Photoshop Tools Explained


Opening Photoshop for the first time can often be daunting with so many menu’s and tools available. I am going to go through each of the main components of Photoshop in detail to break each section down into manageable chunks in the aim of creating a no nonsense user guide for the program. In this post I am going to go through the Photoshop Toolbox and try to explain what each tool does in easy to understand detail.

1. The Marquee Tool(s)

marquee toolThere are four different types of Marquee tool in Photoshop CS5, Rectangular, Elliptical, Single Row and Single Column. Each of these does slightly different things however in general they are all used as a means of selecting design elements. The rectangular and elliptical tools select areas of the artboard in rectangular/square or elliptical/round shapes respectively. For example if you have drawn a square and you want to cut a perfect circle out of the centre of the shape, you would you the elliptical tool to select an area inside of the rectangle. Once selected you would press the delete key and the circular area would be deleted from the shape.(as shown in A. below.) Single Row and Single Column select one pixel of the artboard the entire width or height of the artboard respectively. For Example, if your entire artboard is made up of a rectangular shape and you want to delete one pixel the entire height of the artboard, you would use the Single Column tool.(as shown in B. below)


2. The Move Tool

Move ToolThe Move Tool does exactly what it says on the tin. This is the tool we use to move objects around our artboard. We can use this tool in two ways. The first is to select the layer in which the object you want to move is sitting. Then use the move tool to move your object around to its new position. The other use, and the one i use most often, is in conjunction with the Auto Select function in Photoshop. This option auto selects any object that i click on which is sitting on the artboard. Depending on how many layers you are working with, this can be quite a handy little feature to turn on.


3. The Lasso Tool

Lasso Tools

There are three options under the Lasso tool, and again like the marquee tools, these tools can be used to select portions of your artboard. The Lasso Tool is a free hand selection option which allows you to trace around the edge of objects or cut out a part of a larger object. The Polygonal Lasso Tool selects portions of your artboard using straight lines which is perfect for tracing straight edged objects or cutting squared shapes out of portions of your artwork. The Magnetic Lasso Tool sticks to the edge of artwork allowing you you easily trace around objects and the tool automatically detects the edges so you don’t miss any small details. This can be tricky to get used to but try with simple objects first and then try out with larger objects. TOP TIP: When using the Lasso Tool you must always close off your selection. You must finish your tracing where you started originally.

Lasso Tool

4. The Quick Selection and Magic Wand Tool

Selection Tools

The Quick Selection tool and the Magic Wand tool are more options for selecting portions of your artwork. The Quick Selection tool lets you define certain points for selection, useful when trying to clean up artwork. The Magic Wand tool selects areas based on colour and shape to determine a selection point. Both should be used sparingly as there are other and better ways to select portions of artwork but for solid colours and solid shapes, these selection tools work quite well.

Quick Selection

5. The Crop and Slice Tools

Crop and SliceThe Crop and Slice tools are used to resize and divide your artboard. The Crop tool can be used on its own to shrink the canvas to the exact size you want, eliminating any background graphics that you may not need. The Slice tool is used slightly differently in that it allows you to slice up your artwork so when you Save for Web, each of the sliced sections will be saved as separate images, very handy when creating web graphics or web templates. The graphic below shows artwork which has been sliced in half and then the exterior has been cropped. If i saved these images for web, each half of the grey box would save as two separate images.

Crop and Slice

6. Annotation and Measuring Tools

Info ToolsThis section of tools in the toolbox are primarily used for gathering information from your canvas, measuring sections of artwork and making annotations and notes beside certain elements. The Eyedropper Tool and Color Sampler Tool are used to determine the exact colour of an element on your canvas. While the Eyedropper selects one colour at a time, the Colour Sampler can select a number of colours, useful for creating swatches of colours for use in other sections of your artwork. The ruler tool is used to measure the distance between two points on your canvas, and is used to accurately position items of a specific height or width. The Note tool is used to make non printable notes throughout your artwork. ie. if you are unsure on an element or copy needs to be clarified, you can make a Note to Self to go back to that point at a later stage. The Count Tool is used to count the recurrence of a number of similar objects within your artwork. For example, if you need to add 50 lines to your canvas, you can use the count tool to track each one as you go.

7. Patch and Healing Tools

Patch and Healing Tools

This set of tools are used to clean up images and graphics in places. The Spot Healing and Healing brush lets you replace a portion of an image with another by clicking and dragging to a perfect piece of an image. The Patch Tool works similarly in that it allows you to select a patch of an image and overlay it onto another part of your image. Finally the Red Eye Tool allows you to remove any defects or red eyes which may appear in images of people.

Patch Tool

8. Brush Tools

Brush ToolsThere are four main brush tools in CS5 and each of these has a slightly different purpose. The main Brush Tool is the most common used in this panel as there are endless opportunities with the variety of brushes that are available to download. These can be used to draw free hand, to illustrate graphics or to add little details to your overall artwork. The Pencil Tool is pretty similar but has a slightly different look and feel when using standard brush tips. The Color Replacement tool allows you to specify a section of your artwork which you can fill in with a different colour. The Mixer brush, much like painting, allows you to mix different colours on your canvas. When using the mixer brush, you can paint over sections of colour and the two colours will mix together slightly.

