Photoshop Doesn’t Suck, it’s You: The Guide to Effortless Mastery of Photoshop

screen of a laptop showing Adobe Photoshop icons and other program from the same brand

So, you're one of the countless folks who has decided that you, too want to master the world of Photoshop. No, it's not really you, this is pretty complex stuff for any beginner.

Is this possible for a total novice?

There are so many features that it overwhelms. Why, why, why are there so many tools and how is a newcomer supposed to figure out what they all do anyway?

Why doesn't anything seem to work?

If you are like many people, your first experience with Photoshop is incredibly frustrating.

Sure, you manage to open a file. You even manage to figure out what the little paintbrush does.

But then why can't you move a dang thing around?

Why do objects seem to get stuck? Why do you find yourself wanting to pull out your hair over what seemed a relatively simple project?

Where did your favorite tool go and how will you ever find it again?

This all begs the question:

Is learning Photoshop worth it, or even possible for someone who isn't necessarily a graphic designer?

Is Photoshop Worth It?

As anyone who uses Photoshop regularly knows:

The answer is a resounding – YES!

Here are just a few reasons:

  • Millions of designers use it globally because it works
  • Photoshop plays nice with other design programs
  • You can create clean feathered edges on selections with ease
  • Photoshop can save images in just about any format you need
  • If you can see it in your mind, you can make it on the screen
  • Adobe products continuously improve and add new features
  • Kick-ass filters, selection tools, layering options, and so much more
  • Options to add-on new customized brushes
  • Photoshop handles large graphics files with ease, as long as you are running the program on a system that can handle the memory and processing power
  • Learning the basics is easy, and you don't need to know it all
  • It beats the shame of telling somebody you made your image with PicMonkey
  • It's freaking fun and addictive
  • Learn Photoshop, and you have a head-start on learning other Adobe programs

Bow down to Adobe

adobe registered logo

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Now, most creative folks don't readily warm up to the idea of worshipping a corporation. However, when it comes to Adobe Inc., even the creatives tend to get at least luke-warm.

Here's why:

Adobe is like the great great great grandfather of digital marketing software companies.

The pioneer is best known today for Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat, the ubiquitous PDF file, and the famous Cloud.

This giant has been around for so long (since 1982), that they have had time to perfect their product over decades.

In a world of continually changing technology, they have remained on top, an industry standard. That in itself is praise-worthy.

You may not like the idea of it, but we must bow down to Adobe's creative genius.

Sure, they don't come cheap, but they are almost essential for millions of designers, marketers, and creative folks today.

If they didn't deliver on extremely high expectations, they would have evaporated years ago.

"THE WHOLE MARKET TODAY IS A LITTLE SCARY. I'M HAPPY WE RETAIN ANY VALUE," SAID JOHN WARNOCK, ADOBE CO-FOUNDER.

Seamless integration

If you use Photoshop, then chances are you are interested in using any number of the dozens of other Adobe programs available.

Consider just a few giants you'll encounter:

Adobe Illustrator Icon

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Adobe Illustrator, the industry standard for vector graphics

Adobe InDesign icon

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Adobe InDesign, the industry standard for page layouts

Adobe Lightroom icon

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Adobe Lightroom, a photographer's resource for editing, storing and sharing images

Adobe Premier Pro

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

    Adobe Premiere Pro, one of the best for movie/video editing

Adobe Acrobat icon

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Adobe Acrobat, used to create the almost universally used file, a PDF

If you want to use any of these programs, then the fact that Photoshop integrates perfectly with them is a huge plus.

At the same time, learning Photoshop will make it slightly more intuitive to learn other Adobe programs.

Unleash the beast

There's nothing wrong with using one of the free image editing programs available to you. However, chances are you will eventually find yourself held back creatively.

Unlock digital doors:

Once you learn the basics, Photoshop opens creative doors.

Adobe Photoshop icon

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Of course, you also won't have any excuse if you end up with a pixelated mess because you have the same tools as the graphics masters.

You'll have the same power as just about any top designer or artist. The power!

Wait. Isn’t Photoshop Expensive?

You'll probably have a friend that tells you that you can somehow download Photoshop for free.

But that's shady:

We don't recommend illegal downloads. We're aspiring to art, not a life of crime!

