Get to Know the Toolbar Basics: A Photoshop Tutorial

Posted on October 19, 2023 | Updated on November 6, 2023

Everyone who opens Photoshop for the first time gets overwhelmed at the amount of features, tools, and functions. You’d be here all night if we covered every single one of the basics in a Photoshop tutorial, so we’ll just go over the essentials to get you started.

1. Selection

You couldn’t cover the basics of a Photoshop tutorial without talking about selection tools. They let you outline objects to edit or adjust them separately from everything else. For example, you could select the bottom half of your project and change its color, brightness, or saturation without affecting the top half.

The first tool on the lefthand toolbar is the “Move” tool in the shape of an arrow. You use it to move your selected object to a different place in your project. Type “Ctrl + V” to access it quickly.

You can use the “Marquee” tool to make specific-shaped selections. Choose rectangular, elliptical, single row, or single column. Access it by typing “Ctrl+M” or using the dashed-line box icon.

To create freeform selections, use “Lasso” by selecting the rope icon or using “Ctrl + L.” It lets you make unique selections around objects in your images. You’ll probably be using it a lot in combination with other tools. 

The “Quick Selection” tool looks like a paintbrush and circle. Photoshop automatically detects an object’s edges and outlines them for you when you use it. It’s a super helpful tool if you’re just starting and need extra help. You can access it with “Ctrl + W.”

3. Navigating

When you’re learning the basics, a Photoshop tutorial covering navigation is a necessity. It is pretty simple since it just includes two tools for navigating the workspace. To move freely around the project without making edits, hit “Ctrl + H” or click the hand icon. If you want to zoom in on your project, use “Ctrl + Z” or click the magnifying glass.

2. Retouching

The bandaid icon is home to “Spot Healing,” which removes objects and blemishes. It also contains the “Healing” tool to cover and fix image imperfections. “Patch” works similarly but selects an area instead of painting. The classic “Red Eye” removes glare in your subject’s eyes and color corrects the red away. Type “Ctrl + J” to access all of these.

You use “Clone Stamp” to duplicate. People mainly use this to remove unwanted objects like stray hairs or background characters. Use a soft brush larger than the object you want to cover, then Alt-click where you want to pick up your sample. From there, you paint over the thing you want to remove.

While the “Pattern Stamp” tool is similar, it paints using part of your image. You can use a pre-set one or create your own with “Edit” on the top toolbar. It’s useful for creating repetitive textures like grass or clouds. 

The “Background Eraser” can erase a specific background color, leaving it transparent. It overrides the transparency lock on layers, so be careful using it. The “Magic Eraser” turns whatever it erases transparent, which is useful when working with layers or if you want to add an image and remove its background.

After you select an object, you use “Blur” to make it less clear, “Sharpen” to enhance it, or “Smudge” to streak it. There’s also the “Dodge” tool to lighten, “Burn” to darken, and “Sponge” to change color saturation.

4. Measuring

Although there’s technically only one measuring tool in the lefthand toolbar, you get multiple when you click on it. The first one you see is the eyedropper icon, which represents the color sampler. Its shortcut is “Ctrl + I” if you want to access it without opening up the rest.

The other tools include the ruler, which gives you vertical and horizontal measurements. It’s helpful for mapping out your creations or increasing your accuracy. Also, you need to activate it to use other Photoshop features like “Guides.”

You’ll probably use “Count” and “Note” less often since they don’t add much to the editing process. The first just adds up all the objects in your image, while the latter is a digital sticky note for you to type whatever you want.

5. Cropping

The crop and slice category is useful for changing dimensions and altering file sizes. Photoshop’s “Crop” is just like any other standard cropping tool, where you can adjust an image’s borders.

Even though the “Slice” option is complex, we’ll cover it since it’s part of the starting toolset. You use it to piecemeal your images into boxes so you can save them separately. It’s non-destructive, so it doesn’t actually “cut” or otherwise damage them. People often use the tool to load images in portions, making their website load faster than usual.

6. Typing

Even though the type tool seems self-explanatory, we’ll review it since you’re here to learn the basics from a Photoshop tutorial. The “T” in the toolbar is for horizontal and vertical typing. Unsurprisingly, its shortcut is “Ctrl + T.” While it’s self-explanatory, the “Type Mask” functions may not be. They create a selection in the shape of text, giving you some interesting creative opportunities.

7. Painting

Both the “Brush” and “Pencil” tools look similar but are very different. The first makes soft strokes and has multiple customization options, while the latter creates lines pixel by pixel without using anti-aliasing. To access both, use the “Ctrl + B” shortcut or go to the paintbrush icon.

The “History Brush” has an icon resembling a paintbrush with an arrow. It lets you mimic various art styles to create a truly unique image. For those who want to access it quickly, the shortcut is “Ctrl + Y.”

To create a color gradient on an object, use “Ctrl +G” to access “Gradient. The paint bucket tool is also here when you need to fill an entire selected area with a particular color. You might not use these much at first, but they’re helpful when you get into object selection.

8. Drawing

The drawing tools are handy as long as you know how to work them. That being said, most people only understand the basics with a Photoshop tutorial. If you want extra insight, there are many free Photoshop tutorials online in video and text format.

You use “Pen” to add or remove anchor points. It creates paths and shapes, which you use when you get to more complex tools. Access it with “Ctrl + P” or click the icon in the form of a fountain pen tip.

“Rectangle” gives you a collection of shapes to add to your image. Although its name suggests it has just the one shape, you can also get a rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon, line, or create your own. Use “Ctrl + U” or click the rectangle to use it.

You’re All Set

Selecting almost anything on the toolbar brings up multiple extra options, which can initially feel overwhelming. Luckily, you can use this to understand what they do and how to use them. Plus, even after learning the basics, a Photoshop tutorial is still a good resource. You can come back here to refresh your memory or get new ideas.

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