Photoshop Tricks For the Amateur


By Noel Leonard, Graphic Designer

In graphic design, some tasks are easier than others, and even newbies can make something nice if they know some simple Photoshop tricks. This blog is partially inspired by a coworker of mine who, not so long ago, quaked in fear at that little blue icon, but can now make posts all by herself after these few tricks. If you’ve been in this sort of work situation, beginning a class in design or Photoshop, or just want to learn some basic tools of the trade, here are some tips to get you started.

The first step is to create a Photoshop document. To set one up, hit Ctrl/Command+N (Ctrl if PC, Command if on Mac), and you’ll see this dialogue box. Here is where you will be able to decide your size, resolution, color mode, and more. For now, we’ll focus on size, resolution and color mode.



Size Matters

Know what size your image is going to be before you start your art. You can change it later, but you need to select a size to get started. If you know the number of pixels your project will be, type in your height and width. You can change the unit of measurement by clicking the drop down menu, so if you want inches, centimeters, or any other option, you can. Just remember to take resolution (beneath Height) into account- choose 300 for print projects or 72 for web. What is resolution, you ask?

Resolution Revelation

If you spend time around designers, you might have heard the terms DPI (dots per inch) and PPI (points/pixels per inch), which refer to the resolution of an image. If you know how many pixels your piece is going to be (social media sites often note ideal image sizes in pixels), you can ignore Resolution; the pixels are set. You can make adjustments in “Image Size” (Image -> Image Size) once your document is made if necessary. Keep in mind, while higher DPI images will be of higher quality, they will also be larger in file size, and if your image is too large, certain social media outlets will degrade the quality of your image to meet their standards.


Correct Coloration

If your project is for print, make sure your color mode is set to CMYK. If it’s digital, select RGB. This is simple, but is something to keep in mind. Already in the document? Go to Image -> Mode and select one from the drop down menu.

Templates are Your Friends

Once you have your data, click “OK,” and you now have a document! If this is for an outlet that has ideal formats that rarely change, you can use this document as a template. At M+, we make a lot of social media posts, and having templates makes it easier for pros and amateurs alike to make consistent work faster and easier. Save your blank Photoshop template as a Photoshop file to a Template folder (maybe on your desktop, or in your documents) and name it (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) When you want to use it, simply copy your template into Photoshop, drop in your photo, and edit away!

Resizing an Image

Let’s get to the content of your piece! If you’re starting out, this technique is your bread and butter. It’s not difficult, and we’ll walk through it step by step.

1) Figure out what image (referred to here as “photo”) you want.

2) With your Photoshop template open, drag and drop your selected photo onto the template.


3) Your photo will have a gray outline with dots at the points and center when it shows up, and you can use the outer points to Transform the image. While holding down “shift,” click on a corner point and drag it inward or outward depending on whether the image needs to be smaller or larger. Holding shift will keep the image proportional, as unnaturally stretched images are never good ideas.

4) Once the photo is the size you want, let go of the mouse and Shift and hit Enter. This will keep the photo its current size.


5) Want to do more? To select your photo, click on it in the “Layers” bar (located in the lower right hand corner).

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 5.24.38 PM

Once the photo is selected, hit “ctrl+T” (PC) or “command+T” (Mac) to Transform further. You can also rotate the image when it’s in Transform mode by clicking outside the image, holding down the mouse button, and moving it around, or by right clicking and selecting how to flip your image. Whether you’re in or out of Transform mode, you can move the image by clicking on it and dragging it. Make sure to hit Enter when you’re finished editing, or you’ll lose your changes.

Save for Web, Save the Headache

So you have your image how you want it, now what? First, save your Photoshop file. This will allow you to copy or edit the content later if need be. How you save next will change if you’re doing print or web. If your piece will go online, select “Save for Web & Devices” from the File drop down menu and a box will appear. Don’t worry, your image isn’t cut off, just scroll around the viewing area to see the entire thing. My coworker didn’t know this, and almost had a heart attack when she thought her Twitter banner had been cut off. Make sure you’re saving as a JPEG, and that your compression quality is high, and at a number anywhere from roughly 74-100 (100 will yield a better-looking image with a larger file size, and is ideal for social media posts). After that, click “Save” and you’re done!


And there you have it!


Photoshop may seem daunting when you first start using it but, it’s a great program that will allow you to create anything from a straight line to a cyborg. If the former is closer to your speed, that’s okay! Everyone starts somewhere, and with these basic tricks down, any amateur is on their way to becoming a pro.