The Top 10 Most Important Tools to Learn to Master Photoshop

While Photoshop is an incredibly powerful application that is packed with tools to help you edit and manipulate images, I have found that most people only end up using a small fraction of Photoshop’s tools on a daily basis. In this article, I’ve pulled together a list of tutorials to help you master 10 of Photoshop’s most-important tools. By mastering these tools, you’ll be able to edit and manipulate just about any type of image in Photoshop. Let’s take a look!

1. Selections

If you are working with Photoshop for the first time, the first concept that you should learn is the concept of making a selection. Simply put, by making a selection, you are telling Photoshop to grab a group of pixels so that you can make adjustments to them. In Photoshop, you can do a lot of things to selections of pixels. You can change their color, move them, re-size them, or delete them. Below, I’ve included several tutorials showing how to make and modify selections in Photoshop.

How to Make Fast But Precise Selections – Tuts+

10 Ways to Modify a Selection in Photoshop – Tuts+

Making Complex Selections (Part 1) – Tuts+

Making Complex Selections (Part 2) – Tuts+

Natural Selections – Tuts+

2. Masking

Masking is probably the most important concept to understand. Masking is the act of showing or hiding pixels. When you apply a mask to an object in Photoshop, you are telling Photoshop which pixels to show, and which to hide. By placing white onto a mask, you are telling Photoshop to show the pixels behind that mask. By placing black onto a mask, you are telling Photoshop to hide the pixels behind that mask. These tutorials will explain everything you need to know about the different types of masks available in Photoshop and how to use them.

The Answer to All Your Problems: Masking – Tuts+

What is a Clipping Mask Then – Tuts+

How to Work With Vector Masks in Photoshop – Tuts+

3. Brush Tool

When most people think of brushes, they probably immediately think of painting. While Photoshop is an amazing digital painting application, the Brush Tool’s most useful function isn’t actually for digital painting or illustration, in fact, the Brush Tool is usually most useful when used on masks or Adjustment Layers. These tutorials will explain everything you need to know about using Brushes in Photoshop.

10 Things You Must Know About Photoshop Brushes – Tuts+

Start Using the Brush Tool – Tuts+

The Brush Panel and Using a Tablet – Tuts+

4. Adjustment Layers

Adjustment Layers allow you to make changes to a pixel’s color or tone. You can use an Adjustment Layer to add contrast, adjust color, to convert an image to black and white, and much more. Below, I’ve included a couple introductory tutorials to help you get started with Adjustment Layers. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive series of tutorials that go into much more detail, this series, titled The Ultimate Guide to Adjustment Layers by Martin Perhiniak will explain everything you need to know.

Introduction to Adjustment Layers – Tuts+

How To Use Adjustment Layers In Photoshop – Phlearn

5. Clone Stamp

If you edit or retouch photos a lot, the Clone Stamp tool will be essential. The Clone Stamp tool allows you to sample pixels from one part of an image and paint those pixels onto another part of an image. You can use this tool to remove blemishes from a photo or even to delete objects from a photo all-together. This tutorial from Phlearn is a great place to start if you want to learn more about how to use this tool.

How to Master the Clone Stamp Tool in Photoshop – Phlearn

6. Layers

Layers are one of Photoshop’s most powerful organizational tools. By stacking layers on top of each other, Photoshop gives you the ability to not only work non-destructively, but to also organize your PSD file in a way that will make sense to anyone that views it.

Introduction to Layers in Photoshop – Tuts+

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Photoshop Layers – Tuts+

Secrets of the Layer Panel (Part 1) – Tuts+

Secrets of the Layer Panel (Part 2) – Tuts+

7. Blend Modes

Blend Modes in Photoshop allow you to blend your layers together in interesting ways. By setting the Blending Mode of a layer you can tell Photoshop to apply different behaviors to the color and tones contained within that layer. These tutorials are a great place to start.

A Breakdown Of Blend Modes – Phlearn

Using Layer Blending Modes In Photoshop – Phlearn

8. Transformation Tools

Photoshop gives you some powerful tools to help you re-size, distort, transform, and warp your images. Use these tools to help you push pixels around, and move them into place. The following tutorials explain several of Photoshop’s different transformation tools.

How to Use the Photoshop Free Transform Mode – Lynda

Photoshop Transform Tool Tips and Tricks – Tip Squirrel

Using the Free Transform and Warp Tools – Lynda

Warping, Distorting & Directly Manipulating Images – Adobe

Perspective Warp in Photoshop CC 14.2 – Howard Pinsky

Look at the Big Picture With Adaptive Wide Angle in Photoshop CS6 – Russell Brown

9. Liquify

Retouchers often depend on the Liquify Tool to help them push pixels around on a screen. You may have seen people use the Liquify tool in the past to make some pretty drastic edits to a photo, but for the most part, the Liquify tool is best used in moderation. This tutorial from Phlearn is a great demonstration of how to use the Liquify tool in Photoshop.

Shape Hair Using the Liquify Tool in Photoshop – Phlearn

10. Crop Tool

The Crop Tool is probably one of Photoshop’s most popular features. Cropping is the act of trimming off the edges of a photo and is most often used to change the aspect ratio or to size an image to smaller dimensions. This tutorial from Tutvid will explain how the Crop Tool works in Photoshop CS6 and above.