Increase Your Photoshop Productivity

You don’t always have a choice for faster processor or more RAM in your computer when using Adobe Photoshop, so it’s important to manage your memory usage as efficiently as possible. Memory management allows you to work faster and less time waiting for the computer to finish a process.


Photoshop [PS] is a memory hog, this has been the same since the beginning through out all versions. PS needs as much memory free in RAM as possible to run all the actions as fast as possible without needing to use the hard drive as cache. The first step is to close as many applications you don’t need before starting up PS to free memory. If you need to run other apps with PS, make sure PS is the last app you load in order, this way PS has a more accurate idea of how much RAM it can work with, and allocate the correct amount of “clean memory.” Watch out for Firefox as it is terrible with memory management. If you need to run FF, at least restart the browser and restore session, you will notice the memory it uses can drop by more than half.

Once you’re in PS, you should go immediately into Edit > Preferences > Performance. Here you will see the amount of RAM available for PS, and how much you can allocate to it. I personally select a higher percentage from 85% to 90%, the more memory the better, and less chance of PS writing to a scratch disk. Don’t forget to choose a scratch disk that is a physical spare drive and not where Windows is installed. You will need to restart for changes to take place.

Tip: If you start to feel Photoshop slowing down after a long work session, restart the program to clean up the memory.

In the screen shot below, my laptop only has one physical drive so it doesn’t matter what drive I select.


Keyboard shortcuts always saves time no matter what program you are using, same applies to Photoshop. There are two ways to assign shortcuts in PS. The first method is to customize the keyboard under Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts. Here you can customize the entire program and create a shortcut for anything in PS.  You should set shortcuts to any action you use frequently to save a lot of time. Here are my customizations:

F1 = File > Save for Web & Devices (instead of twisting my fingers to press CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+S)
F12 [removed] = File > Revert (I hate accidentally hitting F12 and reverting the document)
F2 = Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights

Make sure you save your customizations by going to Window > Workspace > Save Workspace.

The second way to create keyboard shortcuts is through Actions. You might think actions are only for complex scripts used for specific post processing effects, but you can just as well create an action that only performs one action and link it to a keyboard shortcut.

My three most used actions are Curves, Channel Mixer, and Color Balance adjustment layers. Instead of having to go through menus or even use the mouse, I assigned F3 through F5 to add these adjustment layers instantly. I even have Channel Mixer set to monochrome mode with the exact values I want to make a default B&W photo in the action. I also have F6 assigned to an action that will resize and sharpen my image to a smaller size for web use.

One final and important action is Edit > Purge > All, which I have set to F11. Purging clears your history and frees up a significant amount of memory. I use this constantly while editing when I am sure I won’t need to undo. If you’re prone to saving often, make it a habit to purge at the same time.

Liquify Tool

I use liquify tool often and it takes up a lot of resources. If you’re editing a hi-res image and decide to liquify a small section and run the filter on the whole image, you will notice a long pause trying to load the entire image into memory – and when you’re done, it will also take a long time for it to process the entire image, and waste a lot of memory in history to save the undo!

I’ve found the quickest and most efficient method is to select only the portion of image you wish to liquify, and select Layer > New > Layer via Copy or CTRL+J. Make sure you keep that portion selected by CTRL+Left clicking the new layer thumbnail, then run the liquify tool. You will see a significant increase in speed since PS is only processing a small amount of pixels. I also find that running Purge All before using liquify increases speed too. When I’m done with liquify, I merge the layer down and hit Purge All again to restore all of that memory.

Minimum Documents

Every single image document in Photoshop requires a large amount of memory, so it makes sense not to open large amounts of documents at the same time. Try to keep less than 5 full-res photos open at the same time, and don’t forget to purge! You can actually view the size of your scratch disk available under the status bar below every document. Opening more will only slow you down.


Be a memory nazi! Make it a habit to clear the memory as often as possible, and keep that space clean by not opening other applications while editing.

3 Comments Increase Your Photoshop Productivity

  1. JulieLim March 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    thank you for this Tony!

  2. Kristan March 15, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I don’t comment much, but I’ve been reading your blog for a while. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  3. Al May 8, 2011 at 2:52 am

    To elaborate on FF being a memory hog: Firebug and Flash cause memory leaks on FF. The browser itself isn’t the culprit 😉

    Love your work! Keep shooting!

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