10 Simple Steps to Better Photoshop Performance


by Marco Sousa

Before getting started with Photoshop, we all should have first visited the “Edit > Preferences” menu and change the “Performance” settings to fit our personal taste and computer specifications, but this isn’t always the case – in many situations designers simply forget these aspects.

If you never changed the default performance settings in your Photoshop or you just want to double check them to improve the Photoshop performance, here are 10 important and useful points that you may want to consider.

1. Adjust The Number Of History States

Maybe you already went through that bad feeling of clicking “undo” dozens of times and realizing that Photoshop wouldn’t provide you with more previous steps, but this problem can be easily resolved by changing the History States setting in the “Edit > Preferences > Performance” menu.

Photoshop - History States

There are more efficient ways of going back and forward in your projects like using the “Snapshots” feature, which are essentially comfortable checkpoints of your work that you can go back to. But if you use Undo a lot, you may want to consider adding more states, e.g. set them to ’30’. However, be aware that too many states on a single image will usually result in History Palette literally “eating” RAM and if you work with less than 2GB of RAM, you probably shouldn’t using the Undo Feature that often!

Overall, you may add up to 1,000 history state levels in Photoshop.

2. How Many Cache Levels Do You Need?

The Cache Levels setting can be found inside the “Edit > Preferences > Performance” menu, right under the History States. It controls the histogram and the time it takes an image to reappear on the screen after an action is applied to it.

Photoshop - Cache Levels

By default, there are 6 cache levels; the number of levels can be increased to the maximum of 8 which will – obviously – increase the rendering speed. It is particular effective when you are working with high-resolution images. When workin with smaller view-sizes, e.g. viewing an image at 50% Zoom, the cache levels will determine the number of “down samplings” allowing Photoshop to perform operations faster.

Photoshop uses Image Caching and if you have a good amount of RAM, like at least 2GB and work with high-resolution images, you might want to raise the level to 8 as the speed performance will compensate the memory loss, but if you have a low RAM amount and usually work with small images only (1-4MB), you may want to lower the value to 1 or 2 as the RAM will be better allocated – storing the images rather then caching them.

3. Keep An Eye On Your Memory Usage

Photoshop really likes RAM and will use every little bit it can grab, but it also allows you to limit the RAM resources of your computer that Photoshop will use, and it even gives you good suggestions for the appropriate range of RAM values it wants. This setting, of course, can be found inside the “Edit > Preferences > Performance” menu, on the Left Side.

Photoshop - Memory Usage

The displayed available RAM is the value left for applications after the Operating System loads into memory. If you are going to use mostly only Photoshop, or if you have a low amount of memory, you will probably want to give it 75-80% of the available RAM. But if, on the other hand, you are more of a multi-task kind of person with browser, word processor, mail, Twitter client etc. being always opened, then you might want to limit Photoshop to around 50%.

Efficient Use of Memory

After setting up your memory values, you can keep an eye on how Photoshop is performing. At the base of your image window, click to the right of the document size information and you will be able to choose “Efficiency” which will show you a percentage value. If this value is not 100%, it indicates that if you allocate more RAM to Photoshop, the operations would perform faster. Closing applications or images that you are not using can also increase the efficiency – not exactly a secret, but worth mentioning nevertheless.

Photoshop - Memory Efficiency

4. Use Proper Scratch Disks

Photoshop - Scratch Disks

Similar to what happened with RAM, Photoshop also uses a good amount of your hard drive space as the so-called “scrath disk” which works as the secondary memory resource. Photoshop assumes that your primary hard drive is its scratch disk, but you can set it up differently with a secondary internal or external hard drive.

If you are going to work with large images, it is recommended that you have a dedicated scratch disk that is different from the one containing the image file. Using different scratch disks is good, especially to avoid killing your primary boot drive when you have just a few gigabytes left.

