The Photoshop grid is an indispensable tool for creating pixel-perfect layouts and positioning items accurately. A grid looks like a wireframe mesh overlay on top of your image. The dimensions of this wireframe can be easily changed to fit your needs and canvas size.
In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to use and customize Photoshop grid effectively. You can learn more about Photoshop grid in this quickstart course on Photoshop CS6.
What Exactly is the Grid in Photoshop?
Take a look at the image below:
The kittens are adorable, but what if you wanted to place some text exactly 25 pixels from the top, 50 pixels from the left of the image?
This is where grids come in handy. Here’s the image again, with grid enabled:
I’ve 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 (25px + 25px) and one grid line from the top (25px), like this:
This is the basic concept behind the Photoshop grid: it helps you in creating accurate layouts and in positioning 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
1. Accessing the Grid
To access the grid, create a new blank document and go to Views -> Show -> Grids. Alternatively, you can press CTRL + ‘.
You’ll immediately see your document covered with a mesh overlay.
My overlay looks blue because I’ve set it 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 a specialized course.
2. Grids and Snapping
If you go to the Views menu again, you’ll see something called ‘Snap’.
You can also see a sub-menu titled ‘Snap-to’. This decides whether any element snaps to grids, slices, guides, etc.
When you enable Snap (SHIFT + CTRL + ;) and make sure that Grid is selected under ‘Snap-to’, any element you move around with the mouse will automatically stick to grid edges. This takes all the guesswork out of positioning elements. 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, I’ve created different colored squares using the power of grids and snapping.
Since 1 grid = 25px wide, 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.
These are some of the most basic features in Photoshop. You can learn more about using them in this excellent course on Photoshop fundamentals.
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 Edit -> Preferences -> Guides, Grid and Slices.
In the next window, 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:
Color: This defines the color of the grid. I’ve used light blue, though this isn’t necessarily the best color. Try to use colors that have very little presence in your images. Using black color grid on a night scene, for instance, 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.
Style: You can change your grid to be made up 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 offer a compromise between visibility and usability.
Gridline Every: This is one of the most important parameters for grids. It basically dictates how often gridlines should be repeated. You can change both the distance and the unit of measurement. I’ve used ‘pixels’ since I’m using images for web work. If you’re creating images for print, however, you might want to use ‘inches’ or ‘cms’.
Subdivisions: This is another very important consideration. Basically, every gridline can be divided into any number of subsections. You can choose different number of subdivisions as per your convenience. For example, I chose to have gridlines every 100 pixels and four subdivisions per gridline. This means each of my gridline will be made of four subdivisions of 25px each. If you change this to 10 subdivisions, each subdivision will measure 10px, and so on.
Depending on the image you’re working with (and its dimensions), you might need to change the Gridline Every and Subdivisions setting quite frequently. For example, this is what my document looks like with gridlines every 100 pixels and 10 subdivisions:
And this is what it looks like with gridlines every 20 percent and only 1 subdivision (i.e. no subdivision):
Obviously, going into Preferences every time you want to make an adjustment to the grid parameters can be a real pain. This Photoshop plugin gives you quick access to grid controls to adjust grid settings on the fly.
Grids are one of the most useful features in Photoshop. You’ll use them often, so take some time to master them. Here’s one course that will introduce you to all the basic concepts in Photoshop, including, of course, Photoshop grid!
How do you use grid in Photoshop? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!