Sure, you can use an online version that mimics Photoshop tools, but you might as well use GIMP or PicMonkey in that case.

The truth is that Photoshop, like all Adobe products, comes with a cost.

However, creative people generally appreciate the product so much, and they don't care in the end. They'll pay what they need to have access to the best.

To get the best price, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Photoshop changes all the time. You will want the latest version.
  • You can probably make do with an older version or the trimmed-down Photoshop Elements.
  • The latest updates can be a big deal, fixing annoying bugs.
  • Because everything is on the Cloud today, you probably should be too.
  • College students and faculty get a discount. You can be a student if you take a class.

Best ways to download

As a person who has used Photoshop since the beginning, I used to buy the software on disc. Now, it's all about the Cloud, baby.

Sure, I was resistant to change, but once I made it to the Cloud, there was no turning back.

If it sounds too good to be true

It's worth a mention that if somebody tells you that you can get Photoshop for free, then they are probably not talking about a legal method.

Who wouldn't want it all for free?

Sure the word "free" has an irresistible ring to it, but it should also set off some alarm bells.

Keep in mind:

Owning Adobe programs generally means you will regularly update them with new features and fixes. You won't be able to do that if you don't have a fully legit version.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud allows you to select a package of software of your choosing. Select just Photoshop and Lightroom, or branch out and get access to as many apps as you like.

Check out the prices, and you'll find that Photoshop isn't as expensive as you might have thought.

Other options

If you don't like the idea of monthly payments, and you can live with a simplified trimmed-down version of Photoshop, there is an alternative.

Adobe Photoshop Elements icon

Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia

A basic version of Photoshop without all the bells and whistles, Photoshop Elements may be right if you need the basics.

Take a look:

You can buy it and be done without having monthly payments.

"ADOBE PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS IS THE GO-TO APP FOR BUSY AMATEUR SHOOTERS DETERMINED TO MAKE FAMILY MEMORIES COME ALIVE IN A UNIQUE AND ARTISTIC WAY."
– JACKIE DOVE, TOM'S GUIDE

Some of what you can do with Elements:

  • Intelligent image editing
  • Step-by-step guidance
  • Color and light adjustments
  • Photo restoration (remove scratches)
  • Open closed eyes with Adobe Sensei
  • Make memes with text
  • Image selection to cut out areas you want
  • Slideshows and collages
  • Organize photos automatically
  • Share your creations easily

Watch a tutorial below:

It pays to be a student

As we mentioned before, you can save considerable amounts of cash if you are a student. That means K-12 or higher.

You may also qualify for a discount if you work at a school or university.

Check out the plans for Creative Cloud for Education and see how affordable Photoshop and other Adobe programs can be.

Netflix and chill or Photoshop and...?

an illustration composed of dots in different colors and the word "creativity" on top of it

Image: CC BY 2.0, by nnenn, via Flickr

Yes, if you are a student, you might pay less than you would for streaming movies to access the latest and greatest Photoshop program whenever you want on any device you want.

Remember:

Every user is a student.

And the big secret about Photoshop is that once you start using it, you will remain a student of the program.

Even experts learn new things all the time.

The Photoshop Backstory

You know a product is great when the name becomes a verb used to describe raster graphics editing in general.

And Photoshop is no exception:

The word "photoshopping" is universally and instantly recognized. It can have negative or positive connotations.

photo manipulation showing  a man walking on tracks which appears to be leading into the inside of the android phone

Image: by FunkyFocus, via Pixabay

It seems like everything from the 80s was just better and larger than life, and that's where the story began.

That's when brother, Thomas and John Knoll, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, were introduced to the first Mac computers available on the open market.

The Creators

Thomas Knoll was working on a Ph.D. on the "processing of digital images."

The only problem with that:

His brand new Apple Macintosh Plus couldn't display gray-scale levels in images.

Fortunately, he had help from someone from Industrial Light and Magic. You know, George Lucas' visual effects company.

Thomas' brother John worked for the now famous company.

So, as you might guess, they used the force to combine code from Unix, and a new computer called the Pixar to create their own program.

Or...something like that.

Listen to the brothers talk about how it happened below:

Without going into the area of computer code, we'll summarize that the brothers were able to refine their program into a version called "ImagePro," which soon got a new familiar name:

Photoshop.