Brush Tools

9. The Stamp Tools

The Stamp Tool(s)

The stamp tools are used pretty much in the same way as the patch and heal tools. When using the clone stamp tool, a blueprint is made of an area of your canvas and stamped in other areas usually to correct defects in images such as blemishes or freckles. The Pattern Stamp tool works similarly in that it allows you to place small areas of a pattern onto your canvas. This works well if overlaying patterns onto small areas of a graphic while retaining the contour of the image below, for example, when changing eye colour to a vibrant pattern or changing skin tone or texture for a small area of an image.

Pattern Stamp Tool

10. The History Tool(s)

History Brush ToolsThe History Brush Tool and Art History Brush Tools are used to Paint using elements taken from your history panel, i.e previous canvas states or edits. Whilst The History Brush replicates exactly the history elements, the Art History Brush applies stylised strokes and effects to the artwork.


11. The Eraser Tool(s)

Eraser ToolsThere are three eraser tools available in CS5 and each does quite different things. The basic eraser tool simply deletes areas on which you click. The Background Eraser, deletes areas of a specified colour. ie. the colour on which the centre of the eraser is focused will be removed and create a mild blur around the edges of the surrounding area. This is ideal when deleting background colour around hair or people. The magic eraser tool does much the same, however it will delete the entire area at once of the matching colour on which the centre of the eraser is focused.

Eraser Tools

12. The Gradient and Fill Tool

Gardient and Fill ToolsThese tools are used to change the colour of portions of your canvas or artwork. The Gradient Tool is used to apply a gradient of a number of colours while the Fill Tool spreads a predefined area with solid colour using the Paint Bucket. You can see in the example below how i have applied a gradient to the main area whilst filling the two smaller pieces with a solid colour.


Gradient and Fill

13. The Blur, Sharpen and Smudge Tools

Blur, Sharpen and SmudgeThese three tools are primarily used to distort and correct images and graphics. The Blur tool softens the edges of items depending on the intensity you set. The Sharpen tool does the opposite and hardens the pixels you select. The Smudge tool liquifies the section that you use this tool on and allows you to create intense of subtle blurs of colour or shape depending on how you use it. I have sampled thee three effects on the artwork below to give you a better understanding of how this works.

Blur, Smudge and Sharpen

14. The Dodge, Sponge and Burn Tools

The Dodge Tool, Burn Tool and Sponge Tool all do slightly different things to your images. The Dodge tool allows you to select Shadows, Midtones and Highlights and it will dodge the colour by effectively lightening the area. The Burn tool does the opposite. It finds Shadows, Midtones or Highlights and burns the colour in those areas by making the area darker. The Sponge tool is a mixture of the two tools in that it allows you to sponge away colour by either saturating or desaturating the area.

Sponge Burn and Dodge


15. The Pen Tools

Pen ToolsThe options under the Pen Tool panel ar all very closely related. The Pen tool by itself allows you to create straight lines or curves based on anchor points which you can manually move around to create different shapes. The freeform Pen Tool allows you to draw freehand, but unlike the brush tools, the pen tool creates paths which are all individually editable at a later stage. The Add and Delete Anchor Point tools allow you to add or remove points from a pen drawn line to alter your shape further. The Convert point tool allows you to move points and convert the lines to different shapes.

Pen Tool

16. The Type Tools

Type ToolsThe Type Tools allows you to write text onto your canvas in different ways. The Horizontal and Vertical type tools are pretty self explanatory. Click on your canvas and start typing to try them out. The Type Mask tools work slightly differently in that they create type masks on top of shapes or colours. For example if i have a green box and used the horizontal Type Mask Tool to type on top of it, that area of the green box would appear selected. Hit the delete key to eliminate the shape of the text from the background shape or colour. If the overall background image was white, i would get the same effect as if i typed white on top of the green box. However if i add graphics behind this box, you can see the effect in action.

Type Tool Mask

17. The Selection Tools

Selection toolsThe Path Selection Tool and Direct Selection tool are used in conjunction with shapes and paths created using the Pen Tool or shape tools. They allow you to directly select points along a path or select an entire path to edit.

18. The Shape Tools

Shape ToolsThe Shape Tools allow you to create Rectangles or Squares, Rounded Rectangles or Rounded Squares, Ellipses or Circles, Polygons, lines and custom shapes. Each of these shapes has its own options from radius of the rounded curve for rounded objects, number of sides of the polygon etc. All of these options can be found at the top of your screen in the top toolbar.



19. The Object Rotate and Camera Rotate Tools

These two tool panels are for those working in 3D in Photoshop and allow you to manipulate the appearance of your 3D object. While the rotate tools move the object itself, the Camera tools move the focal point of how you view the object from a camera point of view.


20. The Hand and Rotate View Tool

hand and rotateThe Hand Tool and Rotate View tools are not used to distort the contents of the canvas, but more the canvas itself. Use the Hand Tool to move the canvas around to get a better view of objects, or use the rotate view tool to look at your artwork from a different perspective. These tools do not effect how your artwork will appear when printed and are just for you when working through your composition.

21. The Zoom Tool

ZoomThe Zoom Tool again like the Hand and Rotate View tools are used to get a better picture of the artwork you are working on at any one time. The Zoom Tool in Photoshop has the same effect as pressing cmd and + which zooms into a portion of your canvas whilst cmd and – reduces the size of your canvas.


I hope you find this post useful and check back soon for more tutorials and explanatory posts on cracking into Photoshop and Illustrator.


  • Philip

    Excellent work Sarah. Well explained and very well put together