How to use each of the Adobe Photoshop tools

Updated: 11/18/2022 by Computer Hope
Photoshop Tools panel

One of the essential parts of the Photoshop interface is the Tools panel. Understanding the basics of the provided tools is essential for beginners to grasp the concepts of the program. Doing so can open the door for many more design techniques and help you solve design problems more efficiently. Below is a breakdown of each tool found in the Tools panel and how it can manipulate an image.

Note

On the default Essentials workspace, the Tools panel appears on the left side of the interface. If you can't see the Tools panel, you can display it by selecting Window, then Tools in the menu bar or press the "F" key one or two times.

Navigation tools help you orient yourself on the document. Since you may want to go into extreme detail, it can sometimes be difficult to control the canvas's scale, rotation, and position.

Zoom tool

Zoom toolClick-and-drag to zoom in and out your image.

Tip

Zoom can also be done by holding Ctrl (Windows) or Command (macOS) and pressing the + (zoom in) or - (zoom out) keys.

Rotate View tool

Rotate View toolRotate the canvas around by clicking-and-dragging. Rotating the canvas makes it easier to draw certain angles.

Tip

Pressing R selects the rotate tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Hand tool

Hand toolClick-and-drag to pan across your image. To find this tool, click-and-hold the Rotate View tool icon.

Tip

Pressing H selects the hand tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Selection tools

Selection tools make groups of pixels that can be edited independently from the entire layer. When you make a selection, any brush or eraser strokes, color adjustments, and other changes only affect the selected part of the image, indicated by a dashed line around the perimeter.

Marquee tool

Marquee shape options

Marquee toolSelects pixels in a rectangle, elliptical, or line. Click-and-drag with the mouse, moving from corner to corner. To select a different shape, click-and-hold on the Marquee tool and select one of the alternate tool options.

Tip

Pressing M selects the move tool in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing M cycles through all move options.

Lasso tool

Lasso toolSelects pixels within a hand-drawn shape. Click-and-drag with a mouse, drawing a shape that encloses the area you want to select. When your endpoint reaches the start of your stroke, let go of the mouse to close the selection.

Tip

Pressing L selects the lasso tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing L cycles through all lasso options.

Magic Wand tool

Magic wand toolSelects pixels in a particular color range. Click an area in your image, and the tool finds similar ones based on your Tolerance value in the tool properties.

Tip

Pressing W selects the wand tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing W cycles through all wand options.

Pen tool

Pen toolTo make a selection using the Pen tool, add anchor points until the path is closed. Once you have an enclosed area, right-click anywhere on the screen, and select Make Selection in the context menu.

Tip

Once a selection is made, you can click-and-drag inside the selection to move it. While using a selection tool, you can add to your current selection by holding Shift or subtract from it by holding Option (macOS) or Alt (Windows).

Transformation tools

Transformations can scale or otherwise edit parts of your image or the canvas itself.

Move tool

Move toolChange the position of any layer or selection by clicking-and-dragging. When selecting an element with the move tool, you can also use Ctrl+T to resize or rotate the selection using the bounding box.

Tip

Pressing V selects the move tool in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing V cycles through all move options.

Crop tool

Crop toolCrop the entire canvas by dragging the edges in or out. The aspect ratio can be defined by the Ratio drop-down menu in the Tool options panel.

Tip

Pressing C selects the crop and slice tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing C cycles through all options.

Frame tool

Frame toolClick-and-drag to create a rectangle or circle containing another image. When you drag-and-drop an image file from your computer into a frame, it will not extend past the boundary you have created. To change the frame's shape, click the ellipse or rectangle icon in the Tool options panel.

Brush tools

Brush tools add, remove, or change pixels by drawing on a layer or selection. The shape, size, and hardness of your brush can be highly customized in the Brush settings panel. To quickly adjust the brush size while using a brush-based tool, use the square bracket keys to scale it up and down while drawing.

Brush tool

Brush toolThe basic brush tool adds pixels when you draw. The color of these pixels will be your current foreground color, which can be changed in the color picker.