5. Turn Font Preview Off

Photoshop users (and especially designers) like to have a good selection of fonts always installed and ready to be used; but when the font preview is active, having too many fonts can slow you down. Turning the font preview feature off can be a simple and instant step towards improving your Photoshop performance. To do so, simply go to the “Edit > Preferences > Type” menu and remove the check mark from the “Font Preview Size” option, just as it is shown in the picture above.

Photoshop - Font Preview

6. Use Thumbnails In Your Palettes

Displaying preview thumbnails in the Layers, Channels, and Paths palettes will cause Photoshop to consume some more of your RAM as it will be constantly updating the thumbnails to reflect the changes you will be doing in your project. The memory consumption will keep growing with the amount of thumbnails you have opened at the same time as well as their size.

Photoshop - Thumbnail Sizes

You could use the smaller thumbnail size or no thumbnail at all to increase your Photoshop performance. To do so, in each palette, select “panel options” from the palette menu as it is shown on the picture above and select the smallest thumbnail size or “None”.

7. Learn How To Use Purge

When you are working on your images, Photoshop stores image data for the Undo, Clipboard, and History features. This data consumes memory, especially if you have been working for a while and have a high number of History States defined (see Point 1 for more on History States).

To eliminate that extra image data consuming your RAM, go to: “Edit > Purge > ( option )”. Keep in mind that clearing History will remove all the history states saved previously and you will not be able to undo your latest actions.

Photoshop - Purge

8. Set Maximize PSD And PSB File Compatibility to Always or Ask

Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility increases the size of your file by attaching a flattened copy of your image when you save your image. A small amount of extra data is included in the file when you choose this option that ensures that PSD and PBS files saved in Photoshop will open in previous versions.

Additionally, if you want to use the Edit in Photoshop feature in Photoshop Lightroom, this option needs to be on. To change the Maximize File Compatibility option choose “Photoshop > Preferences > File Handling”.

9. Don’t clutter your Photoshop

Of course, you can easily find an enormous amount of free stuff to add up to the default Photoshop brushes, fonts, patterns, etc. but that doesn’t mean you need to download every freebie that comes in your way. Keep it simple! Having too many plugins and other resources installed in Photoshop will greatly decrease performance. Most top designers use a small selection of fonts and brushes that define their style and that can be used in a great amount of ways for literally millions of different results.

Photoshop - Clutter

10. Reset Default Settings

Photoshop - Default Settings

If you are using a shared machine for your Photoshop needs there is a little Photoshop start-up trick that may come in handy. When the application is launching, if you press and hold: Alt + Control + Shift (Windows) or Command + Option + Shift (Mac), a window will pop up asking you if you want to delete the Photoshop settings file, resetting all of the preferences to their default.

Further Resources

About the author

Marco Sousa is a blogger, computer engineer student and webdesign enthusiast. He is also one of the co-founders of Scarletbits.com6, a blog dedicated to high quality freebies, news, tips and tutorials for the web design community.


  1. 1 http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/404/kb404439.html
  2. 2 http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/404/kb404440.html
  3. 3 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/08/13/top-10-killer-photoshop-combo-moves/
  4. 4 http://psd.tutsplus.com/tutorials/tools-tips/professional-tips-for-improving-photoshops-performance/
  5. 5 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/05/26/20-time-saving-tips-to-improve-designers-workflow-part-1/
  6. 6 http://scarletbits.com

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  1. 1

    Thanks a lot! :D

  2. 52

    Thanks for good stuff………….

  3. 103

    Some great tips! Thanks a lo’

  4. 154

    Well, that was very helpful! Thanks guys!

  5. 205

    Great list of tips – some I didnt know about. Thank you

  6. 256

    Really excellent tips!


  7. 307

    I would not agree with all points of this article but in general it is very good writtena nd for sure of great help for all those who plan to start woth with Photoshop.

  8. 358

    good one for person like me, I was getting the Scratch Disks is full error. Now I know why I am getting.
    Thanks alot. I can’t wait to see the book that I have orderd. You guys are rock.

  9. 409

    Good post. thanks for sharing..

