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How to use Photoshop for eLearning

How to use Photoshop for eLearning - Part 2: Cropping & Resizing

In the first post in this series, I explained the essentials you need to know before getting started with Photoshop. Today, we’ll take a tour of the Photoshop CC interface. I’ll also show you how to navigate through the main document settings and to become comfortable with performing important tasks like cropping and resizing images.

How to open and save a document in Photoshop

There are three ways to open a document in Photoshop. You can:

  1. Drag one or more images you select in the folder finder tool onto the Photoshop interface.
  2. Select one or more images in the folder finder tool and right click to open a menu. Choose Adobe Photoshop from the “Open with” submenu.
  3. Select from File > Open > via the menu bar at the top of the screen.

You should save drafts of images you edit as a PSD file. PSD stands for Photoshop Document. PSD is the default format for saving data in Photoshop. Using the PSD format allows you to save every detail specified when an image is edited, including layers, masks and selections, which we’ll describe later in the series. To save an image as a PSD file, click File > Save as to open the dialog box. Select the file format as Photoshop and specify the location you want to save the file to. You can also choose to save a compressed version of the file in a web standard like JPEG, PNG or GIF. I prefer using PSD files for my projects as it’s easier to make changes later.


How to use Photoshop


Get to know the Photoshop interface

When you open Photoshop CC, you’ll first see a welcome screen displaying recently opened files. At the top of the screen, you’ll find a drop-down menu bar that begins with Files and ends with Help. Open a file now to take a closer look at the Photoshop interface.


Get to know the Photoshop interface

The interface includes a number of features and commands grouped according to purpose. Toolbox is a panel that contains all of the tools used in Photoshop. The default position of the Toolbox is on the left. When you select a tool, the Options panel displays additional settings associated with it.


Options panel - how to use Photoshop

Every document that’s currently open in the Photoshop interface will have a corresponding tab. As you can see in the image above, every tab has an “X” icon before the filename that you can use to close the document (or you can select File > Close). Next to the file name, you’ll see the current “Zoom Level” info and in the dashes the Color Mode of the file. If you want to drag and drop tabs to create a separate panel, you can make them tabs again by selecting Window > Arrange > Consolidate All to Tabs.

Panels in Photoshop

Photoshop also includes a number of features and options that are hidden in panels. You can use the Window drop-down menu to view all panels. Panels are displayed on the right-hand side of the interface by default but you can show, close, collapse and move them as you choose.


Panels in Photoshop

Panels can be set to float or remain docked. To move a panel, click its name and hold and drag it. To save space, you can group panels by dragging one onto another. A blue outline indicates that panels are about to be grouped. I recommend playing around with panels. Try out some of the preset workspaces that you’ll find in a drop-down menu to the left of the Options panel. These are basically panels that have been organized to suit different needs. I recommend always using the Essential workspace. If you make a mess and don’t know how to fix the workspace, you can reset it (which happens often at the beginning!).


Panels - how to use Photoshop


Navigation in Photoshop

Navigation is one of the most important things you need to understand to use Photoshop well. Two features found in the Tools panel are very helpful here. I’ll also describe some keyboard shortcuts that make life easier but first let’s look at the Zoom and Hand tools.

The Zoom tool allows you to zoom in and out of a document. That changes the Zoom level in the preview of the image you’re editing. To zoom into a document, use Command++ (Mac) / Ctrl++ (Win). To zoom out of the document, use Ctrl+- (Win) / Command+- (Mac).

Here are some of the most important commands you need to know as a beginner:

A zoom level of 100% is the same as “Actual size”. That means what you see onscreen is what you get! The screen displays the true size of the document. If you want to check that something looks ok, select 100% preview. The quickest way to do that is to use Command+1 (Mac) / Ctrl+1 (Win).

To check the zoom level selected, look at the Document tab. In the bottom left, you’ll see a zoom level text box which you can edit manually. The Navigation panel also displays zoom level information and shows where you are in the document in case you’ve zoomed into a preview image.

Why is this important?

