Setting Up An Efficient Photoshop Workspace

By Eddie Tapp
Excerpted from Photoshop Workflow Setups: Eddie Tapp on Digital Photography (O'Reilly)

Dateline: September 8, 2006
Version: Photoshop CS2

More Photoshop tips
Discuss this in the Photoshop forum

Photoshop has so many different work areas and tools that it can become confusing, or even intimidating, to use Photoshop in a production environment. Fact is, there are only three particular zones or areas that you really need to become familiar with: Tools, Menus, and Palettes. Setting up your workspace for efficient production will create a more pleasing experience, allowing you to focus on the main objective: getting your work done.

Over time, you’ll develop a workflow that is comfortable for you. Everyone has different workspace needs, depending on their experience with Photoshop and the type of work they are doing. Here I’ll show you some ways to tailor your basic workspace to achieve the greatest possible efficiency and comfort.

Creating your own efficient production environment will take just a little experimenting. It’s kind of like learning how to use to a Wacom tablet; you have to put away the mouse for a few hours, but once you become comfortable with the tablet, it creates a more productive experience.

Most of the time, my physical office is pretty well organized. OK, sometimes it appears to be organized chaos. But the fact is, it’s fairly well constructed for productive work. When I’m working in Photoshop, retouching or creating montages, setting up the working environment for production is actually much easier than it is in my physical office. Because it’s so important to focus on the task at hand when you’re working in Photoshop, I’ve designed the following methods to eliminate what I call “Visual Confusion”—the state of having too many things to look at when I’m working in Photoshop.

Personalizing Your Window Setups
The typical or default window setup in Photoshop (Windows > Workspace > Default Window) is handy, in that it shows us many of the palettes that we’ll eventually use. Unfortunately, having all of those windows open all the time during production can take up too much real estate on the monitor. It can be a little frustrating trying to find the window you need hidden behind another window, or even inadvertently trying to create a new layer in the History or Channel palette instead of the Layers palette.
The “Docking Well” (as nicknamed by Adobe guru Julieanne Kost), located in the upper right-hand corner of the Option Bar, is officially known as the Palette Well. It is a real life saver, as you can arrange and position your most active palettes here, clearing them from your monitor, and then bring specific palettes out to your work area as you need them for a particular project or type of workflow. When you’re finished with that project, you can easily send the palettes back to the Palette Well for the next assignment.
Let’s take a look at a simple and clean, but powerful, window workflow setup. When we’re finished with this setup, we’ll have only a few windows on the screen work area, the palettes used most often will be positioned in the Palette Well, and this setup will be saved as a starting or primary workspace. Then, you can configure various custom window workspaces for different types of image processing.
The Basic Workspace
Starting with the Palette Well on the right side of the Options Bar, let’s bring out the resident palettes. Click and drag the tab that bears the name of each palette to move the window onto the screen work area.
Next, clear these windows from the screen by selecting the red button (Mac) or red X (Windows). The default palettes include Layer Comps, Tool Presets, Brushes, Color, Swatches, and Styles.
At this point, you need to decide which will be your primary working palettes. For my basic workflow, I’ll use Channels, Layers, Actions, History, Histogram, Info, and Paths. Except for the Histogram and Info palettes (which I want on my screen almost all the time), I’ll move the remaining palettes to the Palette Well. Then, I’ll dock the Histogram and Info window together and position them in the bottom lefthand corner. Collapse a palette by double-clicking on the forward tab that bears its name.
You can move a palette to the Palette Well by either selecting the tab that bears its name and dragging the tab to the Well (look for a black outline around the Palette Well, then drop ’em in) or selecting “Dock to Palette Well” from the fly-out menu. Docking the Info and Histogram palettes together works the same way: move the Info tab onto the Histogram tab, look for the black outline, and then let go of the mouse to dock.
The length of the Palette Well is controlled by your monitor resolution settings. To make a longer Palette Well, increase the resolution of your monitor. On the Mac, open System Preferences and select “Displays.” Here you can change the monitor resolution. On the PC, right-click on the desktop to bring up the Display Properties option, click on the Settings tab, and then use the slider to set your monitor resolution.
Once you have set up the primary window workspace, you can save it by selecting Window > Workspace > Save Workspace and entering a name. You can now access (or even delete) any saved workspace under the Window > Workspace menu directory. Once you have selected a workspace and quit Photoshop, the same workspace will automatically be in place the next time you open Photoshop.
You can access the Tool Presets palette quickly from the upper left-hand corner of the Options bar. Also, the Brushes palette is always available by clicking on the Brush Palette icon in the Options bar anytime you’re using a tool that uses a brush.
Alternate Workspaces for Specific Types of Work
You can use the Save Workspace command to save workspace environments for specific types of projects, such as Masking, Retouching, or Color and Tonal corrections.

For Masking, bring out the Channels, Layers, Paths, and History palettes, dock the Layers with Paths and the Channels with History, and save this as your Masking Workspace.
Retouching should include the Layers and Actions palette. Finally, for Color Control, you can use the Histogram and Info window in the upper right-hand corner, along with the Layers palette for creating Adjustment Layers and the Channels palette docked with Layers.

Arrange your palettes on your monitor in a way that is most comfortable for your working environment. If you have dual monitors, it is certainly possible to use the second monitor just for the palettes. However, if you’re processing multiple images and working from Bridge, you might find that it works better to use the second monitor for the Bridge window.

Don't miss the next Photoshop tip on Get the free newsletter in your mailbox each week. Click here to subscribe.

Excerpted with permission from Photoshop Workflow Setups: Eddie Tapp on Digital Photography by Eddie Tapp. Copyright © 2006 Eddie Tapp. All rights reserved.