Home » Learn Photoshop – Free Tutorials & Tips

Get a free printable Photoshop Toolbar Cheatsheet Poster

The Big, Huge, Massive Photoshop CC Toolbar Cheatsheet

I’ve made a PDF “Cheat Sheet” of the latest Photoshop Toolbar keyboard shortcuts. This poster features every tool in the Photoshop CC Toolbar along with its shortcut key. Learning keyboard shortcuts is one of the best ways to get better and become more efficient at using Photoshop. The poster is a high quality PDF which can be printed at A4, A3, Letter or Tabloid sizes.

A good work flow in digital imaging allows you to be fast and creative. By learning keyboard shortcuts you can dramatically improve your Photoshop work rate. There are obviously a ton of keyboard shortcuts in the program but if you make a concious effort to try to remember some of them (you won’t remember them all), you’ll find that you work well with one hand on the keyboard, ready to hit that shortcut and one hand on your mouse or pen tablet.

Some of the keyboard shortcuts for the tools are simple – B for Brush, C for Crop, Z for Zoom, P for Pen. Others are not so obvious – O for the Dodge tool for example 🙂

By making a small effort to learn and use the keyboard shortcuts you’ll soon be flying in Photoshop!


To get your free poster sign up below, download and print it out today!

Download your FREE Printable Photoshop Toolbar Cheatsheet

You'll receive an email asking you to confirm your address and then will have instant access to the Photoshop Toolbar poster.

Powered by ConvertKit

Please share this. Thanks for your help! 🙂


How To Easily Rescue A Photo That’s Too Dark Using Adobe Camera Raw In Photoshop

*Updated in January 2017 to reflect changes in the Adobe Camera Raw Interface in Photoshop CC 2017. However, these step by step instructions for editing your pictures are pretty much identical for previous versions of Photoshop*

How To Easily Rescue A Photo That’s Too Dark Using Adobe Camera Raw In Photoshop

Using Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw filter, we can quickly improve an underexposed photograph. By using ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), we are editing our photo non-destructively. We can make as many changes as we like, without ever hurting any pixels, and this is really the best way to retouch a photo.

If this is your first time to use ACR, the interface might look a little bit complicated. There are lots of buttons and sliders to play with. However, ACR is actually very easy to use. With the use of the right sliders, you can quickly fix a multitude of problems. I will explain what each of the sliders we’re using is doing.

ACR was originally designed to work with RAW images from your camera, but more recent versions also work with JPEG and TIFF images. Read on to see how we can quickly and easily use Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw to bring an image back from the dark.

Convert To A Smart Object

If you’re using a JPEG or a TIFF, the first thing to do is to convert our image to a smart object so we can then apply the filter.

Step 1. Open an image that’s underexposed or too dark. I’m using a photograph of a bridge in Ireland. The image is underexposed and it’s hard to see any details on the bridge or the surrounding foliage.

1 - Dark Photograph - Laughing Lion Design

Step 2. Convert the image to a smart object by Right-Clicking on the layer in the Layers Panel. A pop-up menu appears. Choose Convert to Smart Object.

2 - Convert To Smart Object

A small icon appears in the bottom right corner of the layer thumbnail, indicating that the contents of this layer are a smart object.

3 - Smart Object

Step 3. Choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter. The Adobe Camera Raw interface opens.

4 - Camera Raw Interface - Photoshop

On the right side of the ACR interface, you’ll see lots of little icon buttons to press and sliders to drag. We’ll make a few adjustments using the sliders.

Because this image is so dark, it might seem like increasing the Exposure will give the fix we need. If I drag the Exposure slider to the right, here’s the result.

Yes, the picture is now lighter and we can see more of the foliage and bridge detail, but we’ve lost detail in areas where there was already a lot of light coloured pixels. In particular, the sky is now completely blown out. So the problem with just increasing exposure here, is that EVERYTHING has gotten lighter. This is not what we want.

Instead, I want to make changes to the shadows and dark areas of the image. So for this photo, I’ll start with the Shadows slider.

