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Top 10 Productivity Techniques for Photoshop CS5: Part One
Geoff Blake on Tue, May 17th 0 comments
I've written quite a few tutorials recently on Photoshop, and while most have "how-to" pieces, focused on pulling off certain effects, a handful have been more on the productivity side of things, like

I've written quite a few tutorials recently on Photoshop, and while most have "how-to" pieces, focused on pulling off certain effects, a handful have been more on the productivity side of things, like Top Ten Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts and Becoming More Efficient with Workspaces in Photoshop. Well, this two-part tutorial is my chance to really dig deep into Photoshop and show you some really amazing things. Here in part one we'll start off nice 'n simple with a quick discussion on how to customize Photoshop's keyboard shortcuts for increased productivity, but then we'll quickly move on to smart objects, and some masking techniques. 

Stay tuned for part two, cuz we'll get into even more productivity tips. You may want to block off the rest of the day, this is gonna be fun! 


01 - Customizing Keyboard Shortcuts 

We'll start things off here with a look at customizing Photoshop's keyboard shortcuts. It's easy stuff, and it works exactly the same in Illustrator, too. To get started, choose Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts. In the dialog box that appears, expand the menu that contains the command whose shortcut you'd like to adjust, then either type in a new shortcut or use the buttons on the right. 

For example, I never use File > Save As. For speed, hitting Cmd+S (Mac) or Ctrl+S (PC) brings up the Save As dialog box on an unsaved file anyway. So the default keyboard shortcut of Shift+Cmd+S (Mac) or Shift+Ctrl+S (PC) is kinda pointless. Instead, I've remapped it to File > Save For Web & Devices.


02 - Convert Layers to Smart Objects

Photoshop will let you convert layers to Smart Objects for fast editing. Check this out: Try right-clicking on a layer and choosing Convert To Smart Object. Notice the Smart Object icon that now appears in the layer thumbnail. Now here comes the cool part. If you duplicate this layer, and use it several times in a layout that you're building (perhaps it's a company logo or a product photo that you're using over and over), it's the Smart Object, not the original graphic that's being used over and over. 

Double-click on the Smart Object icon in the layer thumbnail, and the original object opens as its own separate file. Make whatever changes you'd like, then save the file, and you'll see that any instance of that object instantly updates in your layout. Cool, huh?


03 - Smart Objects Between Illustrator & Photoshop

As you may have discovered from some of my other tutorials, I love Illustrator (almost on an unhealthy level, actually). And whenever I find myself working with Illustrator and Photoshop together, which is quite often, I always be sure to use Smart Objects between them. So, you just saw how to use Smart Objects within Photoshop, now we'll essentially do the same thing across two applications.

First, grab some content in Illustrator and copy it. Next, flip over to Photoshop and paste. In the dialog box that appears, be sure to choose Smart Object; then click OK. Your Illustrator content appears within a frame that works in a similar way to Photoshop's Free Transform. So go ahead and scale and position your artwork; then hit Enter. Now, notice the Smart Object icon in the layer thumbnail again? Go ahead and double-click it, and you'll find yourself back in Illustrator. Make your changes, save, and head back to Photoshop, and you'll discover the Illustrator content updated. I love Smart Objects!


04 - Quick Mask Mode 

Okay, we're gonna go from Smart Objects to something completely different - Photoshop's Quick Mask Mode. In my mind anyway, an important area of good Photoshop technique comes down to our ability to create precise selections. Selections are used in a huge variety of ways in Photoshop, but often they're tough to create. Well, one way to create selections is to paint them using the Quick Mask Mode. This is perfect for any situation where you want to isolate an object within a photo. Now there's quite a bit to working with the Quick Mask Mode, but here's the quick rundown.

First, hit the "Q" key on your keyboard. That'll get you into Quick Mask Mode. Next, hit the "D" key so that your foreground and background colors at the bottom of the Toolbox are set to their defaults. 

Now grab the paintbrush from the Toolbox and begin painting on your image. Notice you're painting in red? You're actually painting a mask. The idea here is to paint over all the areas that you don't want selected with the red mask. So, painting with black adds to the red mask, subtracting from your selection. 

Hitting the "X" key on your keyboard flips the foreground and background colors, so now you'll be painting with white. Painting with white removes the red mask, adding to the selection. You'll probably have to zoom in nice and close, and alternate between painting with black and white a few times, but when you're done just hit the "Q" key again to go back to the regular Photoshop view, where your mask is converted to a traditional selection. How do ya like that?!


05 - Layer Masks

Another way to work with masking in Photoshop, and a method to non-destructively work with your images, is to use layer masks. Layer masks have been around for a long time in Photoshop, but I don't see them being used nearly as often as they should. Here's a quick rundown.

Begin by creating a rough selection of the object you'd like to select. It doesn't have to be perfect. Next, choose Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. If the option is grayed out, be sure to convert your Background layer to a normal layer. Now what happens is, your selection is converted to a mask. Any areas that fall inside your selection are visible (hence the name of the command, Reveal Selection), while anything that falls outside of your selection is hidden. Note that the areas that are no longer visible are not deleted, they're masked. Again, this is all non-destructive. Check out the Layers panel, too. A second layer thumbnail is added to represent the layer mask.


Now for the fun part. Remember earlier we painted with black and white using Photoshop's Quick Mask Mode? We can do the same thing here. Grab your paintbrush and have at it. Painting with black will reveal more of your image, while painting with white will mask away your image. This is why I said to create a rough selection at the beginning - you can get it just right simply by painting it in. 

So there it is, the first half of Top 10 Productivity Techniques for Photoshop CS5. I hope you enjoyed, had fun, and learned a lot. Be sure to join me over in Top 10 Productivity Techniques for Photoshop CS5 - Part Two!

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