Efficiency & Productivity, Fundamentals, Software for Retouching

Customizing Your Workspace in Photoshop

Software: Adobe Photoshop
Skill level: Beginner


A workspace, is the entire working area of Photoshop. It’s what encompasses all the menus, tools and panels. Simply put, it’s pretty much everything you can see and click within Photoshop.

So it’s high time you dropped the “Essentials” and learn to create your own custom workspace, keeping only the tools and panels you need visible. Photoshop has a lot of useful tools, but the default workspaces are just not all they’re cracked up to be. They may be all right for beginners, but professional retouchers and photographers work in a highly specific capacity, so removing unused tools and panels can really boost your productivity.


Here we can see the default “Essentials” workspace. On the top, we have our menus and tool properties (A), on the left is our tools bar (B), and to the right are our panels (C).

Default Workspaces

Adobe by default has created 6 pre-made workspaces for you, which target different creative professionals:

  • Essentials
  • 3D
  • Graphics and Web
  • Motion
  • Painting
  • Photography

Looking at the “Essentials” or “Photography” workspaces you can probably see several tools and panels which you’ll most likely never use as a retoucher. Even more so with the other four.

Switching Workspaces

You can switch through the different workspaces from the workspace drop down menu in the upper right corner of Photoshop. You can also create new workspaces, modify or delete the existing ones here:


Alternatively, this menu can also be accessed from the Window drop down.

Window > Workspace > select desired workspace.

Why Customize?

None of the default workspaces really covers everything we need in our retouching workflows. Having the ability to customize our workspace therefore allows us to change not only the look and feel, but also creates a more efficient and focused working environment by displaying only the panels and tools we need.

As creative professionals, we all work differently, want different things, and different ways to work, which is why workspaces in Photoshop were designed to be highly customizable. From panels, to menus, and keyboard shortcuts, virtually everything can be reconfigured to suit our needs. There are no right or wrong ways. How you choose to customize your workspace will be based on your personal preference.


Some of the different things we can customize are as follows:

  • Panels
  • Interface Preferences
    • Appearance
    • Screen Modes
    • Interface Text
  • Color Menu Items
  • Keyboard Shortcuts
  • General Preferences

Let’s take a more in-depth look into each of these areas. 


All panels, as well as the Tool bar, are movable clickable objects within the interface. Moving panels is easy: simply click the darker top bar of a given panel and it will be “undocked” from its position. You’ll notice that we can move panels back into place by clicking on the top bar, holding down the stylus button while dragging and bringing it to the edge of the window. A blue highlighted area, called “drop zones” will illuminate, indicating that it can be positioned here. Releasing the button will “dock” it into place.

RELATED: Photoshop Basics: Getting To Know The History Panel

Alternatively, you can have any tools and panels completely free floating.


Drop zone locations are the bottom, right, and left sides of the interface. Any movable panel can be docked into any drop zone location. Experiment with your panels until you’ve found a layout which suit your needs. 

Panels can also be completely collapsed down to icons using the double arrow button, as seen in the image below:


Interface Preferences 

Edit > Preferences > Interface or hit Ctrl + K (Windows) or ⌘ + K (Mac)

Within these preferences we can change Photoshops appearance, language, text size and screen mode colors and borders.  If you find the interface text too small to read, you can adjust its size here as well.


Color Theme: We’re given four grayscale options from dark to light to choose from. We can also change the default colors of the various screen modes and Artboards through the same Preferences settings dialog box.


 Text: These options allow us to change the interface language, font size and scale.


Screen Modes

Accessible via the Screen Mode button  RA_Customize_Workspace_GerryKingsley_ScreenModeIcon  on the tool bar. Changing screen modes allows us to change how we view our workspace, from standard mode, to full screen, or only having certain panels visible / hidden. By clicking the Screen Mode button or pressing the “F” key on your keyboard we can cycle through the different modes as shown below:



If you’ve accidentally hidden the Tools panel in any Screen Mode, simply hover your mouse over the left side of the screen to make your Tools panel reappear. Pressing the “Tab” key will bring your Tools panel back into view.