Adjusting Shadows and Highlights in Camera Raw

Step 4. Drag the Shadows slider to the right.  The amount to drag will vary depending on the photograph. In this case, I’ve dragged to 100, which is the maximum. Larger values provide greater lightening of shadows.

Step 5. Drag the Highlights slider to the left to darken the light pixels.  In this photograph, darkening some of the light pixels improves the look of the sky. This is a typically Irish sky, a mixture of small blue patches, combined with light and dark clouds. Rain is never far away 🙂

5 - Camera Raw - Shadows Highlights Photoshop

There is a already big improvement overall just by moving those two sliders. The very dark areas are now lighter and we still have detail in the areas that were originally light.

Adjusting Whites And Blacks in Camera Raw

We can use the Whites and Blacks sliders to make the image look more or less contrasty. This is just one of several ways to adjust contrast in Adobe Camera Raw. Using Whites and Blacks sliders is pretty much the same as using the Level adjustment in Photoshop.

Dragging the Whites slider to the right brightens the already light coloured pixels in the image, dragging to the left darkens the light colours. Dragging the Blacks slider to the right, lightens the dark pixels and dragging to the left darkens the dark area.

Step 6. For this image I’m leaving the Whites slider at its default of 0. I do want to slightly lighten some of the dark pixels, so I dragged the Blacks slider to the right.

6 - Camera Raw - Whites And Blacks

Adjusting Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation in Camera Raw

Clarity adds midtone contrast to your image. It gives the impression of a sharper image, although it doesn’t actually add any sharpening. It’s an easy way to adjust your image because all you need to do is drag to the right to add more midtone contrast. Increasing midtone contrast produces greater contrast in the midtones while tending to darken the shadows and lighten the highlights.

Increasing Saturation makes every colour look more colourful. This is a slider than needs to be used in moderation because it can make your photographs look a bit cartoony. You can also use Saturation to decrease colour, by dragging to the left.

Vibrance is like dusting you photo with magic pixie dust. It makes only dull colours more vibrant and colourful, and ignores the already vibrant colours.

Step 7. For the final adjustments, I’ve increased the Clarity to close to +30, I gave a little bit of a colour boost to the sky by slightly increasing Saturation and I added a final bit of oomph by dragging the Vibrance slider to the right to +10.

5 - Camera Raw - Clarity Saturation

Before and After In Adobe Camera Raw.

Step 8. A nice feature in ACR is the ability to see your before and after work side by side. Click on the small icon that looks like the letter Y in the bottom right under your photo. This will give you a side by side comparison. Below you can see the dramatic change achieved with just a couple of simple adjustments.

7 - Camera Raw Before And After

Step 9. The final step is simply to click OK. Your image opens again in Photoshop. You’ll also notice the smart filter applied in your layers panel. As long as you save your file as a .PSD, you can come back at ANY TIME and click on this filter and adjust your Camera Raw settings from where you last left it.

As with almost everything in Photoshop, there is more than one way to fix this kind of problem. And you could improve your photo using other slider combinations. Part of the fun is experimenting.

I hope you found this guide and introduction to Adobe Camera Raw useful. I would be so grateful if you would share it. Thank you! 🙂


How To Make Speech Bubbles in Photoshop CC Using The Custom Shape Tools

How To Make Speech Bubbles in Photoshop CC Using The Custom Shape Tools

Note * This is an updated tutorial (2016) on how to use the Custom Shape Tools to create speech bubbles in Photoshop CC. If you have an older version of Photoshop, check out my tutorial on how to make speech bubbles in a pre-Photoshop CS6 version.

Speech bubbles are useful for conveying ideas in design and are used frequently in web, graphic and logo design and also as icons. Photoshop CC comes with a set of speech bubble shapes just waiting for you to use them, but they are hidden away a little bit. I’ll show you how to find them and how to add them to your designs and change their colour.

