10 Tips for retouching

This list is less about how to do certain tasks and more about what I find myself doing in order to be productive in Photoshop. Perhaps you’ll have your own tips to add.

    Vary Your Tools
    We all fall into the trap of using familiar tools because they are after all, familiar. Yet we all have heard theres dozen ways to everything in Photoshop.

    Challenge yourself to find different ways of completing your regular retouching. You will learn one of two things. One – the new tool you tried is just as good, much better, slower or faster. Two – the new tool you just tried is none of the above but now you know more about what it may be useful for.

    Blink & Dance
    Focussing on small areas of an image for a period of time can make things seem really laborious. We can also be fooled by our own eyes, especially when adjusting exposure or color. Blink often. I like to close my eyes briefly when using those “magic” tools like Spot healing. If I open my eyes and act see anything wrong, I move on. Let your eyes “dance” around the screen. If you’re working on skin or dust you’ll feel faster and get better results if you move quickly from one small part of an image to another small part.

    Tab Tab
    Clear the clutter. Images are large. See more of your image by tabbing away the panels until you need them. And with a good command of keyboard shortcuts you’ll need them less.

    Check Your Layers
    Make a habit of scanning the layers panel when you begin to retouch. Working on the wrong layer may not be disastrous but can at least be time consuming and restrictive. When i choose a tool I general make a clockwise route with my eyes from the tool panel to the options bar to the layers panel. Tab.

    Name Your Layers
    This is probably one of the least favorite thing for most users to do. But with the advancements inside photoshops layer panel you can now search for layers based on attributes including the name. Not only that, you can export layers as files or assets where the names become part of the file name. As an added bonus, at least on a Mac, the layer name is searchable by the Finder!

    Lock Your Layers
    This is related to tip 4. Locking layers will prevent accidental movement when zoomed in. It can also prevent accidental pixel changes by locking the transparency or the pixels. And perhaps most important it can prevent you from deleting layer before you notice way too late.

    Clean Your Screen
    Have you ever tried to retouch a spot and it simply won’t go away? I have, many times. Sometimes the spot is not on the image. Its on the screen.

    Zoom Frequently
    Bouncing in and out of an image is a necessity – for me. Not every task can be performed at the same zoom level. Often it’s necessary to go beyond 100% and refine some details but don’t get stuck there as you still need to view the overall impact on the image. If you have a large or a dual monitor setup try Window > Arrange > New Window to show the same work at a different percentage.

    Use a Pen & Tablet
    Ive been using a Wacom Tablet for years and quite frankly I cannot see myself being happy with a mouse, ever. I don’t just use it for Photoshop. After a couple weeks (hide the mouse) Im sure you’ll find it quite intuitive to reach for the pen to scroll the browser. Inside Photoshop of course, the pressure sensitivity is far superior to a mouse. The fluid motion is essential to a natural workflow.

    Simplify the Workspace
    While its easy enough to Tab the panels away why not go one step further and eliminate those that you don’t plan on using. Drag them out of the clustered dock and click the “x” to remove them. Arrange whats left in a manner that makes sense to you, then Window > Workspace > New Workspace… You can have as many workspaces as you like for the different types of work you do.

    Eliminate “good enough” from your vocabulary
    Bonus. While I recognize there is a limit to how much time we can spend on a project and that time is often dictated by a clients budget, your work will go out there and represent you. If you find yourself saying things like “Thats GOOD ENOUGH”, stop and consider if you gave your work to someone would you want then to determine that something is “good enough” simply because they ran out of time? perhaps your car is in for a tune up. Do you want to hear its good enough?
    Sometimes things are as good as they are going to be but thats quite a way off from good enough.

I hope theres something useful here for you to consider. Happy retouching!