  10. 460


    August 15, 2009 8:44 am

    Bookmarked! ;)

  11. 511

    Thanks for the tips.I really dont know this basic setup even i have use photoshop since version 6.

  12. 562

    good thanx to share ur idea

  13. 613

    “Hasabrain (August 14th, 2009, 6:43 am)

    If you have less than 2gb of RAM then you shouldn’t be using PS imo. PS is a RAM intensive app, and if im on anything less than 4gb it tends to cause efficiency problems.”

    Wow thanks, never knew PS only ran on 4g + systems. I guess it never ran before and this is the first version of it. Ohhh wait it’s been around for quite a bit before the 4g systems were becoming standard, and guess what people were and are able to use it.
    Could say a few more choice words but why bother thats’ my opinion.

  14. 664

    These are things i never knew since i started using photoshop, i just love them and i hope that we shall get more of these tips some time to come.

  15. 715

    that was an OK article, good for newbs. BUT what amazes me is how many dumb arses on here don’t know their goddamn abbreviations for memory measurements!

    “mg” != Megabyte === MB
    “g” != Gigabyte === GB

    @Eric, don’t start with “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all” speech. SM do offer a great deal of useful knowledge, true, but they also make money from our visits through advertising and what not, so as users we have the right to critique the quality of the articles.

  16. 766

    @Andrew, really are you serious? Do you really need to have an opinion? Seriously buddy, you would be lost without SM. Yes fine they make money from our visits but so what. You are not coming out of your pocket so whats it to you? Your reasoning is quite lame! What you should do is just sit back and enjoy this free resource and keep your mouth closed! Period.

  17. 817

    that’s simple way

  18. 868

    @Eric, come on champ, don’t cry about it, do you want a tissue? The whole *sniff* don’t be mean guys *sniff* routine is old. I replied to your comment because YOU had nothing to add but revealing yourself as being a sniveling suck up. Truth is I wouldn’t be lost without SM, I mean, I did pretty well without them for the 10 years I’ve been in the industry. I appreciate the articles that appear sometimes, and I appreciate that it takes time and effort put content up, but if I want to complain about the quality of the content then its my damn right to, especially if the source claims to an industry leader. Would you complain if Adobe decided to remove the keyboard shortcut for ‘copy’ or ‘paste’? Of course you would, so why don’t you go have your little cry somewhere else? Like at the Barbie’s blog, or even better the Carebears.

  19. 919


    Some of them is new ones…Thanks

  20. 970

    @Andrew… All I seem to have read in your post is I, I, I…. Thats the problem, you are so focused on yourself that you forget that these free resources are for everyone. Some here are new to the industry and some are not. So when you make stupid coments like, “this is for nubz,” you are really saying “hey Smashing, what the hell!?” Stop wasting my time with something I dont need.” And that my friend is well, should I say it? A stuck up ass!? Yeah I said it! Rewind it and play it back if you didnt catch it! So instead of getting all worked up because SM is not tending to your needs, maybe you should just nod at their good public service and give them some kudos! And its ok if you know everything buddy, but please dont ruin it for everyone else, it doesn’t look good on your part. :-(

  21. 1021

    i often wondered why PhotoShop never created a preview feature for the brushes you’ve brought in..seems so simple

  22. 1072

    @Eric, you’re funny holmes. man, you really got worked up there didn’t you? i hope you didn’t accidentally poop in your pants (I reckon might of, right where you said “Rewind it and play it back…”). Thanks for schooling me on the internet etiquette, but I believe the first rule is “don’t be a whiny little b*****”, so why don’t you stop your whining and get the f*** over it. Everyone is entitled to reply either negatively or positively on a comments boards (even knobs like you). After all, its not a “Compliments Board”, but when self-righteous, pretentious, cry-baby, d***-riding, martyrs like you come out with your [sissy voice] “oh come on guys! don’t be mean!” [/sissy voice] I do feel the urge to put them in their place. Now I bet you’re gonna go off topic again and try to come back with some pathetic retort to this, give it your best shot champ, I score it 2-0 to me already.

