The tool options bar in Photoshop Elements was the subject of last week’s tutorial.  This week, I’m going to share my most commonly used tools and their settings.  Ready?

First off, keep in mind that Elements requires you to have a tool selected at all times.  This can get you into trouble if you have, say, a purple brush selected and you accidentally click and drag over a bride’s dress.  To avoid accidental tool havoc, I keep the Move tool on unless I specifically need another tool.

Also, remember that tools hide under each other.  If you read a tutorial referring to a tool that you don’t see in your toolbar, start right-clicking on the tools that have tiny black triangles in the bottom right corner.  This triangle indicates that there are other tools hiding underneath.  For an example, look at the Pencil tool in the image to the left.  Right clicking on it will reveal various brush tools below.

  • Move – I use this as my “safe” tool to be on, and love the Arrange/Align/Distribute settings for lining up text boxes
  • Zoom – Never use it.  I use Control (command) and the + or – sign to zoom in and out instead.
  • Hand – Never use it.  Hold down the space bar to turn any other tool into the hand tool and move your photo.
  • Eyedropper – I use this to match colors.  I usually keep the sample size set on Point, but if the color isn’t solid (e.g. skin), I might change the sample size to 3×3 or 5×5.    These settings will take the average color over 9 or 25 pixels to use as your foreground color.
  • Marquee – I use the marquee when I vignette, and set the feathering to around 250 pixels for a high resolution photo.  The mode field will let you set the size of the marquee you draw in advance.  I usually use the rectangular marquee, but the elliptical (oval) marquee is hiding underneath if you need it.
  • Lasso – I use the regular lasso with a high feather when removing texture from a subject.  I don’t use the other lasso tools.
  • Magic Wand – never use it for photo editing
  • Quick Selection – ditto
  • Text – This one is pretty straightforward.  Choose your font, font size and color and text orientation.  Use the Leading field to change the distance between lines of text.
  • CropUse to recompose photos or make them fit a certain size of paper or frame.  Use the Aspect Ratio to crop to a certain size.  If I don’t have a reason do otherwise, I keep this setting at Use Photo Ratio.  The double arrows will switch the width and height to change the orientation of your crop.  
  • Cookie Cutter – never use it
  • Straightener – very handy for crooked horizons.  I like the Crop to Original Size setting and keep Rotate All Layers on.  
  • Red Eye Remover – never use it.
  • Spot Healing – love this tool, especially in Elements 9.  I use a Soft Round Brush and keep Content Aware and Sample All Layers turned on.  Content Aware isn’t available in prior versions of Elements, but the Spot Healing brush tool is.  For more info on change brush types, read this tutorial.  The same brush tips that work on the Brush are available on other tools as well.
  • Clone – a great alternative to the Spot Healing brush.  I use the same brush settings as for Spot Healing.  My blend mode stays on Normal unless I’m trying to remove under eye circles.  In that case, I change the blend mode to Lighten.
  • Eraser – Are you kidding me?  This sucker is destructive.  I use layer masks instead!  They are much more forgiving.
  • Brush/Pencil – I use only the Brush tool from this group.  Everything you want to know about the brush is available here.  Oh, and everything else is available here.
  • Smart Brush – never use it.
  • Paint Can – never use it.
  • Gradient tool –  hardly ever use it.
  • Custom shape – I only use this when I want to include arrows in screen shots for tutorials.
  • Blur/Sharpen/Smudge – Nope.
  • Sponge/dodge/burn – Double nope.  It’s destructive too.
  • Color Swatches – Thank the lord that the Color Swatches aren’t technically a tool, because there’s no way I could give you the highlights in two sentences or less.  These guys are a tutorial unto themselves.

It occurred to me while writing this tutorial that Adobe must have done a great job of predicting which tools should top the stacks of hidden tools, because I rarely need to select the ones underneath.  That’s a time saver.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention changing the size of any of the above tools using the size sliders.  That’s because I use these keys to increase and decrease the size of brushes and other tools:

  • [ decrease brush size
  • ] increase brush size

When I’m using a tool whose size might need to change, I keep one hand on my mouse (or graphic tablet) and another on the [and ] keys.  You’ll get the most natural results with any tool by varying the size throughout your work area.

Ok.  You have your assignments for the weekend.  Go play with the tools in Photoshop Elements and have a blast!