The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 1: The Toolbox

Photoshop is one of the most intimidating programs for any beginner, but has powerful image editing ability for any skill level. Look through a fresh install of CS5, and learn the basic tools and info to help you get started.

Out of the box, this is what your default CS5 installation will look like. It looks even more intimidating than older versions, so let’s spend a few minutes taking a basic look around the program, demystify it, and get you editing your photographs, painting, or whatever you might want to do with your fresh install.


Starting your Custom Workspace

You’re going to want to move your panels and palettes around in an effort to get comfortable with your new install. In this area of your screen, you’ll see various “Workspaces,” which are the various arrangements of said palettes and panels. This can be helpful, because you might want a different arrangement for editing photos than you’ll use if you are also a painter or designer.
CS5 autosaves your changes to your workspaces, so create a new, custom one to play around in. You can always edit your stock Workspaces to fit your liking later.

Click the to bring up the contextual menu. Create a “New Workspace” and name it anything you like. Use your own name, or anything that suits you. Make certain to pick “Keyboard Shortcuts” and “Menus” as you can edit both of them and tie them to your workspace.

Click your new workspace and feel free to play around in it.

Customizing the Toolbox

The toolbox is where you get all your mouse or cursor-based tools. By default, it is locked to the side of the screen in a panel area. By clicking the arrow, you can bring up a condensed version in your panel. The is a toggle, that will switch between the two versions.You can also click and drag the to create a “free floating” version of the toolbox.

The aforementioned double column format of the toolbox. Now that we’ve identified that we can change the shape of the toolbox, let’s briefly look at what’s available in it.

The Options Palette

At the top of your screen, directly under your menus, you’ll see the options palette. When you select different tools, you’ll have the various options you can edit here. Each tool is complex without these options, and can become extremely powerful with knowledge of its options.

What’s in the Toolbox?

Rectangular Marquee Tool: Shortcut key . The basic selection tool, marquee, AKA “Marching Ants” allows you to select areas of layers or flattened photographs. Shift + M  will cycle through to the various other selection tools, including the ellipse tool. You can hold Shift while drawing marquees to create squares.

Move Tool: Shortcut key . The basic move tool. Once you select an area, choose the move tool to move it around. You can also move whole layers without selecting them.

Lasso Tool: Shortcut key . Another selection tool, allows you to draw quick, shaped selections around parts of your image. Shift + L will cycle through the alternate lasso tools, including Polygonal Lasso and Magnetic Lasso tools.

Quick Selection Tool: Shortcut key . A rough selection tool that works like a paintbrush. Brush around in an area, and Photoshop will read your image and try and guess what you’re trying to select. Press Shift + W to get the indispensible magic wand tool, which is a Bucket Fill or Flood style tool for selections.

Crop Tool: Shortcut key . Draws rectangular selections, then cuts your image down to the rectangle you draw. Very useful for straightening crooked images. Press Shift + C to pick the Slice Tool and Slice Select tools, useful for creating multiple images from a single one, usually for web content.

Eyedropper Tool: Shortcut key . Picks a color from any document you have open. Shift + I will cycle through the tools: Color Sampler, Ruler, and Note Tool.

Spot Healing Brush Tool: Shortcut key . Useful for erasing blemishes, scratches or unwanted noise from images automatically by painting over them. Press Shift + J to find the Healing Brush, Patch Tool, and Red Eye tools.

Brush Tool: Shortcut key . The single most complex tool in the toolbox. Many articles on the brush tool to come, but for now, paint with left mouse clicks, and select different brush styles with right mouse clicks. Shift + B cycles through to the Pencil, Color Replacement Tool, and Mixer Brushes, all worth experimentation.

Clone Stamp Tool: Shortcut key . Another photo-editing brush, Alt and Click to set a “Source” and then paint with the Left mouse button to copy from your source. Shift + S also gives you the pattern stamp tool.

History Brush Tool: Shortcut key . Working in tandem with your History Palette, you can paint “back in time,” so to speak. Use a filter, then selectively undo parts of it with the History Brush. The Art History Brush is buried underneath here, accessible with a Shift + Y.

Eraser Tool: Shortcut key . Erases layers to transparency, and locked or Background Layers down to the Background Color. Shift + E will cycle through the Magic Eraser and the Background Eraser tool.

Gradient Tool: Shortcut key . Clicking and dragging will fill your layer with a basic gradient using your foreground and background tools. The options palette has a lot of different gradients to use. Hidden under the Gradient Tool is the Paint Bucket Tool. Shift + G will cycle through to it. Use the Paint Bucket to fill areas of similar color in your image.

Blur, Sharpen, and Smudge Tools: By default, no shortcut key. These are three photo editing tools that do exactly what they say. Smudge, in particular, can create excellent painterly effects in your images. Left click and hold to bring up the contextual menu and pick the “buried” Sharpen and Smudge tools.

Dodge and Burn Tools: Shortcut key . Dodge and Burn are photo editing tools that lighten and darken images, respectively. This tool is not the zoom tool, as confusing as it may look. Shift + O cycles between the two of them.

Pen Tool: Shortcut key . A nightmarish frustration for beginner users, the Pen Tool is tough to get used to, but a favorite of Photoshop Pros. Similar to the Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator, works in tandem with the Paths Palette. Shift + P will give you alternate Pen tools related to working with paths.

Type Tool: Shortcut key . Allows you to set typography, by default horizonally. Shift + T will give you the Vertical Type Tool, as well as the Type Mask Tools.

Path Selection and Direct Selection Tools: Shortcut key . More tools made for editing paths in the path palette. Ignore unless you’re trying to learn the Pen Tool. Path selection picks whole paths, while Direct Selection picks line segments or points within paths. Cycle with Shift + A.

