Photoshop General Preferences

The General panel, shown in Figure below, contains a miscellaneous supply of what are arguably the most important Preferences options.

The General panel provides access to the most important environmental preference settings. I agree with many, but not all, of the default settings shown here.

  • Color Picker (Adobe): When you click the foreground or background color control icon in the toolbox, Photoshop displays any color picker plug-ins that you may have installed plus one of two standard color pickers: the Adobe color picker or the one provided by the operating system.

If you’re familiar with other Windows graphics programs, the system’s color picker may at first seem more familiar. But Photoshop’s color picker is substantially more versatile.

  • Interpolation (Bicubic): When you resize an image using Image>Image Size or transform it using Layer>Free Transform or one of the commands in the Layer>Transform submenu, Photoshop has to make up or interpolate pixels to fill in the gaps.

You can change how Photoshop calculates the interpolation by choosing one of three options from the Interpolation submenu. If you select Nearest Neighbor, Photoshop simply copies the next-door pixel when creating a new one. This is the fastest setting, but it invariably results in jagged effects. The second option, Bilinear, smoothes the transitions between pixels by creating intermediate shades. Photoshop averages the color of each pixel with four neighbors—the pixel above, the one below, and the two to the left and right. Bilinear takes more time but, typically, the softened effect is worth it. Still more time intensive is the default setting, Bicubic, which averages the color of a pixel with its eight closest neighbors one up, one down, two on the sides, and four in the corners. The Bicubic setting boosts the amount of contrast between pixels to offset the blurring effect that generally accompanies interpolation. The moral is this: Select Bicubic to turn Photoshop’s interpolation capabilities on, and select Nearest Neighbor to turn them off. The Bilinear setting is a poor compromise between the two—too slow for roughing out effects, but too remedial to waste your time.

  • Redo Key (Ctrl+Z): This option enables you to change the keyboard shortcuts assigned to the Undo, Redo, Step Back, and Step Forward commands. It’s ultimately a personal preference, but I discourage you from changing this option from its default.

Selecting something other than Ctrl+Z makes Photoshop appear to match other programs that feature multiple undos such as Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand but any resemblance is purely coincidental.

The wonders of the History palette notwithstanding, Photoshop relies on a singlelevel Undo command. Setting it to match other programs’ multilevel undos is misleading.

  • History States: This value controls how many steps you can undo via the History palette. The right value depends on the amount of RAM you’re willing to devote to Photoshop.

If you’re working with limited memory 32MB or less I suggest that you lower the value to 5 or 10. Otherwise, raise the value as you see fit, remembering that the more states the program retains, the more you strain your system.

  • Export Clipboard (off): When selected, this option tells Photoshop to transfer a copied image from the program’s internal clipboard to the operating system’s clipboard whenever you switch applications. This enables you to paste the image into another running program.

Turn this option off if you plan to use copied images only within Photoshop and you want to reduce the lag time that occurs when you switch from Photoshop to another program. Even with this option off, you can paste images copied from other programs into Photoshop.

  • Short PANTONE Names (off): As most digital artists are already aware, Pantone is a brand name assigned to a library of premixed spot-color printing inks. Photoshop supports the most recent Pantone naming conventions. Most modern publishing programs support these longer color names, but a few older versions do not.

If you run into problems separating spot-color Photoshop images when printing from another program, turn this option on. Otherwise, leave it off, as by default. (When you export straight grayscale, RGB, or CMYK images, this check box is irrelevant.)

  • Show Tool Tips (on): When on, this option displays little labels and keyboard shortcuts when you hover your cursor over a tool or palette option. The tool tips don’t impede Photoshop’s performance, so I see no reason to turn off this option.

  • Keyboard Zoom Resizes Windows (on): Select this option to force Photoshop to resize the image window when you zoom in or out on your image by selecting a Zoom command from the View menu or by using the keyboard shortcuts, Ctrl+plus and Ctrl+minus.

This one’s really a matter of personal choice I leave the option on, but you’ll do no harm to yourself or the planet if you turn it off. Either way, you can temporarily choose the opposite setting by pressing Alt as you choose the Zoom command.

  • Auto-update Open Documents (on): This option creates and maintains a link between an open image and the image file on disk. Any time the image on disk updates, Photoshop updates the image on screen in kind. This feature is an amazing help when you’re editing images with another artist over a network.

Imagine that you and a coworker each have the same server file open in separate copies of Photoshop. Your coworker makes a change and saves it. Seconds later, your copy of Photoshop automatically updates the image on your screen.

Then you make a change and save it, and Photoshop relays your modifications to your coworker’s screen. So what happens if you’re both editing the image simultaneously? Whoever saves first gets the glory.

If your coworker saves the image before you do, any changes that you haven’t saved are overwritten by the other person’s work. However, you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat simply by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Z, which undoes your coworker’s edits and retrieves yours.

Quickly save your image to lob your changes over the net. Ooh, psych! With any luck, your coworker won’t understand Photoshop well enough to know that your changes can be undone just as easily.

  • Show Asian Text Options (off): This option determines whether the Character and Paragraph palettes include options related to working with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean type. My recommendation here assumes that you’re not adding text in those languages to your images.

  • Beep When Done (off): You can instruct Photoshop to beep at you whenever it finishes an operation that displays a Progress window. This option may be useful if you doze off during particularly time-consuming operations. But I’m a firm believer that computers should be seen and not heard.

  • Dynamic Color Sliders (on): When selected, this option instructs Photoshop to preview color effects within the slider bars of the Color palette. When the option is turned off, the slider bars show the same colors regardless of your changes.

Unless you’re working on a slow computer, leave this option on. On a fast machine, Photoshop takes a billionth of a second longer to calculate the color effects and it’s well worth it.

  • Save Palette Locations (on): When this option is selected, Photoshop remembers the location of the toolbox and floating palettes from one session to the next. If you turn off this check box, Photoshop restores the default palette positions the next time you restart the program.

  • Show Font Names in English (on): Check this box, and Photoshop displays foreign fonts in intelligible names in the Font menu on the Options bar and in the Character palette well, assuming that English is intelligible to you, anyway.

  • Use Shift Key for Tool Switch (off): When two or more tools share the same slot in the toolbox, you can press the keyboard shortcut associated with the tools to cycle through the tools. This Preferences option determines whether you must press Shift along with the shortcut.

  • Reset All Warning Dialogs: Every now and then, Photoshop displays a warning dialog box to let you know that the course you’re on may have consequences you hadn’t considered. Some dialog boxes include a check box that you can select to tell Photoshop that you don’t want to see the current warning any more.

If you click the Reset All Warning Dialogs button in the Preferences dialog box, Photoshop clears all the “don’t show this warning again” check boxes so that you once again get all available warnings.

Photoshop responds to your click of the reset button by displaying a warning dialog box that says that all warning dialog boxes will be enabled if you go forward. Don’t ponder the irony too long before you click OK.

  • Reset All Tools: Click this button to reset all of Photoshop’s tools to their factory default settings. You also can click the tool’s icon on the Options bar and choose Reset All Tools from the resulting pop-up menu. Choose Reset Tool to restore the defaults for the current tool only.