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Photoshop Tutorial: Adobe CS Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

They say that an artist is only as good as his tools. As the premier graphic design platform, Adobe Creative Suite (CS) offers virtually limitless possibilities to create and manipulate content. From photography to letterhead, if you have the vision Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign give you the means to make it happen.

The difference between fumbling around Adobe CS and getting the job done is knowing your tools, and the Tools Palette is where you should start. Like a painter’s mixing palette, the Tools Palette contains necessities to mold your work. Also, like a painter, if you don’t know what mixes well together, your palette can be more destructive than empowering.

The following serves as a handy breakdown of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign’s Tools Palettes. For more on how to put these tools to use, check out our courses for Adobe Creative Suite.

Universal Tools

While Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign serve different purposes, they share over a dozen common tools. These tools serve anything from basic needs to advanced functions, so if you have any questions about how to use these tools for your projects, please contact us.


Brush Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A painting tool.

What it does: Adds strokes of various color and size depending on your selections. If you don’t like the color of your strokes, the Color Replacement Tool can rectify that. To create custom colors, the Mixer Brush Tool will combine color sources from anything you throw into the mix.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Pencil Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A drawing tool.

What it does: With the pencil in hand, you can draw shapes, using any degree of thickness. There are various other variables to play with, such as opacity. The Smooth functions like the pencil, but smoothing objects reduces sharpness, to give a blurred effect. If you want to completely blur something out, use the Erase Tool from this group.

Line Segment Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A simple way to make simple objects.

What it does: Creates a single line following a click-and-drag function. The Arc and Spiral Tools follow the same rules, but create different line styles.


Text Tool (PS, ID, IL)

It is: A tool that creates text boxes

What it does: Adds a new layer to a document where you can type text. The Text Tool panel has font adjustment including font styles, sizes, letter-spacing adjustments, etc.


Pen Tool (PS, ID, IL)

It is: A tool including the Pen, Freeform Pen, Add Anchor Point, Delete Anchor Point and Convert Point tools.

What it does: Creates paths and manipulates anchor points for paths. The Pen Tool creates a path by connecting two or more points. The Freeform Pen Tool allows you to freely draw in a document, and anchor points are created for you; these anchors can be moved once created. The Add and Delete anchor point tools are self explanatory, and the Convert Point tool changes points from flat or straight lines to rounded shapes or curves.

What that means: Creating paths with the pen tools is a great way to make custom shapes and text paths, create selections from a path amongst many other functions.


Direction Selection Tool (PS, ID, IL)

It is: A tool including the Path Selection and Direct Selection Tools.

What it does: The Path Selection Tool moves entire existing paths; the Direct Selection Tool moves individual anchor points and direction lines of a path.

What that means: You can select a single or multiple points of a path to manipulate a path before adding effects (fill, text, etc) to the path.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Free Transform Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: An object manipulator.

What it does: Rotates, resizes, changes the shape and creates mirror copies of an object.


Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet




Rectangle Tool (PS, ID, IL)

It is: A series of tools that automatically create a series of shapes, including rectangle, rectangles with rounded edges, circular objects, polygons, single lines and random shapes using the Custom Shape Tool.

What it does: Allows you to quickly add shapes to a design. In Illustrator and Photoshop, this tools functions quite the same, however InDesign uses these tools to create frames for text or image boxes in layouts.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Gradient Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A tool that  whether it is one solid color (using the Paint Tool) or a blend of colors (using the Gradient Tool).

What it does: Brings color to your design. The Color Selection box lets you pick any color in the rainbow for your design.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Color Selection box (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A tool that lets you pick the foreground and background colors of you design.

What it does: Opens up the Color Picker tool where you can select a color and adjust hues. By default, colors are set to white (foreground) and black (background). Foreground/background colors can be reversed or returned to the original white and black at any point.

What that means: There are limitless possibilities for colors for your document.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Eyedropper Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A color-selection tool. The eyedropper tool is also home to an assortment of tools like the Ruler, Note and Count tools.

What it does: The eyedropper replicates the exact color of your source material. The other tools are self explanatory.

What that means: You don’t have to guess at that exact shade of grey. Just use the eyedropper! The Count Tool can be handy when you need to keep track of how objects, such as how many turtledoves are in your Christmas card.

Zoom (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A tool that magnifies your view. You can also zoom out.

What that means: Sometimes when cropping, making selections or performing other actions, it is far easier to zoom in to get a more exact selection.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Hand Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A grabber and mover.

What it does: Moves the entire image in any direction.

What that means: You can peruse the entire document while zoomed in by grabbing the graphic and moving it about.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Select Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: The go-to source for making quick selections.

What it does: Creates selected areas that can be deleted or altered by effects.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Magic Wand Tool (PS, IL)

It is: A selection tool when the Select Tools won’t do.

What it does: Pulls rabbits out of hats. Joking. It can make “smart” selections based on colors and shapes. All you do is click, and presto, your object is selected! The Quick Selection Tool is similar to the wand, but you use a brush motion help the selection tool determine what to cling to; handy when the wand doesn’t quite make the right selection.

What that means: You can work your magic on objects by selecting them, no matter the shape or size.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Lasso Tool (PS, IL)

It is: A selection tool.

What it does: Creates freehand selections based a click-and-drag function. Most prefer using the pen tool for exact selections, though.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Eraser Tool (PS, IL, ID)

It is: Exactly what it sounds like.

Adobe CC Tool Palette Cheat Sheet

Crop & Slice Tools (PS, IL, ID)

It is: A great way to cut the fat out or separate sections of a document.

What it does: Unwanted sections can be cut out, reducing the overall size of the canvas to your cropped space with the Crop Tool. The Slice Tool won’t remove content. Rather, you can select a portion of your document and make adjustments for that specific area.