Custom Shape Tool: Shortcut key . Bizarre tool for creating clipart type vector shapes from a library in the options palette. Shift + U will also give you the more helpful tools for rectangles, polygons, and lines, all helpful for learning paths in Photoshop without suffering through the pen tool.

Zoom Tool: Shortcut key . Yes, this is the real zoom tool and not the Dodge tool. Zoom in with left clicks, zoom out with ALT plus Left Clicks. This is likely the most basic tool in the toolbox.

Hand Tool: Shortcut key . Scrolls your document without using the scrollwheel or scroll arrows. Press and hold the Space Bar at any time to use the quick Hand Tool, release Space to return to your previous tool.

Background/Foreground: The active colors you are painting with. The top color is Foreground, the back Background. swaps the two colors. reverts them to the default colors, black and white.

Quick Mask Mode: Shortcut key . An alternate mode for creating complex selections with the Brush, Eraser, and Paint Bucket tools. The Q key toggles to and from Quick Mask Mode.

Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography
  • Part 8: Filters

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 2: Panels

One of the best features of Photoshop is one of the worst, as well: you are overwhelmed with options. Have a quick look through the default panels and learn more of what Photoshop can do in your hands.


Adjusting Panels

The default panels are snapped to the right side of your PS window. They are a fine set to begin with in Photoshop, and you can always adjust them, hide them, show them, or whatever makes the most sense to you. Photoshop workspaces are largely about personal comfort and have little to do with the so-called “correct” way to use Photoshop.

Your default set of panels from “Essentials” will look like this. If you lose any of them, you can get them back by going to the in the workspace area of your menu bar. You should see an option in the contextual menu that says “Reset” which will reset your workspace to the default panels.

The panels can be condensed by clicking the on the right of the panel. They can further be condensed or expanded by clicking and dragging on the left side of the panels.

It’s also simple to create “Free Floating” panels by clicking and dragging them away from the snapped areas on the left and right.

It can be simpler to edit panels this way, and later return them to the snapped area, grayed out here by Photoshop as they are dragged to become free-floating.

Panels can be added back to the snap area by dragging them to the far right of your PS window. Release your mouse button when your cursor is nearly on the farthest right part of the screen, just within the dark gray window. You should see the blue line illustrated above, telling you you’re setting your new panel set to snap on the side of your screen.

Exploring Default Panels

The “Essentials” workspace is also the default set of panels. These will be what we’ll go over first.
Mini Bridge: Adobe Bridge is an image file browsing program similar to Faststone, XnView, or Google Picasa. CS5 has integrated a smaller version of Bridge to allow more visual browsing of your images within your panels. This can be extremely helpful, although any of the aforementioned programs work just as well, if not better. Bridge tends to be a bit on the pokey side, and uses more resources than you might expect.

Visual browsing within Photoshop, however, is helpful. Bridge loads when you open the panel and ask to “Start Browsing.” Intuitive tools help navigate to folders on your machine; important and frequently used files or folders can be added to Favorites for quick recall later.

When you find an image you wish to load, either double-click it in Mini Bridge, or right click and pick “Open” from the contextual menu.
History: One of the most important features of Photoshop, History allows users multiple levels of undo, allowing you to reverse a long series of mistakes. This can allow you to edit photographs or images more naturalistically, experimenting with effects that may or may not come out correctly.

As you can see, the above image has some random nonsense done to it I’d like to undo entirely.

Opening the History Panel, you can walk backwards through all of the steps you’ve done on your image, or even revert the file by clicking the topmost area, directly below “History.”

You have a great deal more control over your editing with these multiple levels of undo.
Color: A simple panel, color allows you to pick and edit your foreground and background colors without opening the color contextual menu.

You can adjust your Red, Green, and Blue values from 0 to 255. Higher values will give you brighter colors, as you are adding brighter and brighter light to your current color. You can also pick color straight from the rainbow at the bottom of the panel, if that seems more naturalistic.
You can also click the to adjust options, and pick sliders from different color modes. If you are a beginner, you won’t be interested in this until you learn about color modes first.
Swatches: A good resource for beginners and professionals alike, swatches are a panel of saved colors.

By default, CS5 has a saved palette of 122 colors for you to use.

You can create new swatches from your foreground color by simply clicking the and selecting “New Swatch.”

Whatever color you have selected will become available as a swatch.
Styles: As a panel of saved “Layer Effects,” styles can be an interesting way for beginners to start experimenting or veterans to save their most common layer effects for reuse.

Simply clicking any of the default styles will apply them quickly to your active layer. You can manually edit them, or click the  to remove all layer effects.

Many of the defaults may appear strange.

Others may have some limited use.

Many may leave you scratching your head. They are not all useful. However, clicking the will allow you to save whatever effects you have on your current layer, which can prove useful.
Adjustments: The adjustment panel creates layers that change and filter your image dynamically. While you can apply Hue/Saturation, Contrast, or Levels to your photograph, it would be permanent. Adjustments creates new layers on top of your image, that can be adjusted inside this panel.

Clicking “Levels” automatically creates a new adjustment layer.

You are given the option to adjust the Levels sliders and change the contrast of my image.

These changes can be undone without using the history or the undo functions.

Multiple adjustment layers can be stacked, each one dynamically editable at any time, even when the image is saved and reopened. Notice how they appear as separate layers in the layers panel.

The example from earlier, now with the Hue/Saturation and Levels adjustments.
Masks: The masks palette is a method for blocking out parts of layers, reducing them to transparency. This is an elegant, non-beginner way to remove a background from a layer without using effective but destructive editing techniques.

The mask panel has features unique to CS5, and can help even beginner users cut out backgrounds from images with little to no effort.

Layers: Layers are the hallmark feature of Photoshop, allowing users to create 2d images in multiple editable parts.

