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How to set up Photoshop


The fact that you can run and use Photoshop right after installation makes a lot of people ignore the setup completely, which is sad. Dealing with Photoshop preferences takes a couple of minutes, and you do it just once, so I don't see any reason why you shouldn't immediately open the Preferences window.

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Before you even start retouching images, it’s absolutely necessary to set up your Photoshop. If you press Ctrl-K, you’ll get the Preferences dialogue window. There are plenty of options that you can change, but I’ll just point out the most important of them. First of all, there’s the Performance tab, and there you can choose how many History states you’re going to have. It reflects how far you can go back in history, how many steps you can undo. By default, it’s just 50, and it’s definitely not enough. Sometimes there’s a lot of rapid clicking and to make sure you will not run out of undo’s, it’s reasonable to set it to something like a few hundred.

Next, there’s the Units & Rulers tab where we need to change the Units from Inches to Pixels, at least in Rulers. The deal is that we will not be printing anything, and we don’t need any measurement units except pixels. Let’s apply the changes. Now when I access the Image Size window or the Canvas Size, everything is in pixels already and that’s exactly what we need. Otherwise, you would have been forced to switch from inches to pixels manually every time you want to change the image size, which is time-consuming and not reasonable.

Let’s get back to the Preferences and check the Guides, Grid & Slices tab. I’m going to set the grid in such a way that when I switch it on, it will divide the image into 4 equal parts. To do it, I have to switch from Pixels to Percent, set Gridline every to 100 and Subdivisions to 2. Apply the changes and let's see how it works. To switch the grid on, press Ctrl-’ (quotation mark). It is very helpful when you work with model images and want to make sure that the rotation is done correctly, that the model is standing straight and not leaning to any of the sides. You can then switch the grid off if you don’t need it. This way is much faster than drawing a vertical guide.



Now we’ll deal with the panels. This is the same as organizing your working space – make sure that you can access everything you need quickly and that you don’t have any unused panels or windows obscuring your images. The default setup is pretty weird if you ask for my opinion and it has to be completely reorganized.

Before we start dealing with the setup, let’s first answer some questions about the work we will be doing most of the time. It will really help to clarify what panels we need and what panels should be switched off forever.

We will be working with a lot of images every day. A lot means hundreds. An average catalogue retoucher, depending, of course, on the demands of the process, is able to retouch from one hundred to five hundred images per working day. There are cases when more images with less manual intervention are produced, but they are rare. And if a retoucher makes less then a hundred, it means that either their process requires improving, that is, automation and optimization, or the demands are too high, or perhaps the images shooting quality is too low which is not good.

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Catalogue retouching means a lot of images. For us, it means that we’ll be doing similar things to each image, and it means Actions are going to be involved. So let’s have the Actions panel accessible.

We also know that we will be working fast and sometimes we might do things wrong, and we must be able to correct thing we did wrong in a fast manner. I’ll put the History panel somewhere close, too.

We won’t be working with the .psd format, and our best bet is the .jpeg image format. It means that we will not be using many of the Photoshop features that cannot be saved in jpeg format. So, let’s switch off the Adjustments panel because all the adjustments we make to the images are going to be very well weighted and permanent, otherwise, your retouching will be taking too much time. Time is essential here, trust me.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need Layers and Channels. We will be using Layers a lot, in fact, it’s just that the image has to be flattened before saving. Channels are involved in the isolation process, but you don’t have to watch them all the time, so I’ll just put the Channels panel next to the Layers.

The rest is less strict because everyone has special needs. I spent a lot of time with the Navigator and the Histogram panels, but they are not very useful. You can navigate the image very easily by holding Space and dragging it around or by holding Alt and scrolling the mouse. And if you need to take a peek at the Histogram, you can just access Levels or Curves. So now I prefer to keep the Clone Source panel here, but there’s a problem: the Clone Source is very big and it’s not used often enough to justify the space it occupies. To make it more convenient, I usually assign a shortcut via the Shortcuts menu, so that when I press the combination I’ve chosen, the Clone Source panel appears on the screen so that I can use it. But then I just press the same keys again and it goes away, and my Actions and History panels are much bigger now, which is good.

And don’t forget about the Toolbar on the left side of the screen. You should customize it so that only the tools you use are displayed there. So let’s get rid of the unnecessary tools by clicking on the Toolbar command down in the Edit menu. The tools that appear in the Toolbar are to the left, and the rest is in the Extra list, to the right. You can drag all the tools around and move them from one list to another. For example, by default, when I switch from the Polygonal Lasso to the Freehand Lasso, every second time I do this I get the Magnetic Lasso because there are three Lasso Tools there. But as I never use the Magnetic Lasso, I can just as well switch it off and never ever see it again. Same with the Pencil Tool and the Color Replacement Tool. Let’s say goodbye to the Content-Aware Move Tool and the Red Eye Tool. You don’t have to deal with the Art History Brush or the Magic Eraser Tool, at least it’s not necessary, as you are not going to switch between any tools in that groups. When you press E you get the Eraser, and when you press Y you get the History Brush. So you will only get the Magic Eraser if you press Shift-E, which you won’t, so you might as well leave all the other erasers there. So it is only important with the Healing Group, the Brushes, and the Lassos.


