Each version of Photoshop comes with new features that let you work smarter instead of harder, but old editing habits are hard to break — especially if you've been using the program for a long time. Here you'll find a roundup of some common editing mistakes and how to avoid them.
Perform edits on separate layers
When you color-correct on one layer, zap blemishes on another, whiten teeth on another, and so on, you can back out of any edit, anytime you want, even after closing the document. You can lower the opacity of individual edits to make changes look realistic (crucial in portrait retouching), and by using adjustment and fill layers, you automatically get a mask that lets you hide layer content from parts of the image. In fact, the first 16 commands in the Image > Adjustments menu are available as super-safe adjustment layers (choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer), wherein the change occurs on a separate layer that you can control. Adjustment layers also make it easy to duplicate an effect onto another image — simply drag and drop relevant layers into another open document. In a pinch, duplicate the original layer and edit it instead.
Use empty layers
To safeguard the original, most folks duplicate the layer before using the tools for healing, cloning, patching, and content-aware moving. However, using an empty layer keeps your file size leaner. To enable tools to function on an empty layer, trot up to the Options bar and turn on the Sample All Layer checkbox, or set the Sample menu to Current & Below or All Layers. This trick works with the Spot and Healing Brushes, the Patch tool (set the Mode menu to Content-Aware to reveal the Sample All Layers checkbox), the Content-Aware Move tool, and the Clone Stamp tool. Sweet!
Use fill layers
Instead of adding an image layer and filling it with a solid color, gradient, or pattern, use the Layer > New Fill Layer command. How is this exciting? Let us count the ways: You can double-click the fill layer's thumbnail in the Layers panel to reopen the Color, Pattern, or Gradient Picker in order to experiment with other colors, patterns, or gradients. The fill layer automatically resizes itself to match canvas size changes. And fill layers comes with a mask that lets you hide the fill from parts of your image.
Use the Stamped Visible command
Instead of merging or flattening layers to use paint, heal, clone, the Fill dialog's Content-Aware option, or Content-Aware Scale, use the Stamped Visible command. Alas, some tools and commands — like paint, heal, clone, content-aware fill, and content-aware scale — only work on single layers. If your document consists of multiple layers, resist the urge to merge or flatten. Instead, use the Stamped Visible command to create a stamped copy, by pressing Shift-Option-Command-E, or by holding Option as you choose Merge Visible from the Layers panel's fly-out menu. This combines all visible layer content onto a brand-new; just drag it to the top of your layer stack and edit away.
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