Adobe Photoshop CS6 is a powerhouse image editing program full of all kinds of bells and whistles. Whether you are a completely new to Photoshop or you are a seasoned master it is always important to set Photoshop’s preferences to fit your equipment and style to avoid any complications and make sure that the program runs for you as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Some people might start Photoshop for the first time and run with default preferences without ever looking or changing any of the settings, but if you are serious about working in Photoshop and getting the most out of that experience I strongly recommend at least quickly going through the preferences and checking if everything is set to the way you would like it to be. You may not need to change any preferences at the beginning, but as you get more familiar with Photoshop and have a solid workflow you may realize that changing some preferences might improve and speed up your methods.
In this overview of Photoshop CS 6 preferences we will describe the functions and purposes of most useful settings. Some of these will have a direct effect on Photoshop’s performance, while others are just there to customize the look and feel of the program to your personal taste. I will not go over all of the available settings, but rather cover the ones you will need to know most about in the photo industry.
Note: If for some reason you would like to go back to the default settings after changing some of the preferences, press and hold [Shift]+[Alt]+[Control] on Windows or [Shift]+[Option]+[Command] on Mac OS when you initially open Photoshop. Make sure to press and hold these keys before the startup screen appears. It will then ask if you want to delete the preferences file. To reset Photoshop to its default settings, click Yes.
Let’s start with General Preferences. You can access this tab by going to Edit menu in the top navigation bar, select Preferences and then choose General on Windows machines or Photoshop>Preferences>General on Macs. You can also access it quicker by using a keyboard shortcut: [Ctrl]+[K] for Windows or [Cmd]+[K] for Mac. Either way you choose to access it you will see the General Preferences window with all the other preferences (such as Interface, Performance and all the others) in the left tab of that window.
HUD color picker
This is where you can select the look of your Heads Up Display (HUD) Color Picker. You can either have it displayed in a strip or circle configuration (shade will always remain in a square). For those of you not familiar with HUD color picker, it’s an assistance function which helps to quickly select a desired color. To display it, you will need to have a painting tool selected and then press [Shift]+[Alt]+[Right Click] on Windows or [Ctrl]+[Option]+[Cmd] on Mac. Then HUD color picker is displayed you can release the pressed keys and choose your hue/shade, then if you want to select the other you can hold space bar, re-position your cursor, let go of the space bar and pick hue/shade. However, in order for HUD color picker to work, OpenGL must be enabled.
The next setting we need to look at is Image Interpolation. This option tells Photoshop how to handle the pixels when images are resized. While Photoshop is an excellent program for image editing it does not do a particularly good job at enlarging images. There are programs which a far better at enlarging images for print but they are typically sold to printing industry experts and cost much more than Photoshop does. Besides, with all the modern high megapixel cameras there is very little need for upsampling. In my personal workflow I only downsize images from original resolution; in that case I would recommend setting Image Interpolation to Bicubic Sharper. This is the best algorithm for reducing images and preserving good quality. This preference will be in effect when you change image size with Free Transform command, Crop Tool and Image size dialog box.
Now let’s have a look at all the options available in General Preferences:
- Auto-Update open documents – Photoshop will continuously monitor opened files and if the file is edited and saved by another program while it is still being opened in Photoshop, then Photoshop will notify you. I do not recommend using this option since it continuously uses processing resources.
- Beep When Done – makes a sound when an operation is complete. Feel free to use it if it’s the kind of a thing you are into.
- Dynamic Color Sliders – as you drag the slider bars the color changes on the fly. You can disable this option to optimize performance.
- Export Clipboard – when this option is enabled, a copied image in Photoshop gets loaded into computer’s memory and can be pasted into other programs, such as Paint, InDesign, Word etc. While this can be useful for some, photographer typically work on very large files and loading them into RAM can greatly diminish computer’s performance. So unless you copy images from Photoshop often I recommend disabling this option.
- Use Shift Key for Tool Switch – this allows for a quick tool selection using shortcuts. I am a big proponent of shortcuts. They simplify and speed up editing process. Some tools in Photoshop share the same shortcut letter so to quickly switch between them you can ask PS to use [Shift] key. For example: Brush Tool and Color Replacement Tool share [B] key as a short cut. So when you press [B] whichever tool is currently on ‘top’ will get selected. If you allow PS to use [Shift] key to switch, holding [Shift] and pressing [B] will cycle through all the tools in that group.
- Resize Image During Place – if this option is selected PS will determine if it has to change image size during a Place to fit. Personally, I disable this option because I like to resize everything manually.
- Animated Zoom – makes a smooth motion effect when an image is zoomed in or out. This effect requires OpenGL video support and is a drain on computer resources.