If you need any tools you removed from the Toolbar, you can access them later by clicking and holding the button with three dots in the bottom of the Tool panel. I know it gets a bit complicated, setting all the Panels in a particular way, but trust me, the default setup is far from perfect. Speed is essential in product image retouching, so you really have to care about every second you waste because you can’t immediately access the things you need. As you will be repeating the same actions on similar images over and over again, being able to switch between tools and panels fast will save you much time and money. As catalogue retouchers' salaries are mostly image-based, not time-based, retouching more quickly is profitable, so take your time to organize everything properly.


Do you use your mouse pointer to access different Photoshop features, filters, modes and algorithms from the menu? That’s bad. By doing so you actually rob yourself of precious time. I’m often asked which catalogue retoucher is faster – the one with a mouse or with a tablet. The answer to this question is “The one with a keyboard”. Product image retouching requires a lot of actions in a short time, so wasting it is absolutely not recommended. Every couple of seconds you save by accessing something via a shortcut instead of going to the menu will sum up to hours and days of time. The more time you manage to save, the more efficient your work is.

But this is not an easy thing to master. On one hand, you have to memorize all the shortcuts you need, and on the other hand, you also have to assign new shortcuts as there’s not everything readily available in Photoshop, and memorize them, too. It’s necessary because catalogue retouching is all about speed and quality, and the use of shortcuts gives you this speed.

I’ll make a list of things that you will be using often, and for some of them, shortcuts are not available by default, so you'll have to assign them manually. But make sure you don’t try and assign any commands to function keys, from F1 to F12, as they should be reserved for Actions.

File/ New; Open; Close; Save;

File/Export/Save for Web;


Edit/Undo; Step Forward; Step Backward; Fade; Cut; Copy; Paste; Fill; Content-Aware Scale; Puppet Warp; Free Transform; Color Settings; Keyboard Shortcuts; Preferences

Image/Auto Contrast; Image Size; Canvas Size; Crop; Trim

Image/Adjustments/Levels; Curves; Hue/Saturation; Selective Color; Shadows/Highlights; Desaturate;

Layer/Merge Layers; Merge Visible; Flatten Image

Layer/New/Layer; Layer via Copy; Layer via Cut

Select/All; Deselect; Reselect; Inverse; Color Range; Edit in Quick Mask Mode;

Select/Modify/Expand; Contract; Smooth; Feather;

Filter/Last Filter; Camera Raw Filter; Liquify;

Filter/Blur/Blur; Gaussian Blur; Surface Blur

Filter/Noise/Add Noise; Dust & Scratches; Median

Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask

View/Fit on Screen; 100%;

You should also use shortcuts to control brush size and opacity, change blending modes, move from one layer to another, move layers, access all the tools you need and do many other things.

There's also another way to use your keyboard to access menu items and commands. If you press and release the Alt Key when in Photoshop, you'll be able to press different keys and access menus and commads. F key opens the File menu, I key opens the Image menu. When you're in the Image menu, A key opens the Adjustments submenu, and T key pressed after that will make the Threshold dialogue box appear. If you don't know which key does what, pay a closer attention to the menus when you've pressed the Alt key. A single letter in each word will be underlined, and that's the key you need to press to access the respective menu, submenu or command.

Personally, I don't really use this method as I prefer good old shortcuts. But if you're not confused about whether you need to press and hold the Alt key or press and release it, you can use both shortcuts and this kind of menu commands access.

For example, to access the Median filter you can press and release the Alt key, then T, then N, then M. And if you want to access it via a shortcut, you have to assign it yourself.

Pay attention to the fact, that in this course I will be using shortcuts all the time. I said already and I will keep saying it, that to be an efficient catalogue retoucher, you have to use shortcuts. If you are still unsure about it, I'll show you how much longer it takes without them. Let's do this test. I'll isolate this image really quickly. Don't worry about how exactly I do it, because I will explain everything in the next section of the course. Just watch. And if you'd like to try and isolate it yourself, you can download it in full resolution by clicking on the image.

First time I do it, I'll be using shortcuts whenever I can.

It takes about 45 seconds from start to finish. Now I'll do the same while sitting on my right hand and use only the mouse only – to do the same things. I have to tell you I did some practice because I couldn't remember where most of the commands I used were hiding. But we presume that if a retoucher is not a beginner, they know their way around menus and panels. So I made sure I could find everything before I did this test.

This time it took me 1 minute and 30 seconds to do the same things. 45 seconds doesn't sound like a hell of a time, but if you do the math you'll find out that NOT using any shortcuts took me about two times longer than using them all the time. In catalogue retouching, we don't spend much time on every image, so it really matters a lot.

