As you learned earlier in this chapter, Photoshop is pretty darn customizable. In addition to personalizing the way your tools behave and how your workspace looks, you can make lots of changes using the program's preferences, which control different aspects of Photoshop and let you turn features on or off, change how tools act, and fine-tune how the program performs on your computer.
To open the Preferences dialog box, choose Photoshop→Preferences (Edit→Preferences→General on a PC), or press ⌘-K (Ctrl+K). When you choose a category on the left side of the dialog box, you see tons of settings related to that category appear on the right. In the following pages, you'll get an idea of the kind of goodies each category contains.
The General section in the Preferences dialog box (Figure 1-12) is a sort of catchall for preferences that don't fit anywhere else. Most of these options are either self-explanatory (Beep When Done, for example) or covered elsewhere in this book. A few, however, are worth taking a closer look at.
Unless you tell it otherwise, Photoshop displays the Adobe Color Picker (see Choosing Individual Colors) anytime you choose a color. If you're more comfortable using your operating system's color picker instead, you can select it from the Color Picker pop-up menu. If you download and install third-party color pickers like Painter's Picker (Choosing Individual Colors), they show up in this menu, too. However, since the Adobe Color Picker is designed to work with Photoshop and all its built-in options, using another color picker may mean losing quick access to critical features like Color Libraries (The Eyedropper Tool).
Figure 1-12. The General section of Photoshop's Preferences dialog box is home to the History Log settings. If you turn on the History Log checkbox, Photoshop keeps track of everything that happens to your images. This is an invaluable tool for folks who need to prove what they've done to an image for billing clients or to produce legal documentation of all the edits they've made to an image (think law enforcement professionals and criminal investigators).
Trashing Photoshop's preferences file can be a useful troubleshooting technique. Download Appendix B, online, for step-by-step details.
Photoshop CS5 has two new options in the General section: Pop-up menu control over the new Heads Up Display (HUD) Color Picker that you'll learn about on Painting from Scratch, and the option to "Place or Drag Raster Images as Smart Objects". As you'll learn on Using Smart Objects, you'll want to leave the latter option turned on for good!
Another notable option in this dialog box involves a couple of cool features called animated zoom and flick-panning (both covered in Chapter 2). If your computer is running at a snail's pace, try turning off one or both features by turning off their checkboxes (both features can really tax slower video cards).
The Interface preferences control how Photoshop looks on your screen. You can squeeze a little more performance out of slower computers by setting the Border pop-up menus at the top of the dialog box to None. That way, Photoshop won't waste any processing power generating those pretty drop shadows around your images or around the Photoshop window itself.
Also, if you're familiar with all of Photoshop's tools and don't care to see the little yellow tooltips that appear when you hover over tools and field labels (The Almighty Options Bar), turn off the Show Tool Tips checkbox in the middle of the dialog box below the pop-up menus. If you'd like new documents to open in separate windows instead of in new tabs, turn off the "Open Documents as Tabs" checkbox.
If you use Photoshop on a Mac laptop, there's a new setting in the Interface section that'll make you jump for joy. Gesture support for Mac trackpads (Zooming In and Out) was a new and coveted feature in CS4; however, with no way to turn it off, folks were constantly zooming and rotating their canvases with their trackpads by accident. The only fix was to download a plug-in to disable it and few people even knew that existed. Happily, all you have to do in CS5 is turn off the Enable Gestures checkbox in the Interface preferences. Yay!
The File Handling settings control how Photoshop opens and saves files. If you're a Mac person and you plan on working with images that'll be opened on both Macs and PCs, make sure Append File Extension is set to Always and that Use Lower Case is turned on. These settings improve the chances that your files will open on either type of computer without a hassle. (PC users can leave their File Handling settings alone because Mac users can open their Photoshop files just fine.)
Straight from the factory, Photoshop is set to display a dialog box each time you save a file that asks if you want to save your images for maximum compatibility with PSD and PSB files (the native Photoshop format and the format for really big files, respectively; see Opening an Existing Document). Saving your documents with maximum compatibility improves the chances that they can be understood by other programs like Adobe InDesign. If that pesky dialog box annoys you, change the "Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility" pop-up menu to Always and you'll never see the dialog box again (plus you'll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your images will play nice with other programs).
Another handy option lies at the very bottom of the dialog box where you can change the number of documents Photoshop remembers in its Recent files menu (found by choosing File→Open Recent). This field is automatically set to 10, but feel free to change it.
The Performance preferences (Figure 1-13) control how efficiently Photoshop runs on your computer. For example, the amount of memory the program has to work with affects how well it performs. In the Memory Usage section's Let Photoshop Use field, Photoshop's factory setting tells the program to use up to 70 percent of your machine's available memory. If you're tempted to increase it to 100 percent for better performance, don't. Other programs need to use your computer's memory, too, and leaving it set to 70 percent ensures that all of them get their fair share (after Photoshop takes the biggest chunk, of course).
Figure 1-13. To add one or more scratch disks (page 35), click the "Active?" column next to each hard drive you want to use, and then drag the hard drives up or down into the order you want Photoshop to use them. Avoid using USB-based hard drives as they tend to be sluggish and can actually make Photoshop run slower.