- Zoom Resizes Windows – resizes the image window when zoom is selected.
- Zoom With Scroll Wheel – when this option is disabled, scroll wheel on the mouse will be responsible for scrolling images. But when this option is enabled, scroll wheel will be responsible for zooming.
- Zoom Clicked Point to Center – when you click on an image with a zoom tool the image will center on the clicked location.
- Enable Flick Panning – when this option is selected, when using Hand tool to move the image around, you can basically hold and ‘throw’ image around. This creates an interesting visual effect. However, it requires OpenGL and is a drain on computer’s resources.
- Vary Round Brush Hardness based on HUD Vertical Movement – to access brush Heads Up Display (HUD) you can press [Control +[Alt]+[Right Mouse] on Windows or [Control]+[Option] on Mac. Here, you can move the cursor left/right to decrease/increase brush size. When this option is enabled, brush hardness will change. When this option is disabled, brush opacity will change.
- Place or Drag Raster Images as Smart Objects – when this option is enabled, PS converts raster images to Smart Objects when you place or drag them.
If History log is enabled all the actions you perform on an image will be recorded and saved. You can choose to save this information into file’s Metadata, Text file or both. In Edit Log Items you can choose how detailed you want the History Log to be. To find out more about using History Logs you can check out History Panel tutorial.
Finally, the last item in this General Preferences tab is Reset All Warning Dialogs. These are all the caution dialogs you might see during your workflow. Generally, I select “Do not Show Again” box to never see them again but in case you want to start seeing them again just press this button.
Interface section of Photoshop Preferences is responsible for the way PS is presented on your screen. You can access it by selecting ‘Interface’ in the left tab section in the Preferences window. This is where you can change the color of the entire or just sections of the program. None of the changes here will have much impact on the performance but will have a big impact on the look and feel of the application overall.
In Photoshop CS6, Adobe introduced the ability to change colors of the entire interface of the program. In previous versions you could only change the color of the background area of the document you are working with. In CS3, however, you can change color of the entire UI. These are called Color Themes. They are preset and you can only choose from four options, but personally I love the darkest shade. It is not as harsh on eyes while working on images for numerous hours as the lighter shades are. Also you can still select custom colors for image background panels.
Options in Interface section are mostly responsible for the way panels and documents are presented:
- Auto-Collapse Iconic Panels – when selected, panels automatically disappear when you click away.
- Auto-Show Hidden Panels – when selected, hidden panels will temporarily appear when you point to the edge of the application window. This will work when you are in “Expanded” mode (press [Tab] to go to “Expanded” mode).
- Open Documents as Tabs – in previous versions of Photoshop, images used to “float” in separate windows. If this option is deselected that will be the case. If, however, you select this options all images will open at tabbed documents in the Application Frame.
- Enable Floating Document Window Docking – allows docking floating document windows as tabs when dragging one document window to another.
- Show Channels In Color – if selected, shows each separate channel in the Channels panel in color. In most cases, this option should not be selected because you would typically want to see the channels in their grayscale form to do accurate converting.
- Show Menu Colors – if selected, shows menu items in user-defined colors.
- Show Tool Tips – if selected, Photoshop will display small pop-up notifications about tools and other objects when mouse hovers over them with 3-second pause.
- Enable Gestures (Mac only) – if selected, allows for gesture controls to be performed for tasks such as image rotation or zoom when using trackpad or tablet.
- Enable Text Drop Shadows – if selected, panel labels will have text with shadows.
- Show Transformation Values – you can select where to show transformation values near the cursor: Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Left, or Bottom Right or never (not show at all).
In the Text section you can choose the default language and font size for the interface.
As its title suggests File Handling tab where you can specify the way Photoshop handles files when opening and saving. To access this tab go to Preferences and select ‘File Handling’ from the left navigation window.
File Saving Options
This section will look slightly different depending whether you are using Windows or Mac versions but in essence all of the options do the same thing.
- Image Previews – here you can select if Image Previews are always saved, never saved or to ask you when saving. Mac users will also see options to save previews as Icons and/or Windows Thumbnail.
- Append File Extension (Mac) – Lets you choose whether or not to append the file extension.
- File Extension – Lets you choose whether or not to use Lower Case letters to specify file extension.
- Save As To Original Folder – if selected, this option tell PS to open the folder of the original file during Save As command.
- Save in Background – if selected, you can continue working on PS documents while saving is in progress. Less powerful computers might drastically loose performance during saving so if your computer struggles to maintain responsiveness during saving, you might consider de-selecting this option.
