Basic workspace set-up for working in Photoshop

Written by Carmen Jerrard

Every Photoshop user will develop their own editing workflow and preferred tools. This article takes you through the basic pallets you will need to set up before editing your works.


Open Photoshop. Now you will need to set up the palettes, tool box and tool options bar that you are going to work with when editing your image. Your palettes, tool box and tool options bar are floating boxes with editing options and/or tools in them. To make these visible click on Window (at the top of your screen as in fig 1.1), then click on the following titles so that there are ticks (3) next to the words: HISTORY, LAYERS, OPTIONSandTOOLS. As you do this you will notice that pallets and tool bars appear on the screen. History, Layers, options and Tools are the palettes you will use most frequently. As your Photoshop needs and skills develop you can add any of the other options available in the windows tab accordingly.


Each icon on the Tool bar has an additional set tools grouped with them. Usually the groups of tools function in a similar way. Click and hold an icon to see all the other tools available in that group, and then click on the tool that you want to use. If you forget the name of a tool place your curser over the icon and the name of the selected tool will appear. The names of the tools give you a good indication of what the tool can do.


This bar shows the options for the tool that is currently selected, therefore the options in this bar will change according to the tool you select. Always check your settings here before editing with the tool you have selected.

C: Floating Layers Palette

Working with Layers in Photoshop is perhaps the most important thing you will learn. The purpose of working with Layers is so that you can preserve/maintain/keep the original image as in tact as possible. The reason you want to preserve the original image is in case you take the editing process too far and you want to delete a few, or all, of the changes you have made to the image, without loosing the quality of the original image. Always remember that the more you edit an image the more you are changing and destroying its original pixels. Not using Layers means that you might end up with a poor quality image that may not even be worth printing. Therefore its best to always use layers and to edit in a way that you make as few well-executed changes as possible to get the look you are after.

D : Floating History Palette

The History palette is a wonderful way to track the edits you have made to an image. You can use the History palette to move back to a previous editing state if required. It is important to remember that the history palette will only show a certain number of steps (which can be defined in Photoshop Preferences), and will only remain visible in the current editing session. Once you have closed the image, when you re-open it the History palette will be empty but any layers you have saved (in psd or tiff formats) will remain in the Layers palette and will also remain editable.

  • Fig 1.1 Setting up your workspace in Photoshop. Note: the lines are showing you where to find the palettes you have ticked. These have been added in to guide you during this lesson and will not appear in Photoshop.
  • Fig 1.2 Details of all tools in the Photoshop Tool Box.
  • Fig 1.3 Tool Options Bar.
  • Fig 1.4 Floating Layers Palette.
  • Fig 1.4 Floating Layers Palette.
  • Fig 1.5 Floating History Palette