You know you’re getting somewhere while learning applications such as Adobe Photoshop when you begin using keyboard shortcuts. It’s common practice to avoid them at all costs when you’re first starting out. After all, speeding things up is the last thing you need during those beginning stages. After a while though, when you’ve completed a command, or commands, time and time again, there really is no reason to have to “think” about things so much. It’s at this point that you’ll want to breeze through the easy stuff and get to what’s going to get things done. The things that matter most.
Today’s post is going to cover some interesting ground. Not only am I going to let you in on some really nifty keyboard shortcuts that work with the Free Transform Tool, but I’ll also show you how you can use different variations of this tool to complete many different tasks. These are the types of tricks you aren’t going to come across very often, so I encourage you to read on below.
I have the perfect image for this post. It’s of the head of a giraffe. It’s got some nice edges, which will make my demonstration all that much easier.
I’ve already gone ahead and selected the giraffe’s head, copied and pasted it to a new layer.
Isolating the head like this will allow me to show exactly how each transform works. By the way, I recently wrote a post where I clipped another animal, just the way I did this giraffe. Check it out here:
Activating Free Transform
Free Transform is one of those tools that has a lot hidden behind the scenes. At first glance, you might think it just scales an object in a file. But a closer look will reveal that it does much, much more. I’ll show you all of that later on in this post, but for now, I’ll simply activate the Free Transform Tool by heading up to the Edit > Free Transform menu item and clicking.
In reality, I used the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+T to activate this tool. I had to show you both methods though.
Now, before I go any further, I want to let you know that I’ve already written two posts that pretty much cover the regular uses of the Free Transform Tool and the Transform Tool. If you’re interested, you can read those posts by clicking below.
While both of those posts are very filling, I’ll go a step further in today’s post.
Creating a Smart Object
When you transform an object, the original pixel order gets all jumbled up. If you did this and then ever changed your mind and wanted to go back to the original shape, size or perspective, you’d be in for a rude awakening. Going back to the original never gives you a good result. To keep the dimensions and quality the file had when it was initially opened stored someplace, the working layer will need to be converted to a Smart Object. To do this, I’ll select the layer I’m going to transform over in the Layers panel and then head up to the Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object menu item and click. Beyond what I just told you, I’ll show you how you can revert an object that’s been scaled back to its original quality later on.
Right-Clicking For a Sub-Menu
Okay, let’s get going. After I activate the Free Transform Tool, I’ll see some bounds appear. Basically, this is just a box with some anchor points along its outer edges and a center point in the middle. It looks like this:
If I right-click inside the box, a new menu will appear.
Inside this menu are a few transform modes. In today’s post, I’ll focus on just three of them.
Skewing an Object
Skewing is pretty neat. It can do a few things. By dragging a center point on one side, you can drag that entire side back and forth or up and down and by clicking on a corner, you can drag that corner the same way – side to side or up and down.
After right-clicking, if I select the Skew menu item, I can do the dragging I just mentioned. Below is a screenshot of me pulling the top of the image to the right.
And if I click and drag the top left corner, I can drag that corner to the left or right or up or down. Here I am dragging it to the left.
In both screenshots above, you’ll notice that there were some limitations to what I dragged. When I dragged the top horizontal edge, I could only go side to side in a horizontal manner. When I dragged the corner, I could only go up or down or left or right. I couldn’t willy nilly drag things where I wanted to. Those are the constraints of the Skew Transform command.
Changing Image Perspective
If I undo the transformations I just did and right-click inside of the transform boundary box again, but this time select Perspective, I’ll find some new limitations. This time, while the horizontal and vertical edges operate just like they did with the Skew command, corners are quite different.
With Skew, each corner moved independently. Now, with Perspective, each corner moves in sync with the opposite corner. So, if I click and drag the top left corner towards the top center of the image, both corners move inward.
And if I drag that same corner towards the bottom left, both side corners will move in relation to each other.
When using this transform tool, you’d be altering the “perspective” of an object.
Distorting an Object
Remember that “willy nilly” I just spoke of? Well, here it is. If I undo everything again (either Ctrl+Z or the History panel) and right-click one last time, I can now select the Distort menu item. With Distort, I’m free to pretty much do whatever I want. If I click a horizontal or vertical edge, I can drag it anywhere. If I click a corner, I can drag that anywhere as well. While I’m dragging, nothing else moves and nothing stops me. Here I am, dragging the top horizontal edge down and to the left.
And Here I am, dragging the top left corner straight toward the center of the image.
If nothing else, you can see the power of the transform tools via my examples. There’s a lot you can do with them.
Resetting an Object to its Original State
I mentioned earlier that I’d show you how to reset a scaled object to its original state if you go a little overboard with the Free Transform Tool. Basically, it’s all got to do with the options bar up above the workspace.
If I were to use the keyboard Ctrl+T to activate the Free Transform Tool, and not do anything further, I’d see that the Width and Height percentage values are set at 100% respectively.
If I were to click and drag a corner somewhere other than its original location, those two percentage values would change to numbers smaller or larger than the initial 100%.
Even after I press the Enter key on my keyboard, those new values will be preserved in the options bar. So, if I want to bring the transformed object back to its original glory, all I’d need to do is to active the Free Transform Tool once again and overwrite the new percentage values with 100%. That will restore the earlier dimensions. And since the layer is a Smart Object, there will be no loss in quality anywhere.
Transform Keyboard Shortcuts
While my examples above are all fine and dandy, they don’t really get us to the point of this post. In this section, I’ll give you some keyboard shortcuts that will allow you to do some pretty wild things.
First, after entering Free Transform mode again, if I press and hold the Ctrl key while clicking on a side anchor, I can skew the object. If I click and drag a corner of the object, I can distort it.
If I were to press Ctrl+Shift and click and drag a corner of the object, I’d essentially get the same result as I did above, when I activated the Skew command. Basically, the corner is constrained to either going up or down or left or right.
Holding down the Ctrl+Shift keys and dragging a side anchor will have the same effect as the Skew command did above as well.
If I pressed and held the Ctrl+Alt keys on my keyboard and dragged a corner, both the corner I’m dragging and the opposing one would move equally and in an opposite manner. In the screenshot below, I clicked and dragged the bottom left corner slightly up and to the left. That made the upper right corner move downward and to the right, while both of the remaining corners stayed right where they were.
Last but not least, if I were to hold down Ctrl+Alt+Shift on my keyboard and drag a corner, I’d get the same result as I did above, while using the Perspective command. I could shrink or expand any side of an object. In the screenshot below, I pulled the bottom left corner up and the bottom right corner down. That really changed the perspective of the image.
And that, my friends, will get you very far if you ever decide to transform an object or an image in Adobe Photoshop.
Wow, that was kind of a long post. I hope I explained how to use the transform tools and some keyboard shortcuts effectively. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!