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Photoshop CS6 Basic Skills

What is Photoshop?

Photoshop is an image editing software used by a wide range of media professionals to perform a broad variety of tasks ranging from combining images and photo correction to 3D object creation and even some frame editing for video. It is an incredibly useful tool and some basic knowledge in Photoshop can really go a long way. This tutorial will take you through some of the basics of Photoshop, and introduce you to some of the tools you will find yourself using the most in image editing. However, if you find that you wish to learn more, there are a large variety of great sources of information online, as well as staff and professionals here at Hamilton who would love to go into some of the finer details. Always feel free to stop by the Research & Design Studio desk in Burke Library with questions for our Digital Media Tutors or R&ID staff.

Creating a New Image

Often you will be using Photoshop to edit currently existing images, but there are times when you will want to create an image of your own.

1. To begin, you're going to want to open the Photoshop application. You can find this in the dock or in the Applications folder if you're on a Mac. If you're on a PC it will be located in the Start menu with the other programs.

2. Once Photoshop has loaded, go to the File menu and select New.

3. A dialog box should appear, shown here to the right. Start by entering a file name for your image in the Name field.

4. Next, specify the dimensions of your image. There are a number of preset sizes to choose from in Preset drop-down menu, but you can also just specify the Width and Height manually. You can also choose the units of the dimensions from the drop down menus next to Width and Height. The options include inches, pixels, centimeters, and more.

5. Under the Color Mode label, make sure that the RGB Color option is chosen unless you wish to work in black and white.

6. Using the Background Contents drop-down menu, you can choose to create your image with a default background color of White, the current Background Color set in Photoshop, or Transparent. Once you're finished, click OK.

NOTE: Transparent backgrounds only work with GIF and PNG images. If you are planning on making a graphic for the web, you can use either of these options. Keep in mind that GIF images only use 256 colors so they will not work well for more detailed image work. PNGs have many more color options, however they often have a larger file size than both GIF and JPEG, but unless you're creating the images for the web, this difference will probably not affect you.

Photoshop Toolbars


Photoshop has a large array of distinct tools. Below you will see the names of all the various tools and how they will appear in Photoshop. Below are some further explanations of a few of the more commonly used ones.

Move Tool - Use this tool to grab on to the currently selected layer and drag it around the image until you're satisfied with its position.

Lasso Tool - Use to select a specific section of a layer.

Quick Selection Tool - Attempts to create a selection around an object based on the areas you select. Works best when dealing with solid colors.

Magic Wand Tool -  Located under the associated tools with the Quick Selection Tool. This tool works similarly to the Quick Selection Tool, however it relies on only one point to make a selection suggestion, and will select as much area it possibly can as long as the areas are touching and colors are similar enough according to the set Tolerance.

Crop Tool - Use to highlight a specific rectangular area of an image and then crop the image down into that area.

Paintbrush Tool - Use to draw like you would with a paintbrush. There are a variety of brush stroke shape and size options in the toolbar at the top when activated.

Type Tool - Use the type tool to create a text layer for your image. Text attributes such as font, color, size, style, and orientation can all be modified.

Eye Dropper Tool - Use this tool to grab color from one place in an image and use it somewhere else. With this tool activated, simply click on an area of the image and the color of that area will be sent to the color palette.

Note: By right clicking on one of the tool icons that has a small triangle in the bottom right corner, a list of related tools will be revealed. This can also be done by clicking and holding the tool.


The Options Toolbar allows you to manipulate the attributes of each different tool. For instance, shown below are the options for the Text Tool. As you can see there are options to change the font, style, size, alignment, and color. This toolbar will change depending on the tool that is currently selected.

Note: If the Options Toolbar isn't visible when you open Photoshop, you can display it by going to Window menu and selecting Options.


Within Photoshop there is a number of independent menus known as palettes. A palette will contain a group of tools specific to accomplishing some goal in Photoshop, and they can be incredibly useful for manipulating and editing images. Three of the more important and commonly used palettes are the History, Color, and Layers palettes.


Basic Image Editing


To rotate an image, first make sure the image is selected. Then go to Image menu and select Image Rotation. Under this selection you will find six choices to pick from: 180º, 90º CW, 90º CCW, Arbitrary..., Flip Canvas Horizontal, and Flip Canvas Vertical. The appearance of these choices is shown below. Select whichever choice will yield the result you are looking for. For example, 180º will flip your image upsidedown. Arbitrary will allow you to rotate any number of degrees.


To resize an image, first make sure the image is selected. Now go to the Image menu and select Image Size. The Image Size window will open up, shown below.