Color Menu Items

I don’t know about you, but from time to time I’ll try looking for a specific tool, and for whatever reason I get lost in the menu lists. The color feature allows the ability to highlight menu items with specific colors.

Because we will generally use the same tools in our retouching workflow, it’s a great idea to color highlight your most used menu items and group them by color. This makes them visually easier to identify in the long menu lists.


We can do this in the Custom Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus settings.

Menu > Workspace > Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus > Menu or Alt +Shift +Ctrl + K (Windows) or Alt + Shift + ⌘ +K (Mac)



Toggling the visibility icon next to the menu items will remove it from the menu entirely. Many tools and panels are only accessible in the menus by default. To see which ones are open and active in your workspace, and which ones are hidden, click the “Window” drop menu and look at whether it has a check mark beside it or not. You’ll notice some also have shortcuts assigned to them.

Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

Adobe made it possible to customize your key binds via the Keyboards and Shortcuts menu.
Menu > Workspace > Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus or Alt +Shift +Ctrl + K (Windows) or Alt + Shift + ⌘ +K (Mac).  

For the full list of all the default shortcuts / hotkeys for Photoshop check out the Adobe website. There, you will also find a PDF download. Printing a physical copy and keeping it close by is a handy reference to have near your workstation.

Workspace General Preferences

Edit > Preferences > Workspace
or Ctrl + K (PC) ⌘ + K (Mac)
From these setting we have a few more customization options. Also, there is a Restore Default Workspaces button. Clicking this button will do exactly what it says, and restore the default (and only the default) workspaces to their original settings. 


  • Auto-Collapse Iconic Panels – This will automatically collapse open iconic panels when clicking elsewhere within Photoshop.
  • Auto- Show Hidden Panels – Reveals all hidden panels on rollover. 
  • Open Documents as Tabs – Instead of opening as multiple windows.
  • Enable Floating Document Window Docking  – Disabled, this will keep your open document floating, it cannot be docked back into the interface. 


  • Enable Narrow Options Bar – This will enable narrow bars but only works with small monitors. Activating this will most likely look like nothing happened, unless you happen to be retouching on a laptop. 

Creating the New Custom Workspace

Now that we’ve examined all the ways we can customize the interface, you can begin setting up your layout, tools and panels however you like. I’m assuming you already have an idea of what tools you need for your day-to-day retouching workflow.

Some of the most common staples for retouchers would be the Layers / Actions / Navigator / Histogram / Adjustment Layers / Paths / History and Channels. If you’re a Beauty Retouch panel user, you’ll no doubt be incorporating it, as well as the Pixel Juggler, into your custom workspace.

Whether you want your tools and panels in docked in positions on the outer edges of your interface or, if you prefer them free floating, arrange everything to your liking. I’ve seen many different setups by various retouchers and Photoshop professionals. It’s important that your workspace works for you!

Saving Your New Workspace

When you’re happy with your workspace, all you need to do is save it. This can be done through the workspace drop down menu either in the upper right corner of the screen or via Window menu. Select “New Workspace…”, and this will open a new window in which you can name your new workspace.

You will also have 3 additional options to save keyboard shorcuts, menu and the toolbar. Check everything that applies, otherwise some of your changes may not be saved.

Once saved, your new workspace will appear in the workspace drop down menu.


Resetting Your Workspace

In the event that you made a mistake or accidentally closed or moved panels, don’t panic. You can easily reset your workspace using the reset function.

This also works for the default workspaces. Just remember that this will only reset it to the last saved workspace.

So, if you’ve been using a modified unsaved workspace, the modifications will no longer be there. So make sure whenever you want to make a permanent modification to your custom workspace always re-save and overwrite the existing one.



If you’ve been working in “Essentials” and have made changes to this workspace but have not saved or created a new custom workspace, closing and reopening Photoshop will always reopen with the last known configuration. This does not mean it’s a saved workspace. Should you perform a reset, switch to another workspace, or possibly even update the program, then you will lose your unsaved workspace.  This could cost you time and cause frustration.

Multiple Workspaces

There is no limit to the number of custom workspaces you can have, so the possibilities are endless. You can create separate workspaces for different types of projects and switch through them with ease.

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