Alt/Option key tricks

The Alt or Option key does all sorts of tricky little stuff in Photoshop and Elements. Here are a few …

  • Alt-click on the background of Curves to double the number of grid lines. I find this very useful for extra accuracy.
  • Hold down the Alt key while you’re dragging the end sliders in Levels, to show channel clipping. (This also works with the sliders in Curves in Photoshop.)
  • Alt-click on the visibility (eyeball) icon of a layer in the Layers Panel to hide all the other layers except that one. This is super-handy to see a before-and-after of your editing.
  • Alt-drag a layer mask from one layer to another in the Layers Panel to copy that mask.
  • Alt-click on a layer mask icon to show that mask in black-and-white on your image.
  • Alt-click on a tool in the toolbar to quickly switch it to the next tool in the set.
  • Holding down the Alt key gives you keyboard access to the menus. For example, holding down Alt and pressing F gives you the File menu. One I use all the time is Alt I M A, to convert a file to 8-bit (Image > Mode > 8 bit). If you’re fanatical about keyboard shortcuts, it would be possible to learn every single one of these, I guess! (Not sure if this works on Macs)
  • You know that clicking on the mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel adds a white mask to your layer … are you aware that Alt-clicking on it gives you a black mask?
  • Alt-click between two layers in the Layers Panel to clip the upper layer to the lower layer.
  • No matter which tool you’re using, you can press the Alt key to get the eyedropper, to sample a colour. This is useful when painting with the brush tool.
  • Hold down Alt to subtract from a selection. For example, if you’ve selected an area with the magic wand, but it has selected more than you wanted, you can Alt-click with the wand to remove some of the selection. This works with all of the selection tools – marquee, lasso, etc. (The opposite of this is the Shift key, which adds to a selection.)
  • In most dialog boxes in Photoshop (and the other Adobe programs), holding down the Alt key turns the "Cancel" button into a "Reset" button. This is very handy, because you can start again if needed, without having to cancel out of the dialog then opening it again.
  • In ACR, hold down the Alt key to make the "Open Image" button turn into an "Open Copy" button. This opens the file into Photoshop as usual, but unlike usual, it doesn’t save the adjustments you made to the raw file. Therefore, if you open a raw file in ACR, make some adjustments, then "Open Copy"; later on if you open the raw file in ACR again, it will still be in its unadjusted state. This isn’t a trick you’ll need very often, but I use it whenever I’m just playing around in raw, and doing some outrageous stuff which I don’t want to keep.
  • When you’re sampling a colour with the eyedropper tool in Photoshop, it automatically assigns the sampled colour to your foreground swatch. If you hold down the Alt key as you click to sample a colour, it will assign it to the background swatch.


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