You can edit the dimensions of your image either by changing the number of pixels within the image, or by changing the width and height of the image. Changing the width and height directly is the easiest way to change the image’s size.

Also, notice the three checkboxes at the bottom of the window. You can go ahead and just leave the top one checked for now, but the bottom two are further explained below.

Constrain Proportions

When this box is checked, you only have to change either the height or the width and the other will change to maintain the image’s proportions.

Resample Image

By unchecking this box, you can change the document’s resolution without resizing the image itself. This is important if you intend to print the image. An ideal resolution for print is 300 pixels/inch.

Free Transform

Along the topics of resizing and rotating images, it is worth mentioning a quick and easy, although less accurate, way of accomplishing both. With your image selected, go to the Edit menu and select Free Transform. You’ll notice that a series of points will show up around your image. Shown below.

If you hover over these points, you will see arrows suggesting either scaling the image or rotating it. You can grab these points and move them in and out to scale the image, or if you're on one of the corner points, you will be able to rotate the image. You can view all of the changed attributes in the Options toolbar, or change attributes directly there. When you're all set, click the return key  and your changes will be applied.


To crop an image, go to the Tools Toolbar, usually located on the left of the screen, and select the Crop Tool. (If the Tools toolbar is not visible, go to the Window menu and select Tools.)

Now, you’ll notice that your cursor changes to a cross hair with the crop symbol at the bottom right. Simply click and drag the cursor over the portion of the image that you want to crop and keep. The cropped area will now be outlined and brighter than the surrounding area. From here, you can adjust the area being cropped by clicking and dragging the handles.

When you’ve finished adjusting the size of the area to be cropped, click the return key again. Your changes will then be applied. 



To add text to an image, begin by selecting the Type Tool from the Tools Toolbar. Then, click and drag the cursor over the portion of the image you wish to add text to.

Type the desired text. Recall that you can use the Options Toolbar to change the attributes of the text.

Once you are finished typing in your text and editing the font properties, click the Commit Any Current Edits button at the right of the Options Toolbar. Shown below.


History Palette

In Photoshop, it is likely that you will want to revert to a previous state in your image. However, unlike many other programs, the Undo command only works for the latest action. If you need to go back to an even earlier stage of your image, you will need to use the History Palette.

The History Palette should be located at the top right of your workspace in Photoshop. If you don't see it, go to the Window menu  and select History.

Displayed in the History Palette will be all the actions that you have performed on a given image in descending chronological order. To revert to a previous state, simply find the desired action within the palette and select it. The image will then revert back to that state.


What is a Layer?

In Adobe Photoshop, the ability to create, move, and manipulate layers is key to successful image design. To understand what a layer in Photoshop is, simply picture several sheets of glass with different pictures on them stacked in a pile. The pictures on the top sheet of glass will overlap any pictures on the sheets of glass beneath. If you wanted to wash off a picture on the middle layer of glass, you could do so without affecting the pictures on the other sheets of glass. This is exactly how layers work in Photoshop. They are designed so that you can edit and change specific aspects of your overall composite image without going through the hassle of editing the entire image. In short, layers simplify many image manipulation and editing techniques that would otherwise be very difficult or even impossible.

Layers Palette

Selecting Layers

The Text layer is highlighted. This means that any changes made to the image at this point will only affect that layer. Anything on the Background layer will remain unchanged. Simply click once on a specific layer to select it for editing. 

Moving Layers

If you have several layers in your image and want to rearrange the order in which they are “stacked”, simply go to the Layers Palette, click on the layer you wish to reorient in the hierarchy, and drag it up or down until it is where you want it.

Deleting Layers

To remove a layer from your image, select it in the Layers Palette and click the Delete Layers icon. This icon resembles a trashcan and is located in the lower right corner of the palette.

Creating Layers

To add a new layer to your image, click the Create a New Layer icon, which resembles a piece of folded paper, in the lower right corner of the layers palette next to the Delete Layers icon.

Hiding Layers

You can temporarily hide a layer so that you can more easily work with layers beneath it by clicking in the box to the left of the layer, which contains the icon of the eye. If the eye is present, it means the layer is visible. If there is no eye in the box, the layer is currently hidden from view.

Changing the Opacity of Layers

In some cases, you may wish to make a specific layer appear transparent so that the preceding layer can be seen through it. To accomplish this effect, simply adjust the Opacity Controls. In the example image of the Layers Palette above, the opacity is currently set to 100%. Try changing the opacity percentage until you achieve the desired effect.

