Tools

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The Toolbox provides an easy way to access PS’s tool set. It can usually be found on the left hand side of the screen (If you cant see it, go to Window / Tools).

You can see that they are divided into four main groups. Most of these tools you will only occasionally (if ever) use. It depends what you go on to use PS for. Others you will use all the time.

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Some of the tools have hidden ‘brother’ tools only selectable if you click and hold your mouse on their visible counterparts.

In the following sections I cover very briefly the four tool ‘families’.

Selection Tools

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Various flavors of selection tools live here. The only tool we won't use at all is the Slice Tool (a sub set of the Crop Tool) which is only useful for web work. All the selection tools can be used to add to or remove from or intersect with current selections using the values in the Options Bar. However, all these options have keystroke values in the Option and Shift keys that I will leave you to figure out. Memorize them as they are useful.

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Move

For moving selections or layers. For casual moving just pres the Command key. If you shift-select several layers, the Move Tool can be used to align them.

Marquee Selection

For round and rectangular selections.

Lasso Selection

This is mostly used for rough masking. However, the Polygonal Lasson Tool variant can be used to construct a selection from mouse click to mouse click. This, if used in small increments, can be used to make surprisingly refined selections which are good for organic forms.

Quick Selection

This is a relatively recent addition to PS and is surprisingly powerful and useful. Using it a semi automatic intelligent selection can be made. The Magic Wand variant is the old school version of this which is now pretty much redundant.

Crop

It crops. Can also be used to embiggen an image (just pull it out to extend beyond the document bounds).

Eyedropper

This is used in conjunction with the Info Pallet and will give the numerical value of the selected color. Useful whilst color correcting. Tip: It default value in the Options Bar is Point Sample (i.e. will only return the value of a single target pixel). This is not useful for color work and should be raised to at least 3 by 3 Average. This setting is also (annoyingly) carried through into the Point Sample settings of the Curves adjustment.

Bitmap editing tools

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Photoshop is a bitmap editor. These are it's (mostly) vital bitmap editing tools. Avoid the Spot Healing Brush, History Brush and all its variants. Almost all these tools use the settings that are found in the Brush Pallet (see the Painting page for details).

Brush

Loose the Brush Tool? I would rather loose my hand. See the Painting page for details.

Clone

Fun and useful. The setting to keep an eye on is the Clone Sample Mode which will determine from where the sample is sourced (below). Note: the Clone Tool is not a painting-type tool that can be applied in big, expresive swathes. It is (usually) best applied in discreet, careful dabs with a soft edge large-ish brush.

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Eraser

Well: it erases. No great mystery there. It it appears to be painting instead of erasing, it is probably because you have the Layer Transparency locked.

Gradient

This is most useful when masking out Layer Adjustments, Layers and suchlike. The Linear and Radial options are the most useful. It can also be very useful as an authoring tool. The Gradient below on the left (double click on the gradient preview in the options bar to get to the Gradient Editor) was practically the only thing that was used to make the candle on the right.

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I only ever use the Paint Bucket variant (actually more of a separate tool altogether) when I need to fill with a pattern (from its options in the Options Bar). This is normally used in conjunction with the Define Pattern from the Edit menu. Useful? Sometimes, but not so much a workhorse as the Gradient.

Gradient

(utterly useless) Brush, the fun and useful Clone, the History Brush (utterly useless), the Eraser and the Gradient. The last two icons contain the Blur, Sharpen, Smudge, Dodge, Burn and Sponge tools which are low-powered tool versions of things that can be found in the filters menu. Rarely useful.

Vector editing tools

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Though PS is mainly a bitmap editor it also carries a small set of vector editing tools (btw: bitmap = photos, vector = flat shapes and text). The Pen tool has a rare but interesting use for the digital painter. Its line can be stroked with any of PS's tools. This is useful for drawing perfect curves. Other tools here you can live without.

Miscellaneous tools

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Miscellaneous: mostly 3D and the Hand and Zoom tools. These navigation tools, though useful, can be easily covered by learning a few keystrokes.

The bottom of the toolbox

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At the bottom of the Toolbox there are no tools at all. There are however, a couple of really useful commands almost all of which are replaceable by simple keystrokes. First there are two squares (black and white are the default but yours might be color). These are the Foreground and Background colors and determine what colors you will be working with. You will find you often need to adjust these by clicking on them. Beneath them is the Screen Modes selector.

Tool keystroke shortcuts

All of the tools have keystroke shortcuts and you would be wise to learn at least some of them. The tool description and shortcuts are labeled in the little yellow tool tips that appear when you hover your mouse over the relevant tool. The hidden, 'alternate' versions of tools can be summoned by pressing Shift before its keystroke (e.g. to go from the round Marquee tool to the rectangular version). Here are a few of the more useful Toolbox keystroke shortcuts:

Function
Keystroke
Swap between Foreground and Background colors. X
Set Foreground and Background colors to default black and white. D
Cycle through the three screen modes. F
Enter / exit Quickmask. Q
Brush B
Eraser E
Marquee selection M
Lasso selection L
Clone S