When John Knoll presented their image editing program to Adobe in 1988, they got a licensing agreement and Photoshop 1.0 shipped in February 1990.

Sorry, Thomas:

"IT'S ONE OF THOSE POINTS IN TIME WHERE IF JOHN HADN'T COME IN THE DOOR AND IF JOHN HADN'T DECIDED TO SELL PHOTOSHOP, IT JUST WOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED AT ALL," SAID RUSSELL BROWN, SENIOR CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT ADOBE.

Thomas never finished his doctoral program after all of his work with his brother on developing Photoshop.

It seems this program is just too time-consuming even for the creator.

John, however, went on to work as visual effects supervisor at ILM for such movies as "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (1999).

Watch the understated John Knoll talk about his earliest version of Photoshop below:

Learning How to Use Photoshop

In the early 90s, learning Photoshop meant you would either:

A) Have to know somebody who could show you, or

B) take a class at school and read really long complicated books on the subject. Sure, you could try to learn on your own, but the program isn't exactly intuitive. Learning was slow at best.

It's almost like they want it to be hard!

scrabble letters arranged in order to spell out "Take it easy"

Image: by Alexas_Fotos, via Pixabay

Today, however, things have changed.

The internet has developed along with Photoshop, and there are millions of ways to learn by watching videos, both from Adobe and users all over the world on YouTube.

YouTube is your friend

There is no problem at all learning how to use Photoshop if you just set aside the time and watch the videos.

Today there are even videos that pop-up inside the program to prompt users on how to use new-fangled tools that come out all the time.

Like an individual personality, voice, accent, or teaching style?

No problem. There is a perfect video waiting for you. Done.

Look:

Here is "Mr. Ninja Boy" on the basics for beginners:

Free lessons from friends (Don't even try it)

As everybody who knows Photoshop for any length of time can attest: People will come out of the woodwork to ask you for free lessons.

The absolute answer to that is: No thanks!

Do you realize how many years it takes to learn Photoshop?

For people who use the program for years, it can be insulting when friends, acquaintances, or even people they have never met ask them for free lessons.

Why?

Because we know it takes time -- lots of it.

It's not like someone is going to sit down and get you going with Photoshop in a few minutes. It's going to take hours and days before they can show you everything.

Don't ask a friend to do that unless you are willing to pay. Even then, they may ignore you.

Ask yourself:

Would you ask a concert pianist to teach you piano for free? Probably not.

One caveat:

If somebody offers to teach you Photoshop for free, consider that friend a unicorn and someone you must cherish every second for the rest of your life.

On the other hand, there are plenty of virtual friends on YouTube willing to teach you for free. Do that.

Along a similar line of thinking, don't ask the internet to Photoshop for you either. You may be surprised at what you get:

What Is Photoshop for Anyway?

We might have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves, but before you dive into Photoshop, you should really have a basic understanding of what it's used for.

It's not just for turning pictures into artificial paintings.

Raster images

First, know that Photoshop is one of the best tools out there for working with rasterized images, that is, images made up of pixels.

This amounts to all those pictures you take from cameras.

Each photograph is comprised of little dots, not to be confused with the dots used by a printer. They are rendered as pixels of light on a screen, not blobs of ink.

a wallpaper featuring pixel pattern

Image: by DavidZydd, via Pixabay

What it's not for

Now while Photoshop is perfect for pixels, it's not known for specializing in vector graphics. That being said, it can work with them.

What the heck are vectors, you ask?

"VECTOR GRAPHICS IS THE CREATION OF DIGITAL IMAGES THROUGH A SEQUENCE OF COMMANDS OR MATHEMATICAL STATEMENTS THAT PLACE LINES AND SHAPES IN A GIVEN TWO-DIMENSIONAL OR THREE-DIMENSIONAL SPACE." TECHTARGET

Math, not pixels.

Over the years, Photoshop has incorporated more of the abilities of another program:

Adobe Illustrator, which focuses on working with the clean, crisp lines of vector graphics.

They can scale from a thumbnail to the size of a billboard and never lose any resolution, unlike a raster image.

vector graphics of a rose

Image: by starchim01, via Pixabay

While you can now definitely work with vectors in Photoshop, it's kind of like a side gig, not the specialty of the program.

