Must know Photoshop skills for new designers

Photoshop Skills

Must know Photoshop Skills for new designers

How’d you choose these…

For some more context on this list jump over to this article here, but in short, I was thinking about the old questions “what would I tell myself or new designers when starting in design?”. So over a few months, whilst assisting some junior designers & working myself, I took note of the skills that were most valuable & required.

Lots can be learnt on the job but some things are required for a productive professional designer. The Adobe Suite is a behemoth of tools & options so knowing which ones to master first is useful for new designers. This list focuses on tools & options mostly as processes differ, but knowing your tools is an important foundation.

Feedback ~ Think I’ve missed something or don’t agree with anything? Let me know, I’d love to refine this & am open to changes.

Alright, onto the list

Each has a brief explanation & a quick checklist for each.

Utilise Layer Masks

Masking layers allow for a huge range of not only masking effects but overlay & colour effects also.

This is the best & recommended method for isolating any object or person from an image. The reason for this is it allows you to retain all the information of the original image but mask out the area you wish to work with. If a change is ever needed you can go back and add that guy’s horrific mullet out you had removed.

You’ll need to be able to:

  • Apply a new blank layer mask
  • Apply a layer mask from a selection
  • Link & unlink the layer mask & layer image/content, to move them independently.
  • Adjust the layer mask layer effects.
  • move the layer mask to a new layer.

Use Smart Objects

Smart Objects in Photoshop are linked files that are not yet rasterized into pixels. They can be other Photoshop documents, Illustrator files, .pdf’s & other common file types.

When importing a file you’ll be prompted with options to import as a Smart Object or to incorporate it as pixels into the document. Using Smart Objects saved the fille file inside the single Photoshop document so depending on their size it can create very large.

Using Smart Objects also allows for a flexible workflow allowing the easy & flexible combination of vector graphics inside the main photoshop document.

You’ll need to be able to:

  • Import a smart object
  • Create a smart object from a layer
  • Edit and update an existing smart object

Replace Colours

Quickly replacing colours in a project can be very useful. Whether it’s injecting a brand colour or minor adjustment it’s a useful skill to have.

While overall exposure and lighting edits are better done in Lightroom, small and precise colour replacements can be useful on the fly.

You should be able to:

  • Select a specific colour & replace it with a new one
  • Select multiple colours in a document and adjust their parameters

Master the Layers Panel

Well organised and grouped layers are not only super important to keep your own design process efficient but often we’re collaborating or handing over files & trying to unwrap someone else’s disorganised layers can be unpleasant.

Being organised with your layers also keeps you engaged with your design elements & help create considered designs.

You should be able to:

  • Create new layers & name them
  • Adjust their hierarchy
  • Group layers into folders

Utilise The History Panel

While it would be better to never make any mistakes ever, that’s just not going to happen.

The nature of Photoshop means it has many steps in the editing process as you edit a document. The History Panel keeps a log of all of your activity so you can go back and forth. This is much more useful than good old “Undo” and worth knowing about.

The History Panel is also essential for learning to create Photoshop actions.

You should be able to:

  • Go back and forth in your history steps

Master Artboards

Creating your Artboards to project specifications is an essential skill, be it either web or print, the correct resolution, size & colourspace is important.

Having multiple artboards in Photoshop is also now possible so learning to manipulate them correctly will be useful for multiple page documents.

You should be able to:

  • Create artboards at any size
  • Create artboards at any resolution
  • Adjust artboards size and/or resolution

Master the Shape Tool

The Shape Tool isn’t the most intuitive initially but is obviously an essential option for even basic layouts.

Adding shapes with reference points on the edge or the centre is useful for different applications & getting to know how the shape work will make working with them more intuitive.

  • Create a new shape of any type
  • Create a new shape at a specific size
  • Adjust the colour/fill of your new shape

Make A Selection With The Pen Tool

While most photoshopping is done using the brush tools & a more natural movement with your mouse, using the Pen Tool for consistent & exact curves is sometimes required.

The Pen Tool allows you to make solid shapes but also utilise the Pen Tool path as a selection. Not all tools across the Adobe suite work the same but the Pen Tool does, so check out the Illustrator Pen Tool skills as well.

Precise selections are great for Layer Masks as well.

You should be able to:

  • Create a Pen Tool path & adjust it’s anchors
  • Edit the selection with colour
  • Make the Pen Tool path as a selection to be used in Layer Masks etc

Use The Timeline Panel to create a .GIF

The Timeline panel in Photoshop has mostly been used for creating simple .gof animation & online advertisements but it’s got a lot more to offer & can handle video files!

Note: There is still two versions of the timeline available, the old & the new. We’ll focus on the new version here, as it’s more powerful but you can see a discussion about the two versions here.

For the day to day Graphic Designer web ads of various sizes is what the Timeline is most used for. There are other great tools online that can make this job easier in some respects, such as Bannerflow, hmtl5maker, Bannersnack & many more.

However, getting to know the Timeline & its features will make you a well-rounded designer & let you have full control over your web ad designs.

There is a lot to learn on the Timeline but the basics are below to start.

You’ll need to be able to:

  • Create a new Timeline document & animate layers.
  • Manipulate the layer Position, Opacity & Style.
  • Set Timeline settings for loops, e.g loop forever, just once or a set number.
  • Export your .gif under web ad specifications
  • Optimise & reduce your animation file size

Master Actions

Time to sit back relax and watch Photoshop open, edit & save your documents for your perfectly in a snap.

Photoshop Actions allow you to record a set of edits to any part or setting of a document & replay it automatically. It’s crucial to set a place for the new document to be saved in the action otherwise you’ll end up with all your documents open separately in Photoshop but still needing to be completed & exported.

You should be able to:

  • Create a custom photoshop action
  • Set what the action does & where it saves the new documents
  • Apply this action to single or multiple files

Apply Filter Gallery effects

Oh Bessy! You can have a lot of fun in the filter Gallery. While it offers some complex filters it also has some practical favourites to use more regularly.

this is the perfect toolset to jump in and spend some time playing around yourself. some of the more practical uses include the “photocopy” or “stamp” filters for reducing images to simple shapes.

Another practical filter is the “halftone pattern” which is perfect for converting images for screen printing.

You’ll need to be able to:

  • Apply a filter to an image
  • Edit and adjust an existing filter

Check out the other skills lists

Must know Illustrator skills→

Must Know InDesign skills→