Vertical Toolbar in Photoshop CC

Photoshop’s vertical toolbar can look like the most complicated and overwhelming panel in the software for a new photographer. It’s understandable that many do a quick 180 and head for more simplified interfaces and intuitive controls.

We want to help change that, as the power and potential to Photoshop for a photographer outweighs simpler software – once you get past the first hurdle of understanding the Photoshop CC vertical toolbar features and functions.

What Will I Learn in This Guide?

  • The Vertical Toolbar
    • Move & Selection Tools
    • Crop Tool
    • Retouching & Painting
    • Drawing & Text/Type
    • Colour Palette
  • Other helpful keyboard shortcuts
vertical toolbar icons photoshop cc2

Boredom Breaker – We’re not going to take you through every single tool in Photoshop CC during this guide for beginners.

Instead, we’ll briefly discuss common and important features on the vertical toolbar (and where to find them). You’ll need to understand these tools to make basic adjustments and tweaks to your photographs.

If you’re an iPhotography member we’ve got a free 5-hour bonus course for you to enjoy. It covers all important aspects of Photoshop CC for the total beginner. Workspaces, panels, menus, drop downs, tools etc. Click below to access.

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The Vertical Toolbar

This is probably the most used area of Photoshop for beginners. It is a panel with lots of functions for basic photography editing. It’s normally fixed to the left side of your screen when you load up Photoshop, but by holding and pressing just beneath the header you can drag it wherever you want.

It’s a long and narrow toolbar which is good for big screens, but if you’re working on a laptop you may want to widen the toolbar and make the icons bigger. Press the >> icon on the header to make the column size double.

photoshop cc interface

Move & Selection Tools

move icon Move Tool

Simply, having this active means you can move your photo around in its document and move individual layers if have multiple stacked.

Keyboard shortcut – V

marquee icon Rectangular Marquee

This allows you to draw a rectangular selection over your photo. You can constrain the shape to be square by holding SHIFT when drawing the shape. If you hold down on the icon, you’ll get a sub-menu to draw ovals and circles (again when holding SHIFT).

Keyboard shortcut – M

 Lasso Tool

Just like the marquee tool, the lasso allows you to select an area of your photograph but this time it’s totally customisable. This is useful for setting a boundary if you want to select one specific area without affecting the rest of your image.

Again you can hold down the icon to choose polygonal lasso (same idea but draws only straight lines), and magnetic polygonal (straight lines again but they automatically seek outlines on the photo to stick to – great for cutting out objects or making very precise selections).

Keyboard shortcut – L

Crop Tool

CROP icon Crop Tool

Change the composition of your photo with the crop tool, once selected place your mouse cursor in the top left of your photo, press and drag down to set your crop. A secondary menu will appear on the top horizontal toolbar to allow you to type in manual measurements in different units or use presets.

Keyboard shortcut – C

vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1
vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1
vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1

Retouching & Painting Tools

patch icon Patch Tool

The saviours of removing blemishes and unwanted elements are all stored under this one icon. The patch tool in Photoshop works when you draw a selection area. Then click and drag it to another area of the document that you want to replace it with. It’s normally an area that’s very close by so that the colours match.

Within the submenu, you’ll find the healing brush and spot-healing brush, which perform a similar function. When using a healing brush you can adjust the size of your brush by pressing the {[ key (to go smaller) or }] key (to go bigger.

Alternatively, right click and change the size and brush hardness using the brush adjustment panel that pops up.

Patch and healing tools are great to use on portraits to remove blemishes, dirt, lines and wrinkles if that’s what you want. They retain detail and texture when replacing areas, unlike the clone stamp tool, which we’ll come to shortly.

Keyboard shortcut – J

brush icon Brush Tool

Using brushes in your photo editing may not be the first tool you’ll investigate, but it’s useful to know. It acts just like a paintbrush. So, if you want to slap some colour over your image this is your go-to tool. Like the healing tools, right-click when using the brush to change the size and brush hardness. Use the colour palette at the bottom of the vertical toolbar to change the colour of your brush (change the top foreground colour).

The top menu bar will also give you a sub-menu when using the brush so you can change its blend mode – that’s how the brush reacts with your document. Have a play around with it to see what effects you can create.

Similar to the brush tool its sub-menu also hosts a mixer-brush and pencil tool which act as their respective names.