Photoshop comes with five basic shape tools (the Rectangle Tool, the Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Ellipse Tool, the Polygon Tool, and the Line Tool) which let us add simple geometric shapes like rectangles, squares and circles, as well as stars, starbursts and direction arrows, to our images. It also comes with the Custom Shape Tool which allows us to create more interesting and complex shapes such as snowflakes, pawprints, light bulbs and … speech bubbles. The really great thing about all of these tools is that they are Vector drawing tools. (Learn the difference between Bitmap and Vector images here) That means we can make the shapes bigger and smaller without any loss of quality. I’ve added a special cheatsheet to this post – a three page PDF which includes a Custom Shape Quickstart and a visual guide to all of Photoshop’s Custom Shapes. Download it below or at the end of the post.


Download My Photoshop Custom Shapes Cheatsheet


Let’s get going!

1. Select the Custom Shape Tool Custom Shape Tool Photoshop from the toolbar. It is a hidden tool underneath the Rectangle Tool Rectangle-Shape-Tool Photoshop. Click and hold on the Rectangle on the toolbar and you’ll see the full set of vector drawing tools appear. Choose the Custom Shape Tool.

1 - Select The Custom Shape Tool Photoshop

2. On the Options bar at the top of the screen, make sure the first drop down option is set to Shape. This ensures that you are creating vector shapes which will either be filled with the colour and/or stroke colour you choose. Next, select a Fill colour. In this example, I’m using red. Leave the Stroke colour as empty and ignore the rest of the options except the actual Shape option. Click on the Shape drop down box and choose the Talk Bubble.

2 - Options Bar For Custom Shape Tool Photoshop

3. Drag out the shape in your image window. Hold down Shift as you drag to constrain the proportions of the bubble, otherwise, it will look stretched and distorted.
When you’ve dragged the speech bubble to the size you want, release the mouse. And there it is!

3 - Drag out Shape - Photoshop

Changing The Colour Of The Speech Bubble

Ok, now you have a lovely speech bubble, but let’s say red is not your colour. How do you change it? There are two quick ways to change colour of any vector shape that you draw in Photoshop.

  1. In the Layers panel, double-click on the thumbnail (highlighted in green below) on the new Shape layer that you’ve just created. This will open the Photoshop Color Picker box.
    4 - Double Click on Layer Thumbnail PhotoshopSimply choose whichever colour you like best by picking a base colour in the tall colour slider strip, and then click in the main colour field to choose how light or dark that colour will be. You’ll notice that the nice thing about shape layers is, when you double-click on their thumbnail to change colour, you can try out lots of colours before clicking OK as the changes will happen as you move around the colour picker. When you are happy with your colour click OK.5 - Change colour on Layer Thumbnail Photoshop
  2. An alternative way to change colour is this: First make sure that the speech bubble is selected (it is selected when you can see the path and the anchor points of the shape). Then on the Options bar at the top of the screen, click on the Fill colour. You can choose to have No Color, which is the first option, a solid color, a gradient or a pattern. By default, the solid color is selected and when you choose one of the swatches below, it will instantly change to that colour. If you don’t see a color you want in the swatches you can also choose to click on the Color Picker option which opens the usual Photoshop Color Picker.5 - Change colour on Options Bar Photoshop

How To Make A Speech Bubble With A Stroke Around It Rather Than A Fill

If you want only a coloured stroke around a speech bubble but no fill colour inside it, you can quickly set that up in your Options bar at the top of the screen in Photoshop.

  1. With the Custom Shape Tool selected as before, go to the Options bar. Click on the Fill colour and set it to No Color (as shown above), then click on the Stroke option and choose the color you want using either the Swatches in the drop-down box or the Color Picker as above.6 - Change The Thickness Of The Stroke - Photoshop
  2. Change the width of the stroke by clicking on the drop-down menu and dragging the slider to the right to increase the thickness and to the left to decrease the thickness. Then drag out your shape as before.7 - Speech Bubble with stroke - Photoshop
  3. You also have a choice of solid, dash or dotted lines on your stroke. To change the Stroke type, click on the drop down and choose the style you like.7 - Speech Bubble with dashed or dotted line - Photoshop8 - Vector Path With Dotted and Dashed Stroke - Photoshop

How To Find More Speech Bubble Shapes

Now you know how to create and modify a vector speech bubble, you might be wondering if that is the only speech bubble shape available in Photoshop? Well no, there are actually quite a few more hidden away for us to play with. Here’s how we get to them

  1. With the Custom Shape Tool selected, in the Options bar at the top of the Photoshop screen, click on the Shape drop down. Then click on the sub-menu (it looks like a cog wheel) and choose Talk Bubbles.9 - Extra Vector Shapes - Photoshop

2. A dialog box will open asking if you want to Replace or Append the current set of Shapes. I usually choose Append, and this adds the new set of shapes to the end of the currently visible shapes.

