Customizing Photoshop Preferences

Every program gives you access to a few core settings so you can modify the program to suit your personal needs. These settings are known far and wide as preferences. Photoshop ships with certain recommended preference settings already in force known coast to coast as factory defaults but just because these settings are recommended doesn’t mean they’re right.

In fact, I disagree with quite a few of them. But why quibble when you can change the preferences according to your merest whim? You can modify preference settings in two ways: You can make environmental adjustments using File>Preferences>General, or you can change the operation of specific tools by adjusting settings in the Options bar.

Photoshop remembers environmental preferences, tool settings, and even the file format under which you saved the last image by storing this information to a file each time you exit the program. To restore Photoshop’s factory default settings, delete the Adobe Photoshop 6 Prefs.psp file when the application is not running.

The next time you launch Photoshop, it creates a new preferences file automatically. You can find the preferences file in the Windows/Application Data/Adobe/Photoshop/6.0/Adobe Photoshop 6 Settings folder. (Adobe relocated the preferences file to accommodate the multiple-user features of Windows 98.

Depending on your system setup, the program may choose a different storage folder. If you don’t see the file in the location I specified here, keep reading for another way to trash your preferences file.)

You also can dump the preferences file using this trick: Close the program and then relaunch it. Immediately after you launch the program, press and hold Ctrl+Shift+Alt. Photoshop displays a dialog box asking for your okay to delete the preferences file.

Click Yes. Continue to hold down Ctrl+Shift+Alt to display dialog boxes for changing the plug-ins folder and scratch disk settings. Deleting the preferences file is also a good idea if Photoshop starts acting funny. Photoshop’s preferences file has always been highly susceptible to corruption, possibly because the application writes to it so often.

Whatever the reason, if Photoshop starts behaving erratically, trash that preferences file. You’ll have to reset your preferences, but a smooth-running program is worth the few minutes of extra effort.

Photoshop saves actions, color settings, custom shapes, contours, and the like separately from the Prefs file. This means that you can delete your Prefs file without any worry about harming your scripts, color conversions, and other custom settings.

After you get your preferences set as you like them, you can prevent Photoshop from altering them further by locking the file. In Windows Explorer, right-click the Adobe Photoshop 6 Prefs.psp file and choose Properties from the pop-up menu. Then select the Read Only check box in the Properties dialog box and press Enter.

From now on, Photoshop will start up with a consistent set of default settings. That’s a good tip, and I include it in the name of comprehensive coverage. But personally, I don’t lock my Prefs file because I periodically modify settings and I want Photoshop to remember the latest and greatest.

Instead, I make a backup copy of my favorite settings. After a few weeks of working in the program and customizing it to a more or less acceptable level, copy the preferences file to a separate folder on your hard disk (someplace you’ll remember!). Then if the preferences file becomes corrupt, you can replace it quickly with your backup.

Preference Panels

Adobe shuffled some menu commands when developing Photoshop 6, including the all-important Preferences command, which now appears on the Edit menu. Choosing the command displays a long submenu of commands, but you needn’t ever use them if you remember a simple keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+K.

This shortcut brings up the Preferences dialog box, which provides access to eight panels of options, representing every one of the Edit>Preferences commands. Select the desired panel from the pop-up menu in the upper-left corner of the dialog box, as demonstrated in Figure below.

Select a panel of options from the pop-up menu, or click the Prev and Next buttons to advance from one panel to the next.

Or press the Ctrl key equivalent for the panel as listed in the pop-up menu. You can also click the Prev and Next buttons (or press Alt+P and Alt+N, respectively) to cycle from one panel to the next. Photoshop always displays the first panel, General, when you press Ctrl+K. If you prefer to go to the panel you were last using, press Ctrl+Alt+K.

To accept your settings and exit the Preferences dialog box, press Enter. Or press Escape to cancel your settings. Okay, so you already knew that, but here’s one you might not know: Press and hold the Alt key to change the Cancel button to Reset. Then click the button to restore the settings that were in force before you entered the dialog box.