New art can be created in layers without disturbing separate layers above or below.

Layers can be copied and masked, among other things. Adjustment layers are also  created and managed in this panel.

Layers can be stacked on top of one another, giving weird, fun, or unexpected combinations of effects.

Opacity and Blending Modes are also controlled here. Image editing with layers can quickly create rich images, and makes editing easy.
Channels: Digital images display colors in combinations of primary colors, each with values.

These primary colors are viewable separately your color channels. Beginners can safely ignore the channels panel, as there are few uses for beginner or even intermediate users to use channels.

If you care to play with channels, save your image and experiment. You can find a beginner’s primer on channels here, if you care to learn more before diving in. However, you can do worlds of photo editing without using or even understanding them, so use your own judgment if you prefer to ignore them or learn to use them.
Paths: Another difficult area of Photoshop, paths are vector based primitives operating similar to the ones in Illustrator. Vectors themselves are not difficult to understand, but the Pen Tool is difficult and frustrating for new users to dive into.

While the path panel is very straightforward, and paths and vectors fairly easy to understand, the Pen Tool and Paths in Photoshop are better left for a more in-depth article.

Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography
  • Part 8: Filters

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 4: Basic Menus

Photoshop has a huge menu system with options even advanced users may ignore. For today’s lesson we’ll take a quick tour through them and learn which of them will help you increase your mastery of photo editing.
This is Part 4 of a multipart series on learning Photoshop. Part 1, the Toolbox and Part 2, Photoshop Panels, and Part 3, Layers, are also still available.


The Top Menu

Your menus are laid out as illustrated above. Let’s take a quick look through these and explain the less obvious menu items.

The File Menu

While this is home to obvious things like “Open” and “Close,” there are less obvious items here to look over. Here are some highlights.

Browse in Bridge: Bridge is a program that comes bundled with Photoshop for visual browsing. It allows users to look through their library of pictures rather than looking at empty filenames, similar to Google Picasa. Bridge is a decent program, but it can be annoying to accidentally open it, as it takes longer than you might want to load.
Browse in Mini Bridge: Mini Bridge is a version of Bridge that lives in Photoshop. Easy to use, but loads slowly. Part 2, Panels touched briefly on Mini Bridge.

Open As: A problematic menu item, Open As seems broken and glitchy. The idea is to be able to open one filetype as another, i.e., to open a layered PSD file as a flattened JPG. Any readers that care to comment on this, let me know of your successes or failures. I think it is broken in CS5 as of yet.
Open as Smart Object: Create a smart object from any file simply by opening it. Smart Objects resize and warp from the original file, so if you plan to resize a JPG or other image multiple times, you may want to open it as a smart object. You may want to learn a bit about Smart Objects first, however.
Share my Screen and Create New Review: Adobe CS Live features only available to Photoshop users that choose to register their copy of Photoshop and create an account on

Device Central: Launches a separate program for developing applications for mobile smartphones and other similar devices. Not terribly useful for beginner users.

Save for Web and Devices: A wizard-type program launches that helps you compress your files into web-ready JPG, GIF, PNG, or WBMP file formats. In this case, “Devices” refers to the same mobile smartphones, etc, that “Device Central” refers to.
Revert: Reloads your file from the point it was last saved. You’ll lose all changes and your history. However, this is still often useful.
Place: Insert a separate file into the one currently open. Allows you to resize temporarily as a smart object.
Automate and Scripts: Helpful options for advanced users that have to do lots of repetitive graphic work. Scripts, in particular are quite exciting, and are worth a look, even for basic users. They are both deserve articles of their own, on another day.

The Edit Menu

Another fairly obvious menu, the Edit menu is home to some of PS’s most useful features.

Undo, Step Forward, Step Backward: Undo is a single level of revert you are likely familiar with. is a common shortcut, and you’ll find it will undo your last action as well as redo it. Step Forward and Backward move through your history palette, also covered in Part 2, Panels. This is an another simple way to use the history besides the History Panel.
Cut, Copy, and Copy Merged: You are likely also familiar with Cut, Copy, and Paste, which exist in the edit menu of nearly every program going back to MS Word for DOS. “Copy Merged” is extremely helpful, in that it can copy a multi-layer document as if it those layers were merged.
Fill: Often ignored, Fill is an excellent tool. “Fill” will fill a selection, layer, or channel with your foreground or background color, black, white, or texture, regardless of its content, unlike the bucket or flood fill. CS5 also has Content aware fill, which, given the right file, can attempt to recreate part of your image covered by foreground objects.

Stroke: Creates a linear stroke (read: a line) around your selection with whatever color you care to use. You can adjust line thickness or where in or around your selection you want to draw it. Like fill, it ignores existing content and simply strokes around your selection.

Content Aware Scale: Uses the same technology in “Content Aware Fill” to scale part of an image. Photoshop will make it’s best guess how you want your image to look when you resize with this.
Puppet Warp: New CS5 feature is a very complicated warp that allows users to distort images in complex ways.

Transform and Free Transform: Very useful tools for resizing an image, correcting and creating perspective, and distorting images.
Keyboard shortcuts: A menu for editing and assigning a custom keyboard shortcut for every menu item in Photoshop. Absolutely invaluable for any user.
Menus: Allows users to edit existing menus, hiding features they hate or never use, and highlighting the ones they have trouble seeing, but use frequently. Also incredibly helpful.

Preferences: Many of the quirky problems you have with Photoshop have their controllable settings here. More on the preferences menu and making PS behave better in a later article.

The Image Menu

The image menu allows you to change your color depth and do various other things. What are the most useful options here?

