10 Simple Steps to Better Photoshop Performance

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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.

Footnotes

  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

    This is the basic setup. I think many of them know well.

    -5
  2. 2

    “…literally ‘eating’…”
    This phrase made my head hurt. =(

    -1
  3. 3

    “…but that doesn’t mean you need to download every freebie that comes in your way.”whoa whoa whoa… Now that is just crazy talk.

    6
  4. 4

    I’d die without my font preview.

    3
  5. 5

    I don’t usually say thank you on posts but these tips are really new to me, so thanks!

    2
  6. 6

    great tips… nice to remember them¡ thank you SM.
    hey Jacob Cass¡¡ nice to see yu here man.¡ greetings

    0
  7. 7

    Don’t usability but amazing performance.

    0
  8. 8

    Awesome! I really didn’t know all of these.. Thank you

    0
  9. 9

    Amazing article, so usefull and helpfull tips! Thank you SM & Marco Sousa

    0
  10. 10

    Awesome, thanks! I only knew 2 or 3 of these already… trying the rest of them now ;)

    1
  11. 11

    Wow! Didn’t know I could use an external drive for scratch disk. Thanks a lot!

    1
  12. 12

    Carl - Web Courses Bangkok

    August 13, 2009 5:50 am

    Oh great post, thank you for this, my system was starting to slow especially when I wanted to get things done quickly.

    0
  13. 13

    That’s some nice tips described here !!

    0
  14. 14

    Thanks for the comments, I hope everyone can learn a few tricks or remember how to do them :)

    0
  15. 15

    Having the Reset Default Settings button combo will be helpfull for school!

    0
  16. 16

    lol, every beginner should know these “tips”
    i know a better step: make updates.
    useless post, thx

    -3
  17. 18

    In my view many of these actually reduce the performance of Photoshop, though they do increase the performance of your computer while using Photoshop.

    Taking options away doesn’t increase performance, surely it reduces it!

    I know I’m being picky, sorry :)

    1
  18. 19

    Thank you! That’s really helped to speed my system up.

    1
  19. 20

    I agree with Scott Brown, most of these “advices” will actually reduce the performance of Photoshop.

    If you are only opening your psd files on your own computer, I strongly suggest to set “Maximize PSD And PSB File Compatibility” to never.

    0
  20. 21

    Thanks for this article, I found it very useful. Never thought about this before.

    0
  21. 22

    Also, in Windows at least, the amount of fonts will effect the load time, as well as the performance, of both Windows, Firefox (and other clients) and especially of Photoshop. It is recommended you clear out the fonts folder and get rid of fonts you never use, and never will use. This also improves the load time of the Characters tool in Photoshop.

    0
  22. 23

    Great article, thanks for the tips!

    0
  23. 24

    great article, i already used them! and its really faster! thank you for this great post SM, and Author Marco

    0
  24. 25

    In the Scratch Disk section, it is important that the scratch disk be either an internal disk, or an external disk with a very high speed connection (like eSATA, or maybe FW800). In general, USB or standard FW drives may be too slow, and will cause performance to suffer.

    1
  25. 26

    If you are running Windows, especially Vista, turn off Aero, and use default Windows 95 theme. This will in many many cases speed up all Adobe software by a significant amount.

    0
  26. 27

    I didn’t know about the RAM feature :) Good 2 know. Thx

    0
  27. 28

    Nice overview!

    Regarding “Set Maximize PSD And PSB File Compatibility to Always or Ask”:

    When you are working with Lightroom and a 20K of photos, I recommend to drop the psd-format and change to tif. The compability mode of psd really fills up your harddrive without any reason. Moreover, the LR-catalogue should be reborn regulary by exporting him without previews. I made it down from 6GB to 300MB this way.

    0
  28. 29

    Great information. I’m going to go tweek my photoshop setting now! Shazam!

    0
  29. 30

    Awesome! These are great way to tweek & speed up my work flow. Right on!

    0
  30. 31

    good tips , scratches help a lot. invest in a little harddrive to keep production moving!

    0
  31. 32

    Thanks for the nice comments and sharing extra info on some points :)

    0
  32. 33

    My personal favorite … restart it.

    0
  33. 34

    Bruce Colthart Creative

    August 13, 2009 1:16 pm

    Haha – Conrad’s comment is the best of all! Sure cures a lot of sh*t!

    0
  34. 35

    Much of this I learning in an advanced photoshop class in college, but a few of them really gave me a “wow.” Lots of common sense things that aren’t so common.

    0
  35. 36

    Great quick tips for optimizing Photoshop.

