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10 Bad Habits to Break in Photoshop

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Photoshop is an extremely versatile application and offers and endless number of ways to accomplish the same task. With so many ways of producing the same effect, it can be difficult for users to understand which technique is the best for the task at hand. In this tutorial, we will explain 10 bad habits that you can break in Photoshop to help you work a bit more efficiently.


1. Working on a Single Layer

No matter what you do in Photoshop it is always advisable to work on separate layers instead of applying all your changes to the Background layer. The biggest problem with working on a single layer is that you won't have the flexibility to go back later and make changes. The so-called non-destructive workflow's foundation is to always create new layers for each effect or modification and name them accordingly to make it easier for later changes.

10 bad habits

Try using separate layers for editing whenever possible

2. Deleting and Erasing Instead of Masking

This bad habit is also very common among Photoshop users. Deleting and erasing parts of a layer's content is a very destructive way of editing. To avoid losing image content you should always consider utilizing one of the following features in Photoshop.

  • A Pixel Mask
  • A Vector Mask
  • A Clipping Mask

The easiest way to hide parts of a layer is by adding a mask to the layer. Masking will only temporarily hide the selected parts of a layer, which can always be made visible again by deactivating the mask.

10 bad habits

Use masking instead of deleting parts of your layers

3. Wasting Time With Too Much Clicking

Using Photoshop without keyboard shortcuts is like eating a soup with a fork. It is possible but takes much longer than eating it with a spoon. A real Photoshop user should have one hand on the mouse (or the pen in case of a Wacom tablet) and the other hand on the keyboard. Here are some of the most useful default shortcuts you should start memorizing.

  • Cmd/Ctrl + T - Free Transform
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Enter - Accept typing
  • Cmd/Ctrl + S - Save document
  • Cmd/Ctrl + A - Select all
  • Cmd/Ctrl + D - Deselect
  • Cmd/Ctrl + I - Invert colors
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I - Invert selection
  • Cmd/Ctrl + click on layer’s thumbnail - Selection based on Layer’s content
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Option/Alt + A - Select All Layers
  • Option/Alt + click between two layers - Clipping Mask
  • Cmd/Ctrl + G - Group Layers
  • Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + G - Ungroup Layers

And if this is not enough than here is a guide to almost all the default Photoshop keyboard shortcuts laid out on a keyboard:

10 bad habits

Save time with keyboard shortcuts

4. Transforming Pixel Layers

Most Photoshop users have heard about Smart Objects and how useful they are, but not everyone uses them regularly. Essentially, when you convert a normal layer into a Smart Object layer, Photoshop embeds the image inside the PSD file as a separate file and it uses that embedded source image to render the changes of the Smart Object.

Thanks to this technology introduced in Photoshop CS2, we can transform Smart Object layers as many times as we want without losing image quality. You probably know that by resampling a pixel image you loose quality, which is mainly noticeable when you upsample a photo. That is the cause of pixel images being resolution-dependant.

A Smart Object won't make a pixel image resolution-independent, but it can capture the state of the image at the time of the conversion. It is ideal to convert a layer into a Smart Object while they are still in their highest available size and thus best quality. Losing quality is only caused by resizing images, but even rotating them will reduce their quality if they are not converted into a Smart Object. In the video I'm presenting an interesting experiment, which I call the "washing-machine effect", which shows exactly what happens when you continuously rotate pixel layers.

10 bad habits

Loss of quality after rotating the layer for a couple of times

5. Not Using Adjustment Layers

Working in Photoshop without using Adjustment Layers is very similar to working on a single layer, it’s a big mistake. If you use the adjustments from the Image menu you will destructively apply them onto the selected layer and you won't be able to amend their effect later on. On the flip side, if you apply them as Adjustment Layers they will be completely independent from the image layer, which allows you great control over their opacity, blend mode and settings. It is good to keep mind that an Adjustment layer will affect all underlying layers.

10 bad habits

Curves Adjustment layer for setting the White Balance

6. Being Disorganized

As a Photoshop user, it is very important that you be organised. If you have learned anything from the first lesson of this tutorial and you already use separate layers for your images, then you have to also learn to name and organise your layers appropriately. It might seem like a waste of time, but believe us, it is going to save you a lot of time in the long run. Especially if you are working on a team and are sharing PSD files with others.

10 bad habits

Learn to be organised with your layers

7. Using Filters Destructively

Photoshop Filters can be applied to your image layers non-destructively as Smart Filters. When you have a Smart filter applied to a layer, you will be able to turn it off and on easily as well as modify its settings, opacity and even blend mode. You can also add multiple filters onto the same Smart object. Last but not least you can also use the Smart Filter mask to hide or reveal the effect of the filters on your image layer.

10 bad habits

Start using Smart Objects whenever applying Filters

8. Lack of Navigation Skills

Many Photoshop users click and drag the vertical and horizontal scroll bars around instead of using the Spacebar button for accessing the Hand tool and panning the image around with it. There are a couple of things you should learn to quickly navigate in your Photoshop documents.

  • Space - Hand tool
  • Z + drag right and left - Zoom in and out
  • Hold down H + click - Bird's eye view
  • Cmd/Control + 0 - Fit to Screen
  • Cmd/Control + 1 - Actual Size
  • 10 bad habits

    Bird's eye view: temporarily seeing the whole canvas

    9. Not Using Bridge

    Another big time-waster is not using Photoshop's native file management application: Adobe Bridge. This tool has shipped with Photoshop since Photoshop CS2 and it can save a lot of time organising and finding your images and project files. Many photographers use it also for managing their photographs, although for professional photographers it is more advisable to use Lightroom instead; having said that Bridge has a lot to offer.

    10 bad habits

    Adobe Bridge, Photoshop's native file management application

    10. Not Saving PSDs

    Never forget to save your work as a PSD file. You should also remember to you’re your work frequently. There is nothing more annoying than losing a big part of your work when your computer freezes. PSD files are your working files, which you don't necessarily have to give away to your clients, but you should always keep them so you can easily make amends to your work in case the client wants changes.

    10 bad habits

    File formats you can save from Photoshop
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