Mode: The color mode is where you set your image to RGB or CMYK, as well as various other types like Lab color or Indexed color, an 8-bit color table based file format. You should never use anything but RGB, unless you care to learn more about image formats and digital imaging.
Adjustments: A sub-menu with areas to adjust Brightness and Contrast, Levels, Curves, as well as Hue/Saturation. There are a host of other options here, all worth exploring. Here are a few of the most important:

Brightness/Contrast: A basic way to adjust lights, darks, and contrast in photographs. Good for beginners and easy to understand.

: A more sophisticated way to adjust your value range in photos.

: An even more complex way to adjust values and channels, allowing users to adjust targeted values with greater accuracy. For experts.

: Yet another menu for adjusting lights, darks and contrast, this one largely for digital photographers.
Hue/Saturation: Adjust the colors of your image, as well as how bright and vibrant they are.
Invert: Black is white, white is black. All of your colors are now their opposite value.
Posterize: A filter that reduces your image to a limited number of colors.
Threshold: Another filter that reduces your image to black and white, completely without gray.

Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, Auto Color: Photoshop will attempt to improve your image automatically by adjusting Tones, Contrast or Color. They are likely inspired by Photoshop Elements (and similar basic photo editors); good tools for beginners.
Image Size: Not to be confused with Canvas Size, Image size will enlarge or shrink your entire image file.

Canvas Size: Will increase the size of the file’s “space” without changing any of your image information.

Image Rotation: Turn your image at 90° or 180° angles, or on “Arbitrary” ones like 21° or -5°.
Duplicate: Create a second open file identical to your file’s current state. Your new file does not retain its history.

The Layer Menu

The homebase for editing your layers, the Layer menu has lots of sub-menus and complex options. Beginner users may wish to look over Part 3 of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, and get a basic primer on using Layers.

New: The sub menu here allows creation of new layers, as well as options for turning your existing layers into your “Background” layer, if you need or want one. You can also “group” layers—similar to putting files in a folder in your OS. This option creates the “folder” for layers to be stored in.
Duplicate Layer: Allows users to make a copy of an existing layer, either in the current document, to a new one, or to another open file.
New Fill Layer/New Adjustment Layer: Two alternate types of layers that are dynamic, and can be edited with numerical values over and over again. See Part 3 of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop to learn more about Adjustment layers.
Layer Mask/Vector Mask: Tools for “masking” or hiding part or all of active layers. Do you know the difference between Vectors and Pixels? They are the basic difference between these two types of masks.
Clipping Masks: This “clips” a layer or layers to the layer transparency below it. Difficult to understand without experimentation. Expect later articles on Clipping Masks, Layer Masks, and Vector Masks here at How-To Geek.
Group Layers/Hide Layers: Multiple layers can be selected in the layers panel, and grouped or hidden here. This instance of “Group” bundles selected layers, rather than creating an empty group.\

Align/Distribute: Tools for arranging layers within your working space, i.e., centering an layer to your entire image, or spacing seven buttonlike objects out evenly on a page.
Merge Down: Combine the current layer or group with the layer below it.
Merge Visible/Flatten Image: Combine all layers in your document. “Merge Visible” will ignore all layers hidden in your Layers Panel, while “Flatten Image” will throw them away entirely. Merge Visible will also leave any transparency you have, while Flatten Image will create a non-transparent “Background Layer” out of all your layered information. See the illustration below for an example.

Above: Original file with Layers Panel, showing the existing layers.

Above: File after “Merge Visible.” Note the the layer transparency.

Above: File after “Flatten Image.” Note the white background added where the image was transparent.

Other Important Menus

The remainder of the menus in Photoshop are nowhere near as complex as these first ones.

The Select Menu: Menus that work with the Marquee, Lasso, and Wand tools, as well as the layers panel. Select All, Deselect, and Reselect work directly with these. When you have an active selection, Invert will select the part of your image you do not currently have selected. You can also select layers in your layers panel here, as well as adjust your selections with the “Modify” sub-menu. You can also enter the “Quick Mask” mode here, described briefly in Part 1 of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

The Filters Menu: The toybox for Photoshop users, Filters allow for all kinds of strange and wonderful distortions of images. Some are useful, many are not. Filters are a big topic, and will require at least an entire article to themselves. Until then, experiment with filters to find some that you enjoy.

The View Menu: The View menu is home to a lot of the more unusual parts of Photoshop, like the ability to change the size and shape of your pixels, as well as basic things like “Zoom In.” Here, you can preview your Print Size (roughly) or quickly zoom to 100% zoom with “Actual Pixels.” You can also turn off annoying things like Snap, Rulers (if you dislike them) as well as clearing your Guides or Slices.

The Window Menu: This is where nearly all of your panels disappear to when they are deleted, including the options panel at the top of your screen and your toolbox, by default on your left.  You can also cycle through your open images at the bottom of the Window menu.

The Help Menu: Last but not least, the Help menu is the basic informational menu every good application should have. Check through it to learn about the tools that elude you, or simply come back to How-To Geek for the next installment of the Guide to Learning Photoshop!

Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography
  • Part 8: Filters

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing

Photoshop is named “Photoshop” for a reason; it’s for editing photographs.  Take a look through some basic photo-editing techniques and learn how you can improve your own family photographs.
This is part 5 of a multi-part series. If you need a primer on the tools and skills covered in part 5, you can start at part 1, and learn about the toolbox. But, if you’re ready, we can cover four techniques that can help you create better memories.

Cropping Images for Better Composition

Oftentimes, when you take a digital photograph, you’ll end up with a lot of information that you may not want. One of the first things you’re going to want to do is learn how to crop your images, and the most convenient way to do this is using the Crop Tool.

Press the key to select your crop tool. Use your mouse to click and drag, creating a box inside your photograph.

