Getting Started

Many people open Photoshop (PS) for the first time – take one look and run a mile. At first, it looks very daunting. Time spent learning how to use the workspace and how to set it up to reflect your own use, will repay itself many times over.  There are several advantages in mastering the workspace:

  • it will speed up your workflow
  • it will declutter and simplify the screen layout
  • it will maximise the screen space available for your image thus making it much easier to work with.

The Photoshop Workspace

The Menu Bar

This is at the top of the screen and includes a variety of sub-menus. Many of Photoshop’s tools and functions can be accessed here. There are a great many possibilities here but there are many options that you will rarely use and in many cases there are better ways to do things.

The Toolbar

This contains some of the most commonly used tools in Photoshop. You will notice that some have a little arrow beside them. This indicates that there are other related tools available from that button. Right-click the arrow icon to display a dropdown. Tools are selected by left-clicking any icon.

The Tool Options Bar

This lists settings and modifiers for the selected tool. The contents will change depending which tool is selected.


Panels contain sets of controls for a wide variety of tools. Panels are central to using Photoshop as most of the adjustments you make will be made using panels. You can decide which panels are available in this area. They can be docked as one or two column of icons and each will open up the related panel when clicked. Alternatively they can ‘float’ within the main window either as open panels or small icons.

Setting up the Workspace

From the Windows tab on the main menu bar you can access a sub-menu called Workspace. This lists a number of workspaces. A workspace defines how panels are organised and displayed. The default workspace is called Essentials. Clicking any of the listed workspaces will instantly change the appearance of your screen by displaying a different arrangement of panels for each workspace. I would recommend that you ignore all of these as none is likely to reflect how you will use Photoshop. In addition, most will simply clutter up your workspace with panels that you will rarely use.

Instead, it’s well worth creating your own workspace. This is done by removing any panels you don’t want and adding those panels which you use most frequently. Once you have set up the panels as you wish, you can save this arrangement as a new workspace. Here’s how:

  1. Remove any unwanted panels. Click on the bars icon at the top right of any panel and select Close from the dropdown menu. Select Close Tab Group to remove all the panels in a group.
  2. Add any panels you wish to include.  Click the Window menu and a complete list of panels will be offered. Don’t worry if you’re not sure which ones you will need. You can add others at any point. I suggest that the Layers panel should ALWAYS be included.
  3. Arrange the open panels as you wish. This can be quite fiddly.
  4. Save your layout by clicking the Window menu >>> Workspace. Select New Workspace from the dropdown. Type a name for your workspace and click Save.
  5. At any time, you can amend your workspace and update it by creating a new workspace with the same name.

Your workspace will now be included in the Workspace menu and you can restore it at any time by selecting it. If any workspace doesn’t display as you would expect, then click Reset ‘WorkspaceName in the Workspace sub-menu.


Photoshop’s preferences allow you to apply a wide range of global settings. In the first instance, I would recommend that you leave them unchanged with the following exceptions:

  • File Handling tab: ‘Automatically save recovery Information every  ‘5 minutes’. This gives some security if things go badly wrong such as PS freezing or crashing.
  • Performance tab: Increase the number of history states. This will allow you to step back through your edits. I have mine set at 300. 

If you have additional drives, you might also benefit from assigning these as Scratch disks.

Read more - Preferences

Keyboard Shortcuts

Many of Photoshop’s tools can be accessed by keyboard shortcuts. I would recommend that you try to build up your knowledge of these over time as they really speed things up. One of the most important is CTRL Z which is Undo the last action. That will often bail you out of what might seem like a disaster! Some of the most useful shortcuts are listed in the link below.
Keyboard Shortcuts PDF

Have a Go - Set up your own Workspace
  • Close unwanted panels.
  • Open panels you want to include in your workspace.
  • Arrange the open panels
  • Save your new workspace.

Change your Preferences to set a higher number of History states.