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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 Link

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? Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

About the author Link

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 Link

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  1. 1

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

  2. 2

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

  3. 3

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

  4. 4

    “…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.

  5. 5

    I’d die without my font preview.

  6. 6

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

  7. 8

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

  8. 9

    Don’t usability but amazing performance.

  9. 10

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

  10. 11

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

  11. 12

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

  12. 13

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

  13. 14

    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.

  14. 15

    That’s some nice tips described here !!

  15. 16

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

  16. 17

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

  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 :)

  18. 19

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

  19. 20

    David Tremblay

    August 13, 2009 6:51 am

    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.

  20. 21

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

  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.

  22. 23

    Great article, thanks for the tips!

  23. 24

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

  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.

  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.

  26. 27

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

  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.

  28. 29

    Ralph Contreras

    August 13, 2009 9:26 am

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

  29. 30

    Ralph Contreras

    August 13, 2009 9:28 am

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

  30. 31

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

  31. 32

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

  32. 33

    My personal favorite … restart it.

  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!

  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.

  35. 36

    Great quick tips for optimizing Photoshop.

  36. 37

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

  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 ;)

  38. 39

    Tomás Camusso

    August 13, 2009 2:52 pm

    Useful tips, thanks.

  39. 40

    Useful.. Thanks a bunch!

  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


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