Photoshop Floating Palettes

In addition to the Options bar, Photoshop sports two new text-related palettes, the Character and Paragraph palettes. These two palettes don’t display automatically when you first launch Photoshop; you must choose Show Character or Show Paragraph from the Window menu or click the Palettes button on the Options bar while the type tool is active.

Other than that, these new palettes look and behave just like the other palettes, which look and behave much like they have since Version 3. Each palette contains most or all of the elements labeled in Figure below.

Most palettes include the same basic elements as the Layers palette, shown here.

Some palettes lack scroll bars, others lack size boxes, but that’s just to keep you from getting too stodgy. Many palette elements are miniature versions of the elements that accompany any window. For example, the close button and title bar work identically to their image window counterparts.

The title bar lacks a title I have a lobbyist in Washington working on getting the name changed to “untitled bar” as we speak—but you can still drag it to move the palette to a different location on screen.

Photoshop automatically snaps palettes into alignment with other palettes. To snap a palette to the edge of the screen, Shift-click its title bar. You can also Shift-drag the title bar to move the palette around the perimeter of the screen, or to snap the palette from one edge of the screen to the other. (This tip also works with the toolbox.)

Four elements are unique to floating palettes:

  • Palette options: Each floating palette offers its own collection of options. These options may include icons, pop-up menus, slider bars, you name it.

  • Palette menu: Click the right-pointing arrowhead to display a menu of commands specific to the palette. These commands enable you to manipulate the palette options and adjust preference settings.

  • Palette tabs: Click a palette tab to move it to the front of the palette group. (You can also select the palette commands from the Window menu, but it’s more convenient to click a tab.)

  • Collapse button: Click the collapse button to decrease the amount of space consumed by the palette. If you previously enlarged the palette by dragging the size box, your first click reduces the palette back to its default size. After that, clicking the collapse button hides all but the most essential palette options.

In most cases, collapsing a palette hides all options and leaves only the tabs visible. But in the case of the Color and Layers palettes, clicking the collapse button leaves a sliver of palette options intact, as demonstrated in the middle example of Figure below.

The Color palette shown at full size (top), partially collapsed (middle), and fully collapsed (bottom)

To eliminate all options as in the last example Alt-click the collapse button. You can also double-click one of the tabs or in the empty area to the right of the tabs. These tricks work even if you’ve enlarged the palette by dragging the size box.

Rearranging and Docking

In the past, you’ve been able to regroup palettes to suit the way you work. Now you also can dock palettes to each other or to the Options bar. You’re king of the palette hill, as it were. To attach a floating palette to the Options bar, as shown in Figure below, drag the palette tab to the docking well.

Attach palettes to the Options bar by dragging them to the docking well.

After you dock the palette, you see just the palette tab on the Options bar. Click the tab to display the palette, as shown in the figure. When you click outside the palette, the palette closes automatically.

If you don’t see the docking well, you need to raise your monitor resolution. The docking well isn’t accessible at monitor resolutions of less than 800 pixels wide. Also, if you undock the Options bar, any palettes attached to it hide themselves. To redisplay a hidden palette, choose its name from the Window menu.

In addition to docking palettes in the Options bar, you can dock palettes to each other. Drag a palette tab to the bottom of another palette and release the mouse button when the other palette appears highlighted, as shown in the left side of Figure below.

Drag a palette tab to the bottom of another palette (left) to dock the two palettes together (right).

The dragged palette grabs hold of the other palette’s tail and doesn’t let go. Now you can keep both palettes visible but move, close, collapse, and resize the two as a single entity, as shown in the right half of the figure.

When you dock a resizable palette to another resizable palette, you can resize the palettes like so:

  • Place your cursor over the border between two stacked palettes until you see the double-headed arrow cursor. Then drag down to enlarge the upper palette and shrink the lower one. Drag up to enlarge the lower palette and shrink the upper one. The overall size of the docked palettes doesn’t change.

  • Alt-drag the border to resize the upper palette only. Still not happy with your palette layout? You can shuffle palettes at will, moving a single palette from one group to another or giving it complete independence from any group. To separate a palette from the herd, drag its tab away from the palette group, as demonstrated in the left column in Figure below. To add the palette to a palette group, drag its tab onto the palette group, as shown in the middle column. The right column shows the results of the two maneuvers I made in the first two columns.

Dragging a palette tab out of a palette group (left) separates the palette from its original family (middle. Dragging a palette tab onto another palette group (middle) adds that palette to the group (right).

If you ever completely muck up the palettes or a palette somehow gets stuck under the menu bar choose Window>Reset Palette Locations.

I mentioned earlier that you can hide the palettes by pressing Shift+Tab and that you can hide the palettes, toolbox, and Options bar by pressing Tab. But this keyboard trick doesn’t work if an option box is active.

For example, suppose you click inside the R option box in the Color palette. This activates the option. Now press Tab. Rather than hiding the palettes, Photoshop advances you to the next option box in the palette, G. To move backward through the options, press Shift+Tab. This trick applies to the Options bar as well as to the standard palettes.

To apply an option box value and return focus to the image window, press Enter. This deactivates the palette options. If an option box remains active, certain keyboard tricks such as pressing a key to select a tool won’t work properly. Photoshop either ignores the shortcut or beeps at you for pressing a key the option box doesn’t like.

While you’re working in the image window, you can return focus to the Options bar from the keyboard. When you press Enter, Photoshop displays the Options bar, if it’s not already visible.

If the Options bar offers an option box for the active tool, Photoshop highlights the contents of the option box. You can then tab around to reach the option you want to change, enter a new value, and press Enter to get out.