You’ll notice a tick-box in the corners of your crop-box. You can move and resize your crop area to select the precise area you wish to crop.

You can press the key to release your crop. You can undo with and redo your crop at any time, if you feel so inclined. Cropping can eliminate areas of your image that you don’t want to see, or can also create a more interesting composition for prints or the web.

Adjusting Contrast with the Levels Tool

Shooting images on overcast days can give you gloomy images that are either too dark or devoid of detail. While the Brightness and Contrast tool is an acceptable way to adjust your images, the best tool to use is usually the Levels tool.

With your photograph open, simply press to open your levels dialog box. By default, this is what it looks like.

The three sliders (the arrows illustrated above) represent Shadows (your photograph’s darkest areas), Mid-tones (the middle darkest areas), and Highlights (the brightest areas of your photo). By adjusting them as illustrated above, brighter whites are created, mildly darker shadows, and the Mid-Tone point is moved closer to the shadows, allowing for more space between the Mid-Tones and the Highlights.

Clicking OK will close the Levels and render them. Immediately, we see more detail in the bird, and our sky is less overcast and gloomy. With little effort at all, you can give your photographs a more naturalistic look and bring out detail you might not have known that you even had!

Adjusting Color-Shifted Lighting

One of the biggest problems with taking pictures indoors is that a lot of indoor lighting will be tinted with a yellow, red, or blue cast. Your eyes may not pick up the difference, but your camera “sees” light very differently than our eyes do. Here’s a simple way to remove reduce the color of an overwhelmingly yellow image.

You’ll want to navigate to Image > Adjustments > Selective Color.

Selective Color is a tool that allows you to adjust your image through various primary colors. These are: Red, Green and Blue, the primary colors of light; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, the primary colors of printing; and also by Whites and Neutrals.

Since our image has a yellow cast to it, I select “Yellows” from the “Color” menu box. You can use the adjustments illustrated above, or find the ones that work for your image. The basic premise is to reduce the color(s) you wish to remove (in this case, Yellow) and, in some cases, add color to the opposing primary colors (in this case, Cyan, Magenta, and Black.) That’s basically a complicated way of saying “less yellow, more red, blue, and black.”

Compared to the original image, the lighting on this now appears as clear and white as natural sunlight and the original looks aged and yellowed. If you notice this yellow cast on your images and want to remove it, this can often be your best bet.

Sharpen Blurry Photographs without Damaging Color

Sometimes dim indoor lighting can give a warm and fuzzy effect to your photography. Unfortunately, the “fuzzy” bit is a problem, as dim indoor lighting tends to make images come out blurry. There are many Photoshop filters that can sharpen an image, but many can damage color or heavily distort an image. This surprisingly easy trick can help sharpen shots and keep color intact.

Lab color is an alternate color space, like RGB and CMYK. It is unusual and most digital art files outside of the professional photography world will not use it.
In order to switch your photograph to Lab color, to go Image > Mode > Lab Color, as illustrated above.

Changing images to CMYK will give you a color shift—not so with Lab color. Your RGB image remains identical without any sort of color shift. On to the next step.

Flip to your Channels Panel. If you cannot find it, you can always retrieve it by going to your menu Window > Channels.

Pick the “Lightness” channel, which will look like a grayscale version of your image.

If your image doesn’t change to grayscale, try again. We need to work exclusively in this grayscale channel for this tip to work.

Navigate to Filters > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Unsharp Mask can increase contrast and tighten edges Photoshop perceives in images. The illustrated values are overdoing it somewhat—find values that work well with your own image.

Still in our Lightness channel, renders our filter. Oftentimes the Unsharp Mask filter can create to many harsh darks, so for this particular soft image, a round of Level adjustment can help counter the harshness of the filter.

brings up the levels tool. Adjusting the Midtones and Highlights (as in the example earlier) can create a softer look without sacrificing the faux-sharpness added to the image.

Our final result is a fair improvement over the soft-edged original. You can return your image to RGB color by navigating to Image > Mode > RGB and save it as a PSD or JPG file. It’s also a good habit to save multiple versions of your Photographs in order to return to the original, effectively undoing your edits if needed.
Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography
  • Part 8: Filters

Come back to How-To Geek for the next installment of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, where we’ll cover tools for design, painting, and filters to create great works of digital art!
All images created by the author, hereby released under Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License.

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 6: Digital Art

For artistic readers, Photoshop offers digital painting options few other painting or photomanipulation programs can equal. Whether you want to draw for a living, or simply want to paint for fun, learning the painterly side of Photoshop is very rewarding.
If you’ve always wanted to make digital art, but haven’t ever taken the time to learn Photoshop, this primer will help you get started laying down digital paint quickly and easily. If you need a primer on the basics of Photoshop first, you can always start with any of the other parts of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, beginning with Part 1, The Toolbox.


Getting Started With the Brush Tool

The Brush tool, shortcut key , is the Holy Grail of Photoshop tools. It is likely the most complex of all the tools in the program, at least in regard to its useage. There are a host of options on the Brush panel, all of which new digital artists should make effort to familiarize themselves with. If you cannot find the Brush Panel, go to Window > Brush to open the panel.

CS5 has yet more options for the Brush tool at the top of the screen, in the options panel. Here you can adjust your opacity and other options—however we’ll return to this in a moment to better illustrate how they work.

You’ll find that right clicking in your workspace opens yet ANOTHER options panel for the Brush tool. For our demonstration purposes, we’ll avoid using the arcane looking brush panel in the first screenshot, and mostly use the options panel and the right-click contextual menu from the last two screenshots. Again, readers are advised to experiment with the complex Brush Panel on their own, and check back for more thorough guides on the brush tool at a later date.

Do I Need a Graphics Tablet?

