Photoshop is an amazing tool, but it can be very overwhelming. For example, did you know there are more than 65 tools for you to use in the Photoshop toolbar alone?
Well, good news: I’m here to help! I’m going to be walking you through each of the tools in the Photoshop toolbar so you can get more comfortable with everything you can do.
In Part 1, we’ll be going over the top 6 tool groups on the Photoshop toolbar.
It’s important to note that, while it looks like there are only 6 tools here, there are actually 21. All 6 tools have a small arrow in the bottom right corner, meaning if you click and hold, more tool options will appear. They’re grouped by usage so the Photoshop toolbar doesn’t get overwhelming.
We’ll go from left to right, top to bottom based on the groups.
The Photoshop Toolbar – Part 1
Rectangular Marquee Tool
The rectangular marquee is the most commonly used of the four marquee tools in Group 1. It’s used to select objects in the current layer in a rectangular shape. If you hold shift while dragging it, the marquee will be a square.
Elliptical Marquee Tool
The elliptical marquee tool is just like the rectangular marquee tool, but it selects in a circular shape. Perfect circles can be drawn by holding shift while dragging.
Single Row Marquee Tool
The single row marquee tool is similar to the other two marquee tools, but it only selects a horizontal row of pixels. It won’t get any taller than one pixel, and is as wide as your artboard.
Single Column Marquee Tool
On the opposite side is the single column marquee tool. It can only select one pixel wide, and is as tall as your artboard.
The Move Tool
The move tool is one of the ones I use the most. You use it for moving objects around on your screen. Textboxes, shapes, photos, etc. Typically it will move around the pixels in whatever layer is selected.
The Artboard Tool
The artboard tool is hidden beneath the move tool. It’s used to create additional artboards in your Photoshop document. Think of it like different pages, but they can be all different sizes.
The lasso tool is similar to the marquee tools, but you use it more like a pencil. You select whatever objects you want, in whatever shape you draw. If you don’t create a complete loop, it will draw a straight line from the starting point to the ending point to close the shape.
Polygonal Lasso Tool
The polygonal lasso tool is similar in that you can create whatever shape you want, but the edges of the marquee are all straight lines. So you click once to start the marquee, then click again for the second spot. A straight line will appear between the two. Continue to click until you close the loop, or double-click for a straight line to appear between the starting point and your current point.
Magnetic Lasso Tool
The magnetic lasso tool is one of the best tools for creating cutouts of objects. It automatically traces outlines based on color difference. Simply click where you want to start the marquee, then drag roughly around the shape you want to select. If you need to, you can click in specific points to add anchor points. That’s useful if you get through a tricky spot that needs a little bit more precision.
Quick Selection Tool
Quick selection is just about as useful as the magnetic lasso tool when it comes to cutouts. The quick selection tool is used to select similar pixels based on color. Click and drag around the shape you want and it will select the pixels based on it’s fancy algorithm. The nice thing is, you can select an object that contains many colors without having to select each color group individually.
Magic Wand Tool
I have a love-hate relationship with the magic wand tool. It’s just like quick selection, but you can only choose one color group at a time. Sometimes it gets a little too exact based on the tolerance you set, so it can be difficult to get right.
The crop tool is super useful for photo editing. It’s just like any other crop tool you’ve used–start with a large photo, crop it to a smaller version.
Perspective Crop Tool
I’ve never really used the perspective crop tool, but it seems really cool. It’s similar to the crop tool but can help straighten out objects if the photo looks distorted. See here for an example.
I’ve also never used the slice tool. It’s helpful if you’re trying to create a large image layout (think: web design) but need to cut it up into smaller photos. You click and drag to slice the photo into smaller artboards so you can export them in separate images.
Slice Select Tool
Once you’ve created several slices, you use the slice selection tool to select whatever slice you want.