3. Now scroll down through the shapes and you’ll see a lovely set of speech bubbles.

10 - Appended Custom Shapes - Photoshop

4. Click on the bubble you want to draw and then click and drag out the shape on the image window. Remember to hold down Shift to constrain the proportions on the bubble.

Try out different shapes, different colours and different strokes.

11 - Speech Bubble Styles - Photoshop

I hope you’ve found this useful. If you have any questions please put it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it.



Download my Photoshop Custom Shapes Cheatsheet

The three-page cheat sheet gives you a quick start to working with Photoshop’s Custom Shape tools and a visual guide to every shape that comes with Photoshop.

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! 🙂

Pin This!


What Is Graphic Design? – Elements of Graphic Design

What is Graphic Design - Laughing Lion Design

What Is this Graphic Design you speak of?

In the first part of a new series on graphic design for new designers or non-designers (basically anyone who’s interested in learning more about design for use in their own promotional materials), we’ll have a look at what graphic design is. We’ll see some examples of the elements and principles of design that you can use and apply in your own designs to improve them. These principles can be applied whether you’re using a professional graphics package like Photoshop or InDesign OR if you’re using Word or Pages to create a report. Good design is good design, regardless of which tools you use.

Graphic design can be defined as the “art or profession of visual communication that combines images, words and ideas to convey information to an audience. ”

A graphic designer takes a number of elements and combines them in an aesthetically pleasing way. The designer needs to think about the different types of media that are required and what is the best way to convey the message or idea. For example, the designer may need to arrange photos, text, colours, logos so that they can be understood on a cardboard package and on a website and a poster. Each piece of media will need its own treatment but the designer will use their skills to tie it altogether so the design is consistent across them all.

It’s important to note the following :

Photoshop is NOT Graphic Design

Illustrator is NOT Graphic Design

InDesign is NOT Graphic Design

These are simply the tools that we, as designers use to create the designs. Owning a copy of any of these apps (or similar) does not a designer make 🙂

Where can you see graphic design?

Quite literally from the moment you get up in the morning until you go to bed in the evening, you are surrounded by graphic design. The packaging on your shampoo bottle in the shower, the box that holds your cereal, your online (or offline) newspaper, the logo on your car, the timetable for the train, the cover of the book you’re reading… The list goes on and on and every single one of these items has been designed by someone, with the view to providing information about the product.

Designers achieve their goals by utilizing the elements and principles of graphic design. So what are these elements and principles of graphic design?

Elements of Graphic Design

The main elements a designer works with in order to produce a beautiful, eye-catching and importantly, a functional design are:

Photography, Illustration, Art

As the old saying goes, “A picture can tell a thousand words” so it’s no wonder that photos, illustrations and art are such powerful elements in design. Our eyes are drawn to images and we can absorb more from an image in a matter of seconds than in the time it would take to read the words describing that image. The choice of image is important because it can make or break the design. One large image can also do the heavy-lifting of carrying a design so much better than lots of little images. A common mistake I see with my students who are new to design is to use lots of little small images and place them “willy-nilly” across the page. This is a sure-fire way to make your design look amateurish. So aim for one large image to tell the story.

Vogue Australia Cover. The beautiful photograph does most of the work in this design. The concept is re-enforced with the headline and text. Copyright Vogue Australia.


Designers use line to direct the eye, create forms and to separate and divide information and space. We frequently see lines used on websites to separate menus from main content and in magazines and newspapers to divide space. Lines can be solid, dotted, hand-drawn, zig-zaged and curved.

