How-To Geek

10 Common Photoshop Frustrations (and How to Fix Them in Five Minutes)


Photoshop is not always the most user friendly of programs. Sometimes it has frustrating issues, and the solution is not always clear. Here’s a list of 10 annoying problems you might have with Photoshop, and simple solutions to fix them.

They’ll range from simple to complex, some dealing with why the program won’t let you use your cursor tools, or why your cursor has changed shape. Read on to see the list, and what you can learn to make your graphics editing experience more pleasant and productive.

Your Cursor Disappears or Changes Shape


The Problem: After working with some type or some other tool, only to return to the brush to find that your cursor has changed shape, and is difficult to see. What the heck has happened?


The Solution: If your cursor looks like the ones directly above, you’ve probably switched to “precise cursors.” A simple press of the Caps Lock key will return them to normal. You can also change them under your preferences, shortcut key Ctrl + K.

Your Panels Keep Disappearing


The Problem: Uncertain what you’ve done, all your panels have vanished from your screen. The menu is still available, but what has caused them all to go away?


The Solution: Normally, all panels are hidden by a quick press of the Tab key, often by accident. A single press hides all active panels, and a second one brings them back as they were, no need to reactivate them under the Window menu.

Your Brush Tool (Or Others) Have Stopped Working


The Problem: You’re trying to paint, erase, clone stamp, heal brush, etc, and Photoshop simply won’t make a mark on your canvas or let you use your tools like normal.

sshot-425 sshot-423 sshot-426

The Solution: This can be one of several problems. Go to Select > Deselect if you have an area selected with the marquee tool that you might have forgotten or can’t see. From there, Navigate to your channels panel, and check that you’re not working in a quick mask channel, or any other extraneous channel. If you are, click the combined RGB channel (pictured above, center) or the combined CMYK channel, if you happen to be working in CMYK. You should also be able to see if you are in a mask channel, another potential pitfall.

If you are working in Quickmask mode (pictured above right) you can press shortcut key Q to return to normal, or simply click the icon in your toolbox.

Clipboard Export Error When Switching Programs


The Problem: Photoshop hangs up every time you try to switch programs, and often gives you a strange error about the clipboard.


The Solution: Press shortcut key Ctrl + K to bring up your preferences and under General, you’ll find “Export Clipboard.” This will stop you from copy-pasting image data from Photoshop, but not into Photoshop.

Documents and New Files Always Open In Tabs


The Problem: You’ve migrated to a new version of Photoshop, except you are forced to use the tabs feature whenever you open a document or create a new one.


The Solution: Visit Preferences by pressing shortcut key Ctrl + K. Navigate to “Interface,” where tabs can be disabled for newly opened documents, illustrated above. To put an image into a tab, simply drag it to the snap area at the top of the program, directly under the topmost options panel and menu.

Important Image Files Aren’t Associated With Photoshop


The Problem: You double click a file you expect to open with Photoshop, and a program that has installed and taken over that file association.


The Solution: Right Click the file in Windows Explorer, or any file of a similar type. Find “Open With,” then pick “Choose default program.”


From there, you can associate the file (and subsequent filetype) with Photoshop, and instruct Windows to always use that program for that type of file.

No Control Over Automatic “Smart Quotes”


The Problem: You prefer, for various reasons, to use the “Straight Quotes” versus the curly “Smart Quotes,” but have no control over how to make them.


The Solution: Little known fact, “Straight Quotes” are actually not quotes at all, but a notation of feet and inches. Most programs autocorrect “Smart Quotes” in place of them, but this can create a lot of issues. The easiest way is to sidestep using smart quotes is to turn them off. Use shortcut key Ctrl + K to open Preferences and navigate to “Type.” You’ll find an option there to turn off Smart Quote autocorrect.

You Are Constantly Resizing Your Windows After Zoom


The Problem: You end up zooming in and out of your image. When you zoom in, your window remains the same small size as when you were zoomed out, and you have to constantly resize it.


The Solution: Preferences has an option to curb that problem, as well. Bring them up with shortcut key Ctrl + K and look under the “General” tab. You’ll see the option for “Zoom Resizes Windows,” which will automatically resize your windows when you zoom into an image file.

The Scratch Disk Is Full?