The eyedropper tool is super helpful for grabbing whatever color you want from the image and making it the foreground color. But it’s also useful for copying the stroke and text settings from one object onto another. Simply highlight a piece of text, select the eyedropper tool, and click on the text style you want.
3D Material Eyedropper Tool
This version of the eyedropper tool is only used for 3D objects in Photoshop, which I have no experience with. But it will tell you what parts of the 3D model use the same 3D material and allow you to eyedrop that material.
Color Sampler Tool
The color sampler tool is just like the color function of the eyedropper tool, but it doesn’t copy that color to the foreground. Click on an area and it will tell you the RGB and CMYK values for that color. You can even do this multiple times to compare different areas of your image.
The ruler tool is used to (surprise!) measure the image. You can also use it to straighten layers by drawing a line across your image where you’d like the horizon to be. Then click Straighten Layer and voila!
The note tool is super helpful if you’ve got multiple people working on the same file. You simply click with the note tool and a note icon shows up. Type whatever you need to in the note palette and everyone can view it! It’s also helpful if you have to stop a project before you’re done. You can leave yourself a note with what your next plans were.
Finally, the count tool is used to (surprise again!) count objects in your image. If, say, you’ve got a photo of roughly 100 cows and need to figure out the exact count, you can use the count tool to click on the objects and mark them as counted. That way you aren’t accidentally counting a cow twice.
Not sure why I used cows in the example there, but you get the idea.
The Photoshop Toolbar – Part 2
Now, we’ll be looking at the 8 tools groups underneath the first horizontal bar.
Spot Healing Brush Tool
The Spot Healing Brush Tool is both awesome and awful. It’s great for retouching, but that’s why it gets a bad rap, too. Also, it doesn’t aaaaalways work. It takes note of what’s around the spot you’re trying to cover up and fills it in as it sees fit. Which sometimes ends poorly. In that case, you can do it more manually.
Healing Brush Tool
That’s where the Healing Brush Tool comes in. It’s for more manual retouching. First, press the Alt button on your keyboard on the spot you’d like to copy over, then go over the spot you’re trying to cover up. It takes the texture of the Alt spot and mixes it with the coloration of the spot you’re trying to cover up so it mixes a little better.
The Patch Tool is similar to both of the healing brush tools. You draw around the area you want to correct, then drag that spot over to the area you want to clone. Note that it doesn’t do much (if any) blending around the shape you patch. It’s a little confusing, so play around with it to see how it works. It’s got a lot less control than the other two, so I prefer using those.
Content-Aware Move Tool
The Content-Aware Move Tool isn’t one that I use all the time, but it could be super helpful. You draw a marquee around the area you want to move, and then move it to a different spot on your image. Once you accept the transformation (hit enter to do so), it will use Content Aware to patch the place the area it came from.
Red Eye Tool
The Red Eye Tool is pretty self-explanatory. It fixes red eye when you click on it.
The Brush Tool is used to draw on your image. A word of caution, though: once you add it, it can’t be changed later unless you hit Undo. So I recommend creating a new layer and then using the brush tool so you can delete the entire layer if you want to do away with it.
The Pencil Tool, on the other hand, can be fixed later. The Brush tool is pixel-based, while the Pencil tool is vector-based, so you can edit it after the fact as much as you need to.
Color Replacement Tool
The Color Replacement Tool (surprise!) replaces the color wherever you draw. It uses the Foreground Color as a reference. For a more detailed tutorial, I recommend reading this article.
Mixer Brush Tool
I don’t use the Mixer Brush because I don’t use Photoshop to paint, but it would be really cool if you do. It mixes colors together when you paint over them. You can also add the foreground color to the mix.
Clone Stamp Tool
The Clone Stamp Tool is very similar to the healing brush tools and patch tool. Basically, take all of those and combine. It’s got the flexibility of the healing brush too, but it clones the reference spot exactly, rather than simply taking the texture. So press Alt on the reference area, and then draw over the area you want to retouch.