Similarly, Photoshop can work with video, animations, websites, and 3-D objects. However, other Adobe programs are the pros for those tasks.

Photoshop sort of dabbles in these areas, which might be just fine for what you need to do.

Start with the basics

Even people who have used Photoshop for decades don't know every single way to use the program.

That's part of the beauty because there is always more to learn.

Fortunately, you don't have to know how to do it all. You can use just a few tools to accomplish your task. You may not even click on some of the tools -- ever.

Don't be intimidated.

Remember:

You can't mess anything up if you don't save over a file. Instead, always keep the original and save your new file with a different name.

Think: File > Save As > (Enter your new file name.)

Play around first

Although we mentioned that Photoshop is not intuitive in many ways, you can learn quite a lot from just playing around with it.

Purely pixel play.

By playing with things like brushes, filters, layers, shapes, and masks, you will learn where to find useful tools.

That may come in handy for future projects in unforeseen ways. By playing, you'll develop your go-to selection of tools and commands.

You'll rely on these functions again and again, possibly FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

Yes, it's that addictive.

Earn your black belt in Photoshop (not really)

Nobody likes a know-it-all.

Yet many people seem to think that if they don't know all the features of Photoshop inside-and-out, then they aren't grasping the program.

Don't worry about becoming a Black Belt in Photoshop.

It would take years of regular use before it all sank in anyways. Just develop your own way of working and let go of the idea that you have to be a know-it-all.

Of course, if you want to be a master, there are ways to do that too. We'll look at that later.

Start With This

Assuming you are a beginner who hasn't used the program before, there are some easy projects to consider trying first.

Open Sesame

One of the first tasks you'll want to do it merely opening a file.

This is the moment that will make or break some people. It can be very frustrating when things don't seem to make sense.

But it doesn't have to be:

Watch this straightforward video to see some concepts that most advanced users take entirely for granted.

The narrator uses the Move tool to move images after unlocking the "padlock" on the layers panel.

Understanding the basics like this means you are well on your way to wanting more Photoshop, not less.

Get to know vectors

As we noted before, Photoshop can work with vectors. However, it specializes in pixels. It helps to be familiar with these vector tools, but don't worry if these seem quite confusing at first.

You may not need to use vectors anyway.

In that case:

You should still know what they are to avoid clicking on them.

One of the primary vector tools is the pen tool, which is also the mainstay of Adobe Illustrator. It works by forming points with each click on the screen.

Get to know Smart objects

One of the ways that Photoshop can work with vector objects is by converting them to so-called Smart objects.

Here's what that means:

The Smart object links to the original vector file so that when you edit the image, the original content is preserved.

Even if you don't use vector graphics, it's handy to learn about how and why to use Smart objects, which can link to vector and raster images.

More on smart objects, a somewhat complicated topic simplified below:

Finally filters!

Of all of Photoshop's many features, it's the filters that probably get the most attention.

When they were first introduced, it was endlessly fascinating to see how the filter could transform an image in a million ways.

Today, many of these filter styles seem cliché:

Think of an 80s music video, and you get the same idea -- over the top flashy transformations can be a bit much. Nevertheless, they remain one of the most entertaining features of Photoshop.

Just don't get too carried away.

On the other hand, playing with Photoshop's Filter Gallery and many image distortions is something that everybody must try.

Just get it out of your system already.

See more about filter effects below:

Of course, if you can't get enough filters, how about unlimited filters instead?

One million brushes

Now that you have found a way to waste months at a time looking at crazy Photoshop filters how about looking at brushes?

Oh yes, they are just as much fun, if not more.

Take a look:

Paint with a brush that looks like just about anything, from eyelashes to a shimmering field of stars. You can download new brushes and load them into the program to your heart's content.

Learn the basics of using Photoshop brushes below. It seems boring but trust us, it will really help:

One of the brush masters who has now incorporated his tools into new releases of the program, Kyle T. Webster, talks about some of his brushes below:

Taking It to the Next Level

Once you have become comfortable navigating and using Photoshop, you will no doubt want to continue to learn more about other Adobe programs.

Even if you don't have an art or graphic design degree, you can do a great deal with the powers of Photoshop on your belt.

What will you do with all of those skills?