    0
  36. 37

    Thnx, didn;t know this. And since I have 3gb ram and only use photoshop if so, I gave it 84 percent =)

    0
  37. 38

    Hm… I’m with Scott Brown here. Get a good computer and you don’t need to reduce all those features. Quite a lot of them are useful!
    Still it’s always good to know about the options you have. And even long-time PS users don’t know all of them ;)

    0
  38. 39

    Useful tips, thanks.

    0
  39. 40

    Useful.. Thanks a bunch!

    0
  40. 41

    “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.”

    killing your boot drive? what

    0
  41. 42

    Danny | dannyhinde.com

    August 13, 2009 4:08 pm

    Great tips, think I’ll have to change my default scratch disk to my external hard drive the next time I fire up Photoshop – probably in the next 5 minutes!!

    0
  42. 43

    Garrett Williams

    August 13, 2009 5:59 pm

    Didn’t know anything about the cache levels setting. I mostly use large files and have 4GB of RAM, so I’ve upped that to 8. The font preview and layer thumbnails, though, are worth the performance dip for me.

    0
  43. 44

    Very useful

    0
  44. 45

    Great Tips. Thanks!

    0
  45. 46

    Nice Tutorial. Thank you.

    0
  46. 47

    Thank you very much indeed!

    0
  47. 48

    About the RAM, my pc says I have 3 GB of Ram, but Photoshop says that the memory avalaible is 1700 mg. I run on a Windows Vista basic. Anybody knows what’s going on here?

    0
  48. 49

    Wow, cool stuff..
    Really found some of them useful . :) Specially History one.
    Thanks Smashing Magazine.

    P.S:
    Please write a details information, tutorial about UI Design. What is that, how to be etc etc.
    I’d love read one from you. The Ultimate UI Design Article.
    Thanks ! :)

    0
  49. 50

    Thanks a lot! :D

    0
  50. 51

    Thanks for good stuff………….

    0
  51. 52

    Some great tips! Thanks a lo’

    0
  52. 53

    Well, that was very helpful! Thanks guys!

    0
  53. 54

    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.

    @enk If you want to be the ultimate UI designer I’d first recommend studying interactive content design, user psychology and graphic design … a minimum of 3 years studying is reccomended, A smashing article won’t get you very far :p

    0
  54. 55

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

    0
  55. 56

    Really excellent tips!

    Cheers,
    Jason

    0
  56. 57

    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.

    0
  57. 58

    SM, I love everything you guys put up! You guys always have great info here. It amazes me though that some people have the nerve to write comments like “useless post.” If you dont have anything constructive to say, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!!! What you should be saying is, “THANK YOU SMASHING MAGAZINE, YOU GUYS ROCK!!!” I mean how rude can you be! Smashing Magazine pumps out awesome articles every week and we as designers/developers have the luxury of learning cutting edge stuff for FREE. In case your parents forgot to teach you, you “dont bite the hand that feeds you.” What is the world coming to… :(

    0
  58. 59

    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.

    0
  59. 60

    Good post. thanks for sharing..

    0
  60. 61

    Zerizcreations.net

    August 15, 2009 8:44 am

    Bookmarked! ;)

    0
  61. 62

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

    0
  62. 63

    good thanx to share ur idea

    0
  63. 64

    “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.

    0
  64. 65

    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.

    0
  65. 66

    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.

    0
  66. 67

    @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.

    0
  67. 68

    that’s simple way

    0
  68. 69

    @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.

    0
  69. 70

    Yeah..cool,

    Some of them is new ones…Thanks

    0
  70. 71

    @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. :-(

    0
  71. 72

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

    0
  72. 73

    @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.

    0
  73. 74

    @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. ;-)

    0
  74. 75

    @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

    0
  75. 76

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

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

    0
  76. 77

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

    0
  77. 78

    Thanks, nice article. It helped with my performance.

    0
  78. 79

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

    0
  79. 80

    Great article….thanks

    0
  80. 81

    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.

    0
  81. 82

    unfortunately, there is nothing new

    0
  82. 83

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

    0
  83. 84

    @Shawn

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

    0
  84. 85

    @Eric

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

    0
  85. 86

    Thanks for the tips

    0
  86. 87

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

    0
  87. 88

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

    0
  88. 89

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

    0
  89. 90

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

    0
  90. 91

    adobe photoshop cs4 has stopped working. why?

    0
    • 92

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

      0
  91. 93

    thanks now I can handle large images better ^_^

    2
  92. 94

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

    0
  93. 95

    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!

    0
  94. 96

    Sameh Abdel-Hakam

    February 17, 2013 6:07 pm

    Really helpful, thank you :)

    1
  95. 97

    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.

    1
  96. 98

    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

    1

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