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Make Photoshop Yours – Part 1: Custom Workspaces


How to create custom Photoshop workspaces – step by step instructions on setting up and saving multiple workspaces.

A workspace in Photoshop is an arrangement of windows that provide visual and easy access to the functions that are most commonly used for particular kinds of work.

For instance, retouching artists want to access Layers, Colors, Mask Properties and Brushes frequently while doing their artwork. A motion photography artist needs to see the Timeline, Layers, Clone Sources and 3D Objects.

All of the choices can be found in the dropdown menu under Window in the Main Menu Bar, but it’s annoying to continually search for them there.

It’s so much easier when everything you need is organized just the way you like it on screen so you can monitor your work and get what you need with just a click.

Hope this helps some of you out that would like to return to this guide later or print it out!

Why use custom workspaces?

There are other options for Workspaces targeted to different kinds of users and their general needs.

These options may be accessed through the Main Menu Bar, Window / Workspace,

They may also be accessed via the drop down menu at the far right on the Main Menu Bar:

When you save your own Workspaces, they will be automatically added to these menus so you will be able to locate and change menus easily.

Users set up custom Workspaces for a variety of reasons, primarily for particular workflow interests, but custom spaces are also attractive when a computer is shared and each user has their own particular preferences.

It can be annoying to have to rearrange the windows every time you want to work – and so easy to set up a Workspace that can be accessed by a simple menu selection!

I’ll walk you through the steps required to set up and save a custom Workspace; the one I use for photo retouching.

Please feel free to improvise along the way if you have some favorite panels you like to work with.

If your Essentials Workspace is not already chosen, choose it now so we can work together.

Also, if your Essentials Workspace is open but the panels are re arranged, Reset it by choosing Window / Workspace / Reset Essentials.

How to set up and save a custom Workspace

To begin, one should choose which panels are important, and prioritized them as being needed for constant access and visibility or needed for easy access on an occasional basis during normal image work.

I use Color and Swatches frequently. I also use and create many layers and need to see them and move between them frequently.

I also use Channels and I love the Pen Tool, so I’d like to have these available as Priority One.

Priority Two panels for me are Actions, History, Properties, Brushes and Brush Presets.

We’ll start by closing the windows we don’t need in our Workspace, Adjustments and Styles.

Position the cursor over the tab section of the Adjustment window (the area where the name is written) and drag it out of the side panel.

Do the same for Styles. The Essentials Workspace will now look like this:

By default, the side panel is docked on the right side of the screen, reserving the space from top to bottom.

I prefer to have shorter side panels so I can maximize my “real estate” for viewing the image, so we’re going to undock the side panel by pressing on the bar on top of the panel (the gray bar just over the words “color” and “swatches”) and drag the panel out onto the center of the screen.

The screen will now look like this:

Color, Swatches, Layers, Channels, Paths, History and Properties are already open.

Open Actions, Brushes and Brush Presets from the Main Menu Bar.

They will automatically open down the left side of the panel. When you select Brush it is likely you will see this:

Don’t panic; just collapse the Brush Window by clicking on the small double arrows in the upper right corner, just to the left of the arrow that opens the fly out menu.

I like to rearrange the left side a bit so I drag and drop the panels into these positions:

This is very easy to do, however, it is important to grab (press on or click and hold) in the right location on each window and watch carefully as Photoshop tells you by displaying blue lines or rectangles exactly where the windows are going to drop.

It’s important to grab the window you wish to move by the bar at the very top of the window or window icon.

As you drag the window toward the new destination, Photoshop will show you where it’s going to land.

In this instance, a blue line became visible in this location and the window dropped between the left sidebar and the main window panel.

If the blue line appears at the top or between icons in this location, the window will still be nested in the side panel.

And if a rectangle appears around another window, like this example, the one you are moving will drop in with the others within that window.

So it’s a little bit tricky at first but once you understand what you are looking at it’s fun and easy to arrange windows until you get exactly what you want.

If you make a mistake, just drag the windows apart and try again.

In fact, you can just drag them all away from each other and start over again, arranging and rearranging until you are happy.