When I watch product image retouching tutorials on Youtube, I can't help but notice the negative comments that people write because of the shortcuts usage. They say something like: "Would you please stop using shortcuts because I couldn't follow". Well, my opinion on this matter is pretty straightforward.

This course is long enough as it is. There are 11 hours of video material only. There are tons of information to learn. If I stopped using shortcuts, it would be so much longer, I doubt anyone would be patient enough to finish the course. But I do understand it might be hard to follow if I just used random shortcuts without any explanation. So I will be telling you what I do, and when I mention something for the first couple of times, I'll be telling you which keys you have to press or whether you have to assign shortcuts by yourself.

If you want to be a professional product photo editor, you have to master shortcuts. There's no way around it. And the best way to do so is pressing the Tab key a few times until all your panels disappear and trying to retouch images just like that. I assure you, everything I did to the image can be done in this mode. I don't mean that the true professionals always retouch catalogue images this way, it's just a good trainer.

Memorizing shortcuts is a boring thing, but it has to be done in order to become efficient in this job. So yes, I will be using shortcuts in all the videos (and you should, too), and unless I do something new or unexpected, I won't be always vocalizing how exactly I did it. However, I will be switching between layers and moving them in the videos manually because otherwise, that would be really hard to follow.

How to assign a shortcut? For example, you want to be able to access the Selective Color command quickly, and it doesn't have a shortcut by default. Go to the Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box, which is hidden in the Image menu, but can be also accessed by pressing Alt-Shift-Ctrl-K on your keyboard. Make sure you’re in the Application Menus, then find the Selective Color command in the Image/Adjustments menu and assign it to some key. It would be better if it’s a Ctrl something key, in my case it’s Ctrl-. Then press Enter and accept the changes. If you try to use a key combination that is already occupied, Photoshop will give you a warning. There's nothing wrong with changing default shortcuts, don't be afraid to do so. If you don't have a printer, you can use Ctrl-P to do something more frequent, like flattening the image and other things like that.

Exporting and importing custom settings

I do agree that setting it all up was a bit tedious. Good news is that you can save all your shortcuts and panels layout and things like that in a file and use it to load when you buy yourself a new computer.

Go to the Window menu, find the Workspace submenu there and click on the New Workspace command. It will offer you to save your custom settings into a workspace file. Make sure you check the Keyboard Shortcuts, Menus, and Toolbar. After that, name the file the way you want, like My_workspace, and it will be saved on your hard drive. You can find it by going to C:\Users\YOUR USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop (version)\Adobe Photoshop (version) Settings\WorkSpaces if you're on Windows.

Problem is, the AppData is a hidden folder, so you'll have to make sure you make hidden folders visible first. It can be done via the Folder options. In File Explorer, go to the View menu and click on the Options button. There, go to the View tab, find Hidden Files and Folders and check the "Show Hidden files, folders and drives" option. Then press OK. Now you'll be able to find the AppData folder in your User folder. Or just search the file by name. If you haven't made hidden folders visible, you wouldn't be able to find the file despite knowing it exists. But now you can.

If you're a Mac user, you should go to /Users/YOUR USERNAME/Library/Preferences/Adobe Photoshop (version) Settings/
The Library folder in the might be hidden, but you can make it appear by using the "Show View Options".

So, when you find the workspace file you can save it somewhere, and if you buy a new computer, you have to find exactly the same folder there and put your workspace file there. Then you have to restart Photoshop and you'll be able to find your new workspace in the Window menu, Workspace submenu. If you click on it, your workspace, your menus, your toolbar, and, what's most important, your shortcuts will be loaded. It doesn't spread as far as Preferences and Color Settings, and the last used tools settings as well, but well, this is pretty good already as it is.

You might wonder why Adobe made the process of workspace migration so awkward. The deal is that they supposedly think users only need this feature to switch between different workspaces on one machine. The same thing is with shortcuts – you can save them and switch between the saved presets, but there's no option to load them. Adobe claims that is much more common than moving them to another machine. So it's not like we're going to get a fix for this in the next version update.

If you want to move everything, I mean, all the custom settings and changes and tools settings, you have to copy both folders, both "Adobe Photoshop (version) Settings" and "Presets", and then paste them in the same place on your new computer. All you have to do is go to C:\Users\YOUR USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop (version) and copy two folders, "Adobe Photoshop (version) Settings" and "Presets". And on the new machine, you have to find the same place and move the same two folders in some safe place in case you need a backup and copy your folders there instead. I'm not sure it will help you migrate between different versions, but I've tried moving my data to another user account and it worked.

As for the Apple users, you can do the same thing, it's just the directory will be different. Try to find something like /Users/YOUR USERNAME/Library/Preferences/Adobe Photoshop (version) Settings/ and do the same things there.

After copying everything to the new computer, run Photoshop and find your saved workspace in the Window Menu, Workspaces submenu, it should be there. The only thing that wouldn't migrate is the Color Settings, so make sure you press Ctrl-Shift-K and check if there's something fishy going on there, like color management policies set to Off or things like that. After that, you can just start working.

Next chapter: Background removal. Isolation


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