While they are not absolutely needed for any sort of digital painting, USB Graphics Tablets enhance your Photoshop experience greatly. They are not cheap, although there are some alternate brands or introductory products that cost $100—$200, while the most expensive ones run as high as $2,000.

Many of Photoshop’s best brush features are not usable without a pressure sensitive tablet. The benefit is not simply being able to draw with the pen-like stylus, but being able to draw with pressure sensitivity a mouse does not allow.

WACOM is the most common name in Graphics tablets, but is not the only company that creates them. The tablet illustrated above is the Waltop Venus, from the Taiwanese company Waltop.
Buy (or don’t buy) a tablet according to your needs. If you think you will get a lot of use out of it, then a $100 to $300 investment may be worthwhile to you. There are surprisingly excellent options available, even at the lower costs. In the end, you will know if you will get enough use out of it to justify it; simply don’t be afraid to buy the entry level unit if the more expensive ones are too much of an investment.

Learning the Brush Tool

to create a blank new file. Walk through this experiment to get a better understanding of the brush tools available to you.

This is a decent setting for your experimental brushwork. Right-click to bring up the contextual brush menu and select the first standard brush, “Soft Round.” You can adjust your size here with the top slider, if desired.

A black color stroke with this setting should look like this.

Look to your options panel and set your “Opacity” down to 50%, as shown above.

The same clicking and mouse dragging will now produce this color stroke, as it is painting a more translucent, see-through black with this opacity setting.

Right-click to bring up your brush contextual menu again, and this time pick the second option, “Hard Round.”

Keep your same opacity setting as before.

Notice the smooth line you’ve drawn. “Hardness,” which scales from 0% to 100% affects the “fuzziness” or blurriness of the lines you draw.

Similar to Opacity, is the setting for “Flow.” Return your opacity to 100% and set your “Flow” to 50%.

You can see immediately the line drawn is different.

Zooming in shows us how this same brush is drawn differently, in this repeating pattern. This is the major difference between the Opacity and Flow, and something that confuses even professional Photoshop painters.

“Airbrush Mode” is another fairly confusing option. Nearly every version of CS Photoshop will have this airbrush icon in the options panel. Click it on and we’ll learn the difference.

This is the correct brush setting to use for this demonstration. You’ll need a “soft” brush with a wide tip at whatever size you care to use.

Click in your image and hold your mouse button down. You’ll notice that with “Airbrush mode” on, your dark pigment will continue to paint as long as your mouse is held down. It will also spill out from inside your cursor area.

With airbrush mode off, however, you’ll find clicking and holding the mouse button only gives you a single blot of pigment, not the continuous stream that the Airbrush mode gives. It can be helpful to know the difference, and to experiment with what works better for you.

Drawing with Pressure Sensitivity

Continuing to use the same brush, we break out the graphics tablet and select this far right option on the top panel, “Tablet pressure controls size.”

A brush stroke with increasing pressure creates this mark that starts small and grows. It is uniformly dark through out.

There is another option, “Tablet pressure controls opacity,” which will change opacity with less pressure, allowing for lighter tones for lighter pressure.

This looks like so, with the grayer tones on the left, and the heavier, harder pressure tones on the right.

Below the first row of “basic” brushes are sets that use pressure sensitivity in more interesting ways.

Some of them are strange and unusual, and react to your paintbrush strokes in weird ways. This one reacted to the tilt of the stylus in relation to the tablet.

Others can create nice, naturalistic marks. You can see the opacity setting layering nicely in these brush marks.

In addition to pressure sensitivity, some brushes can be set to follow the direction of the brush stroke.

Others come set standard with the “Scatter” options. A single brush stroke created all of this effortlessly.

Similar to the stars, this leaf pattern scatters, rotates, and even creates leaves of different opacities based on pressure sensitivity.

Digital Inking and Painting with Photoshop

Rather than scanning, it can be quicker to take digital photographs of drawings for digital inking. Here’s a quick look at how to use these brush techniques to create a quick image.

You should work at good print resolutions whenever possible. Once you have your final sketch image, you can go to Image > Image Size to adjust the dimensions.

300 pixels per inch is a fairly standard print resolution. Enlarging this image to 10 inches in width will create a 3,000 pixel wide image, resulting in something over 12 megapixels. Work at whatever size suits you.

Create a solid color adjustment layer on top of your photograph. Any color will do, although light ones work the best.

Selecting a light pink color, change your “Blending Mode,” highlighted blue above, to “Screen.”

Your image is now toned down and ready to be digitally inked.

Create a new layer on top to draw your ink lines in. Select the Brush tool or the Pencil tool to ink your image.

Pressure sensitivity makes inking quick and easy.

A single brush size easily draws all the various line thicknesses.

To add color to the image, it can be helpful to create new layer with  , then creating a new group for it. Be sure to create it underneath your digital ink layer.

The bucket fill combined with the brush tool quickly fill areas of the image with colors or solid blacks.

If you use the bucket fill with multiple layers, you’ll want to check “All Layers” on the right side of the options.

Add new layers for each new color or work in a single layer, depending on your preference.

Sloppy painting while working in layers is easy to work around.

Moving sloppy painting below other, tighter layers can quickly clean them up and save you the effort of being neat.

With flat tones complete, we can move along to painting in shading and a value range to the image.

Reducing the flow and setting the pressure setting to “Opacity,” we can brush on some colors onto each of our layers.

While similar painting can be done with a mouse, the time savings of quick, pressure sensitive brush movements are immense. The entirety of this painting and inking was done in shortly over 20 minutes.

At this point, simply work as you see fit, adding shadows, then highlights.

Some quick brushwork can make the foreground and background feel more complete together.