In this example I’ve pulled them all apart and will start putting them where I like them watching how the blue lines tell me where things will go, starting with dragging the Channels and Paths into the Layers Window and the Brush Presets into the Brush Window.

When I’m finished, I’ll be looking at this:

Next, I’ll stack up the windows I want in the sidebar.

We’ll be looking at this:

And we’ll nest the sidebar on the left side of the main window panel – be careful to grab the window collection at the top bar (and not the action bar) in order to move them all at the same time.

At this point all of the windows will be open.

You can collapse all of the windows in the side panel collection by clicking on the small double arrows at the top of that panel.

All that’s left is to drag the panel into the location of the screen that you feel is the most convenient for you.

Most people like the right side of the screen just under the option bar but you can do what you want – even make a horizontal collection if you feel like it!


If this Workspace setup is going to be for photo retouching, there are a few other things that I like to do.

In the Color Window, open the fly out menu from the single arrow in the upper right corner and change the sliders to display HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness) instead of RGB.

This makes it easier to alter colors that are chosen from the image. For instance, one might choose the skin color and wish to make it a little pinker and more saturated.

Option tap the skin color, move the Hue slider closer to red and the Saturation slider slightly over to the right – much easier than trying to work with the RGB values!

Choose the Eyedropper Tool and alter the sampling size to 5×5 pixel average.

This provides a more accurate general color selection when choosing colors from the image because photographic color is variable from pixel to pixel.

Open Photoshop Preferences for Cursors and choose to see the Normal brush tip and Standard “other cursors”.

The Normal Brush Tip allows for over-spray when you are using soft edged brushes.

This means that you can view where the edges are while you are working without them being obscured by the Full Sized Brush.

Choose the Clone Stamp Tool, Open the Clone Source Option panel and deselect Show Overlay.

The Overlay is a visual patch of the source material that travels with the brush.

It interferes with one’s vision of the resulting overall product while working quickly – however it is helpful when working very slowly in precise areas.

Turning this option off also deactivates it for the Healing Brush Tool.

When you have finished arranging your new Workspace, it’s time to save it.

From the Main Menu Bar choose Window / Workspace / New Workspace.

A window will open in which you can type in the name of your New Workspace.

I used My Retouching.

It is optional to also save Keyboard Shortcuts and Menu Options with the New Workspace but since we did not set any up for this simple space, it is not necessary.

The New Workspace is now visible in the Workspace Menu.

The active Workspace is still the Essentials Workspace; we’ve just altered it to suit our needs for photo retouching.

Because we have saved the New Workspace, the Essentials Workspace can be reset without us losing our New Workspace.

Choose Window / Workspace / Reset Essentials from the Main Menu Bar.

To access our New Workspace, choose Window / Workspace / My Retouching.

And now we’re done!

Closing Thoughts

Photoshop now contains your new Workspace as one of the choices in the Workspace menu.

It’s easy to move between Workspaces, just by choosing the one you want from the dropdown menu.

If you alter a Workspace while you are using it and wish to put everything back into place again, just choose Window / Workspace / Reset ‘the one you are currently in’.

You might want to create or alter existing Workspaces for Image Processing, Photo Retouching, Photo Painting – any of the job types you typically work in.

Creating and Saving custom Workspaces streamlines your workflow and makes Photoshop work for you in the way you like to work, so don’t be shy!

You can’t ruin anything but you can find confidence in yourself and your software by learning how it works.

I hope that my articles open doors and empower you to explore the vast opportunities Photoshop provides.

Next: Part 2 – Photoshop Shortcuts

In part two of this series, we share a cheatsheet for all of the Photoshop shortcuts on Mac and PC.

Check it out by clicking here!

Jane Conner-ziser is an award winning photographer, digital artist, premier educator and independent consultant. With over 25 years of experience, 19 of them in digital imaging and evolving technologies, the techniques Jane developed for facial retouching and enhancement and portrait painting from photographs are widely emulated by photographers and digital artists worldwide through her classes, online training and educational products.


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