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Updated on January 4, 2013

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Photoshop Tools Crash Course

Hello everyone! Today I wanted to share a simple yet important lesson for all of you creators out there. We’re going to go over all of the basic tools within Photoshop! Sound terrifyingly overwhelming? You got this!

If you’ve never opening up photoshop or are just a beginner, this is a very important lesson for you. Or if you are like I was (using photoshop all the time for over a few years but never really sat down and learned what all the tools were) this is a great post for you as well. Once you have a grasp for what all of the tools do and how to use them, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a photoshop pro. Seriously! You’ll be able to do 90% of all of your projects with the folllowing 21+ tools.

For those of you who want an in-depth and more engaging way to learn this, check out my video crash course. I go over all of the following tools while showing you how to use them. The best part about it is that it’s free! Click here to sign up!


For the rest of you who enjoy reading, please continue. So open up Photoshop, follow along, and good luck!

The 21+ Basic Photoshop Tools:

  • Move Tool (V)
    • This is the most basic tool that you will be using a lot. Select a layer from your layer panel, click on the object in the composition, and move it around. Holding down the Shift key will keep your object on the same x or y axis.
  • Marquee Tool (M)
    • Use this tool to select portions of your image in a rectangular shape. Click and hold down the Marquee Tool button to bring up options such as elliptical shape. Holding down the Shift key while making your selection will lock your selection into a square or perfect circle.
  • Lasso Tool (L)
    • Use this tool to draw selections, using whatever shape you want. Make sure you close the selection by clicking on the beginning point or by simply double clicking.
  • Quick Selection & Magic Wand (W)
    • The Quick Selection tool is a great tool that I use when quickly masking out objects (getting rid of backgrounds). The quick selection tool will select the area you click and all the similar colors around this selection. Increase the size of this by clicking other colors or areas of your photos.
    • The Magic Wand is another great tool for getting rid of background colors or all of one color. Simply click on the color you want to select, and photoshop will try to grab all of that same color. Have a white or black background that you want to get rid of? Click on the black. It will create a selection of that color. Press the delete key and ‘poof’ that color is gone. Now you have a transparent background.
  • Crop Tool (C)
    • This is similar to the Marquee Selection tool. Use it to select an area of your project. Press enter and it crops the image. The new image then becomes the full size of your composition. Using the Marquee Selector tool, you still have the same size image, you’ve just selected a portion of that image. The crop allows you to crop photos to your desired size and aspect ratio.
  • Eyedropper Tool (I)
    • The eyedropper tool is for selecting a specific color within your composition. Go ahead and try clicking around a photo and you’ll see the color show up in your ‘color/swatches’ tab.
  • Spot Healing Brush, Healing Brush, Red Eye Tools (J)
    • These three tools are used to fix blemishes within your images. Use the spot healing and healing brushes to fix any blemishes such as pimples, scars, unwanted freckles, etc. Using ‘option-click’ or ‘alt-click’ paint over the good part of your image. Move the cursor and paint normally over the blemishes. These tools use the prior selection to ‘fix’ whatever you want to heal. The Red Eye tool fixes any problematic red eye picked up by your camera.
  • Paint Brush, Pencil, Color Replacement, Mixer Brush (B)
    • These four tools are really fun! The Paint Brush and Pencil tools are for drawing on your image. Select the size, shape, and color of your brush from the top bar. The color replacement and mixer brushes are creative ways to stylize your images. They replace a specific color with another color while painting and mix the painted stroke with the colors around it, respectively.
  • Clone Stamp, Pattern Stamp (S)
    • The clone stamp is similar to the Healing Brush Tool (see above) and used in the same way. Except using the clone stamp tool doesn’t blend, but rather just copies your prior selection to the space you want. Use the ‘option-click’ or ‘alt-click’ method to select a portion of your image the move to another part of your image to paint on your copied selection. This is a great way to alter backgrounds such as adding trees to the background, getting rid of telephone wires, etc.
  • History Brush (H)
    • This tool works just like the Brush Tool but the new paint stroke will be the original state of your image. Use this if you want to undo any small unwanted changes.
  • Eraser, Background Eraser, Magic Eraser Tools (E)
    • Easy enough, this tool just erases whatever layer you have selected as your drag over it. It makes whatever you erase transparent.
  • Paint Bucket & Gradient Tool (G)
    • The paint bucket tool is for changing entire shapes or layers to another color. The gradient tool is for adding a gradient to a specific shape, text, layer, etc.
  • Blur, Sharpen, Smudge Tool (R)
    • The blur tool blurs whatever you click on. The more you click, the blurrier it gets.
    • The Sharpen tool does the opposite, sharpening whatever you click on.
    • The smudge tool moves whatever selection make. Click and drag on an image. You’ll see that it ‘smudges’ it. Hard to explain more than this.
  • Dodge, Burn, Sponge Tools (O)
    • The dodge tool lightens up whatever you click on.
    • The burn tool darkens whatever you click on.
    • The sponge tool saturates or desaturates whatever you click on, depending on your settings in the top options bar.
  • Pen Tools (P)
    • The pen tool creates paths which can be used for creating selections or creating clipping paths. Just click to add a point. Clicking and dragging will allow you to bend and shape the path for accurate selections.
  • Horizontal and Vertical Type Tool; Type Mask Tool (T)
    • The type tool is for adding text to your image. Use the horizontal type tool to write horizontally and vertical type tool to write vertically. Change your font, size, and style options within the top option bar.
    • The type mask tool creates a selection mask of whatever text you type. Use the same operation as above to change font, size, and style options.
  • Path Selection Tool (A)
    • Use this tool when working with paths such as the ones you created with the Pen Tool (above).
  • Shape Tool (U)
    • The rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon, line, and custom shape tools are for creating new shapes. Make sure you use a new layer when adding a new shape. To do this, go to the top menu under the Layer tab or click ‘Control-Command-N’ on your keyboard. Select the shape tool you want, the color, and border options then click and drag in your composition window to create your new shape.
  • Object Rotate (K) & Camera Rotate (N) Tools
    • If you have any 3D objects in your composition, use this tool to rotate them.
  • Hand Tool (H)
    • This is a great tool for moving the entire image/composition within your window. For example, if you are zoomed in, just use the Hand Tool to move the image around rather than having to zoom out and then back in to your desired location.
  • Zoom Tool (Z)
    • One of my favorite tools. You can zoom in and out of your image. Press the ‘option’ or ‘alt’ key and click to zoom out. To get back to your 100% view, double-click on the Zoom Tool in the tools palette.

I hope this helped you a lot! Like I said, once I learned what each of these tools really did, my photoshopping went through the roof. Please comment if you have any thoughts, praise, concerns, or questions!

Thanks for reading!

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