Pattern Stamp Tool
The Pattern Stamp Tool is basically a paint brush, but rather than a solid color it paints with a pattern. Choose the pattern you want from the top menu and paint!
History Brush Tool
Remember when I said you can’t undo the Brush tool without the Undo button? Well…. I lied. Partially. With the History Brush Tool, you click on the History window and select the source you’d like, then paint over the spot you want to revert. So, you can go back in just a small portion of the image rather than the whole thing. So you could use this to undo the brush tool, but it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.
Art History Brush Tool
This tool teaches you art history. Just kidding. Couldn’t resist. It combines the effects of the history brush tool with some crazy art effects. Play around with it to see what I mean. I don’t see a ton of applications for this unless you really like crazy swirls or want to make a photo look like a fresco.
The Eraser Tool (surprise!) erases things. It erases only the current layer, so depending on how many layers you have, it might create a transparent background. Or, it might just show you the next layer underneath.
Background Eraser Tool
Remember when we talked about making cutouts using the lasso tools in Part 1? Well, the background eraser tool can do that, too. It’s a little trickier, because Photoshop is guessing at what is foreground and what is background, but if there’s a lot of contrast between the two, it should work pretty well. Adjust the size of the eraser and position the crosshatch in the center over the background and start erasing! Just make sure the crosshatch doesn’t go over your foreground or you’ll be in trouble.
Magic Eraser Tool
The Magic Eraser Tool is just like the Magic Wand tool, but rather than selecting based on a color scheme, it erases based on a color scheme. So this can be really helpful if your background is a solid color that’s very different from your foreground.
The gradient tool creates a gradient! Crazy, right? It makes it over the entire layer. Simply drag from one spot to another to adjust how intense of a gradient it is. The longer the line, the more gradual the gradient becomes. The spot where you start is the foreground color, and the spot where you end is transparent.
Paint Bucket Tool
The Paint Bucket tool is just like the one you used in Microsoft Paint as a kid, but it isn’t as harsh with the pixels. Depending on the tolerance you set on the top menu, you can get specific to one shade or general to the entire picture.
3D Material Drop Tool
The 3D Material Drop Tool is specifically for 3D images in Photoshop, so I don’t really use it. But picture it like the paint bucket for a 3D object: you’re dumping a 3D material into your image.
The blur tool blurs your image. Just click and drag it around to blur different parts of your image.
The sharpen tool sharpens your image. Just click and drag it around to sharpen different parts of your image. But be careful, because it can start to get weird dots around if it gets too sharp.
This one reminds me of finger painting when I was a kid. Use the smudge tool to smudge your image around. You’re simply pushing and dragging different elements of your layer into each other.
The Dodge Tool is great for editing photos that are a little under-exposed. It adds exposure wherever you draw. But make sure you change the exposure percentage in the top menu; I don’t go over 15-20% or it starts looking funky.
The Burn Tool is great for editing photos that are a little over-exposed. It decreases exposure wherever you draw. But again, make sure you change the exposure percentage in the top menu; I don’t go over 15-20% or it starts looking funky.
The Sponge Tool is similar to the dodge and burn tools, but rather than exposure it impacts the saturation. In the top menu, you’ll see a drop-down with two options: saturate or desaturate. Saturate adds color, while desaturate takes it away.
The Photoshop Toolbar – Part 3
This time we’re going to be looking at all of the tools under the second horizontal line on the Photoshop toolbar. Ready? Let’s get to it!
The Pen Tool is my favorite, but by far one of the hardest tools to master. You draw by clicking on the point where you want to start, and before unclicking, hold and drag the cursor to make a curve. Then you click on the next point where you’d like to continue your shape, hold and drag the cursor, etc. To see it in action, here’s a great tutorial from Adobe.
Freeform Pen Tool
The Freeform Pen Tool is the easy version of the Pen Tool. Simply click and drag in whatever shape you want, and Photoshop creates the anchor points for you. Easy, peasy.