While she’s hardly perfect, this quick study is a fair showcase of the kind of painting Photoshop is capable of—except this is hardly the extent of what can be done. Experiment with the brush tool for yourself, and find what works best for you.
Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography
  • Part 8: Filters

Come back to How-To Geek for the next installment of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, where we’ll go over basics for beginner designers and cover some of Photoshop’s many filters.

Image Credit: Painting, character and all artwork created by the author, protected by copyright. Please request permission before any use.

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 7: Design and Typography

Programs like Photoshop have allowed new generations of would-be designers jump in and create with greater ease than ever before. See just how easy it is by learning the Type Character Panel, and applying it to some basic design work.
Having covered the text tool briefly in Part 1, The Toolbox, and creation of text objects in Part 3, Layers, let’s take a closer look at how to set typography in Photoshop. Of course, if you’ve missed any part of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, each are still available in this bundled link.


Fonts and the Character Panel

While vector programs like Adobe Illustrator are superior choices for handling abstract shapes like fonts, Photoshop is no slouch in the Typography department. It is capable of nearly any typographic treatment Illustrator is capable of, and some that it isn’t.

The character panel can be found by going to Window > Character, if it is not already in your right side panel. It is rich with options for your text, which we’ll go over now. Be warned, that this section contains complicated typographic terms that you may or may not know. Brush up on your typography terms with the How-To Geek article, “Understand Typography Like a Professional Designer,” or simply keep reading.
Font Family: Where you chose the font your text object is set in, for example, Helvetica, Arial, Times New Roman, etc.
Font Style: If you have font families installed, your “font style” may be active, this is where you can choose alternate versions of the same face. For instance, Arial Bold, Arial Narrow, Arial Condensed, Arial Rounded MT, Arial Black, etc.
Font Size: Where you can numerically alter the size of your font. Type in numbers here or use the pulldown menu for suggested common point sizes.
Leading: Typographic term for the space between lines of paragraph text, set in points.
Kerning: Horizontal spacing between pairs of letters. Negative numerical values here will close spaces between characters while positive values will add space between letters.
Tracking: Similar to the concept of Kerning, Tracking adjusts the general kerning over an entire text object or over several selected letters. You can adjust tracking on a text object, and then kern between individual letters, if you wish.
Vertical Scale: A controlled way to stretch and squash typography up and down. Input numerical values here in percent of the original character height.
Horizontal Scale: A controlled way to stretch and squash typography to the left and right. Input numerical values here in percent of the original character width.
Baseline Shift: The baseline is the line the text “rests” on. Move certain selected characters off the baseline to make them appear higher or lower than the rest of the set text.
Text Color: An area where text object color can be adjusted.
Language: Adjusts the language the text is set in, in case non-English characters are needed.
Anti-Aliasing: Options for rendering text in pixels by adjusting the amount of pixel blurring used to describe the edges of type. “None” renders letters in hard-edged pixels, while all others use various forms of anti-aliasing.

Faux Bold and Other Character Panel Options

Faux Bold: The size of your current font is artificially thickened to create an artificial bold font. Using an actual bold font in the “Font Family” or “Font Style” is generally preferable.

Faux Italic: Your current font is artificially slanted to the right, creating a false italic look. Again, using an actual italic font in the “Font Family” or “Font Style” is preferable.

Uppercase: Transforms your type into all uppercase. Very useful in those cases where it is time consuming to retype large sections of upper and lower case text.

Small Caps: Creates a false small caps by shrinking the point size of your uppercase letters. All lowercase letters will be replaced with these smaller capitals in your text object.

Superscript: Changes selected text or text object to superscript, as in the case of 28.

Subscript: Changes selected text or text object to subscript, as in the case of C6H12O6.

Underline: Adds a simple underscore underneath your selected text or text object.

Strikethrough: Adds a simple strike through all of your selected text or text object.

The Options Panel and the Type Tool

Some options not available in the Character Panel are waiting at the top of your screen, in the Options Panel, when you use the Type tool. These three are:

Text Orientation: Toggles the direction the text in your text object runs, either horizontally or vertically.

Alignment: Sets the alignment of your text object either to Left-Aligned, Center-Aligned, or Right Aligned.

Warp Text: Warps text objects into one of several pre-defined, adjustable shapes, like banners or other objects.

Designing a Simple Book Cover

Because design is about real world application, we will look through the creation of a basic book cover design for one of the most important (not to say controversial) scientific books of all time, On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, by Charles Darwin.

brings up the levels tool to adjust the image of Darwin. While design is not necessarily simply about arrangement of elements, this simplistic approach will suffice for demonstration purposes.

As the image is blacked, Ctrl click on the Gray channel in your channels panel. This creates a selection of all the white in the image.
Edit: If your file is not already in Grayscale, but RGB or CMYK, you should go to Image > Mode > Grayscale before Ctrl + Clicking on your grayscale channel. Thanks to HTG reader l3utterfish for bringing this to my attention.

Press to create new layer.

Edit > Fill to fill the selection in your new layer with white.

The icon photograph of Darwin is now removed from the black background and ready to be used as an element.

Press to create a new document at your preferred size. The size illustrated is the same size of another important book, Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style.

And here is our very tall workspace for the book cover.

Pick a foreground color in the in your toolbox. Any color will suffice, although in this demonstration, a dark color is preferable.

Edit > Fill and be certain to set “Use” to “Foreground Color.”

The background is filled with the wine color chosen earlier.

Press shortcut key . Navigate to your original file, and drag your layer into your new file using the selected Move Tool.

The layer should appear something like this inside the new file.

Press or select the type tool, Illustrated above to start setting type.

Not all fonts are appropriate to the content. This pixelated font is very bad for this concept.

A more conservative font may honor the content and create a more appropriate look.

With even a few limited font options installed, it can seem overwhelming. However, picking the right font is difficult and time consuming, but altogether very important to a piece of design.