It's time to show off

If you have become so enthralled with the program that you start churning out the images, videos, or animations, then it's high time you think about how to display your work.

Here are the basics:

Make a portfolio.

Don't just save all your pictures on your hard drive and forget about them. Show off your work with an online portfolio. You'll be amazed at the responses you get from friends and others.

With a Creative Cloud subscription, you may be able to do it with the included program, Adobe Portfolio.

There are a million other ways to do it, from online do-it-yourself web design sites to posting on social media yourself.

The idea is to share your creations. You'll inspire others and get inspiration and feedback in return.

Keep in mind that anything you post online can easily be stolen. You might want to save your images at low resolution and relatively small size, and/or put your watermark on your designs.

See more about Adobe Portfolio from Adobe Evangelist, Terry White below:

Advancing your skills

Even Photoshop Black Belts are still learning things every day. That's partly because the program seems to update every time you turn around.

For some, learning new things is a welcome thing.

For others, they want to work with the tools they are familiar with. That's cool, but in all cases, your skills will advance the more you work, just as with any trade.

If you want to reach the pinnacle of Photoshop mastery, there is always the option of certification.

For example:

Adobe offers a certification program with rigorous testing that will allow you to show off to potential employers or customers.

If they can do it, so can you!

More on Adobe Certified World Championship below:

YouTube is still your friend

No matter how advanced you get, you can always fall back on good ole' YouTube for ideas and inspiration. Chances are, there is a video that will answer most questions you have.

It's a real life-saver again and again and again.

Similarly, no matter how much you have used Photoshop, don't forget to enjoy what you're doing and play around.

That's what gets the creativity flowing.

Start making money

Once you become confident in your abilities with Photoshop, it opens up creative doors, and possibly doors to new careers.

laptop, android phone, notebooks and more on top of a working desk

Image: by Caio Resende, via Pexels

Here's how to start:

One of the easiest ways to start making cash is to approach local businesses like art galleries, frame shops, and print shops.

Simply ask if they have a need for such routine requests such as photo restoration and editing. Very often, these skills are in high demand, but will they pay you?

If you can scan in a customer's photograph, then you can become a "photo doctor," removing unwanted imperfections or altering the photo.

You might even get requests to remove entire people from pictures or generic things like eliminating red-eye.

There are many ways to use your Photoshop skills to earn money, but you have to be smart and creative about it.

See more about streams of passive income from T-shirt designs below:

Diving Into More

Once you learn the basics of Photoshop, you will have a head start on learning other Adobe programs like Illustrator.

There are enough similarities that learning a new program will be relatively easy.

But on the other hand:

There are also enough differences to make it challenging.

For example, the overall concept of how to find features, tools, and workspaces is familiar with Illustrator.

However, you'll notice that tools, like the pen tool, work differently. There are brand new concepts to learn and master.

Why can't they all get along?

It sure seems like it would be easier if everything were located in one program sometimes. That would be too convenient, right?

However, once you learn what each program does, you'll realize there is just too much going on to have it all in one place.

Everybody has a purpose.

As you progress to new Adobe programs, you'll realize their strengths and weaknesses. You'll appreciate how they work together to help you achieve just about any design goal you may have.

For more on the differences between Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, watch the video below:

It Never Ends

If you've come this far and you are still set on learning Photoshop, be aware that no matter how long you use it, you'll learn more all the time.

The neverending story.

Fortunately, working with Photoshop usually feels more like playing than working.

You probably won't mind taking a few minutes to sort out how to tackle a new design problem. Solving those problems can be fun.

Think of it as Photoshop muscle memory:

As you encounter design problems in the future, you'll have a sense of Déjà vu. You'll realize this is something you came across years ago, only this time; you'll know what to do from experience.

That's when it hits you:

You are officially a Photoshop nerd.

Yes, it takes years and countless work with the program to become a semi-relative expert.

a man comparing a printed photo and digital copies from his desktop computer

Image: by rawpixel.com, via Pexels

Your friends will be impressed.

They might even ask you to teach them how to work with Photoshop, and you will cringe, knowing that learning takes hard work, lots of time, and exploring all on your own.

The best part is you will enjoy exploring with Photoshop for years to come.

Do you have any tips or tricks fo learning Photoshop? Tell us about it in the comments!

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