The Photoshop Elements History panel is a handy tool that I recommend to all my students. It shows a list of your most recent edits and makes it easy to undo a series of edits with a single click.

As a reader pointed out last week with his question about editing in Elements, the History panel probably doesn’t do everything you’d like for it to do. So today I’ll show you what it does do, how to tweak it for best results and alternatives for times when it doesn’t do everything you wish it could do.

First off, if you’re not currently using the History panel in Elements, turn it on. You can do that by going to the Window menu and clicking on History.

photoshop elements history panel view

You’ll see the new panel over in your panels bin on the right. It will look something like this:

photoshop elements history panel

Let’s talk about what exactly is displayed in this History panel. If you’re using the default PSE settings, the history panel is probably showing the last 20 changes you made to your photo.

To undo a series of steps, click on the last list item that you want to keep. For instance, if I wanted to undo everything beginning with Invert through my last edit in the shot above, I would click on Name Change.

photoshop elements history panel undo

You can see in the shot above that everything after Name Change is now gray. If I haven’t made any subsequent changes, I can restore any or all of these edits by clicking on the last one I want to keep.  However, the minute I make a change, all those gray history states will disappear forever.

It’s important to know that you can’t undo just one state from the middle of the list. Undoing one state will also undo everything you did after it.

Want to show more than 20 history states? You can do that by going to your Preferences dialog box. Find Preferences under the Edit menu on PCs or the Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor menu on Macs. I display 50 History states in my panel. Note, however, that any increase to the number of History States you keep slows down Elements’ processing time.

photoshop elements history preferences

You can always revert your image to its condition when you opened the file by clicking on the file name at the top of the History panel.

Here’s the most important thing to know about the history panel: when you close a file, your History States disappear forever. When you re-open it, that History panel will be empty. This is probably the fact about the history panel that disappoints people the most.

(Lightroom’s history panel, on the other hand, lasts forever. It’s one of the reasons that Lightroom can be much easier to use than PSE.)

Even though the History panel doesn’t save all your edits forever, this shouldn’t be a problem if you are editing properly. And by properly, I mean that you are putting each separate edit you create on its own layer.

Photoshop Elements is designed for non-destructive editing. This means that, if you use adjustment layers and pixel layers to hold each of your edits, your underlying image will be protected and untouched in the background layer.

It also means that, if you want to undo a series of edits, you could either delete or adjust the layer that you made it on. Layers last forever, unlike History States. For instance, if I wanted to tone down the warmth of this image, I could comb through my History panel hoping to find the adjustment that created the warmth. Undoing that state would undo everything I had done after it as well.

Or, more efficiently, I could go to the layer creating the warmth and reduce its opacity or adjust its settings. Looking at the screen shot below, I would simply reduce the opacity of the Autumn Color layer. That’s much quicker than using the History panel to undo my editing steps.

photoshop elements history layers

When do I use the History panel the most? It happens most often when I’m using the paint brush or clone stamp tool for extended layer mask painting or blemish removal. I might decide to undo the last 5 or 6 brush strokes and use the History panel to do that.

Photoshop Elements History Panel Summary

  • Display your History panel using the Window Menu.
  • Utilize the Preferences dialog box to display more History States.
  • Go to the History panel to undo a series of steps or go back to the image’s appearance when you opened the file.
  • Use layers to undo or change edits that you can’t change via the History panel.