Add Anchor Point Tool
The Add Anchor Point Tool is used to add anchor points to an object. I typically use it in conjunction with the Pen Tool, but you could use it with another object created by the Rectangle Tool or the Ellipse Tool, for example. Typically after you create an anchor point, you’ll move it around using the Convert Point Tool or the Direct Selection Tool, which will be discussed soon.
Delete Anchor Point Tool
The Delete Anchor Point Tool is super helpful for perfecting shapes. If you’ve gone a bit too crazy with the Pen Tool or the Freeform Pen Tool, simply click on an anchor point with the Delete Anchor Point Tool, and it’s gone! The object smooths itself out accordingly.
Convert Point Tool
The Convert Point Tool is only used for changing the curve level of a specific anchor point; it can’t move the anchor points around. If you click on it once without dragging anything around, the curves are removed. If you click and hold, the curves of the specific anchor point are changed.
Horizontal Type Tool
This is your basic type tool. If you click once, the text will begin horizontally from that start point. If you click and drag, you create a rectangular text box. In Photoshop, I typically just click once because it’s easier to edit the text that way.
Vertical Type Tool
The Vertical Type Tool is the same thing, but the text goes vertically, one letter on top of the other.
Horizontal Type Mask Tool
The Horizontal Type Mask Tool allows you to type horizontally just like the Horizontal Type Tool, but rather than inserting text, it selects the area that the letters make. So, if you wanted to delete part of a layer in the shape of some words, you’d use this tool. Just note that you can’t go back and edit the text later.
Vertical Type Mask Tool
The same applies here, but the words are vertical.
Path Selection Tool
The Path Selection Tool is your basic pointer tool. Select an entire object or text box and move it around, delete it, etc.
Direct Selection Tool
The Direct Selection Tool, on the other hand, only selects one anchor point on an object. So, if you wanted to move one specific anchor point, you’d use this tool. I typically use this in conjunction with the Add Anchor Point Tool.
This tool draws a rectangular box. To create a square, hold the Shift button as you click and drag.
Rounded Rectangle Tool
This tool draws a rectangular box with rounded corners. To create a rounded-corner square, hold the Shift button as you click and drag.
This tool draws an oval box. To create a circle, hold the Shift button as you click and drag.
To create a box with as many sides as you’d like. To create a polygon, simply select the Polygon Tool and click on your artboard. It will ask you the dimensions you’d like your polygon to be, as well as how many sides you’d like it to have. You can also create a star inset if you’d like.
This tool creates a line.
Custom Shape Tool
This tool creates a custom shape. To select the shape you’d like to create, select it from the Shape drop-down menu on the top toolbar. Some shapes include arrows, hearts, and scissors.
This tool allows you to click and drag your artboard around; it’s really only useful in Full Screen mode with Menu Bar, which we’ll get to in a few.
Rotate View Tool
This allows you to rotate the angle your artboard is at. Simply click and drag it to change the angle.
This tool allows you to zoom in or out of your artboard.
The top color (in this case, black) is your foreground color. It’s the color your text, objects, etc. will be when you first draw them. The bottom color (in this case, white) is your background color. When you erase on the background layer, you’ll get this color.
Quick Mask Mode
Quick Mask Mode is a super easy way to select things. When you click this button, anything that you erase or delete will get a red overlay over it. Anything that is still its natural color (no red overlay) when you unclick the Quick Mask Mode button will be selected.
Standard Screen Mode
This is the screen mode I typically use; it creates separate windows for each of your artboards and toolbars. There’s no background blocking out your desktop or other programs.
Full Screen Mode with Menu Bar
This is the same as Standard Screen Mode, but there’s a background to block out your desktop and other programs.
Full Screen Mode
Full Screen Mode only shows your artboard with a black background. There are no toolbars or anything; it’s the epitome of distraction-free work.
Phew! That was a lot. Is anything still unclear ab out the Photoshop toolbar? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll help you out!