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Photoshop Tutorials For Beginners | Lesson 11: The Photoshop Toolbar

Although we first came across the Photoshop toolbar in lesson 1 of this series, we have not yet looked at all of the available tools. Some of the tools have been featured in previous lessons, so you will know all about those already, but many have not been explained yet. The point of this guide is to tell you quickly and clearly what every tool does, and so to provide a handy reference that you can return to whenever you need. Let's get started...

Firstly, the toolbar layout

As you know, the toolbar is on the left hand side of the workspace. The tools themselves are divided (by horizontal lines) into 5 sections. Most tools are accompanied by a sub-menu of other tools, which can be revealed by right-clicking on the tool that shows by default. When a tool is selected, its settings can be specified in the Options bar which rus along the top.


1. The Move tool

The Move tool is at the top of the toolbar. It's pretty self-explanatory: whenever you need to grab hold of part of your image, like a layer or some text, and move it around, select the Move tool and click and drag to move it.


2. Rectangular Marquee, Elliptical Marquee, Single Row Marquee, Single Column Marquee tools

Next down is the Rectangular Marquee tool, which has a fly-out sub-menu featuring all the above tools. These are useful selection tools, for selecting areas of a pre-set shape. The rectangular and elliptical options create selections of those shapes.

Meanwhile, the single row and single column tools are used for selecting horizontal and vertical areas of just 1 pixel in width respectively. This is really useful for trimming off edges of pictures, layers, or other selections.


3. Lassoo, Polygonal Lassoo, Magnetic Lassoo tools

The lassoo tools are also tools for making selections. The Lassoo tool allows us to simply draw free-hand selections. The polygonal version works in straight lines: every time you click a new marker is placed and you draw out another straight line, until you get around to the place you started to close the selection.

Finally, the Magnetic Lassoo tool works like the Lassoo tool, except that Photoshop automatically detects edges and clings to them by placing anchor points (so it's a bit like the Lassoo tool with some extra help to stay on the lines from Photoshop!).


4. Quick Selection and Magic Wand tools

More selection tools, but these ones are very automated. The Quick Selection tool automatically locates the edges of the area you are working on, and fills out the entire selection as you move the cursor in the general area. The Magic Wand tool works with just 1 click! Click in the middle of the area you want to select and the whole of it will immediately be selected (shown by the marching ants).

Both of these tools are best with clear, simple areas. The Magic Wand tool works best with very obvious shapes, as well as text.


5. Crop, Slice and Slice Select Tools

The Crop tool is used for cropping images and re-composing them. Drag out the area you wish to crop and press the 'tick' symbol or hit return to confirm it. The cropped out area will be displayed with a grayed-out overlay. You can also use Crop to straighten images by rotating the selection: hover next to one of the corners until the cursor shows as a curved arrow. You can also specify dimensions of the crop in the options bar.

The Slice tool is a great way to break up an image into sections to enable better loading for use on websites. Drag out a rectangle; again dimensions can be specified in the options bar. The Slice Select tool allows you to go back and modify a slice, or view its details. By clicking the info for a slice you will see the Slice Options dialogue box, in which a number of settings can be applied.


6. Eyedropper, Color Sampler, Ruler and Note tools

The Eyedropper tool selects a foreground/background colour, which display in the colour swatch at the bottom of the toolbar. Click on an area of your image to choose the foreground colour. Alt-click with the eyedropper tool to set the background colour. The number of pixels encompassed by the Eyedropper tool is set in the Sample Size menu option at the top. Never leave it at Point Sample, as this is just 1 pixel. I usually work at 5 by 5 Average.

The Color Sampler takes info from a point you have clicked on (again, make sure Sample Size is higher than Point Sample), and provides a breakdown of the colour make-up in the Info panel. This is really useful when, for example, fine-tuning skin tone with Curves.

The Ruler allows us to measure and straighten. It's a useful tool for measuring specified areas within an image, which can be very helpful when images will be used as part of another document. To straighten with the ruler, simply trace out a line on the image that should be perfectly horizontal or vertical. Cropping automatically occurs with straightening.

The Note Tool is a really simple way to assign a written note to a specific area of a photo. Simply click on the image to attach a note, and type away in the Note panel. Click the note and hit backspace to delete it. This is useful when working on collaborative projects, i.e. you're not the only one who'll be working on the image.


