Eat This, Not That: Photoshop Style

Perhaps, dekeOpotamians, you’ve decided that 2012 is the year you are going to make better choices. I’m not talking about the kind of choices where you give up butter so you can live a longer butter-free life. I’m talking about those kinds of choices touted by the “Eat This, Not That” diet philosophy. For instance, you could drink a 200-ish-calorie pint of Guinness, or you could have a svelte 90-calorie icy cold martini. Both delicious to be sure, but one option will get you where you want to be more efficiently.

Except, I’m thinking about a Photoshop version. You know, where you use the most efficient, satisfying tools for the job at hand instead of weighing yourself down with klunkier tools that don’t give you satisfying results. So in that spirit, I’ve made a list of healthier Photoshop alternatives that I like to call:

Try This Not That, in Photoshop

So what follows is a list of tools that provide smarter choices than the ones you might be using:

Use Color Range, not the Magic Wand.

Every school kid (or at least the one single high-schooler I know) gets taught initially to use the Magic Wand for selecting backgrounds and isolating subjects. At first blush, it’s wonderfully simple. Click on a certain color and immediately select everything in your image that is that color (or even in the ballpark of that color depending on how you set the options). But there are several reasons why you should be using the Color Range command instead:

  • First, Color Range is dynamic. If you click on an area with the Magic Wand, and you don’t get the exact area you intended, you have to reset the Tolerance level and try again. Color Range’s equivalent setting, Fuzziness, allows you to make those subtle changes while you’re working.
  • If you need to expand your selection, you can add extra points with the Magic Wand by holding down the Shift key and clicking again. But Color Range allows you to drag across a range of colors, allowing you to dynamically scoop up subtle color variations into your selection.
  • Finally, the results of each tool speak for themselves. Let’s say for instance, you wanted to capture the awesome fluffiness of the happy cloud below. You could try clicking and Shift-clicking a few points with the Magic Wand, but ultimately the anti-aliasing work that the tool applies gives you that thing far below (expressed as a mask) that looks like some former bit of the Soviet Union you failed to identify on a geography quiz. By contrast, the Color Range results give much subtler transitions, and the delicious fluff is preserved.
Color Range vs Magic Wand

If you’d like to see the Color Range command in underwater action, check out this free movie from Chapter 6 of Deke’s Photoshop Masking and Compositing: Fundamentals course. (Want more? Not a member of Try it out by signing up for a free week subscription at

Use Adobe Camera Raw to fix white balance rather than get mired in Photoshop.

It’s not that Photoshop proper can’t get white balance job done, it’s just that this common photo adjustment is so much easier in ACR. In ACR, you use a deftly named White Balance eye-dropper to find a neutral area in your image, then you can tweak it easily with the Temperature and Tint sliders. Image looks too cold, move the Temperature slider to the yellower end of the spectrum. If your subject looks too feverish, try moving the Tint slider to the Green end.

Meanwhile, over in Photoshop, you can reach the eyedropper for the task, but only if you know that it lives in the Levels or Curves command dialog box. Want to tweak your color by hand? You’ve got a much more confusing set of sliders to deal with in the form of the Color Balance command. Seriously, you decide which option looks more appetizing:


Click once with the Type tool to make “point text” instead of drawing out a text box.

For years—like, all my life until Deke enlightened me yesterday—I found the Type tool in Photoshop completely aggravating. I now realize it was because (having spent my formative years in InDesign) I always used the tool to drag out a text box, which then required painstaking mouse movements to resize and move. Little did I realize that a single click with the Type tool started a baseline upon which I could type freely (returns and all) and then move around easily. I wish I’d known this before creating the graphics for this post. (The tool is still aggravating, but decidedly less so.)

Text Box vs Baseline Text

Use a Smart Object not a standard layer. (For virtually everything.)

We’re talking about smart choices, Smart Objects are well named. A Smart Objectified layer creates a container that holds the contents of that layer sacrosanct, thus allowing you much more flexibility and creative-rethinking opportunity. It’s smart, try it.

Smart Objects vs. Not-So-Smart

If you’d like to see Smart Objects in action, check out Deke’s Techniques Numero Uno, in which they play an integral role in being able to create icy cool type (and do something useful with the Wind filter).

Use Hide not Delete. (When using the Crop tool.)

By default, when you draw a crop boundary with Photoshop’s Crop tool and accept the crop, Photoshop throws away everything outside the boundary. This is a wasteful destruction of pixels that you may regret even just a few minutes later. Changing one simple setting in the Options bar before you accept the crop allows you to Hide rather than Delete your extraneous image. (Assuming, of course, that you first convert your Background image into a floating layer!) Second thoughts? Just choose Image > Reveal All to bring it all back for consideration.

Hide vs Delete when Cropping

(Oh, and not to undermine my own argument, but if you make layers into Smart Objects you can’t destroy them at all, even when cropping with the Rectangular Marquee. Smart, baby!)

So don’t suffer with things that aren’t good for you. Making healthy Photoshop choices will improve your workflow, reduce your aggravation, and make you generally better looking and more desirable. Try ‘em out and see what you think.

Got any other useful substitutions for those who are still weighed down with bloated tools? Share them here!

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 055: Creating Type that Inverts Anything Behind It

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 054: Turning a Photo Into Line Art


  • Kudos

    Always Known Tips , But Worth Being Refreshed Again smile and Again smile Thank you Deke smile

  • Not to undermine my own argument

    But if you make layers into Smart Objects you can’t destroy them at all, even when cropping with the Rectangular Marquee. Smart, baby!

  • My 1st day at kindy

    My 1st day and this is my 1st read and so far I haven’t felt the urge to cry. Being told not to eat the crayons and draw on the walls is a terrific first lesson ...


    ɹǝpun uʍop puɐl ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ

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