*This post was updated for Photoshop CC in July 2016. Note that most of the tools are exactly the same, and work in exactly the same way in older versions, even if the tool icons have changed slightly in the Photoshop toolbar.*

Just like an artist’s work table, the Photoshop toolbar, the long, narrow palette on the far left side of the work area contains the tools you’ll use to draw, paint, erase, and do tons of other things whilst working on your image.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at what’s actually in the toolbar. The tools can be broken into several distinct categories. This will help you find them when you know what kind of tool you need. The illustrations below show an overview of the toolbox, with each tool available and its shortcut key.

Selection and Crop Tools

Photoshop Selection Tools

Painting and Retouching Tools

Photoshop Painting and Retouching Tools


Vector drawing and Type Tools

Photoshop Vector and Type Tools

Navigation Tools

How to find a hidden tool in Photoshop toolbar

Color Selection

Foreground and Background Color Photoshop

Quick Mask and Screen Mode

Quick Mask and Screen Mode Buttons On Photoshop Toolbar

How to use Tools and the Toolbar in Photoshop

To select a tool, simply click on that tool in the Toolbar.

When you hover your mouse over any tool in the toolbar, a tooltip appears showing you the name of the tool and the tool’s keyboard shortcut. This is very handy when you forget what a certain tool looks like when you’re learning Photoshop.

It’s worth making a concious effort to learn the shortcuts as it speeds up your work enormously. Some of the shortcuts are really easy to remember such as Z for the Zoom tool or E for the Eraser.  So instead of clicking on the tool in the Toolbar, just press the letter on the keyboard. This will dramatically speed up your workflow as it lets you change tools without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Download a free printable PDF poster of the Photoshop CC Toolbar Cheatsheet.

Hidden Tools

Wherever you see a little arrow on the bottom right of a tool in the Photoshop toolbar (or any Adobe application for that matter), it means there are other “hidden” tool choices. Hidden tools are accessed by clicking and holding on that tool. As you hold, a fly-out set of tools will appear giving you access to all of the hidden tools under that particular tool.  In the example below, you can see that by clicking and holding on the Magic Wand tool, the hidden Quick selection Tool becomes available.

How to find a hidden tool in Photoshop toolbar

To quickly cycle through hidden tools, hold down the Shift key and tap the tool’s keyboard shortcut that appears in tool tips. For example, to cycle through the Brush, Pencil, Color Replacement and Mixer Brush tools, you would press B to select the first tool and then hold down Shift and press B again to move through that particular set of tools.

Cycle through hidden tools in Photoshop

Moving The Toolbar

To change the Toolbar from a single column to a two-column panel, click once on the double arrow button in the top-right corner. To switch back again, simply click the double-arrow button again.

To float the Toolbar anywhere on your screen, drag it away from the left hand screen edge. Drag it by clicking the tiny row of vertical dashes near its top. It is now a “floating” panel and you can drag it anywhere you want as you work.

To dock it back to the edge of the screen, drag the panel all the way to the edge until a blue vertical bar appears against the edge of the screen. The blue bar is an indication to let go and the panel will snap into place and is once again docked.

Change from single to double column toolbar

Picking Colors

Near the bottom of the Toolbar, you can see the Foreground and Background Color Swatches (sometimes called color chips). By default the foreground is black and the background is white. Photoshop uses the foreground color when you paint of fill an area with color. The background color is used as a second color when you create a gradient and when you erase parts of a locked Background layer amongst other things.

Foreground and Background Color Photoshop

To change a color, click on its color swatch once to open the Color Picker. From here you can choose from millions of colors.

To swap your foreground and background colors, click the round double-headed arrow just above the foreground and background swatches or press X on the keyboard.

To set both color swatches back to their default factory setting of black and white, click the minature swatches or press D.

Quick Mask and Screen Mode Buttons On Photoshop Toolbar

The last two items on the Photoshop Toolbar are the Quick Mask mode and the Screen Mode Buttons.

Another useful panel that you can use when you’re learning about Photoshop tools is the Info panel. This gives further hints about how to use any particular tool.

Choose Window > Info if the Info panel is not already open. If you don’t see a tip at the bottom of the panel then go to the Info panel menu and choose Panel options, from there click on the checkbox for Show Tool Hints.



 A printable PDF cheatsheet of the Photoshop Toolbar & tools Photoshop Toolbar Printable Poster Laughing Lion Design

Sign up below to download a high quality PDF poster showing all of the Photoshop CC tools and their shortcuts.


I hope you’ve found this Photoshop’s tutorial useful and I would be really grateful if you would share it. Thank you so much! 🙂

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Jennifer Farley

Jennifer Farley is an illustrator, designer, author and design teacher based in Ireland. She has been teaching design for over 14 years and helps people learn Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom,Illustrator and graphic design skills to improve their job prospects and their business.

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