The Problem: Photoshop runs worse than ever, and that system drive is looking really full. When you go to perform big actions and filters, it gives you an error—something about scratch disks?

sshot-431 sshot-430sshot-432

The Solution: Press a simple shortcut key Ctrl + K to open preferences, then navigate to “Performance.” You have options on Scratch Disks to enable, and can add any of your free drives for Photoshop to use as extra scratch disks.

It also can’t hurt to clear up space with a Disk Cleanup. Go to your Start Menu, and find “Disk Cleanup” to help clear up some space on your system disk.

Photoshop Runs Slow on Underpowered Machines


The Problem: Waiting forever for those filters to run? Perhaps just basic commands are taking forever? Photoshop runs like a dog on your computer—is there anything you can do?


The Solution: The obvious answer is to upgrade your machine, in particular to add RAM. However, a new PC or components are not always an option for PC users. So simply navigate to your Preferences with shortcut key Ctrl + K. Under “Performance” you’ll find a submenu that allows you to give Photoshop more resources, up to 100% of the available RAM. The more the better, although take note of the “Ideal Range”, unless you don’t plan on running any other programs along with Photoshop.

And when all else fails, it can’t hurt to turn it on and off again.

Have questions or comments concerning Graphics, Photos, Filetypes, or Photoshop? Send your questions to, and they may be featured in a future How-To Geek Graphics article.


Image Credits: Frustration by Sybren A. Stüvel, available under Creative Commons. RAM by 37prime, available under Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 03/23/11

Comments (30)

  1. Hatryst

    One MAJOR problem in Photoshop CS3, that I guess, is difficult to explain. I’ll try:

    Suppose you have 2 layers, Layer 1 and Layer 2.
    You are currently working in Layer 1.
    Then, you come to Layer 2 to erase something (for instance), and you do it wrong, so you have to undo it (step backwards, that is)
    So you press Ctrl+Alt+Z, and the action is undone, so you can do it again.
    When when you begin doing it again, you find that you’re no longer present on Layer 2, you are back on Layer 1. Why is that so?

    And there’s no solution for this, I guess. Just getting used to it is what I’ve done, but it still feels awkward when it happens…
    It wasn’t the case in Photoshop CS (Photoshop version 8). But ever since I’ve upgraded to CS3, this problem has been irritating me…

  2. wookie

    Re: Your Brush Tool (Or Others) Have Stopped Working.
    I’d recommend hitting the Esc key first of all. It happens to me daily that I want to use a tool but my cursor is on some menu and I can’t (opacity blend, brush size, font or any where entering numeric percentages or numbers applies).

  3. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Hatryt: I know exactly what you mean. That’s a good one to point out, and it drives me crazy too. I don’t think there is a way to solve it–it’s sort of inherent to the program.

  4. cabbiinc

    @Hatryt: Use a mask layer instead. It’s intimidating at first so don’t feel like you’re the only one not getting it but once it clicks in your mind how it works you won’t be undoing an erase from layer 2 again.

  5. Eric Z Goodnight

    @cabbiinc: It’s coincidental that he’s talking about erasing. It could be any tool. He’s talking about Photoshop automatically switching layers when you undo or step back in the history.

  6. Oaken

    Thanks HTG… no more tabs :-)

  7. Hatryst

    And that’s the most irritating thing, ever… :D

  8. Joshua

    @Eric, it is done because to setep back in history or undo implies that you were befre on the other layer. That is why PS does that. Sounds logic to me though I would also prefer that it would take as two different steps: 1) switch to layer two; 2) delete what you need. So if you undo #2 it will take you to #1. But it is not that way so far…

  9. Hatryst

    Joshua, I agree with your second thought. Moving to a different layer, and performing an operation are two different steps…

    Eric, I just discovered something else. If your brush has changed to a tiny PLUS (+), another reason could be the fact that the brush size is either too small or too large for the image being displayed in view. Try selecting a different brush size or zooming in or out of the image.

  10. Eric Z Goodnight

    It can get confusing when the brush is too big for the current zoom level, so I see what you mean.

  11. Monicoj

    Oh man, now I’m confused. I’m running CS5 on a Mac and never experienced any of those. The box “Zoom Resizes Windows” is checked by default, although “problem” described by Hatryst still exists. It’s a small issue but really annoying.

