30 Photoshop secrets to improve your skills

Power up your skills as we reveal 30 Photoshop secrets that will increase your productivity overnight.

If you've decided to give your best pencils a little rest and jump into digital art, you'll more than likely need some photo editing software. Photoshop is an amazing piece of software and a popular choice, being used by thousands of designers worldwide on a daily basis. It's such a flexible bit of kit that you could spend a week learning new features, doing Photoshop tutorials and experimenting with Photoshop brushes and still have only scratched the surface of what's possible.

Once you've overcome the beginners' learning curve, however, there are some real gems hidden inside Photoshop that can help you speed up your work and get more out for less effort. Here we've rounded up 30 of the best Photoshop secrets to help sharpen your skills and improve your productivity.

01. Control your panels

Photoshop secrets Control your panels

Did you know about this hidden menu?

In the top right hand corner of every panel is a little icon that reveals a fly-out menu, giving additional options that you might not have seen before. You can use this menu to set your layer panel thumbnails to be larger, crop to artwork and much more – experiment!

02. Paste in Place

Paste in Place is one of those functions that you'll use all the time if you know about it, but if you don’t it will come as a revelation! After you've made a selection either in your current document, or in a second document if you're combining artwork, copy as usual by choosing Edit>Copy, or by using the shortcut keys Ctrl+C (Windows) or Cmd+C (Mac).

Once you're viewing the document you want to paste into, use the shortcut keys Ctrl+Shift+V (Windows) or Cmd+Shift+V (Mac).

03. Bird's Eye View

If yo'’re doing detailed work such as cloning or edge refinement, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Equally, if you're working at a high zoom level, navigating around the document can become tiresome when you need to get back to your high-level zoom.

With the Bird's Eye View feature, when zoomed in you can press and hold the H key on your keyboard, and click and drag with your mouse to temporarily zoom out to a bird's eye view. When you let go, you'll zoom back in to the level you were working at.

04. Interactively set styles

Photoshop secrets Interactively set styles

Move the shadow around by clicking and dragging on the canvas

When you're adding a drop-shadow layer style, move the dialogue box to one side. By clicking and dragging on the canvas you can use your mouse to interactively move the shadow around relative to the layer casting the shadow.

05. Repeat Transformations

Once you've made a transformation to a layer or object using Edit>Transform, you can very quickly repeat that same transformation on another layer or object. Simply press Cmd+Shift+T on a Mac, or Ctrl+Shift+T on Windows, and Photoshop will repeat the same transformation on the currently active layer.

06. Solo your layer

Photoshop secrets Solo your layer

Here's how to preview a single layer

If you'd like to preview a single layer, you can quickly get a look at it on its own by Alt+clicking on the layer's eye icon in the layers panel. Alt+clicking on the eye icon again will return you to the previous layer visibility state. Note that if you accidentally click on another layer's eye icon you'll lose the ability to revert back to the previous state.

07. Enable visibility history

Photoshop secrets Enable visibility history

Enable the history state for layer visibility

If you want to avoid the problem of losing layer visibility settings while previewing individual layers, you can tick a setting in the History Panel options dialogue box that will enable history state for layer visibility. Once checked, you can use Cmd/Ctrl+Alt+Z to step backwards through your history as you always have, but you'll find changes to the visibility of layers is now included within that history.

08. Merge vector shapes

Photoshop secrets Merge vector shapes

Merge two vector shapes together and keep the result as an editable vector

If you're lucky enough to have Photoshop CS6 at your disposal, you can merge two vector shapes together and keep the result as an editable vector. Simply select the two shape layers and hit Cmd/Ctrl+E on your keyboard to merge them together. In previous versions this would have resulted in a rasterized layer, but Adobe updated the functionality for CS6.

09. Quickly finish editing text

Photoshop secrets Quickly finish editing text

Press Cmd+Return on your keyboard to finish editing text and move focus outside the text field

When you're working with text boxes in Photoshop it can be frustrating to move between tools as your shortcut keys won’t work. A great little secret tip is that you can press Cmd+Return on your keyboard to finish editing text and move focus outside the text field. This allows you to quickly select other tools using their shortcut keys as appropriate (e.g. V for the move tool).

10. Organise your files properly

It's easy to become sloppy with the way you name and organise files. But if you have to hand over your work to others, this can rebound on you, giving you a bad rep as people struggle to work out what's going on. Follow our advice on how to organise your files properly here.

11. Draw dotted lines with the brush

Photoshop secrets Draw dotted lines with the brush

Drawing straight dotted lines with the brush tool is a neat trick

A common Photoshop technique is to use the brush tool to draw straight lines. With the brush tool selected click to place a point, then hold down Shift+click at a second point to draw a straight line between the two points. You may not know that you can open the brush panel and set the brush spacing to 150%+ to draw a dotted line instead of a solid one!

12. Change brush size and hardness

It's quite well known that you can use the square bracket keys [ and ] to change the size of your brush inside Photoshop. What you may not know is that if you hold down the Shift key while tapping these same keys, you can also affect the hardness of the brush without having to visit the the brush panel!

13. Reset dialogue boxes

When you're using a dialogue box with a pair of buttons that read OK/Apply and Cancel, it can be frustrating to undo changes you've made. Often you'll want to hit Cancel and then re-open the dialogue. Many of these modal pop-ups allow you to hold down the Alt/Opt key on your keyboard to change the Cancel button to a Reset button, returning the settings to how they were when you opened the dialogue.

14. Scrub values

One of the best time-saving features in Photoshop is the ability to scrub your mouse over input values. If you want to change the opacity of a layer, for example, rather than click into the opacity field of the layers panel, click and drag on the value for opacity. A scrub to the left reduces the opacity, a scrub to the right increases it.

15. Copy layer styles quickly

Photoshop secrets Copy layer styles quickly

As well as copying a layer to a new layer, you can do the same with layer styles

If you've been using Photoshop for a while you'll know you can copy a layer to a new layer by holding down Alt/Opt and dragging a copy of the artwork across the canvas. You can use this same trick for layer styles: simply hold down the Alt/Opt key and drag the FX icon in the layers panel from the layer with the styles to the target layer - the styles will be copied right over!

Next page: 15 more top Photoshop secrets...