Mar 28/14
By John Laird

Five helpful tips to improve your Photoshop workflow

As designers, Photoshop is a magical tool that allows us to imagine, play and make the world as we see fit. Whether we’re making color shifts to add mood and drama to a portrait, or stitching together a complex composite to imagine a new landscape, or just seeing what a goatee looks like on your co-workers fiancee, it’s essential to keep your files clean and organized. The trick is to keep your workflows running smoothly. Below is a list of some basic but very useful tips to keep in mind the next time you launch Photoshop.

This is basic, but necessary. It's easy to forget to do this when you’re rushing to beat a deadline and layers start to pile up quickly. Before you know it, you can’t discern layer one from layer 216. Taking just a few seconds to give a layer a name is going to save you some substantial time—time you could be using to focus on more important issues rather than trying to navigate through a sloppy sea of nameless layers.

Piece of advice: When building a composite using a number of images, try labeling each layer with the corresponding stock image number. There’s nothing worse than having a client approve an image and you have no idea where it came from.


If you’re clipping a subject out from its original environment—make a mask. Using the eraser to delete an unwanted part of the image means that pixel data will be gone forever. If you’re duplicating the layer just in case you need it for later—you’re just making your file size larger than it needs to be. Again, this is a pretty basic but useful—so get familiar with layer masks and introduce them into your workflow.

Piece of advice: You can add layer masks to groups. If you have several layers that need to be masked, rather than adjust each one individually, select them all and and put them into a group (Command G). This is a useful tip when you want to further refine a layer mask.


The Quick Selection tool is probably my favorite tool in Photoshop, and probably the most useful for me. In the past, I would burn valuable time trying to draw a perfect path with the pen tool or I’d struggle within the channels palette to make complex pixel selections. What once took hours to do, can now be achieved in a matter of a minutes with the Quick Selection tool and the Mask Properties panel.

Choose the Quick Selection tool (W or Shift W if you have the wand set as the default). Select the layer you want to target, and paint inside the area you want to select. Now add a layer mask to your layer and double click it. This will bring up the mask properties panel. Click “mask edge”. This should bring up the Refine Mask palette where you can adjust all kinds of settings to fine tune your selection. My best advice is to just play with the settings to get the selection to where you want it. There are a lot of options in this palette so it’s best to take few minutes to learn how to use them.


Adjustment layers are great for keeping file size down and eliminating unnecessary layers. They give you the power to make non-destructive changes to an image and also provide the option to revert back to previous image states by removing or altering that adjustment. You can even option click and drag an adjustment layer or layer style to duplicate it to a new layer. Using these two will keep your file size light and offer you the flexibility to make changes down the road.


Live Shapes in Photoshop allow you to manipulate vector objects within a pixel based document. You can draw a shape and easily adjust the size, color, corners, and border styles. Again, keeping elements flexible and editable within your document will save you a ton of time and save you a headache down the road.


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