When it comes to design, there’s no tool on the block more popular than Photoshop. Many of today’s designers have been using Photoshop so long; they could do it with their eyes closed.
And that’s great – but not everyone is an experienced designer. And if you don’t have experience working with Photoshop, the tool can feel a little overwhelming (and, let’s be real, a little intimidating). “What are all these tools? What does this button do? How about that button? I just want to make a flyer… WHY ARE THERE SO MANY BUTTONS?!” Photoshop isn’t as intimidating as it seems when you know the basics.
The Tool Bar
The toolbar is the list of icons/buttons displayed in a vertical line on the left side of the screen. Let’s go over each tool and precisely what it does so you know where you need to look next time you want to crop a photo or get rid of that pesky blemish in the background of your image. We’ll also include the keyboard shortcut in parentheses after each tool name (because who doesn’t love shortcuts, amirite?)
Move Tool (Keyboard shortcut: V)
This tool allows you to – guessed it – move objects in Photoshop. All you have to do is click and drag (you can also move different objects on different layers of your image).
Marquee Tool (Keyboard shortcut: M)
No, this Marquee doesn’t put your name in bright lights outside of a movie theater. What it does do is allow you to select part of your Photoshop canvas in a specific shape (by default, it’ll give you a rectangle, but you can also switch it to be an ellipse. And if you want things to be a bit more even, hit shift while you use the Marquee Tool, and it’ll give you a perfect square or circle).
Lasso (Keyboard shortcut: L)
The Lasso is kind of like the Marquee Tool except you’re not confined to the specific shape. With the Lasso, it’s a free-for-all. You can drag that bad boy anywhere on the canvas to make your selection. You can also use what’s called the “Polygon Lasso,” which allows you to set your selection parameters by clicking different areas around the canvas, or the “Magnetic Lasso” which automatically detects your edges.
Magic Wand (Keyboard shortcut: W)
Harry Potter’s favorite tool in Photoshop, the Magic Wand is an excellent tool for removing backgrounds. All you do is click on a spot in your image and Photoshop will immediately grab both the spot and any surrounding areas with similar colors.
Crop Tool (Keyboard shortcut: C)
The Crop Tool is pretty straightforward; you select an area on your canvas (just as you would with the Marquee Tool), and it crops the image to your specifications. You can either a) add the exact size and constraint values, or b) eyeball it and crop until you have the size and shape that looks right.
Eyedropper (Keyboard shortcut: I)
If you’ve ever seen this tool and wondered “Does Photoshop have an eye infection or something?”, clever… but no. The Eyedropper Tool is a way to capture the color of a specific point of your image. Click the point with the Eyedropper, and it’ll match the foreground color of your canvas to the color it pulled. Voila – instant color matching!
Healing Brush (Keyboard shortcut: J)
The Healing Brush Tool isn’t for soothing Photoshop’s boo-boos (despite the icon choice). It’s a blending tool that allows you to sample one part of your image and paint over a different part of the picture; once you’ve painted, the Healing Brush will blend the two. This is an excellent tool for cleaning up any messy parts of an image (hmm… we guess it IS kind of like putting on a Band-Aid).
Clone Tool (Keyboard shortcut: S)
The Clone Tool is similar to the Healing Brush Tool except it doesn’t do any of the cool blending action. Think of it like the Photoshop version of cut-and-paste.
Paintbrush and Pencil (Keyboard shortcut: B)
This tool is exactly what you’d expect. The Pencil Tool allows you to paint with a pencil-like stroke while the Paintbrush Tool enables you to paint with a paintbrush-like stroke (and just like there are tons of different paint brushes, there are tons of different paintbrush strokes to choose from. It’s art imitating life, people!).
History Tool (Keyboard Shortcut: Y)
Need to go back a few steps? No worries! Photoshop tracks your last 50 actions, so if you need to go back (like if you wanted to revert a specific part of your image to its original color), the History Tool will get you there.
Eraser Tool (Keyboard Shortcut: E)
It’s an Eraser. ‘Nuff said.
Paint Can and Gradient Tools (Keyboard Shortcut: G)
Ah, this one is a throwback to the MS Paint days. The Paint Can allows you to fill in an entire area with your foreground color. And the Gradient Tool will either a) create a gradient from your foreground and background color, or b) load a preset gradient you’ve already created (which has two or more colors).
Blur Tool (No Keyboard Shortcut)
This tool works like a paintbrush and will blur the area where you use it.
Sharpen Tool (No Keyboard Shortcut)
Same as the blur tool but instead of blurring, it’ll sharpen the image.
Smudge Tool (No Keyboard Shortcut)
Same as the blur and sharpen tool, but instead of blurring or sharpening, it’ll “smudge” the outer area, which is perfect for blending drawn images.
Burn/Dodge/Sponge Tools (Keyboard Shortcut: O)
These tools are also similar to the paintbrush, but they’re used for adjusting light and color intensity. The Burn Tool darkens images, the Dodge Tool lightens them, and the Sponge Tool can saturate or de-saturate the colors (kind of like a sponge absorbing or dispersing color).
Pen Tool (Keyboard Shortcut: P)
If you’re drawing vector images, the Pen Tool is going to be your new best friend. It creates the paths within the vector image.
Path Tool (Keyboard Shortcut: A)
This tool is exactly like the Move Tool, just for paths.
Type Tool (Keyboard Shortcut: T)
This one’s pretty simple – need to type text on your image? Use the Type Tool.
Shape Tool (Keyboard Shortcut: U)
This one’s also pretty simple – need to create a vector shape on your image, like a rectangle or a circle? Use the Shape Tool.
This is a Photoshop Basics article, so we’re not going to dig into the 3D stuff, but just know it’s there, and once you get a handle on the basics, 3D is an option… which is pretty g-darn cool if you ask us.
If you want to give Photoshop a high-five, this is the place to do it. Just kidding! The Hand Tool allows you to click and drag the entire canvas you’re working on. This is a clutch tool for when you’re zoomed way in and working on the small details (keep in mind, if your canvas is sized to fit the screen, this tool isn’t going to do anything).
This tool’s icon is a magnifying glass for a reason. The Zoom Tool allows you to zoom in (click) and zooms out (click and hold the “option” key) of your image.
Color Selection Tools
The Color Selection Tools allow you to control what colors you’re working with. The top color? That’s your foreground color. And that color hiding in the back? That’s your background color. When you use a paintbrush tool, it’ll automatically use your foreground color. If you delete or extend anything in the background of the image, it’ll use your background color.
And see those smaller icons floating on top? Those are shortcuts. The tiny color selection icon on the left (with the black and white squares) sets your foreground, and background colors as default and the curved arrow on the right will switch your background and foreground colors.
That’s it for tools!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of these tools, take a deep breath. It’s all good. It might seem like a lot to take in, but the more you use Photoshop (and this laundry list of tools), the more they’ll all make sense. You’ll be a pro before you know it! (And if you need to design a flyer in the meantime, just try one of our templates).
And until you get to level: expert, just keep this cheat sheet bookmarked. We won’t tell.