The Essentials of Photoshop

U sed for nearly any and all pixel/raster-based images, Photoshop is the leading photo-editing program for images intended for both print and the web. An incredibly powerful application, Photoshop offers multiple services, which include the ability for basic as well as advanced editing.

• Image adjustments/Exposure
• Color balance
• Crop
• Straighten
• Alter colors
• Image blend (combining images together)
• Image Size/Weight
• Lasso tool
• Magic wand
• Options for shape tools
• Adjustment layer and layer styles
• Spot healing brush
• And much more!

In addition to images, Photoshop is a useful tool in the creation of flyers, posters, web and app design, videos, as well as animations. With so many options, tools, functions, and capabilities, it can be overwhelming for those new to the program. However, there are a few basic tools and essential skills all Photoshop users should know in order to utilize the offerings of the application.

The first step to understanding the workings of Photoshop is to familiarize yourself with the dashboard display. On the right side of the screen, the layers tab, elements, and all other components of the project will be displayed. The left side of the program houses the specific tools.

Navigating And Creating New Layers

Photoshop gives you is the ability to create layers for your images. This allows you to easily hide, eliminate, or re-add edits to your projects. These layers serve as your canvas. Features within the layers tab allow you to control which layers do and do not appear. For example, by clicking on the eye, it ensures that layer will always be visible or by unlocking eliminates visibility without having to delete the layer. Layers can also be locked so that they will never be changed or accidentally deleted as you practice or add to your image. In terms of ordering the layers, the background layer(s) will be farther down on the display panel and the layers with content will be higher up. Note, so long as the layers are not locked, the layers can be dragged and dropped to rearrange the order.

Importing and Editing Images

Since Photoshop is an application designed specifically to edit photos, knowing how to import them in order to edit is a critical step. There are two ways to open an image within Photoshop. First, you can add an image by going to File>Place. This will open the image within the canvas you have created. The alternative way to import an image is to go to File>Open. Using “open” rather than “place” will open the image in a new tab to the exact dimensions of the image file. If you are wanting to edit the image itself, accessing the image through “open” is the best way to go.

Basic Tools

The left side of the display screen features the tools menu. Unless you are using Photoshop and/or other Adobe Suite programs on a daily basis, I imagine it is impossible to learn everything the program can do. However, even within my limited working knowledge, there are a few basic tools that should be utilized. Popular tools include the shape and text tools, the clone stamp tool, the pen tool, the quick selection tool, and the lasso tool.

Adding Text and Shapes

There are many resources that offer tutorials and ideas to ensure you know how to use and manipulate these tools to create dynamic images. 

Clone Stamp Tool

The clone source panel, accessible through Window, gives you easy access to the available options for the tool. The panel allows you to set-up up to five samples/templates to clone objects to. This is the tool that allows you to retouch and remove objects from an image as well as being able to select and change colors. To show the power and significance of this tool, Adobe describes the functions of the tool below:

“The Clone Stamp tool paints one part of an image over another part of the same image or over another part of any open document that has the same color mode. You can also paint part of one layer over another layer. The Clone Stamp tool is useful for duplicating objects or removing a defect in an image.”

Pen Tool

Even though you are editing images within Photoshop, the pen tool allows you to draw and edit vector paths and curves.

Quick Selection Tool

Selections allow you to isolate portions of an image in order to restrict editing within the boundaries. Though it can be used many ways, the following leads you to learn the basics of the quick selection tools.


The lasso tool allows you to trace, outline, grab, and duplicate elements within an image. Once an item has been outlined using the lasso tool, the element can be added to a new layer (create a transparent background to just have the element itself) or it can be pasted into or on top of an existing image.

Exporting And Saving Projects For The Web

At this stage of design, you know that images need to not only be the right dimension, but also must carry the appropriate image weight for the function. Photoshop offers multiple ways to save and export images and projects created within the application. As college students working within writing and web design, you will utilize the export>save for the web function of Photoshop. By exporting and saving images specifically for the web, Photoshop makes it easy to save your projects in a format suitable for website display.

As you begin to develop your skills and working knowledge of the Photoshop features, there are keyboard shortcuts you can learn to make the creation process faster. It is important to note that some of the shortcuts may differ between Mac and PC. Regardless of your project, these tools will assist with basic functions that can be built upon to truly master Photoshop.

For those wanting to learn more, the Photoshop User Guide is an incredibly easy, user-friendly source to help guide you.

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