If you've just started Adobe Photoshop for the first
time you will be presented with this rather scary screen below.
It has many switches, lights and knobs and probably appears quite
bewildering! Others of you who have used quite complex art or graphics
packages before may actually feel the opposite and that it looks
overly simple and in fact doesn't even look like it could do all
that much at all. Don't be mislead, Photoshop's controls are highly
streamlined so that it appears to be quite childish when in fact
it's designed for professionals. The powerful tools are tucked away
while the simple ones are a buttons click away.
As I always joke to people, if everything else fails,
read the manual! I say this because I never read the manual unless
I absolutely have to! No one wants to read through a huge manual.
Manuals are designed to be very thorough and tend to be very boring
and unhelpful. The best way to get started is to play about with
the controls! This is how everyone I know ever got started with
Photoshop. It would be hard to totally mess things up by playing
with the controls and most of them have an option to restore the
default settings - so have a go!
The following information is a basic tour that should
help you get a rough idea of what everything does. For now I will
not add any big details because I think its more important at this
stage for you to get a feel for the work environment. Again don't
be afraid to play about with the controls.
As with every Windows program we have the drop-down
menus at the top of the screen (shown in the picture below). Almost
all of the options in these drop-down menus are designed to affect
the whole picture in one shot!
Okay, enough of the waffle already, start drawing
some stuff. Choose the airbrush tool (encircled in red below)
and draw a few squiggly lines. Do the same with some of the other
options. Don't worry if you don't understand a tool, just switch
to the next, I will explain them all in more detail later.
The Options Bar
Choosing any tool, such as the airbrush or brush
tools, and just painting on screen is fine, but it doesn't offer
a lot of control you just click and draw. Did you notice that
whenever you click on a tool a new set of options will appear
on a bar across the top of the screen. An example of this is shown
in the picture below:
After selecting the Brush tool from the main tool
box the Options Bar displays all the ways you can customize that
brush. Looking at this example (from left to right) the Options
Bar first shows the icon of the tool you have selected. Clicking
on the picture will offer the option to restore the default original
settings of either this tool or every tool. This is a lifesaver
when you are first learning because it take away the fear of messing
in previous versions of Adobe Photoshop this Options bar was
actually a very small palette on the right of the screen called,
strangely enough, "Options". Nevertheless it worked
in exactly the same way as the new bar does. Since this Options
palette / bar is one of the most used tools its only natural
that it should have been made more prominent.
The next, very important option, is the brush size
option. For a pencil it will offer the pencil size, for the airbrush
the spray size etc., you get the idea. Clicking on the arrow (left
picture) brings down a list of ready made brush sizes. The ones
with numbers under them have numbers to indicate their larger
size. Double-clicking the left mouse button on the brush (right
picture) lets you create a custom brush size.
To make a custom brush is easy enough. Give it a
name and choose the Diameter (size). There are a few additional
options, such as Hardness which define how soft the edges of the
brush will be and you can alter the roundness to make the brush
oval shaped and rotate it by changing the angle. Just play with
the controls and when you are done click the close icon in the
top right. Once the brush is made it will be listed as a new brush
in the other menu (left picture).
Notice the difference between
a hard brush (left squiggle) and a softer brush (right squiggle).
Okay, back to the options bar again. The Mode option
is something that is also usually there on every drawing tool.
I do not want to clutter this article with explanations of what
each mode does but suffice to say that choosing different mode
options is like choosing to apply a certain special effect to
the brush. For example, try choosing Dissolve and you will see
a bitty spray effect when you paint with the brush. To go back
to normal, choose the Normal option again.
These Mode options are not just a bunch of fancy
extras they can be very powerful tools for photo editing and painting
so a little playing with them will pay off. I will explain how
to use these in other articles. What each effect does is also
explained in detail in the Photoshop user guide anyway.
Now we come to a very, very important option - the
This options sets how strong the brush colour will
be (Opacity means how transparent a colour is). At 100% it is
solid colour at 50% it is semitransparent and at 1% its barely
Notice the difference between
a brush with an opacity of 25% (left squiggle) and a brush
with 100% opacity (right squiggle).
The reason this option is so important is because
when you start editing photos you will soon see that unless you
start with a very low opacity the alterations you do will be too
strong. Exact control over opacity is the key to good retouching
with almost any tool. Before we move on its useful to note that
the opacity option is called various names for different tools.
For example, for the airbrush tool it is called pressure (air
pressure of course).
Finally a common option is the one found on the
far right of the Options Bar - this is the Fade option.
Clicking on it offers the ability to fade either
the size of the brush, the pressure of the brush or the colour
of the brush.
This option is here to allow you to mimic the way
a real brush would work. It doesn't need much more to explain.
In the example below we have one line on the left with no brush
fade on it and one on the right with a brush fade of 30 steps.
All the options I have spoken about so far are some
of the most common options you will come across on the options
bar. Again I cannot stress enough that playing with the controls
will help you get used to it quicker. Please remember that the
options bar gives options to customize whatever tool you are using.
