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Getting Started with Photoshop

Information on Photoshop basics including: how to open and create a new image, navigating palettes, learning the parts of a layer, how to use guides, and where to go for more help at the University of Michigan.

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Adobe Photoshop
is a powerful graphic editing program that allows you to create and manipulate images for print, the web, and other media. Photoshop is almost limitless in the ability to manipulate and edit images, but don't let that scare you! We have created this guide to help you learn and take advantage of the many feature of this program.

Keep in mind that this guide introduces the basics; many of the tools need to be explored to see all of their capabilities. Also, look for the "Additional Resources" box on each page for additional guides and videos to help you learn each topic!

Types of Edits

Destructive vs. Non-Destructive Editing

There are millions of edits you can make in Photoshop, but know that all edits can be divided into two categories -- destructive and non-destructive.

  • Destructive Edits - These edits alter or change the image information. A destructive edit directly manipulates the image's pixels and therefore cannot or is very difficult to be reversed. 
  • Non-Destructive Edits - Edits that do not directly affect the image’s pixels until the image layers are flattened (by saving as a flattened image format or flattening layers), so one can make alterations using non-destructive tools without losing any image quality or information.

We recommend avoiding destructive edits whenever a non-destructive method is available. Below are some tips for common destructive edits.

  • Healing Tools - Many healing tools are destructive, so we recommend making a duplicate or copy of the layer before making any edits. (Right click on the layer name and select Duplicate Layer...)
  • Filters - Filters are also destructive unless you change your layer to a Smart Layer first. (Right click on the layer name and select Convert to Smart Object


Table of Contents

What's in this guide?

Create / Open Image

  • Opening an Existing Image or File
  • Creating a New Photoshop File
    • New Document Dialog Box
  • Additional Resources


  • Introduction to Palettes
  • The Tools and Options Palettes
  • The Layers & Adjustments Palettes
  • The Color Palette
  • The History Palette - Taking a Snapshot
  • Additional Resources


  • What are layers?
  • Navigating and Organizing Layers
    • Selecting a Layer
    • Moving Layers
    • Finding Layers
    • Creating Groups
  • Types of Layers
  • Parts of a Layer
    • Layer Thumbnail
    • Layer Mask
    • Layer Name
    • Visibility Toggle
    • Layer and Mask Link
  • Layer Features
    • Opacity and Fill
    • Blending Modes
    • Locking Layers
    • Layer Buttons
    • Merging and Flattening Layers

Crop & Transform

  • Straightening and Cropping and Image
    • Straighten an Image
    • Crop an Image
  • How to Transform an Object
    • Transform
    • Free Transform