Understanding Photoshop is a biweekly column that takes an in-depth look at how digital photographs are built and manipulated. It is a college-level course in plain English for free at Photofocus. To learn more see this article.

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The Free Transform command is another useful way to rotate and size an image. It works best when you have an object located on its own floating layer (not a Background) or if you have an active selection. You’ll explore selections and layers in much greater detail in future chapters. For now, lets work with a simple layered image that has already been prepped:

1. Open the file Free_Transform_ Basic.psd.

This image has two layers: a background, which is a pattern, and a vector shape layer. A vector layer is a special layer in Photoshop. It can be resized and transformed repeatedly with no degradation in quality. Vector layers use math to describe curved lines and can be freely manipulated.

2. If its not visible, call up the Layers panel by selecting Windows > Layers.

3. Select the Vector Shape layer so it is active.

4. Choose Edit > Free Transform or press Command+T (Ctrl+T).

Fig 04_21 Free Transform

You can access several controls for the Free Transform command by right-clicking/Control-clicking. Try the following transformations on the Vector Shape layer. You can press the Esc key to cancel the transformation or Return (Enter) to apply it.

  • Scale. You can scale by dragging a handle. Hold down the Shift key as you drag a corner handle to scale proportionately. Hold down the Option (Alt) key to scale in both directions simultaneously. To scale numerically, enter a value in the Options bar.
  • Rotate. You can rotate a preset amount by selecting Rotate 180?, Rotate 90? CW, or Rotate 90? CCW. To rotate freely by dragging, move your mouse outside the Free Transform box. It will become a curved, two-headed arrow. Hold down the Shift key while rotating to constrain the rotation to 15 increments. Additionally, you can rotate numerically by entering degrees in the rotation box in the Options bar.
  • Skew. Skewing an image creates a sense of distortion, as if the image were leaning. To skew the image, hold down Command+Shift (Ctrl+Shift) and drag a side handle (not a corner handle). The cursor will change to a white arrowhead with a small double arrow.

Fig 04_22 Skew

  • Distort. If you want to distort an image freely, choose Distort. This allows you to move the corners of the image freely (a process also known as corner-pinning). You can also access this command by pressing Command (Ctrl) while dragging a corner point.
  • Perspective. Transforming perspective creates the illusion that the image is being viewed from above or from the side. You can access this command by pressing Command+Option+Shift (Ctrl+Alt+Shift) or from the context menu. This is a useful command to fix perspective problems or to add perspective effects.
  • Warp. The Warp command was first introduced in Photoshop CS2. It allows you to distort an image into a number of predefined shapes available in the Options bar (such as Arch, Flag, or Twist). By choosing Custom, several points can be freely dragged to distort the image as desired.

Fig 04_23 Warp

  • Flip Horizontal and Flip Vertical. These simple commands let you flip an individual layer without flipping the entire canvas.

The Free Transform command has one major benefit over choosing individual transform commands from the Image menu: Free Transform lets you apply transformations in one continuous operation, which reduces quality loss in raster images.

Fig 04_24 More

Open the file Ch04_Free_Transform_Additional.psd. Using the Free Transform command, you can rotate, size, and flip the images to create a better layout.