Mast Head
Lines in the Mast Head of High Five are used to separate and organise information. Copyright Whitney


Color is another strong element of design. It can be used to evoke emotion, to highlight a block of text or to make an image stand out. One simple use of color that many of us see every day is to show a link on a website. Color theory is an entire subject in itself and one that I’ll cover on another day.

Logos With The Wrong Colours
One of these kids is doing his own thing. On the left I’ve changed the colour of two well known logos and something is just not quite right. The logos are of course still recognisable but the colours we have come to associate with them are way off.



Shapes are a fundamental part of all design work. We use shapes to create patterns, to form layouts and as building blocks for more complex shapes. If you look at almost any logo, you will see it is created from a set of basic shapes. Look at most websites. They are generally formed by a series of rectangles – websites are basically square or rectangular shaped boxes holding information.


The backgrounds on the pages of this weather app consist of simple shapes combined to create recognisable forms. Copyright Disky Chairiandri


When we talk about texture in design, we are referring both to:

  • the tactile nature or the surface of a design, for example a rough paper or cardboard in print design, and also to the visual appearance of a design
  • rich graphics that create the appearance of a texture.

Adding texture to designs can evoke a feeling not experienced with a super-clean non-tactile design. We can create the appearance of age layering scans of old paper or by actually printing onto paper that looks old and using print methods which produce “imperfect” results, or by scanning in elements creating by hand and adding them to our designs.

This beautiful poster for Minneapolis College of Art and Design features thick dabs of paint on a white painted wall. Copyright MCAD.


Last on our list of graphic design elements is Type. It is fair to say that type is absolute essential in our design work and the element that designers will work most with. We want to avoid randomly placing the type on the page, trying to fill every space with either text of an image, but rather to make definite choices about where the type will go, its size, color, choice of fonts, spacing and alignment. As well as “just being words”, we can create type in such a way that it becomes an image or a shape or a color or even a texture. Type is such an important and versatile element of design.

This beautiful chocolate packaging for Cocoa Colony uses meticulous typography and gold print to achieve a feeling of luxury. Designed by Jasmine Lee for Cocoa Colony


That completes the overview of the Elements that go into making a graphic design piece. Your design may include a few or possibly all of these elements. In the next post in this series, I’ll show you the Principles of Design that we can apply to make our work look beautiful and professional.

If you have any questions about Photoshop or Design, please feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. 

I would be super grateful if you would share this post. Thank you very much! 🙂


Learn Illustrator Lesson 3 – Drawing Shapes

In previous lessons, you learned about what Adobe Illustrator is and how to find your way around the interface. In this lesson we finally get to do some drawing! Yay.

Our focus here is how to use Illustrator’s Shape Drawing tools. This set of tools include the following; Rectangle Tool (M), Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse (L), Polygon, Star and Flare Tools.


While at first glance these tools may seem basic and rudimentary, these shapes can be used as the building blocks to all sorts of complex compositions. Take a look at most logos and you will see they consist of simple shapes joined together.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these tools in turn.

How to draw a rectangle

1 Select the Rectangle tool from the Tools panel (or press M on the keyboard). Illustrator-Rectangle-Tool

2 Drag diagonally in any direction.

Release the mouse after you create a horizontal rectangle. Voila!

How to apply fill and stroke colours to the shape

1 Click on the black Selection Tool (V) in the toolbar. Illustrator-Selection-Tool  Click on the rectangle (or any other shape you’ve drawn) to select it.

2 Choose a Fill Color by clicking on the Fill Color pop-up menu in the Control panel at the top of the screen. Pick a colour from the swatches panel that opens. Your shape fill colour changes.



3 While the rectangle is still selected, click the Stroke Color pop-up menu in the Control panel (right beside the Fill Color),  then choose a color from the swatches panel that opens. The stroke or border around the shape changes to that colour.

You might find that the stroke is not visible, this is because the stroke is only 1pt thick by default, and when the shape is selected the stroke colour you’ve applied is hidden by the selection boundary box.


To make the stroke thicker or heavier change the stroke weight.

4 From the “Stroke” weight pop-up menu, choose 5 pt.


How to draw a perfect square

You’re sticking with the Rectangle tool here. The only difference now is, you’ll hold down the Shift key as you drag out the shape. This constrains the shape to a perfect square.

