Photoshop CC throughout this tutorial to show you Photoshop's features. If you're using an older version of Photoshop—like Photoshop CS5 or earlier—some features may work a bit differently, but you should still be able to follow along. However, if you're using Photoshop Elements, it's important to note that some of the features we'll discuss may be missing or work in a different way.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Opening files

Most of the time, you'll want to start by opening an existing photo rather than creating a new blank image. Photoshop allows you to open and edit existing image files, such as .jpg or .png files, as well as .psd (Photoshop document) files.

To open a file:

  1. Select Fileright-arrowOpen.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC
  2. A dialog box will appear. Locate and select the file on your computer, then click Open.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC
  3. The file will appear in Photoshop.

If you don't currently have Photoshop open, you can locate and right-click the file on your computer and then choose Open Withright-arrowAdobe Photoshop to open the file.

screenshot of Mac OS X

Overview of the Photoshop interface

Because Photoshop is designed primarily for professional use, the interface may feel a bit complex and intimidating for new users. Even if you have some experience with other image editing software, it's a good idea to become familiar with the different parts of the Photoshop interface.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to become more familiar with the Photoshop interface.

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Document window

When you open an image file, it will appear in the document window. At the top of the document window, you’ll see the file name, along with the current zoom level. In our example, you’ll notice that we’re viewing the document at 42.1% of its full size.

Drawing tools

You can think of these a bit like real-life drawing tools. For example, the Brush tool allows you to draw on the image, while the Eraser tool allows you to remove parts from the image. For example, when you erase part of a layer, it will allow any layers below it to show through.

In the example below, we've erased part of a black and white layer that's above a color layer, allowing the color to show through.

Selection tools

These tools allow you to draw a selection around certain areas of the current document. The default selection tool shown in the example below is the Rectangular Marquee tool.

Other tools, like the Lasso and Magic Wand, allow you to select specific objects without selecting the background. Once you’ve selected part of an image, there are many different things you can do with the selection.

Tools panel

This is one of the most important features in Photoshop—it's where you'll select different tools for editing your images. Once you've chosen a tool, you'll be able to use it with the current document.

Layers panel

Here, you can see the different layers in the current document. You can turn each layer on and off by clicking the eye icon.

We’ll talk much more about layers throughout this tutorial.

Control panel

From here, you’ll be able to customize the settings for the currently selected tool. For example, if you’re using the Brush tool, you’ll be able to change the brush size, brush tip, and more.

Type tool

This tool allows you to add text to the current document. For example, you might use this feature to create your own holiday card or invitation.

Shape tool

This tool allows you to insert shapes, such as squares, lines, and ellipses, in the current document.

Color Picker tool

Here, you can select the colors for various tools, such as the Brush tool, the Gradient tool, and many others.

Menu bar

This is where you’ll access different commands to use in Photoshop. For example, from the File menu, you can open and save files. The Image menu allows you to make various adjustments, such as the image size, whereas the Filter menu gives you access to more advanced tools and effects.

We’ll talk much more about the various commands on the Menu bar throughout this tutorial.

Working with Tools and other panels

The Tools panel

The Tools panel is one of the most important features in Photoshop—it's where you'll select different tools for editing images. Once you've chosen a tool, you'll be able to use it with the current document. Your cursor will change to reflect the currently selected tool.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

You can also click and hold to select a different tool. For example, you can click and hold the Rectangle tool to select different Shape tools, such as the Ellipse, Line, or Custom shape tools.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Showing and hiding panels

You'll also be able to view and modify a lot of information about the current document through the other panels in the workspace For example, you can view the document's layers in the Layers panel. To show or hide any panel, click the Window menu, then select the desired panel—currently visible panels are indicated by a check mark. In the image below, we're using the Window menu to turn on the History panel:

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

You can use the double-arrows to expand or collapse panels. This can be helpful if you want to temporarily hide a panel without removing it from the workspace.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

You can also press the Tab key on your keyboard to show or hide all active panels.

Moving panels

If you want to change a panel's location, you can move it by clicking and dragging the panel to a new part of the workspace.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

However, if you're planning to follow along with our tutorial, we recommend keeping most panels in the default location for now. To reset the panels to their default positions, select Windowright-arrowWorkspaceright-arrowReset Essentials. Note that this process may vary depending on which version of Photoshop you're using. For example, in Photoshop Elements, you'll go to Windowright-arrowReset Panels.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

For even more information about organizing panels, you can check out this tutorial from Adobe.

Customizing the Photoshop environment

If you want to customize Photoshop, you can adjust the default application settings. Most of these options are pretty technical, but we'd like to show you two basic adjustments you may find helpful.

To adjust the default unit:

By default, a document's dimensions are measured in inches. If you're not primarily editing images for prints, we recommend changing this setting to pixels.

  1. Select Editright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowUnits & Rulers. If you're using a Mac, select Photoshopright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowUnits & Rulers.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC
  2. A dialog box will appear. Under Units, click the menu next to Rulers, select Pixels, and click OK. You may need to quit and restart Photoshop for the changes to take effect.
    Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

To adjust the text size:

If you'd like the text of the Photoshop interface to be larger or smaller, you can adjust the application's text size.

  1. Select Editright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowInterface (or Photoshopright-arrowPreferencesright-arrowInterface on a Mac).
  2. Under Text, click the menu next to UI Font Size, then select the desired size. You may need to quit and restart Photoshop for the changes to take effect.
Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

Changing the zoom level

When you're editing an image in Photoshop, you'll often be viewing it at less than 100% of its full size. That's because most modern digital cameras take large, high-resolution photos. These images are so large, in fact, that most computer screens can't display all of the pixels in the image at once. This is actually a good thing, because it means you'll have extra detail to work with as you edit the image.

If you want to zoom in or out, simply press Ctrl+ or Ctrl- (hold the Ctrl key and then press the + or - key). If you're using a Mac, you'll press Command+ or Command-.

In the example below, you can see a document at 44.4% of its full size. Notice that you can see the current zoom level at the top of the document window, as well as in the bottom-left corner of the screen.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

By contrast, the example below shows the same image at 100% (full size). Notice that only part of the image is visible at this zoom level. If desired, you can use the horizontal and vertical scroll bars to view other parts of the image.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop CC

To zoom the image to fit the document window, press Ctrl+0 (hold the Ctrl key and then press the zero key). If you're using a Mac, you'll press Command+0.

Depending on your computer's graphics card, some zoom levels (such 33.33% and 66.67%) can cause the image to appear pixelated. If this happens, you may want to zoom to 25% or 50% instead.

Use the keyboard shortcuts above to adjust the zoom level of the example file.

Once you've become familiar with the Photoshop interface, you're ready to start editing images. We'll talk more about some of the most basic adjustments you can make—such as cropping, resizing, and rotating—in the next lesson.