How to Use Adobe Photoshop’s Grid & Guide Tools
The grid and guide tools in Photoshop are excellent for creating pixel-perfect layouts and positioning items accurately. A grid looks like a wireframe mesh overlay on top of your image, while guides are customized, pinpointed locations that enable you to align objects or text. The dimensions of each tool can be easily changed and customized to fit your needs and canvas size.
In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to use and customize Photoshop’s grid effectively.
Last Updated October 2023
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What exactly is the grid in Photoshop?
Excuse the cuteness overload for a sec, but take a look at the image below:
The kitten is, of course, adorable, but what if you wanted to place some text at a specific location in the photo? Well, you could play around with it through trial and error, but that’s a bit tedious. Plus, if your client is very specific about their instructions — say, 50 pixels from the top of the kitten, and 50 pixels to the left — the task becomes a bit difficult.
But with the Photoshop grid, it’s easy. You can easily lay out text or objects with a guarantee of symmetry and alignment, regardless of your project!
To break it down even further, here’s the image once more, with the grid enabled:
We have set the distance between every grid line to be 25 pixels. Positioning our text at the desired distance, thus, is as simple as placing it two grid lines from the left-most corner of the kitten (25px + 25px) and two grid lines from the top (50px) of the kitten, like this:
This is the basic concept behind the Photoshop grid: it helps you create accurate layouts and position elements. The grids are completely customizable. You can change the grid color, the distance between the grid, and whether elements “snap” to grid edges or not. We’ll cover all of these aspects in detail below.
Using Photoshop Grid
Introductions aside, let’s get to the nitty-gritty details. Below is a step-by-step tutorial for using Photoshop Grid for any project.
1. Accessing the grid
To access the grid, create a new document and go to View > Show > Grid.
Alternatively, you can press CTRL + ‘.
You’ll immediately see your document covered with a mesh overlay.
The overlay looks grayish-black because it is set to be that way. Your grid color might be different depending on your settings (you’ll learn how to change this below).
You can learn more about customizing Photoshop, including the grid, in our blog tutorial How to Use Photoshop.
2. Grids and snapping
Snapping. No, it’s not another social media platform, but a tool used in Photoshop to make your life a whole lot easier. Simply put, you would use the snapping tool when you need a line of text or object to “snap” into place in accordance with a grid line.
To start, simply go to View > Snap. In addition, you can select the drop-down snap to section. Today, we will use this and check the “grid” drop-down. When dragging, dropping, or moving around an image or piece of text, this enables it to simply “snap” into place in alignment with a grid line.
As a shortcut for ensuring your object or text “snaps” right into place in accordance with the grid, simply press shift, then put the cursor over your text/object, and then drag to its proper position. In the example used above, if the text snaps to the second grid edge from the left, it means that the element is exactly 50px from the left, as the width of each grid is 25px.
Go ahead, try it out yourself. In your blank document, create an element — a square box, some text, anything. Try to move it around with snap enabled and the grid showing. You’ll see that the element sticks to each grid edge, making precise positioning possible.
For example, below, we used the moving tool to revise the location of the text and “snap” right into place following the grid lines that are 50 px to the left and 50 px above Milo, the cutest kitten in the world:
And before we move on, just a little more detail about how to measure pixels and grids. Since one grid = 25px wide in our above example, we can say that:
- The first square (1) is 1×1 grid, or 25 x 25px in dimension.
- The second square (2) is 2×2 grids, or 50 x 50px in dimension
- The third square (3) is 3×3 grids, or 75 x 75px.
- Fourth square (4) is 4×4 grids or 100 x 100px.
- The fifth square (5) is 5×5 grids or 125 x 125px.
3. Changing grid settings
As we saw above, grids are very useful for positioning elements, and even creating new elements of a definite size. But what if we want to change the size of each grid as well?
This is pretty easy to do. You can access the grid settings from Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid, and Slices. The attached screenshot is below for your reference:
Once clicking on the drop-down menu item, you’ll have complete control over grid size and color. You can also change the characteristics of guides and slices, but that’s for another tutorial!
Let’s take a closer look at each of these settings:
This defines the color of the grid. We used light gray, as this is the best color to use for displaying the true color and aesthetic of your selected photo. Regardless of your personal preference, try to use colors that have very little presence in your images. Using a black color grid on a night scene or a white color grid for a daylight scene would make your grid practically invisible. Because of this, most designers like to use colors like Magenta or Cyan as these rarely make appearances in images.
You can change your grid to consist of lines, dashed lines, or dots. This is a personal preference. Lines offer the best visibility, though some designers find them distracting. Dashed lines are a popular option as they are somewhat of a compromise between visibility and usability.
This is one of the most important parameters for grids. It basically dictates how often Photoshop should repeat the grid lines. You can change both the distance and the unit of measurement. We will use ‘pixels’ since we’re using images for web work. If you’re creating images for print, however, you might want to use ‘inches’ or ‘cms.’ As a side note, you might also find that — depending on the project — larger gaps between grid lines are sometimes better. It eliminates confusion, allows for ease of counting, and does not distract the photo too much.
This is another very important consideration. Essentially, one could divide every grid line into any number of subsections. You can choose a different number of subdivisions at your convenience. For example, we decided to have grid lines every 100 pixels and four subdivisions per grid line. This means each of our grid lines will contain four subdivisions of 25px each. If you change this to 10 subdivisions, each subdivision will measure 10px, and so on.
Since the pixels were so small before, we increased each grid line to 500 so that we can see the difference between subdivisions and grid lines. As you can see, there are the “small” grid lines (4 per subdivision) and the larger “subdivisions” within the grid itself.
Obviously, grids are powerful… but what if you want to get rid of them quickly to check on how the photo looks? Easy as pie. Simply select View > Show > Grid and uncheck.
Similarly, going into Preferences every time you want to make an adjustment to the grid parameters is also a real pain in the you-know-what. This Photoshop plugin eliminates all of that and gives you quick access to grid controls to adjust grid settings on the fly.
Grids are one of the most valuable features in Photoshop. You’ll use them often, so take some time to master the skill. It could come in handy when using the lasso tool, working with the pen tool, and even altering colors in a photo.
How do you plan to use the Photoshop grid?
How to use guides in Photoshop:
Grids are great, but what if you want to create and customize the rules found within the measurements themselves? Look no further than guides.
Before jumping in, however, we first need to add rulers to our artwork. This is simple enough: go to View > Rulers. See the screenshot below for a visual.
As you can see in the screenshot below, the ruler numbers/dimensions look a bit odd. Instead of singular inches, the metrics go from 0 to 5400. That is definitely not what we want.
Have no fear, however. To change your unit measurements, simply select Photoshop CC > Preferences > Units and Rulers.
As you can see, the measurement was in pixels. By changing the ruler type to inches, our unit of measurement looks much better:
Now that we are all set up, we’re ready to create the guide. You can use guides for any number of reasons, but for this photo, we’re going to use it to mark where we want to insert text.
First, place the cursor on the vertical ruler and drag it to your desired location. Once you’re happy with its spot, you can release it. Then, you’ll want to place your cursor on the horizontal ruler, drag it to the desired location, and release. Now you can insert your text accordingly.
And there we have it!
Now, what if we want something a little more automatic, and a little less manually intensive? Just like the grid tool, we can take advantage of “snapping” when using guides. Simply go to View > Snap To, and make sure “guides” are checked. This will make objects or text snap/fit into place automatically!And if you’re looking for even more tools on how to customize your Photoshop project, be sure to check out this tutorial for resizing layers quickly and efficiently!
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