  12. Hatryst

    WHAT? This glitch hasn’t been fixed even in CS5? :D

  13. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Hatryst, Monicoj: It may never be fixed. It seems sort of inherent to the way the history works, or some workaround. For instance–if you stepped back to when a layer didn’t exist (create a new layer, then step back to before that layer was created), what would Photoshop do then, if it kept that layer as the active layer? Probably crash!

  14. Monicoj

    Yep Hatryst it’s still here. I managed to use to that, but I find myself constantly checking which layer I’m working on, so I keep layers panel open and visible all the time.

  15. Hatryst

    Eric, that’s a very appropriate explanation !
    I remember very correctly (if I’m not wrong !) this ‘feature’ wasn’t present in Photoshop CS…
    But as said earlier, the only solution is getting used to it ;)

  16. Kimberly

    yeah – this is precisely why I am not adverturous to go into the ‘deep’ end of PS, I have CS5 and I ONLY use it for content aware fill, cloning, healing. I don’t get anything else. It is too much like a math problem for me – and with my brain damage I can’t grasp any of it.

    Layers – huh?
    Masking- who? Black conceals / White reveals?

    Thank GAWD for Lightroom and NIK, and ONONE, and TOPAZ.

    Even the books are confusing – Ifyou want to do ‘something’ and don’t know what that ‘something’ is called (in Photoshop terms) you are screwed.. If it’s not in the books then it must not exist – and im not smart enough to adjust per situation and tweak it the way I need to fit my ‘needs’.

    It’s just too much – and this is what keeps me from being a ‘professional’ photographer bcause i can’t do everything in PS. It must mean I need to composite everything i want to do in a specific shot, NOPE can’t do that either – you need money to set that kind of flash up. And I don’t have that either!!

    I’m just glad I can clone like NOONES BIZNESS – (and heal too)…

    It’s a shame all that other stuff is going to waste in CS5 – I just wished lightroom heal and clone was better, i’d never leave to PS, bcause if what you are fixing it isnt in the shape of a circle or unless its just dust – then you are on your way to PS.

    Thanks for the tips

  17. Eric

    Does the ESC trick work when you are using a tool that needs to be committed or cancelled before you can continue?

    This is about 89% of all problems my team at work has. Always asking me why this menu isn’t available or why that tool isn’t working and it’s because they haven’t committed to a type change.

  18. wookie

    If I understand you correctly, YES the ESC thing works.

    In fact, I sort of memorized it in the Automatic-PS-Keyboard-Shortcuts section of my brain. When I’m trying to do something and PS just doesn’t want to do it, my brain kicks an instinctive hand movement to hit ESC (I don’t even think about it) and I continue working.

  19. Joe

    I have an annoying problem that might force me to reinstall my operating system (Vista)…

    I used to have dual monitors setup and now I don’t. Now whenever I open certain windows in Photoshop, for example File -> New, the window opens somewhere off-screen and I can’t find it. What makes it worse is that it’s modal, so I can’t do anything else until it’s closed so I usually have to kill the photoshop process in task manager.

    Now I know what you’re going to say, “can’t you just tile or cascade the windows to find it?”. I’ve tried that. I’ve also tried right-clicking on the photoshop entry on my taskbar and moving it, all with no luck. I can never see the missing window.

    I have reset my display settings so many times to a single monitor to no avail.

    Any help would be great!

  20. wookie

    @Joe: Have you tried to restore to some of PS’s preset workspaces?
    Under >Window>Workspace you have several options, including one named Reset Essentials.

  21. Rajneesh Gadge

    Thanks Eric!!

    You Rock!! \m/

  22. Lindsay

    I have one major problem with my CS5. When I open a any file (TIFF, PNG, JPEG), I can only see the actual image if I have the zoom value set at 25%, 50%, or 100%. If the zoom value is set to ANY other value, the image disappears and all I see is the checkerboard pattern;however, I do still see the image in the layers panel on the side of the screen. Any idea why this would happen???

  23. michelle

    I am new to using the Adobe Photoshop program and have recently brought Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. I recently added some new objects that allow you to add different effects to shapes. However I have noticed that I am unable to change the shapes. For instance there was like clip art type graphics in the control panel but I can only change the effects of the shapes now. Does anyone know how to get the graphics back?

  24. amit

    I have one major problem with my CS5.Photoshop very slow performing to type text and erasing text can u help me plz. i m installed 6000+ font .can u tell me this problem is for lots of font. ??????????????????