  23. 1123

    @Andrew, I could continue to make you look like a complete ass all day but really, its getting old already. Seriously, you’re that type of person that sits on their high horse and judges everyone else instead of taking a good look at yourself. Unfortunately we live in a world with people like you. Its quite sad. I think I AM going to cry! And buddy, do you really need to use vulgarity and juvenile language to defend yourself? Grow up dude. You’re not in kindergarten anymore. And since we are keeping score, don’t cheat the numbers buddy. It is ok to lose once in awhile. Don’t worry, I wont tell anybody. ;-)

  24. 1174

    @Eric THAT’S THE BEST YOU GOT!! Hahahaha! [stupid hick voice while picking nose] “Duh, grow up dude… people like you… quite sad [/stupid hick voice while picking nose] I was really hoping for something better than that. You could have insulted my manhood, or made a joke about my mum, but you wussed out man! Poor effort on trying to take the moral high ground. You’re right man, its not kindergarten anymore, its a jungle, and you just got pwned by the biggest gorilla in the band (you can make a gorilla joke in your response if you like, consider it a gift). 3-0 b***** … I await your pitiful response

  25. 1225

    @Andrew…good times. LOL. No hard feelings ok? This was fun!

    P.S. I have a banana for ya! ;-)

  26. 1276

    @Eric 3-1 … no hard feelings, now give me that damn banana!

  27. 1327

    Thanks, nice article. It helped with my performance.

  28. 1378

    HMM! decent tips. basic stuffs that my college didn’t teach!

  29. 1429

    Great article….thanks

  30. 1480

    Another way to optimize PS CS3, CS4 performance is advanced configuration of your video drivers.

    NVidia drivers provides advanced configuration of your 3D settings. And since photoshop uses OpenGl, changes in 3D settings will also affect photoshop performance. Its also possible to manage this settings only for certain applications (like photoshop or some game).

    Just change all possible features affected performance for maximum performance and enjoy.

    For example, when I’ve played with this settings, speed of image (moving of objects or whole convas) drawing increased.
    And this affects all other actions in which photoshop uses GPU.

  31. 1531

    unfortunately, there is nothing new

  32. 1582

    Number 1 tip for Photoshop: If you can afford the app, you can afford at least 4GB of RAM.

  33. 1633


    Yup, and if you’re using one of those old versions then you won’t need these tips.

  34. 1684


    I think you vastly over-value the quality of Smashing Mag articles.

  35. 1735

    Thanks for the tips

  36. 1786

    Thanks for the tips………I really dont know this basic setup
    i just love them

  37. 1837

    Very excellent this article, thanks for this good steps ! ;)

  38. 1888

    Thanks for the simple steps. It really helped me out.

  39. 1939

    Why can not I have a 4GB Psd file to open in Adobe Photoshop?
    please my help.

  40. 1990

    adobe photoshop cs4 has stopped working. why?

    • 2041

      mine has done the same! On a vaio laptop with windows 8 operating system. Have you managed to fix yours? I’m stranded!

  41. 2092

    thanks now I can handle large images better ^_^

  42. 2143

    i want make fire text plz somebody tell me steps :(

  43. 2194

    I need help with image after remove the background that I don’t want. What is the easy way to put a new background without the image looking different? Because every time I change the background I have to use the scale.

    Any tips is highly appreciate!

  44. 2245

    Sameh Abdel-Hakam

    February 17, 2013 6:07 pm

    Really helpful, thank you :)

  45. 2296

    I just found out Photoshop will crash if you have font preview on and load all Google fonts on your computer. It would not let me open any image.

  46. 2347

    Thank you for posting this! I’m running Windows 8 on a pretty fast computer (2 years old, 8GB RAM), and Photoshop has been a slug lately. Here’s to hoping that once I restart and set my scratch disk to a freshly reformatted 160GB external drive, things will move along more speedily!

    Jenn, jenn.nu


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