1 Select the Rectangle tool from the Tools panel (or press M on the keyboard). Illustrator-Rectangle-Tool

2 Hold down the Shift key.

3 Drag diagonally in any direction.

Release the mouse after you create the square you want.


How to draw an ellipse and a perfect circle

1 Select the Ellipse tool (L) Illustrator-Ellipse-Tool

If you can’t see it on the toolbar it’s hidden under the Rectangle tool.

2 Drag diagonally in any direction.


To constrain the ellipse to a perfect circle, hold down the Shift key as you drag.



How to draw a rounded rectangle

1 Select the Rounded Rectangle tool (it’s hidden under the Rectangle tool if you can’t find it on the toolbar). Illustrator-Rounded-Rectangle-Tool

2 Drag diagonally to create a rectangle.

To constrain the shape to a rounded square, hold down the Shift key as you drag.

3 To change the radius of the corners as you drag, tap the up or down arrows on the keyboard before you let go of the mouse/trackpad. If you let go of the mouse you will not be able to change the radius of the corners on the fly and you’ll need to drag out a new shape. Below you can see three rounded rectangles with varying corner radius.



How to draw a polygon and change the number of sides

1 Select the Polygon tool from the toolbar. Illustrator-Polygon-Tool

2 Drag until the polygon is your required size. While still holding the mouse down, drag the pointer in an arc to rotate the polygon. Add and remove sides on the Polygon by tapping the Up Arrow and Down Arrow keys – you must keep holding the mouse down while you’re doing this.



How to draw a triangle

There’s no specific triangle tool in illustrator. Instead we use our old friend the Polygon tool and simply reduce the number of sides to three. As before, drag out to the size you want, and hit the Down Arrow key until there are only three sids on your Polygon.


How to draw a star

1 Select the Star tool from the toolbar. Illustrator-Star-Tool

2 Drag out on the artboard until the star is the size you want. While dragging, you can rotate the star by moving your mouse in an arc. To add extra points to the star while you’re dragging, hit the Up key, to remove points from the star, hit the Down key.  Below you can see four shapes created with the Star Tool with a varying number of points.


To increase the radius of the innermost points – basically, make the star look more pointy, hold down Ctrl (PC) or Cmd Mac) as you drag out your shape.


How to use the Flare Tool

The Flare tool in some ways is a little bit of a mystery. It’s not really a shape like the other’s we’ve looked at so far. You can use it to draw out what looks like a camera lens flare. It’s quite a cool effect, but I’m not sure how often you would use it. I think moderation is the key with this one.

1. Select the Flare Tool (hidden under the rectangle tool). Illustrator-Flare-Tool

2 Drag out your flare! Then drag it out again! The Flare tool looks most impressive when you use it over and over.

3 Get the Flare tool out of your system and never use it again!


Being Precise With The Shape Tools

Most of the time when you’re drawing with the shape tools in Adobe Illustrator, you will draw out the shapes by eye and measure them alongside other objects you have on your artboard. However, each of the Shape Tools allows you to be very precise about size, radius, points and sides (where applicable). Here’s how to use precise measurements with any of the shape tools we’ve looked at. Let’s take the star as an example.

1 Select the Star tool in the toolbar. Illustrator-Star-Tool

2 Instead of dragging out the shape, simply click once on your artboard.

3 A dialog box opens and you can fill in the values that you want for your shape.

4. Click ok and your shape appears on the artboard.


Note: You can do this with ANY of the shape tools.

So that concludes today’s journey into Illustrator shape tools. Now you need to practice! Try out all of the tools individually and then have a go at creating a composition using a variety of shapes together. In the next lesson, you’ll learn how to select objects on the artboard and manipulate them and group them together, but for now, just draw the shapes and use your Selection tool to move them about. Here’s a couple of examples I made that you might like to try.


Have a go and creating these famous logos


If you find this lesson or this Learn Illustrator series useful, please share it using the sharing buttons on this page.

If have a question about Adobe Illustrator, please ask it in the comment area below and I’ll do my very best to answer it. Thank you!