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Introduction to Photoshop: Getting Started

This guide introduces important concepts in digital imaging and techniques in Adobe Photoshop.

Created by Health Science Librarians

Getting Started

Getting Started

This section provides an brief introduction to the Photoshop user interface.

Photoshop can seem intimidating at first. But you don't need to know everything about Photoshop in order to use it productively. Learn how to do one task, and then you can add to your knowledge as you go along.

Photoshop Desktop

When you open Photoshop, the Photoshop desktop appears.

Components of the Photoshop desktop include the menu bar, image window, toolbox, status bar, and palettes.

The Menu Bar

The menu bar, at the top of the Photoshop desktop, includes several dropdown menus for choosing commands. Right below the menu bar, options for the currently-selected tool are displayed (see  Toolbox tools, below).

Image Window

The image window displays the current image. The name of the image file appears at the top edge of the image window. If rulers are turned on, they appear at the top and left edges of the image window. To display or hide rulers, choose Ctrl-R or View>Rulers.

About Rulers: Rulers show the size of your image. To change the unit of measurement (such as from pixels to inches), double click on the ruler, or go to Preferences (Edit>Preferences>Units & Rulers).  If you are creating an image for the Web, use pixels as the unit of measurement.

The Toolbox

The toolbox contains tools for working with images in Photoshop. Only one tool is selected at any given time. To select a tool, click on its icon in the toolbox.

Some important tools are briefly described below. Toolbox tools are used for most Photoshop tasks, so more detailed explanations of how to use particular tools appear throughout this module.



Purpose / how to use


Click and drag to select part of the image


Click and drag to move a selected area or an entire layer.


Click and drag to specify area to crop. Press Enter key to crop or Escape key to cancel.


Click the image with the type tool where you want to add type. Then start typing.


Click or drag to zoom in (to zoom out, press the Alt key)


Drag with the hand tool to move around an image


The Status Bar

The status bar at the bottom of the Photoshop desktop provides information about your current view and other information that you can specify by choosing from a dropdown menu (in this example, the view is now 33.33% and the document dimensions are 8.371" x 8.371").


Palettes enable you to perform a wide variety of tasks in Photoshop. To display or hide particular palettes, go to the Window menu and choose a palette name.

Palettes are usually organized into groups. In the above example, Layers, Channels, and Paths are a group.  You can easily move a palette group by dragging its blue bar (at the top of the group). To shrink a palette group, double-click on its blue bar. To hide a palette group, click its close box (the "X" on the right side of the blue bar).

You can drag the tabs of palettes to move them around, or to combine them into other groups.

To reset palette locations to the default, choose Window>Workspace>Reset Palette Locations.

Getting Images into Photoshop

Getting images into Photoshop

In order to do anything in Photoshop, you need to have an image. There are four main ways you can bring an image into Photoshop:

  • You can open an existing image file by choosing File > Open or File>Browse. This would include images you have downloaded to your computer from a digital camera or from the internet. Photoshop can open most image file types.

  • If your computer is connected to a scanner with a Photoshop plug-in that has been properly installed, you can scan an image into Photoshop by Choosing File > Import.

  • You can create a new Photoshop file from scratch.

For more information, see the "Acquiring images" section of this guide.

Moving Around an Image

Moving around an image

When editing images, you can do many tasks more effectively if you zoom in and move around the image. Zoom in close to make adjustments to small areas, then zoom back out to see how your edits have affected the overall image.

The main tools for zooming and moving around an image are the zoom tool, the hand tool, and the navigator palette.

  • To zoom in, choose the Zoom tool ( ) and then click or click and drag in the image.

    When you zoom in, the zoom percentage (or view size) increases. The current zoom percentage is shown in the status bar and at the top of the image window. The zoom percentage shows the magnification at which you are viewing the image (not the actual size of the image).

  • A quick way to go to 100% view size is to double-click on the zoom tool icon in the toolbox.

  • To zoom out, press the ALT key while you click with the zoom tool.

  • Use the Hand tool () to move around the image in the window when you are zoomed-in.

  • When using another tool, you can press the spacebar to temporarily access the hand tool. You can then drag to move around the image. When you stop pressing the spacebar,  you will return to using the other tool.

  • To zoom and move around the image with the Navigator palette, choose Window>Show Navigator. The navigator palette will appear:

Use the navigator palette to zoom in or out of an image (by dragging the navigator slider) or to move around the image by dragging the view box (when you are zoomed in). The view box (red box in the above example) shows the part of the image that is currently being displayed in the main image window.



Displaying and hiding palettes and the toolbox

  • Press Tab to hide palettes and toolbox.

  • Press Shift-Tab to hide palettes.

Correcting mistakes

  • Choose Edit-Step Backward to undo your last action.

  • Choose Window-Show History to view the History palette. Then you can click on a previous history state to undo one or more of your actions.

  • Choose File-Revert to return to last saved version of file.

Getting Help

To access online help, choose Help > Photoshop Help.