Keyboard shortcut – B

 Clone Stamp Tool

Another way of covering over blemishes is to use the clone stamp in Photoshop CC. Instead of making a selection to replace and then dragging to find it’s replacement like the patch tool, this time you’ll need to set a target area you want to clone. Hold down ALT/OPTN to get your crosshair mouse icon. This allows you to choose the area to replicate. Then you can move it over what you want to stamp out. You may have to click a few times for the effect to be clear enough.

The clone stamp is known for reducing detail and texture, which can be great for creating an airbrushed effect on a portrait but otherwise it flattens out interest in other types of photographs.

Keyboard shortcut – S

 Eraser Tool

Rubbing out your work when mistakes are made is helpful, but not an immediate tool to worry about. But with that said, it can work wonders if you are layering two images on top of another and want to reveal features underneath. It’s used cleverly when creating old & new juxtaposition photos.

If you right-click whilst using the eraser tool, you’ll get the option to change the size of the eraser head, the hardness and even the shape! This is because Photoshop CC allows you to choose brush heads (from your brush tool) to use on the eraser. It’s not only painting with certain brush heads; you can also erase with them a tool which is really fun.

Keyboard shortcut – E

vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1
vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1

 Dodge & Burn

Making little tweaks to the exposure of your photograph is made much easier with the dodge and burn tools. The terms are taken from old darkroom techniques which allowed a photographer to increase or decrease exposure. Think of this way – burning something makes it darker, ergo, the dodge tool must lighten! Use the setting options that appear on the top menu bar to make the effect suitable.

Range – sets which area of the image you want to affect (Highlights – brightest areas / Midtones – middle values, colour / Shadows – dark areas).

Exposure – how powerful you want initial changes to be. Start around 10-15% if it’s your first time using it. Brush over multiple times to enhance the effect for your liking.

From experience, we’d say the dodge tool is best used when set to highlights (for making white areas pure white) or mid-tones (for brightening skin). Predominantly keep the burn tool on shadows, to make black areas appear darker and more contrasted.

Keyboard shortcut – O

Text/Type & Shape Tools

text icon Text

If you fancy adding some text to your photograph – maybe your name as a watermark – then you’ll need the text/type tool. You can write horizontally or vertically (found in the sub-menu). Draw the area you want to type over and then tap away. You’ll spy the options bar at the top has custom settings to change the text font, weight, size and colour. When you’ve adjusted it, press the ‘tick’ icon to confirm.

If you want to edit your text later then choose the text tool again and click on your words for it to become editable. Use the Move tool, at the top of the vertical toolbar to drag your text where you want it

Keyboard shortcut – T

shape icon Shapes

If you need to draw a solid shape over your photo, maybe for a title or footer then the shape tool is perfect. There are a number of preset shapes in the sub-menu and even a custom shape tool which has lots of different icons. Just like the text tool there will be an options bar appear at the top to change the fill (the colour of the shape) and the outline colour. This means you can have a solid block of colour or a hollow shape with a colour outline.

You can even create your own custom shapes or download them from websites to increase your library of options. We’ll come back to this in another tutorial.

Keyboard shortcut – U

Colour Palette

 Colour Palette

When you are using the brush tool the colour on the brush is controlled by the colour palette located at the bottom of the vertical toolbar in Photoshop CC. The default colours are black and white – if they aren’t for you, press the D key and they’ll default back.

The top colour defines which colour will be used with a brush, but if you wish to switch that around press the ‘X’ key to swap it with the one underneath. If you want to change from the default black and white then press on the one you want to change and the colour picker tool will appear to allow your own choice.

vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1
vertical toolbar photoshop cc image 1

Other Helpful Keyboard Shortcuts

Open a Photo – CTRL/CMD + O Opens file explorers and lets you locate your photograph.

Save a Photo – CTRL/CMD + S (this will save over the original photo you opened, so be careful. If you want to preserve the original use ‘Save As’ instead).

Undo – CTRL/CMD + Z (great if you make a mistake and need to go back a step. If you need to go back a few steps press CTRL+ALT+Z / CMD+OPTN+Z a few times).

Close a Photo – CTRL/CMD + W (this will close the photo you are currently working on; it may ask you to save it before you close).


Check out more creative editing tutorials in Photoshop with our dedicated 3 level course. Don’t forget to post any photos you’ve been editing lately to the iPhotography gallery. Got any questions about using Photoshop CC then let us know!

photoshop workspace

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