The options will be different for most of the other tools. I would
like to explain each and every tool but I think doing so would
be confusing and counter productive. It is much better to learn
how to use new tools by actually using them. So instead I will
explain these features in other guides, and you will also learn
how to use them by actually using them rather than just being
told what they do =o)
The Four Palettes
On the right of the Adobe Photoshop screen you will
see four windows or palettes. These offer mainly information and
control over the whole picture. These palettes can be customized
but lets not start confusing the setup just yet. Okay, let's take
a brief tour of them...
Navigator & Info Palette
The Navigator and Info palette contains two tab
buttons at the top to switch between the Navigator tool and the
Info tool. The Navigator tool is basically a quick way of zooming
in and out of your picture so you can paint small details easier.
You can type in the zoom percent or you can move the slider bar
to zoom in or out. You can also click the middle of the preview
screen and drag the screen about to zoom in to any area quickly,
The Info tool gives details like the X and Y position
of your mouse cursor on the screen and the colour the mouse pointer
is hovering over. It also shows the size of any selections you
may grab. Note that in this case the picture is using the colour
type known as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK). This colour
type is used in printing but usually Photoshop uses RGB as used
by computer monitors.
Color, Swatches & Styles Palette
Again the tab buttons swap between the Color, Swatches
and Styles palette. In Photoshop there are many ways to choose
colours so don't get confused by them, they all do basically the
same thing. The colour palette lets you change the red, green
and blue values to create any colour possible on a PC screen.
To do this just move the slider bar left and right or enter the
numbers into the boxes. The little arrow at the top right of the
palette offers the option to switch between RGB and CMYK etc.,
The Swatches palette are just a place where you
can store commonly used colours like you would paint pots. Any
pot can be deleted by right-clicking on it and selecting delete
or selecting it and hitting that dustbin (trashcan) icon at the
bottom. You can also make new colours to store there by hitting
the icon at the bottom next to the trashcan. Swatches are only
really useful when you need to use a specific colour a lot like,
for example, when you need to write text in a set colour or fill
in the backgound with a special colour.
The Styles palette is a new edition to Photoshop
and would take a while to explain correctly. Basically there are
sets of effects that can be applied to a picture. You can do a
combination of common effects that you use to a picture and save
it as a style. Then instead of having to choose lots of effects
to achieve the same result you can just use the style that you
History & Actions Palette
The History palette is a very, very useful tool.
It contains a listing of everything you did from when you started
editing a picture (the length depends on your computers memory
etc). At the very top is when you started and at the bottom is
the last change you did. By clicking at any point in the listing
takes you back or forward in time. This is like an extended undo
option and can be a real life saver when you do something wrong
- use it, use it, use it!!
The Actions palette is another new addition to Photoshop
and again is a little too complex to explain here. For now its
enough to know that you can save groups of common actions together
into a single action. For example, you may want to resize, rotate
and blur a group of images. If you record an action of you resizing,
rotation and blurring a single image and save it as an action,
then whenever you select a new image you can resize, rotate and
blur it at the click of a button!
Layers, Channels & Paths Palette
The Layers, Channels & Paths palettes are all
quite involved and again require more detailed explanations. Layers
are one of the most useful of all the tools in Photoshop, you
must learn to use them! Use them all the time even when
you don't think you really need to! They will both save your life
and make life easier, and without them it would be very hard to
do a great many things. The idea behind layers are simple enough.
As I already explained before, Layers can be imagined like the
transparent plastic sheets used to make cartoons. In the Layer
palette the top most layer is at the top and the bottom layer
is at the bottom. New layers can be added or deleted. Groups of
layers can also be merged into a single layer and so on.
The Channels palette. As you probably know any image
is made up of a combination of Red, Green and Blue light; or for
printing purposes it is made from Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
The Channels palette lets you separate your picture into these
colours. Clicking on the Red one will show only the red colour
from your picture. Clicking on the Green will only show the Green
and clicking on the Blue will only show the Blue. The same applies
to CMYK of course. By clicking on any of the Red, Green and Blue
channels will bring up its colour, then whatever editing you do
to that picture will only effect that colour. This may not sound
useful but will be very helpful later on when you need to correct
colour or sharpen an image that is very grainy. There is also
a little more to channels than this though. The channels options
let you add additional channels! These are used to add certain
effect, spot colours and so forth, but I will explain more about
that another time. These "extra channels" are usually
called "Alpha Channels".
The paths palette keeps track of the lines you draw
with the pen tool. The paths tool needs to be understood because
it can be very useful, but it would take too long to explain all
that here. For now its useful to know that the pen tool draws
vector graphics like Adobe Illustrator or those high end CAD design
packages. Defining such line paths allows us a great deal of control
over what we need to draw.
Hopefully now you will be better equipped to attack
Adobe Photoshop for the first time. It helps to know basically
what most controls do even though you may not know all the in's
and outs. These things take time to learn so be patient and mess
about with the interface until you think you are ready to move
onto the next set of guides. Good Luck! =o)