7. Spot Healing Brush, Healing Brush, Patch and Red Eye tools

The Spot Healing Brush makes one-click corrections, by causing objects in the selected area to disappear. It's a useful tool for eliminating sensor dust. Choosing the Content-Aware setting from the options ensures that Photoshop blends the correction seamlessly with its surroundings.

The Healing Brush works similarly, except that you have the control of selecting the reference area to be used for filling in the mistake. Alt-click to select the sample area and then click on the area that needs correcting.

The Patch tool allows you to make a free-hand selection of an area in the image and replace it with another part of the picture (or use the selection as the area to replace a mistake with, depending on your chosen settings).

The Red-Eye tool is a simple, automatic tool which eliminates the effect of red-eye, caused by harsh direct flash. Select the eyes and let the tool do its thing.


8. Brush, Pencil, Colour Replacement and Mixer Brush tools

The brush tool quite simply lets us paint on to an image with our foreground colour. The characteristics of the brush can be set in the options bar. It's really important for using layer masks, and also making selections in Quick Mask mode.

The Colour Replacement tool is used for replacing the existing colour in an image with the foreground colour. The clever thing about this tool is that all the details and tones remain in tact - only colour is replaced. The Mixer Brush is a great way to create painterly effects on your image, by combining colours and choosing stylized brush tips.


9. Clone Stamp and Pattern Stamp tools

The Clone Stamp tool is a way of deleting unwanted objects, big and small. It works by alt-clicking to sample an area of the image, and then clicking again on the area you wish to replace (with the sampled area). This is the best way to get rid of sensor dust, but can also be used for making larger objects, like people in a landscape photo, disappear.

The Pattern Stamp tool applies a patterned affect on your image. Choose the pattern you wish to use from the drop-down menu in the options bar.


10. The History Brush and Art History Brush tools

The History Brush is a clever tool that effectively works as a very targeted 'undo' option. The difference is that just pressing 'undo', or 'step backward' takes you back one step at a time. With the History Brush you can remove changes made several steps ago. Select a command that you made by going to the history panel and checking its box. Then paint over the area that the command was applied to, which makes it disappear. The Art Histroy Brush tool is a way of applying artisitic effects to your pictures.

11. Eraser, Background Eraser and Magic Eraser tools

The Eraser tool is pretty self-explanatory: it deletes the areas where you move it. It certainly has its uses, but for photo editing tends to be too destructive. A better option is often to employ masks, which enable you to hide/reveal things non-destructively.

The Background Eraser tool is a quick way to isolate a subject from its background. It effectively applies a selection and the eraser tool at the same time. Set the Limits option to Find Edges, and choose a tolerance between around 20-30%, and paint around the edges of your subject. The background should be deleted, leaving you with just the subject. This is a tool that can be used for replacing backgrounds with people in the foreground.

The Magic Eraser tool is another quick way to delete backgrounds, in preparation for replacing them. It deletes pixels of the same, or similar colours, with just one click.


12. Gradient and Paint Bucket tools

The Gradient tool enables us to select a gradient to apply to an image. Select the settings from the options bar, then drag out the area and direction of the gradient in the image. Gradients are useful when used in conjunction with masks:

Add a mask to a selected layer. Choose a gradient that transitions from your foreground to background colour (black to white), then select either a radial or linear style and drag out the gradient on the image. The black to white transition will hide/reveal the changes on the selected layer accordingly.

The Paint Bucket tools fills in an area with a your foreground colour. One common use for it is to fill a layer mask with black, to hide changes, before painting them back in with white in certain areas.


13. Blur, Sharpen and Smudge Tool

The Blur tool literally blurs the image where you use it. It imitates the appearance of out-of-focus areas, so could be used exaggerate the distinction between a subject and its background. You can specify the strength of the effect in the options bar.

The Sharpen tool does what you would expect: it sharpens the places where you use it. Again, you can specify the strength of the effect. This is best used for small areas, like eyes in a portrait photo, and should always be done on an independent layer so it is non-destructive.

The Smudge tool is the most extreme of these 3 tools, but it's really fun! As you click and drag on an image, the tool literally smudges the pixels and pulls them in the direction that you move the cursor. It's as though you were pushing around wet paint/ink.


14. Dodge, Burn and Sponge tools

The Dodge tool is used for brightening areas of a photo. You can set it to work on highlights, midtones or shadows, as well as specify the strength (defined as 'Exposure'). It's extremely useful for making adjustments to small parts of an image. The Burn tool darkens areas of a picture. The same options are available: highlights, midtones, shadows, exposure and brush type.