- Automatically Save Recovery Information Every – when this option is checked, Photoshop can save current document information for recovery. This option is very handy if your computer is prone to crashes. If your computer crashes frequently, then you can set this option to save in short intervals. If a crash occurs, recovered file will open with the saved info on the next program launch.
Prefer Adobe Camera Raw for Supported Raw Files – if selected, Camera Raw will be used to open Raw files. If you prefer a different Raw file processing program, leave this un-selected.
- Ignore EXIF Profile Tag – digital cameras often assign sRGB profiles to JPG images. If this option is selected, Photoshop will disregard this information from file’s EXIF data.
- Ignore Rotation Metadata – digital cameras often specify photo orientation and store it on file’s metadata. If this option is selected, Photoshop will disregard this information.
- Ask Before Saving Layered TIFF Files – TIFF file formats are widely used in photography industry for their excellent retention of image quality and the ability to support layers. If this option is selected, Photoshop will ask you if you want to keep layers or merge them when you save a file in TIFF format.
- Disable Compression of PSD and PSB Files – if this option is selected, PSD and PSB file will be saved quicker but will be larger in size.
- Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility – PSD and PSB are native Photoshop files which can contain layers. Many other image editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom does not support layer effects and such, so to be able to open a PSD file in Lightroom, it needs to be saved with Maximized File Compatibility. What it does is it saves the layered file together with a flattened file so that other programs can read it. The problem with it is that Maximized Compatibility can drastically increase file size. So if you expect to work on PSD files in other programs, you may choose to set this option to Always or Ask. Otherwise set it to never.
Only select this program if your computer is on a network and you need to share files to collaborate together with your colleagues on a server.
Recent File List Contains
This setting specifies how many files will be saved in Open Recent list. You can access this list by going to File>Open Recent (Windows) or Photoshop>Open Recent (Mac). By default, the number of files is 10. Depending if you use this feature I would change it to at least 20 files since it doesn’t affect computer’s performance.
Performance section can be found in Preferences window left sections list. As its name implies, this section is responsible for the Performance of Photoshop CS6, so naturally this is the area you should get familiar with if your PS is not behaving as well as you would like it to.
Photoshop loves RAM. When you are dealing with large RAW files, your Photoshop will use up a lot of RAM. In the Memory Usage section you will see how much RAM is available in the system and how much RAM is allocated for Photoshop’s use. If your computer has a hard time processing files, consider increasing the amount of RAM allowable to PS. You can also consider closing other program running on your computer and that are using a lot of RAM memory. If that doesn’t help, consider adding more memory to your system, it’s very cheap these days.
History & Cache
This section is also responsible for performance, but it is putting emphasis on your style of image editing. Here you’ll see three buttons Tall and Thin, Default, Big and Flat. No, these options are not asking you to define your body shape. They are merely trying to get an idea what kind of files you are typically working with. If you are working with small files but create a lot of layers, try Tall and Thin option. If you have large files with few layers, consider using Big and Flat option. Otherwise, set Default option.
History states define how many steps on your editing you can go back to. If your computer is performing slow, try decreasing the amount of History States. To read more about using History in Photoshop, check out this tutorial.
If Photoshop runs out of available RAM, all is not lost; it can try to use a part of a hard drive to get additional space. This allocated space on a hard drive is called Scratch Disk. The problem is that hard drives are typically much slower than RAM, so the best way to use this option is to select the fastest HDD available. If you have a Solid State Drive, I would recommend using it as a Scratch Disk. Just select the fastest drive in your system. Of course, if you only have one hard drive, then that would be your only option. Do not, however, try to use external drives or USB sticks as Scratch Disk, because transfer speed would be too slow.
Graphics Processor Settings/GPU Settings
This section might look a bit different for Windows or Mac users. Windows users might see a Use Graphic Processor option, enable this if you have a good enough video card. This will greatly enhance your Photoshop experience. If this option is greyed out, then your video card cannot support OpenGL or you may need to update your video card drivers. Mac users might see Enable OpenGL Drawing option.
Cursors category can be found in Preferences window left navigation panel. Cursors section is pretty straight forward. Here you can select how your cursors are displayed. Painting Cursors section deals with brush-related tools. The Normal Brush Tip usually works well for most people. Feel free to try other options and see if you might like them. One thing I would recommend is selecting Show Crosshair on Brush Tip, this usually helps with accuracy. Other Cursors section is responsible for the rest of the cursors. I would typically recommend setting it to Precise for accuracy. And finally, in the Brush Preview section you can set the color of the Brush in the Heads Up Display. To access HUD in Photoshop CS6 press [Shift]+[Alt]+[Right Click] on Windows or [Ctrl]+[Option]+[Cmd] on Mac.