Renaming Layers

If your image has many layers, it would probably be a good idea to give each layer a name that will help you to quickly identify it. To change the name of an existing layer, double click on the existing title and then change the name to whatever you like.

Creating Sets

To better organize layers within your image, you can create sets. Sets are simply groups of layers organized according to some common characteristic. For instance, perhaps several layers of your image together create a bear. You might want to group all of those layers together and put them in a set titled “Bear”. To create a set, click on the Create a New Set icon, this resembles a folder, at the bottom of the Layers Palette. To add layers to the set, simply click and drag them into it.

Adding Layer Effects

Photoshop includes all sorts of cool effects that can be applied to specific layers. Some of these include drop shadow, glow, bevel, and emboss. They can be applied to both image and text layers. All you need to do is select a layer and click on the Add a Layer Style icon. It’s the icon that looks like an italic “fx” at the bottom of the Layers Palette. A drop-down menu will pop up where you can choose an effect and then modify its attributes.

Color Adjustments

Photoshop has a large variety of tools to perform color adjustments, some more user friendly than others. There are entire books and tutorials dedicated to just the topic of color adjustments alone, so obviously much of the abilities will be left out of this resource, however this should serve as a good brief introduction to some of the tools.

The Adjustments Palette should be open and on the right side of your workspace by default. If you don't see it, go to the Window menu and select Adjustments. Within this palette will most likely be all the color adjustment tools you are looking for. Below is a brief overview of a few of the more commonly used ones.

In the Adjustments Palette shown to the right, a few of the specific adjustments have been highlighted. The icon that looks like a half dark/half light sun is the Brightness/Contrast adjustment, the icon that looks like a scale is the Color Balance adjustment, and the icon that looks like graph paper with a curve on it is the Curves adjustment. Below these are explained in a little more detail.


This tool is pretty straightforward, and the results of changes you make will be visible right away in your image. Simply enter a value or use the scroll bar to change the Brightness and Contrast attributes. There is also an Auto button which will result in Photoshop changing these attributes itself to achieve the best result according to it's own algorithms. Note: This may not be the best result according to you!

Color Balance

As with the Brightness/Contrast adjustment, changing the Color Balance is pretty straightforward and edits you make will be previewed right away. Simply enter a number or use the slider to change the balance. You choose which tone balance you're adjusting by using the Tone: option. The three tone balances are shadows, midtones, and highlights.


The Curves adjustment is a bit more complex but not much more difficult to use than Brightness/Contrast or Color Balance. However, it is incredibly versatile and allows for changes in both luminosity and color balance. Notice that the curve starts out with 5 points of contact with the grid behind it. These points are highlighted in the image to the right. Starting from the bottom left and working up and to the right, these points represent the Black Point, Shadows, Midtones, Highlights, and White Point. By clicking on the curve, you create an edit point where you can adjust the curve, adjusting the brightness of these various aspects of the color in the image. If there is a specific area of the image you know you want to affect, click the icon in the top left that looks like a finger pointing, then click and hold the area you want to change. Then simply drag the mouse up or down to change the curve to adjust that area. By default you affect the entire RGB color scale with your edits, but you can change it to specifically red, green, or blue by using the lower drop down menu under Preset:.  If you decide you want to reset the changes you made in Curves, click the middle icon at the bottom, that looks like an arrow going in a loop.


Saving Your Image

Saving your work is important not only when you are finished, but throughout the process as well. Be sure to save your work when you start, and routinely throughout the editing process. The format in which you save your image is dependent on its purpose. For instance, web graphics are saved as JPEG, GIF, or PNG. However, if you are saving the image to print, such as you would in digital photography, you will most likely want to save your image in the TIFF format.

To save your image, go to the File menu and select Save As.

The dialog box shown to the right will open. Here, you can name your file, select the correct format, and choose where to save your file. There are a number of different options under Format:, with the default set as a Photoshop document (.psd). Keep in mind that if you want to use your image for anything other than working in Photoshop you will want to save it as something other than a Photoshop document. When you have named your image and set everything the way you want, click Save.

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Creating a New Image

Often you will be using Photoshop to edit currently existing images, but there are times when you will want to create an image of your own.

1. To begin, you're going to want to open the Photoshop application. You can find this in the dock or in the Applications folder if you're on a Mac. If you're on a PC it will be located in the Start menu with the other programs.

2. Once Photoshop has loaded, go to the File menu and select New.
3. A dialog box should appear, shown here to the right. Start by entering a file name for your image in the Name field.


Last updated: August 16, 2021


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