The sponge tool is a targeted saturation tool. It can be used to either increase or decrease saturation. Be sure that 'Vibrance' in the options bar is checked, as this prevents clipping/oversaturation of colours that are already very intense.


15. Pen, Freeform Pen, Add Anchor Point, Delete Anchor Point and Convert Point tools

The Pen is a great tool for making very precise selections. It makes use of anchor points and a clicking-and-dragging system to define subtle curves in the selection path. The Freeform Pen tool allows us to make freehand selections with the Pen, and can be used with a Magnetic setting, located on the options bar, which causes it to cling to lines (just like the Magnetic Lassoo Tool).

The Add Anchor Point tool can be used to add anchor points to existing selections, and change the shape of the line. Delete anchor point does the opposite, getting rid of anchor points on existing selections. The Convert Point tool enables us to change the type of anchor point in an existing selection from a corner to a smooth curve.


16. Horizontal Type, Vertical Type, Horizontal Type Mask, Vertical Type Mask

Horizontal Type is a tool for writing standard text, in a horizontal format. There are numerous settings that can be applied to text from the options bar. Whenever you create text it creates a new layer in your document. Layer styles can be applied to text (by double clicking on the text layer in the layers panel) for creating cool effects. Vertical Type simply allows you to drag out the text location in a vertical format.

Horizontal and Vertical Type Mask are tools that work in the same way as the above 2, but instead of creating text when you type, a selection is automatically created in the shapes of the characters you write. This has some cool creative potential for creating words out of images.


17. Path Selection and Direct Selection Tools

The Path Selection tool allows you to select a path that has made with the Shape or Pen tool, and move it around. The Direct Selection toolsallows you to actually manipulate specific points of the selection.


18. Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygonal, Line and Custom Shape tools

All of these shape tools are used by simply clicking and dragging out the size of the respective shape in your document. The exception is the custom shape tool, which allows you to create a unique shape for a piece of artwork. By default, a new layer is formed when you drag out a new shape.

There are numerous settings in the option bar, including a menu of pre-set shapes/symbols (like a speech bubble, light bulb and musical note, colour options for filling a shape with and options for adding shapes to the same layer.


19. Hand and Rotate View tools

The Hand tool simply enables you to grab the document and drag it around, just like in a PDF. It's very useful when zoomed in close, so you can move around the image and stay zoomed in.

The Rotate View tool is used to literally rotate the document manually. It's useful if you just feel a particular job, on a particular image, would be easier done if you could twist the page this way or that (rather like when working on actual paper).


20. Zoom tool

The zoom tool zooms in and out, surprisingly! I rarely use it, preferring the shortcuts of "Cmd/Ctrl and +" to zoom in, "Cmd/Ctrl and -" to zoom out, and "Cmd/Ctrl and 0" to fit to screen.


21. Foreground/Background colours

The foreground/background colour squares display you foreground colour in front, and your background colour behind. Black is the default foreground colour and white the default background colour.

Click on the colours to bring up the Color Picker, which allows you to use a pipette for sampling a specific colour to choose as your foreground colour. Click on the littel curved arrow above the colour squares in the toolbar to switch foreground/background colours around.


22. Quick Mask mode

Quick Mask mode is the final feature of the toolbar, right at the bottom. It's a brilliant way of refining selections. Having made a selection, for example with the Quick Selection Tool, click on Quick Mask mode and a pink overlay will appear eveywhere outside the selected area.

Now choose the Brush tool and, with white as the foreground colour, carefully paint on the image to add to the selection. Where you original selection went over the lines, use black as the foreground colour and paint away the mistake. So Quick Mask works on exactly the same principle as layer masks (white reveals, black hides).

Click the icon at the bottom of the toolbar again to return to normal view, without the pink overlay. You will now have a really accurate selection.

For a beginner-friendly book with step-by-step Photoshop tutorials, I recommend "Photo Nuts and Post" by Neil Creek.

Photoshop Tutorials For Beginners

Lesson 1: Getting Started In Photoshop

Lesson 2: Introducing Photoshop Layers

Lesson 3: Organizing Photos In Adobe Bridge

Lesson 4: How To Read A Histogram In Photoshop

Lesson 5: Photoshop Blending Modes and Techniques

Lesson 6: Having Fun With Adjustment Layers

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