Photoshop Screenshot - Grey background user interface with Photoshop logo

Photoshop Glossary: A guide through the user interface

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Photoshop is a photo editing program with almost countless possibilities. Although the user interface of Photoshop is very clearly structured at first glance, it is still necessary to get to know and understand the different areas such as menu bars, control panels, and tool boxes. We show you which useful tools and functions are hidden in the different areas and give you a first overview of how Photoshop works.

User interface areas

After you have launched Photoshop, the standard interface of the photo editing program opens. This consists of an empty workspace surrounded by several bars and boxes.

Photoshop Screenshot – Aufteilung der Benutzeroberfläche in verschiedene Bereiche

1 The Tool Control panel

The tool panel, located on the left side of the user interface, contains important tools needed for almost any Photoshop post-processing. If you move the mouse pointer over one of the icons in the toolbar and leave it there without clicking, an info box opens. This box contains the exact name of the tool as well as the keyboard shortcut, i.e. the description of how it works.

Photoshop Screenshot – Info-Box und Auswahlmöglichkeiten eines Werkzeuges aus der Werkzeugleiste

Use the letter “W” on your keyboard to switch from your currently selected tool to the quick selection tool. In addition, there is a selection of other related tools behind the various tool symbols.

2 The Option bar

In order to adapt the tools mentioned above to your processing requirements in more detail, you need the setting options from the options bar. This is located above the workspace. Depending on which of the tools you have selected, the options in the options bar change.

For example, if you select the Brush tool, you can change the size, shape, opacity, and flow of the brush. If you use the selection rectangle tool, you can choose whether you want to create the intersection with the selection or subtract or add it.

3 The Color Control panel

As the name suggests, you can use the Color Panel to set the colour of your applied tool or the element selected in the Layers Panel. This field contains the two tabs “Color” and “Color fields”. The colour fields only provide a limited selection of colours or colour tones. On the icon at the top right you will find further adjustments to the two tabs of the color control panel.

Photoshop Screenshot – Einstellungen des Farbbedienfeldes

On the “Color” tab, for example, you can select which sliders and colour spectrum you want to work with.

4 The Correction panel

The most common corrections, such as brightness and contrast adjustment, tonal correction, and more, can be found in the Corrections panel. Simply select the layer you want to make a correction in and then click on the corresponding correction icon. The correction is always applied to all underlying layers, unless you use the icon connecting the two layers in the Correction panel properties. The symbol is a rectangle with an arrow pointing down. Alternatively, you can click between the two layers while holding down the Alt key in Windows and the Option key in Mac to activate the connection.

Photoshop Screenshot – Einstellungen der Korrekturen im Korrekturenbedienfeld

In the “Settings” tab of the correction panel you can change the parameters of the respective correction layer. Finally, in the “Brightness/Contrast” correction tab, you will find the sliders to vary these values. Similar to the option bar, the settings and functions are different depending on the type of correction.

5 The Layer Control panel

The previously mentioned layers are listed and controlled in the layer control panel. In this area, you can create new layers, add layer masks to them, delete them, or move them to another location in the sequence. Working with different layers is like placing multiple sheets over your image. Each of these sheets has a different influence on your original.

By using these layers, almost every step in Photoshop is documented individually, making it easy to undo a single step at a chosen point in time. Suppose you have applied a Brightness Contrast Correction to your background layer (the original) first and then a Tone Correction. But you don’t like the overall result. You can use the layers to hide one correction first and then the other to see how they affect the shot individually. If, for example, you notice that you have increased the brightness too much, select the correction layer again and use the Correction panel’s settings area.

Photoshop Screenshot – Das Ebenenbedienfeld

You can also set the opacity of the layer and the blend modes in the Layer panel. The blend modes let you multiply or copy layers together.

6 The Advanced bar

There is another column next to the Color Control Panel bar, the Correction Control Panel, and the Level Control Panel. In this column you will find the symbols for the Protocol, the Navigator, the Histogram as well as settings for characters and paragraphs. You can click on the respective icon to open the box for the selected function or on the two small triangles above the bar to open all information and editing boxes at once.

You can also hide the symbols of the bar with the color, correction and layer control panel using just this symbol and display only the desired tool box.

User interface improvements

If you don’t like the user interface as it is, you can still change it to a certain extent. Under the path “Edit – Preferences – User Interface” you can change the colour layout of Photoshop. You can choose between black and three shades of gray.

Photoshop Screenshot – Einstellungen der Benutzeroberfläche

The same menu window offers additional settings for the workspace, tools and much more.

By pressing the tab key you can easily hide all info boxes, menu bars and control panels to have as much space as possible. Select the required tool in advance so that you can then edit your image on the full workspace. If you want to hide all but the Tool Panel and its Options Bar, use the Tab key in combination with the Shift key.

Photoshop Screenshot – Neupositionierung der Bedienflächen

In addition, you can arrange all control panels according to your own ideas. To do this, simply click on one of the control panels and hold down the left mouse button while dragging the control panel to the desired position.


It’s not always easy to find your way around an image editing program as complex as Photoshop. It is useful to get to grips with the user interface and its possibilities at the very beginning. The better you have mastered the user interface, the easier it will be for you to make full use of the program’s functions.