When the right font is found, adjusting it with the Character Panel is a simple matter.

The font size is changed,and the type broken into two lines.

When the point size is adjusted, we may run into issues with leading.

When letters collide, readers will be left with legibility and readability issues. Adjusting leading is the only response.

Increasing the point size of the leading improves the readability of the title.

Additional information will have to be added, and oftentimes, Photoshop assumes you want to use the same font as point size as your last used text object. This may or may not be the case.

New text objects added and adjusted, we can start to access our design as a whole.

We may find we wish to move elements around.

We may also add more elements or subtlety shift text, to keep a consistent line on the page. The Text tool will also allow you to adjust typos, like the letters “Means” “Natural” and “Selection” that need capitalizing in a title.

Additional elements can also help a design, like this skeleton of Lucy, the famous Australopithecus afarensis. Again, design is not necessarily a simple combination of elements, as it can involve process Photoshop is completely incapable of. However, it is often an excellent tool for this sort of graphics work.
Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography
  • Part 8: Filters

Come back to How-To Geek for the Final installments of the Guide to Learning Photoshop, where we’ll wrap up our guide with a look at the Filters of Photoshop.
Image Credit: Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron, in public domain. Lucy by Wikipedia user 120, made available under Creative Commons.

The How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop, Part 8: Filters

One of everyone’s favorite parts of Photoshop is the filters menu—it’s a big box of weird, fun effects. Read on and learn what filters are,and what they can’t do, and effective ways to use them.
This is part 8 of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop. If you’ve missed any part, you can start at the beginning with Part 1: The Toolbox, Learn Basic Photo Editing in Part 5, or simply continue reading to learn about the filters menu and how it works.


The Big Box of Crayons

It’s an easy thing to fall into running dozens of filters on images without rhyme or reason. Playing with filters can be fun, but rarely will give a result that doesn’t look like a heavily filtered photograph—the unmistakable “made in Photoshop” look. The filters menu is like the giant box of crayons many of us used as children: bright and colorful and full of potential. However, simply having the big box of crayons can be temptation to use as many of them as possible, simply because we can.
Experiment with filters frequently, but don’t fall into the trap! Use filters creatively and sparingly; try to focus on your photographs, rather than trying to use every crayon in the box.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

If you put the wrong number into your calculator, do you get the right answer? That, in a nutshell, is the concept of “Garbage in, Garbage out.” Photoshop filters work pretty much the same way. You can perhaps get a different looking pile of garbage if you start with a terrible image, but you’ll never get anything that isn’t garbage. At best, you can use filters to distract from the worst bits of rubbish.
Filters are simply programs that process existing images in different ways. If you have an image that is damaged, torn, or worn away, no amount of Photoshopping or filters will ever bring it back. If images are restored, it’s never a result of a clever Photoshop user recreating what she thinks belongs there, not what filters put there.

Beginning with an image like the HTG logo, the image is clearly low quality as it’s an internet graphic pulled it straight off the frontpage. The image is lossy and looks poor, full of low resolution smeared pixels and JPG artefacts–all fine for webpages, but not for art files.
Even running a Threshold filter (Image > Adjust > Threshold) merely distracts from the fact that my original image was a low-resolution JPG. Similarly, Photoshop will not add detail the way the FBI computers do in movies. If the detail doesn’t exist, no amount of filtering will make it exist. Until we learn to make computers that can create new information, we’ll have to create good images in the first place, or rely on artists to do it for us.

What Can Filters do?

Starting with this base image for comparison, let’s take a brief look through some of the many filters and see what they look like. No description necessary, the images here describe the filter far better than words.

Filter > Artistic > Colored Pencil

Filter > Artistic > Cutout

Filter > Artistic > Watercolor

Filter > Blur > Gassian Blur

Filter > Blur > Motion Blur

Filter > Blur > Radial Blur

Filter > Blur > Smart Blur

Filter > Brush Strokes > Accented Edges

Filter > Distort > Pinch

Filter > Distort > Shear

Filter > Distort > Spherize

Filter > Noise > Add Noise

Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise

Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone

Filter > Pixelate > Crystalize

Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic

Filter > Pixelate > Pointilize

Filter > Render > Clouds

Filter > Render > Difference Clouds

Filter > Render > Lens Flare

Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask

Filter > Sketch > Bas Relief

Filter > Sketch > Reticulation

Filter > Sketch > Graphic Pen

Filter > Stylize > Extrude

Filter > Stylize > Find Edges

Filter > Texture > Patchwork

Filter > Texture > Stained Glass

Filter > Texture > Texturizer

Filter > Other > Maximum

Filter > Other > Minimum

Combining Filters for Better Results

As we’ve seen in older articles using Filters, combined artfully, they can create excellent effects. Their combinations will only “filter” information—necessarily giving you less than what you started with. But, with clever application, filtering images can give you something that looks better (or at least different) than what you started with. Keep in mind, that it is not the filters themselves that are improving the image in this case, it is you, and your clever combination of Photoshop commands and filters. While Photoshop can only make garbage from garbage,  a skilled Photoshop user can turn even a terrible image into a something worthwhile.
Photoshop tips left you confused? Start at the Beginning! Check out the previous installments of the How-To Geek Guide to Learning Photoshop.

  • Part 1: The Toolbox
  • Part 2: Basic Panels
  • Part 3: Introduction to Layers
  • Part 4: Basic Menus
  • Part 5: Beginner Photo Editing
  • Part 6: Digital Art
  • Part 7: Design and Typography

Image credit: Crayola Image by Kurt Baty, released under Creative Commons. Garbage Skip by Snowmanradio, released under Creative Commons. Image of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck by Royal Family of Bhutan via Wikipedia, released under Creative Commons.