Tip

Pressing B selects the brushes in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing B cycles through all brushes.

Eraser tool

Eraser toolThe eraser tool erases any existing pixels you draw over.

Tip

Pressing E selects the eraser tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing E cycles through all erasers.

Blur tool

Blur toolSelectively adds a blur effect to reduce detail in your brush strokes.

Tip

Pressing O selects the dodge, burn, and sponge tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing O cycles through all options.

Dodge tool

Dodge toolLighten pixels in your image. The intensity of the highlights created can be defined by the Exposure value in the Tool options panel.

Tip

Pressing O selects the dodge, burn, and sponge tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing O cycles through all options.

Burn tool

Burn toolDarkens pixels in your image. The intensity of the shadows created can be defined by the Exposure value in the Tool options panel. Find this tool by clicking and holding the Dodge tool.

Tip

Pressing O selects the dodge, burn, and sponge tools in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing O cycles through all options.

Clone Stamp tool

Clone Stamp toolThe Clone Stamp tool - Copies pixels from one area of the image to another. To define the source, hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) and click an area. Once an area is defined, click-and-drag to copy pixels from that area.

Tip

Pressing S selects the stamp tools in Adobe Photoshop.

Healing Brush tool

Healing brush toolLike the Clone Stamp tool, the Healing Brush tool copies pixels from one area to another. However, it also copies the texture of the image and calculates realistic colors for the area. This tool helps fix small blemishes or imperfections.

Tip

Pressing J selects the healing brush tools in Adobe Photoshop.

History Brush tool

History Brush toolUndoes changes to an image. Think of this as the undo command, but specific to the area you draw. Each stroke will undo a previous action performed on an image.

Tip

It is a common mistake to draw or erase pixels on the wrong layer. When using brush tools, ensure that the correct layer is selected to avoid destructive editing.

Tip

Pressing Y selects the history brush tools in Adobe Photoshop.

Vector tools

While Photoshop is raster-based, some functions use vector graphics, which can scale without losing quality and can be edited easier at any point. These objects behave differently than other elements of your image until they are rasterized.

Type tool

Type toolCreates editable text boxes. Text can be created by clicking anywhere in the canvas and typing or clicking and dragging to create a textbox. To edit the text, use the type tool and double-click in the textbox. All text properties, including font, size, kerning, and leading, can be changed in the Properties panel.

Tip

Pressing T selects the text tools in Adobe Photoshop.

Shape tools

Shape tool options

Shape toolsCreate vector shapes with a customizable fill and stroke color by clicking and dragging from one corner to the other. These can be rectangles, ellipses, triangles, lines, polygons, or other custom shapes. To change the shape, hold your mouse down on the Rectangle tool and select the shape of your choice.

Tip

Pressing U selects the shape tools in Adobe Photoshop.

Pen tool

Pen toolTo create vector paths with the Pen tool, draw each anchor point to create an enclosed shape. From here, the shape's fill and stroke can be defined in the Tool options panel.

Tip

Pressing P selects the pen tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Path Selection tool

Path Selection toolSelect a vector path in your project by clicking inside the stroke or fill. From here, it can be resized or otherwise transformed.

Color tools

These tools help you define and transition between colors.

Eyedropper tool

Eyedropper toolClick anywhere in your image to copy the pixel's color, or average color of a group of pixels, depending on the tool's Sample Size. The color you select becomes your foreground color.

Tip

Pressing I selects the eyedropper tool in Adobe Photoshop. Holding down the Shift while pressing I cycles through all options.

Gradient tool

Gradient toolClick-and-drag to fill your layer or selection with a gradient fill. This transitions between two or more colors. The default gradient will be between your foreground and background colors, but it can be changed in the Tool options panel.

Color selector

Adobe Photoshop foreground and background color selector.The foreground color and background color can be managed through the color swatches in the tools bar. As seen in the picture, this icon is represented by two boxes showing the current selected colors. In this example, blue is the foreground color and black is the background color. To change the either color, click either box. You can also click the small arrows to switch the foreground with the background color.