  25. DigipainterIV

    @Amit It is because of your fonts. 1. Limit the number of fonts. 2. A corrupt font may cause lag and other problems like freezes and corrupt documents. 3. Disabling the preview may speed things a bit up.

    “Annoying things in Photoshop”… Here is my list. I know my workarounds but some things are really missing in my opinion or just plain annoying. With little effort Photoshop could be much more powerful.

    – You cannot leave the color palette window open. It locks everything else. A tool should not lock other windows except it is really necessary. Windows should always be resizable.
    – You cannot mark an area in the color palette to work in.
    – You cannot have several instances of the color palette open, i.e. one for hue and one for saturation.
    – You cannot make a custom color palette.
    – You cannot save an entire brush (shape, size, color, opacity, mode)
    – When working with brushes at low opacity nothing happens or artifacts appear. For example, a dark gray on black at 2% may not change a thing or i.e. introduce a red tint or ugly bands. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working in 8 bit/channel or 32bit/channel.
    – over some background colors it’s difficult to see the brush
    – you cannot change the color and opacity of the brush tip
    – no multicolor brushes
    – ugly bands in gradients
    – you cannot change the stack order of layer blending effects
    – opacity cannot be used as a ‘color’ in i.e. gradients, gradients/brushes can only add alpha values, not substract
    – some tools need to flatten the image while you just want the effect on the actual layer
    – you cannot work on multiple layers simultaneously
    – after working for some time in another application Photoshop may have become slow and lagging
    – you can only see what is in your canvas area
    – every now and then: color management hell
    – No easy way to draw outlined shapes like circles and rectangles
    – No mirror/tile/kaleidoscope mode
    – You cannot save puppet warp anchor points or create an instance of a posture and then move on to the next posture
    – copy paste text may and may not work
    – You cannot turn off brush anti-alias, i.e. a 1 pixel black solid brush at 100% on white just pollutes 3×3 pixels and does not make one pixel completely black. Pollution may occur in any direction. So if you’re working on details you’re forced to work with a tiny selection box which must be moved around. Unacceptable.

    I know there are many workarounds and that there are other applications for certain things, but as I said most things are not that hard to solve or implement. It would give Photoshop a boost.

  26. Romes

    Anyone help me out with this deal breaker?

    I open the layer blending options window, I make change, and I move the window to see how the result came out. At the same time I accidentally drag it off the screen. Below the status bar. I can no longer see it at all on the screen.

    I have tired pressing tab and enter, assuming the blending options window is still active, to see if I cant just tab-enter until I hit “ok”. To no avail.

    Almost all the options are greyed out and all the other times I had to close the program in Process Explorer and start over.

    Anyone please help?

    Thanks in advance.

  27. Albee


    ok I have adobe cs5 and my problem is the healing brush tool.
    for example: SPOT HEALING TOOL when clicked on gives you the options at the top of the screen (near its spot healing icon) it has proximity match, create texture and content-aware.


    the HEALING BRUSH TOOL forsome reason do not have or show content-aware above as an option like the spot healing tool do.
    it only has source: sampled or pattern then aligned and current layer.


  28. Beverly

    I have a photoshop question I hope you can answer for me… I’ve just switched to using photoshop on a mac from windows. When I click OPEN under FILE, and go to the folder with my pictures in it… the thumbnail photos that appear are tiny. When I was using CS3 on my Windows machine I could go up to the top of the Open screen and select Large Icons, and the thumbnails would appear bigger. Do you know of any way to make these thumbnails/icons larger? Thanks, Beverly

  29. ESP

    Great 10 solutions. Have question —
    I have Photo shop CS5 extended and I have not been able to use the Zoom ( hand tool ) to create a “marquee area ” that will magnify just one area in a photo when working on … lets say eyes or teeth in portraiture…. ? Any ideas ? I have tried everything I have seen and even dragged hand tool diagonally with no luck.. ?

  30. ESP

    For Albee, regard no content aware with spot healing brush tool — you will see content aware, but with Healing brush tool, you have to sample an area ( on Mac press option key & click ) and that is area that will be placed when you lay it down, say on face of portrait — option click many times as you use the HEaling brush tool. The SPOT healing brush tool will use content aware. hope that helps… they look alike in the tool set arrived at by short cut J on Mac computer.

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