I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve pressed Ctrl+T on my keyboard through the years. Hundreds, if not thousands of times – for all sorts of reasons. If you aren’t aware, Ctrl+T (or Command+T on the Mac) is used to activate the Free Transform tool in Adobe Photoshop. It’s an all around super versatile tool that’s been around for a long time.
Many editors are used to visiting the Edit menu and then choosing the transform tool of their choice when they want to manipulate an object in some way. For instance, you can select many different options from this menu, such as Scale, Rotate, Skew, Distort, Perspective and Warp. I’ve actually talked about these tools in a previous post. If you’re interested in learning about them, click below.
In today’s post, I’d like to focus only on the free transform version of all the transform tools in Adobe Photoshop. As I said above, there’s a lot you can do with this one tool and there’s a way you can access the rest of the transform tools if you need them. Other than getting to them via the Edit menu.
For this post, I’ll be using a beautiful demo photo of a man looking towards the mountains.
Basically, I’ll just duplicate this image background layer in Photoshop and then create a new layer and fill it with white. I’ll do this so I can work with the image layer and the Free Transform tool. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I kept it as the background layer. Here’s how my Layers panel will look.
To duplicate the background layer, I dragged it down to the bottom of the Layers panel and dropped it on top of the Create New Layer icon. That gave me two identical layers. Then, I clicked on the Create New Layer icon with my mouse, which gave me an empty layer. Finally, while that empty layer was selected, I went up to the Edit > Fill menu item and clicked.
When the Fill dialog box appeared, I click the drop-down and chose white.
I clicked OK to apply the color white to the empty layer and then I dragged that layer so it sat between both image layers in the Layers panel. That’s all I did to set this post up.
Activating the Free Transform Tool
Now, I’ll activate the Free Transform tool. To do this, I’ll either press Ctrl+T on my keyboard or I’ll head up to the Edit > Free Transform menu item and click.
Trust me when I say this, just use the keyboard shortcut. You’ll be using it so much, the menu item will just waste time.
Anyway, once this tool is activated, an outline with a few handles will appear around the object in the layer you’re transforming. I’ve outlined these handles in red in the screenshot below.
Resizing the Layer Object
I’d say the most common use of this tool is to scale, or resize, something. The reason for this is because it’s so easy to do. Also, people need to constantly resize things. To resize an object in an image using the Free Transform tool, all you need to do is to click on one of the handles that are outlining the object and drag. So, if I clicked and dragged the handle on the left side of this picture, I can make it more narrow.
I could do the same thing from the top and drag down to scale this image wide. Also, I could drag any one of the corners in or out to change the entire dimension of the image. The issue with free-scaling like this, however, is that photos become distorted very quickly. Oftentimes, it’s best to constrain the proportions of an object will altering its dimensions. To do this, simply hold down the Shift key while dragging a corner and dragging it towards the center of the image or away from the center. Using the Shift key will lock the original dimensions in and you can make the object any size you’d like.
Below, I’ve held down the Shift key while dragging the upper left corner towards the center of the image.
Another neat trick is to hold down the Alt key while dragging a corner. If you’ll notice in the screenshot above, I dragged towards the center of the image and the lower right corner stayed where it was originally. If I held down the Alt key while dragging the same way, all the corners would converge around the anchor point, or “transformation origin point.” I’ll do this right now as an example.
I bet I don’t even need to tell you what’s wrong with this picture. Even though I scaled down using the Alt key, the image still became distorted. So, while one trick worked, another failed. To scale down and keep the image locked to the origin point and to keep the photo locked into its original dimensions, I’ll need to hold down both the Shift and the Alt keys while dragging. This will reduce the size of the image while constraining its proportions while locking it to the origin point. I’ll even outline the origin point in red below.
That’s beautiful. As I dragged, the photo maintained its proportions and all four corners moved towards the center of the image at the same time.
Moving the Anchor Point
This center point has many names. It’s called a center point, an origin point and an anchor point. I prefer to use anchor point because the layer is anchored around that point. You can do a few different things with this point. Above, I showed you that you can scale an object and have that scaling be dictated by where the point is. To use this to our advantage, we can move the point anywhere we’d like, even outside the transformation boundaries. In this next screenshow, I’ll move the anchor point by clicking and dragging it to the peak of the mountain at the center of the photo. Then, I’ll click and drag to transform the photo like I did above.
As you can see, when I scaled the image this time, it was centered around that anchor point. So when I dragged the corner inward, the photo shrunk down, but kept position around that point. This is very handy if you want to keep someone’s face as the center of the transformed photo. Or anything like that.
Also, just so you know, you don’t necessarily need to drag that center anchor point. You can hold down the Alt (Option on a Mac) key and simply click anywhere in the image and the anchor point will move to the position of your click.
Rotating the Layer
Rotating a layer with the Free Transform too is super easy. To do so, I’ll move my mouse outside of the transformation boundaries so the pointer turns into a curved double pointer. At that point, I can click and drag up or down and the layer will turn with my mouse.
In some cases, you may want to rotate a layer around a certain point. Well, that’s easy. All you’d have to do is to move the center anchor point to the point you want to rotate around and follow the same instructions I just gave you.
In this next example, I moved the anchor point to the upper right portion of the photo. Then, I rotated the image. You can see how the layer rotated around that origin point. Think of it this way; pretend you hung a photo on a wall using a thumb tack. If you spun the photo around, the center of that spinning would be wherever that tack was. If you moved the tack, the photo would spin around that new point. The anchor point in Photoshop is the thumbtack.
Moving the Transformation
This is a very short section. I wanted to tell you that, while transforming, you can move the layer anywhere you’d like by clicking inside the transformation boundaries and dragging the object around. It’s just like as if you weren’t transforming at all. Just click and drag with the Move Tool.
Remember back at the beginning of this post where I told you that you could access a heck of a lot of transform tools from Free Transform? Well, I’ll tell you how you can get to them. While transforming, if you right-click inside the boundaries, a menu will appear.
These options are the same exact ones you can access by using the Edit > Transform menu item. Check them out.
Accessing these additional transform tools is faster when doing it via the Free Transform tool. Even if I wanted to use a tool that I could only get to through this menu, clicking Ctrl+T and then right clicking is more efficient than mousing up to the main menu and mousing around more after that. I’ll talk about some of the options that are available lower down on this menu in another post. If you’re interested in the upper ones, please read this post.
Confirming the Transformation
Once you’re all finished transforming whatever it was that you wanted transformed, you can confirm it so the boundary box disappears and the layer stays however you put it. To confirm the transformation, simply hit Enter on your keyboard or click on the Commit Transform check icon up in the options bar.
Remember, if you ever get in too deep and just want to get the heck out of the Free Transform tool, all you need to do is press Esc on your keyboard. That will get you out of there. It’s the equivalent of pressing undo a bunch of times and choosing another tool to get rid of the transform boundary box.
I know there is a lot more to all of these tools I talk about on this site, but one can only make a post so long. I have to decide which areas are the most important and which ones I’ll save for later. For today, I thought this would be helpful. I hope you got something out of it.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!