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Customizing the Way You Work in Adobe Photoshop CS4

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Optimize Photoshop by learning to use Preferences, which will not only make your work environment more comfortable, but also make Photoshop run up to 20% faster.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book


No description of Adobe Photoshop would be complete without that well-known, but little utilized area called Preferences. Photoshop preferences serve several purposes. They help customize the program to your particular designing style, and they help you utilize available computer resources to increase the overall performance of the program.

By modifying File Handling preferences, such as appending a file extension on the file, or being asked when saving a layered TIFF file, you can streamline the file saving process. In addition, you can change the way your cursors look. For example, do you want your paintbrush to look like a paintbrush when you paint, do you prefer a precision crosshair or the actual brush size shape, or the shape with a crosshair?

As you use Photoshop, you’ll come to realize the importance of working with units and rulers. Precision is the name of the game when you are working with images. What about the color of your guides, grids, and slices? No big deal, you say. Well, if you’ve ever tried viewing a blue guide against a blue-sky image, you know exactly why guide color is important. By working through preferences such as Image Cache, Scratch Disks, and RAM (Random Access Memory), speed increases of up to 20% can be achieved.

In addition, customizing the program helps make you more comfortable, and studies show that the more comfortable you are as a designer, the better your designs. Plus, being comfortable allows you to work faster, and that means you’ll accomplish more in the same amount of time. What does setting up preferences do for you? They make Photoshop run faster (up to 20%), you work more efficiently, and your designs are better. That’s a pretty good combination. Photoshop doesn’t give you Preferences to confuse you, but to give you choices, and those choices give you control.

Optimizing Photoshop

Photoshop is a powerful program, and as such, requires a tremendous amount of computing power. When working on large documents, a poorly optimized Photoshop program will mean longer processing times for your files. That’s the bad news if you have a deadline to meet. The good news is that Photoshop can be configured to run more efficiently. To optimize Photoshop, click the Edit (Win) or Photoshop (Mac) menu, point to Preferences, and then click Performance. The Performance preferences dialog box contains options that will help maximize the performance of Photoshop.

History States

History States control the number of undos available. In fact, you can have up to 1,000 undos (ever wonder who would make so many mistakes that they would need 1,000 undos?). Unfortunately, increasing the number of History States will ultimately increase the amount of RAM Photoshop uses to manage the History panel. Assigning more RAM to manage History means less memory for Photoshop to perform other operations, and will reduce the performance of the program. If you are experiencing problems with slow performance, lowering the number of History States frees up more RAM, and permits Photoshop to operate more efficiently.

Scratch Disk

When your computer doesn’t have enough RAM to perform an operation, Photoshop uses free space on any available drive, known as a Scratch Disk. Photoshop requires 5 times the working size of the file in contiguous hard drive space. For example, if the working size of your file is 100 MB, you will need 500 MB of contiguous hard drive space, or you will receive an error message: Out of Scratch Disk Space (I hate it when that happens). Using additional hard drives gives Photoshop the ability to divide the processing load and increase performance. Photoshop detects and displays all available internal disks in the Preferences dialog box. Scratch disks must be physically attached to your computer (avoid networks and removable media, such as zip drives, or rewriteable CDs or DVDs). For maximum speed, avoid USB, and use 4- or 6-pin FireWire drives. Benchmark tests show FireWire drives provide up to a 20% speed improvement when used as Scratch Disks. Think of saving one hour out of every five, or one full day out of every five. That’s not too bad. For best results, select a scratch disk on a different drive than the one used for virtual memory or any large files you’re editing.

Memory & Image Cache

Photoshop functions in RAM (actually all applications work within RAM). To run efficiently, Photoshop requires 5 times the working size of the open document in available memory (some tests indicate 6 to 8 times). Strictly speaking, the more RAM you can assign to Photoshop, the more efficiently the program operates, especially when opening large documents.

RAM usage is determined by the working size of the document, not its open size. As you work on a document, you will eventually add additional layers to separate and control elements of the image. As you add these new layers, the working size of the file increases.

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