I’m often asked by people who watch my courses, “how do I get better at Photoshop?” While the question itself could literally spawn thousands of answers, there are a few things that every person can do to improve their overall efficiency when working with a program as vast as Photoshop. In this article I’ll give you 5 ways to improve your Photoshop workflow which will hopefully make you a better, and more efficient, creative professional.
1. Smart Objects & Filters
If you’re not already using Smart Objects and Smart Filters, you’re really doing yourself (and your photos) a disservice. Smart Objects have been around since CS2 and Smart Filters came along in CS3. That means both have been around for the better half of a decade now. If you’re not familiar with these “smart” technologies, basically they allow you to manipulate and edit photos non-destructively with filters in Photoshop. Think of it as a layer of bubble wrap for your digital images. You can paint on it, twist it, pop it, and just about anything in between, while your original photo remains safely untouched underneath.
2. Adjustment Layers
Speaking of non-desctructive editing techniques, Adjustment Layers are another way of ensuring that your underlying layers are protected from various commands like Levels, Curves, and even black and white image conversions. The only drawback is the extra layer added to your Layers Panel, but that’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind these little beauties will bring into your life. When it comes to image adjustments, it’s always best to go with the most flexible option. You never know when/if you’ll need to get back to your original image.
I’m an Action Panel junkie. In fact, I probably use actions more than I should, but I can’t help it! Actions allow you to automate portions of your workflow by recording a series of steps and then playing them back on other images, either one at a time or in one big batch. There are a ton of free actions all over the internet, but you’ll probably find them more useful if you learn how to create your own and tweak them to fit your needs.
4. Quick Selection & Refine Edge
Making accurate selections in Photoshop is one of the most basic and necessary skills a designer and/or photographer needs to possess. Quick Select and the Refine Edge command have been around since CS3, but with the latest refinements (specifically related to Refine Edge) in the past few iterations, they’ve become an integral part of my selection routine in Photoshop. The Quick Select tool allows you to make selections of objects by simply brushing over them, and the Refine Edge command helps you take that rough selection and really dial it in to fit whatever you’re trying to do. While this isn’t the end-all-be-all when it comes to selection methods, it definitely does a great job of jumpstarting the process.
5. Tool Shortcuts
Nearly every tool in Photoshop is accessible through a keyboard shortcut by default. If you haven’t yet begun committing these shortcuts to memory, you should start now. By memorizing the tool shortcuts you use most often (i.e. B for brush) you allow yourself to stay focused on the document you’re working on without needing to stop, click, and then resume whatever it was you were doing. Honestly, they could rearrange the tools panel in Photoshop completely, and I’d barely notice at this point. I love using these shortcuts and they save me a ton of time. To see what the keyboard shortcut is for a given tool, hover over it with your mouse and wait for the tooltip to appear. In parenthesis there will be a letter, and that’s the key on your keyboard you’ll need to press in order to activate that tool.
These 5 examples are only the beginning, really. Photoshop has countless ways to automate and refine your workflow, so you should take the time to learn as many of them as possible, and customize them to fit the work that you do. The more you optimize your Photoshop workflow, the faster and more efficient you’ll become. Remember, productivity equals dollar signs in the creative world, so doing what you can to get a leg up on the competition is always a plus. Thanks for reading!