A new feature of Photoshop CS5 is that you can let the program set optimal Cache Levels and Tile Sizes for you. All you have to do is pick the kind of document you work on the most. Your options include "Tall and Thin", "Default", and "Big and Flat".
The Performance category is also where you can change the number of history states that Photoshop remembers, as explained on Changing How Far Back You Can Go. If your computer's hard drive is running low on space, consider adding another drive that Photoshop can use as a scratch disk—the place where it stashes the bazillions of temporary files it makes when you're editing images like those various history states. (If you don't have a separate scratch disk, Photoshop stores those temporary files on your computer's hard drive, taking up space you could be using for other documents.) When you add a new internal hard drive or plug in an external drive, that drive appears in the Scratch Disks list shown in Figure 1-13. You can give Photoshop the green light to use it by putting a checkmark in the disk's "Active?" column, and dragging it upward into the first position. If you go this route, Photoshop will run a little zippier because it'll have two hard drives reading and writing info instead of one!
If you need to squeeze a little more performance out of your machine, turn off the Enable OpenGL Drawing checkbox (see the box on Understanding OpenGL). The drawback to turning off this setting is that you won't be able to use features that rely on it like flick-panning (Moving Around in Your Image) and Rotate View (Zooming with the Navigator Panel).
When it comes to Photoshop's scratch disk, speed matters, and faster is better. Since the speed at which the disk spins plays a big role in scratch disk performance, stick with disks rated 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute) or faster. Slower 5400 RPM disks can take a toll on Photoshop's performance, and 4200 RPM drives slow…Photoshop…to…a…crawl.
These preferences control how your cursors look when you're working with images. There are no right or wrong choices for you to make here, so try out the different cursor styles and see what works for you. Photoshop includes two types of cursors: painting cursors and everything else. When you choose different options, Photoshop shows you a preview of what each cursor looks like. At the bottom of the dialog box is a Brush Preview color swatch that controls the color of the brush preview when you resize your brush by Ctrl-Option-dragging (Alt+right-click+dragging on a PC) to the left or right. To change the swatch's color, click the color chip, choose a new color from the Color Picker dialog box, and then click OK. (See Controlling the Brush Cursor's Appearance to learn how these options affect the Brush tool.)
The Transparency settings let you fine-tune what the Background layer looks like when part of your image is transparent. Like the cursor settings, these options are purely cosmetic, so feel free to experiment. (You'll learn more about transparency and the Background layer in Chapter 3.) The Gamut Warning option lets you set a highlight color showing where colors in your image fall outside the safe range for the color mode you're working in or the printer you're using. (Chapter 16 has more about all these advanced color issues.)
The Units & Rulers preferences (Figure 1-14) let you determine the unit of measurement Photoshop uses. The Rulers pop-up menu, not surprisingly, controls the units displayed in your document's rulers (see Rulers and Guiding Lines); your choices are pixels, inches, centimeters, millimeters, points, picas, and percent. If you work on a lot of documents destined for print, inches or picas are probably your best bet. If you create images primarily for the Web, choose pixels. Leave the Type pop-up menu set to points unless you need to work with type measured in pixels or millimeters, which can be handy if you need to align text for a web page layout.
Figure 1-14. To really save some time, take a moment to adjust the settings in the New Document Preset Resolutions section. From that point on, Photoshop automatically fills in the New Document dialog box with the settings you entered here (you'll learn about creating new documents on page 41).
The Column Size settings are handy when you're designing graphics to fit into specific-sized columns in a page layout program like Adobe InDesign. Just ask the person who's creating the InDesign layout which measurements to use.
These preferences let you choose the colors for your guides (Guides, Grids, and Rulers), gridlines (Smart Guides), and slice lines (Slicing an Existing Image). You can also set your gridlines' spacing and the number of subdivisions that appear between each major gridline with the "Gridline every" and Subdivisions fields, respectively.
You can make Photoshop do even more cool stuff by installing third-party programs called plug-ins. There are so many useful plug-ins that this book has an entire chapter devoted to them (Chapter 19). The preferences in this category let you store plug-ins somewhere other than the Photoshop folder, which can help you avoid losing your plug-ins if you have to reinstall Photoshop. Leave both checkboxes in the Extension Panels section turned on so Photoshop can connect to the Internet if a plug-in or panel needs to grab information from a website. For example, the Kuler panel (Using the Kuler Panel) lets you use color themes posted on the Web by folks in the Kuler community. If you turn off these checkboxes, Photoshop can't connect to the Internet and you can't use Kuler!
Photoshop has an amazing type engine under its hood, and you'll learn all about it in Chapter 14. The preferences here let you toggle Smart Quotes (the curly kind) on or off, as well as control the Font Preview Size used in the Options bar's font menu and in the Character panel (The Character Panel). Because seeing a font in its typeface is so handy when you're choosing fonts, in CS5 this option is turned on right out of the box. If you don't want to see typeface previews, turn off Font Preview Size to make Photoshop display only the typeface names (yawn).
If you work with Asian characters, turn on the Show Asian Text Options checkbox and make sure the Enable Missing Glyph Protection checkbox is also turned on. That way you won't end up with weird symbols or boxes if you try to use a letter or symbol that isn't installed on your machine.