When you zoom into a preview, as the pixel size increases the image will naturally appear more pixelated and less sharp. Now that you know how to zoom in and out, the Hand tool can be used instead of the preview. You can only do that when the image preview is larger than the interface – when the full image can’t be previewed on the interface. The Hand tool grabs the image and moves it in the direction you drag it to. But you don’t need to use the Hand or Zoom tool like that. It’s easier to use Space, a keyboard shortcut that will switch to the Hand tool when you hold it. Try that now! Zoom in on an open image with Command+ (Mac) / Ctrl+ (Win) a couple of times. Now press space. While holding the image, drag your mouse left, right, up or down. At that point, it’s a good idea to open the Navigation panel and check where you are in the document.

Image size

Now that you know how to use the Photoshop interface and navigate documents, let's look at cool features and settings that will help you to create engaging eLearning content. The most important thing you need to do now is to get to know your raster details. You should always be aware of the size of the document you’re working on. To view the details, open the Image Size dialog box by selecting Image > Image Size>. Or you can use the shortcut Alt+Ctrl+i on Windows.


Image size in Photoshop

In general, I don’t worry too much about “Image Size” info. In the next post, I’ll teach you how to save files for web use, retaining quality while reducing file size. The most important thing to be aware of now is the Dimensions setting. I recommend not using the “Fit to” option. To proportionally adjust an image to a certain size, it has to retain the same ratio or it will be distorted. In the “Design World” we say:

Every time you resize an image unproportionally, a polar bear dies". So please don’t do it! You should be careful with Dimensions settings because any kind of image distortion can confuse and distract learners, and also just looks bad.

That’s why I recommend always keeping the little lock icon on when resizing images. On the right-hand side, you can choose the unit the size is calculated in from a drop-down menu. I suggest choosing pixels since eLearning content is mostly developed for web use. You can also see the resolution of the image there. In the last post, I mentioned that 72ppi is standard for web documents.

When resizing an image, make sure that the “Resample” option is checked. That tells Photoshop to find the best way to make the existing grid of pixels on a smaller grid. I say smaller because it’s never a good idea to enlarge an image past its original size. If you do, the image will lose sharpness and quality.

Canvas size

You’ve seen that editing the size of an image can also impact its dimensions and resolution. What if I need to create a larger or smaller sized document without changing the image grid? For that, you need to edit the Canvas size: Image > Canvas Size>.


Canvas size in Photoshop

You can also check and change the dimensions of your document here. Remember that any changes made won’t impact the image itself. You’re not enlarging the image with this setting, only the canvas the image is on. If you enlarge the canvas, you create extra background space around the image. But if you reduce the width or height of the canvas beyond the size of the image, you will crop it.

The Anchor arrows allow you to choose the reference point Photoshop will use to make changes. The default setting is centered. Go try it out now.

Note: If you don’t like changes made in Photoshop, open the history panel to find the last 20 edits. You can use the shortcut Command+z (Mac) / Ctrl+z (Win) to Undo and again to Redo. If you don’t like changes made during a session, don’t save the file. Take some time to experiment with these steps now. We’ll run through more advanced saving options later in the series.

Crop tool

Crop tool in Photoshop

The Crop tool is the cherry on the cake for our lesson today. It’s one of the best and most important tools for editing eLearning content quickly.

Click the Crop tool to select it. Click anywhere on the image and start dragging. When you let go of the mouse, you’ll see a dark overlay beyond the crop area, which has a bounding box that you can resize or rotate. Click on the edge points of the bounding box to resize. If you position your cursor beyond that point it will convert to a rotate icon. As you drag your mouse you’ll rotate the crop area. By default, what you’re doing here is reducing the canvas size. A dark overlay shows the area that will be deleted once you hit enter to save changes. Press the escape button if you decide not to save changes made.


Crop tool - how to use Photoshop

To really master the Crop tool, you need to use the Options panel as well. The first drop-down on the left allows you to select the ratio of the area to be cropped or to keep the original ratio active on the image. In that case, you’ll only edit the canvas size.


W x H x Resolution - how to use Photoshop

If you change that to W x H x Resolution, you can use the Crop tool’s most powerful setting. You can now set the area to the desired size and resolution (72ppi is recommended!). Photoshop will crop and resize immediately.


Crop tool, Photoshop

When you set the width, height and resolution you want, make the crop area and press enter. Now check the new size of the image.

That’s all you need to know to start navigating, resizing and cropping images in Photoshop! Check back soon for more help with creating great images for eLearning without the services of a professional designer.




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