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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.


Example of Photoshop PalettesIntroduction to Palettes

Palettes [shown right] are groups of tools used to edit and manipulate your image.

Photoshop contains over two dozen palettes that can be shown or hidden by using the Window menu and selecting the palette you wish to reveal. Palettes with a checkmark beside their names [below] indicate that they are open in your Photoshop workspace and selecting those checkmarked palettes will hide them. 


Window menu


Can't find your palette? No worries!

Small Section of Tools PalettePalettes can be oragnized in many different ways in the Photoshop workspace. One way is by grouping several palettes togehter in a window and create tabs. If you look at the image [shown right], notice that behind the Layers Palette there are tabs for the Channels and Paths palettes which are grouped behind the Layers Palette.

Additionally, palettes can be collapsed or minimized in your Photoshop workspace and can be hard to locate.  Collapsed palettes will appear as icons [shown below] and can be expanded by clicking on the icon of the palette. 

Make it personal!

To make your Photoshop experience more enjoyable, take advantage of customizing your workspace!

Photoshop comes with several presets of workspaces, each having unique palettes and options revealed. You can change your workspace by going to Window in the menuselecting Workspace, and selecting one of the presets. Know that palettes can also be hidden, revealed, moved, and organized however you would like! You can move (by clicking on the palette's tab and dragging it) and customize the palettes in your Photoshop workspace and save them to use later by going to Window in the menu, select Workspace and then New Workspace..


More Palettes...

Although we do not cover all two dozen plus palettes in this guide, we have provided further information [below] on some of the most used palettes, including Tools, OptionsLayersAdjustments and History. 

Tools and Options Palettes

The Tools Palette

As you may have guessed, is the palette that houses all of Photoshop's wonderful tools. Use the following directions to learn how to select tools from the Tools Palette.

Full Tools Palette

1. Click on the tool icon to select that tool.

 Selected tool

2. Hover your cursor over the tool icon to reveal its name and (keyboard shorcut).

Tools have alternate text

3. Click and hold down on any tool icon that has a white triangle in the bottom right to reveal related tools nested underneath.

Tools hidden under other tools

The Options Palette

Think of the Options Palette as the sidekick to the Tools Palette. Whenever you select a tool from the Tools Palette, the Options Palette will display all of the options for that selected tool. For example, if you select the Type Tool, the Options Palette will display options related to text such as font, type size, color, and more [below].

Tools Options Palette

The Options Palette is located at the very top of your Photoshop window just below your Menu. It's conveniently located so that you can quickly and easily adjust your tool's properties as you use them.

Note: If you ever find your Tools or Options palettes missing, go to Window in your Menu and select either Tools or Options from the list to reveal the palettes.

Layers and Adjustments Palettes

Layers palette iconAdjustments palette iconThe Layers and Adjustments Palettes

The Layers Palette [below; left] is the home of all of your layer information where it can be stored and organized. It lists all layers in an image, and a thumbnail of layer contents appears to the left of the layer name. You use the Layers Palette to create, hide, display, copy, merge, and delete layers. Learn more.

The Adjustments Palette [below; right] is where you would select adjustments that you wish to appy to layers. This palette includes many different adjustments including exposure, color balance, saturation, and brightness / contrast. Learn more.

Layers palette with Layers
Layers Palette
Screenshot of Adjustments palette
Adjustments Palette


Color Palette

Color palette iconThe Color Palette


The Color Palette is where you can select and change your foreground and background colors that will be used with brushes and fills. Look at the screenshot of the Color Palette below and take note of the two stacked boxes, shown as black and white. In the screenshot, note that the foreground color is the top box (black) and the background color is the bottom box (white).

Note: Click on the list icon ( List icon) in the Color Palette to change the color space from RGB to CMYK, Grayscale, Lab, and more.

Color Palette

Color Palette

To change the color, select either the foreground and background color box in the Color Palette by clicking on it. Then, use either the sliders or click in the spectrum below the sliders to select a new color. If you do not like using the sliders, double click on a color box to bring up the Color Picker [shown right].

Color pickerSelecting a Color from the Color Picker 

Color picker in Tools PaletteAlso know that you can select and change Foreground and Background colors within your Tools Palette by using this mini color palette located near the bottom of the Tools Palette.

History Palette

History Palette iconThe History Palette – Saving a Snapshot

The History Palette is a log of all the actions you perform within Photoshop. By default, the History Palette contains the last 20 changes to your image. Each time you change the image, a new state is added to the History Palette. To jump to a particular state, click on that state name in the History Palette and all other actions after that state wil become greyed out and italicized.

History Palette - Current StateHistory palette - previous state

[Left image: Shows the current state and recent actions performed | Right image: Shows going back to a previous state]

Note: If you go back to a previous state and then perform a new action, you will record over all previous actions and edits.


The Snapshot command lets you take a snapshot of any state in the History Palette of your image. The new snapshot is added to a list of snapshots located at the top of History Palette.  To create a snapshot:

1.     Select the state that you want to capture.

2.     Click the New Snapshot icon (Snapshot icon) at the bottom of History Palette

Note: When you close the image file, the snapshots and states in the History Palette are not saved.