Setting up Your Photoshop Environment, Preferences and Color Settings

I was setting up a new computer a while back and had the idea that I should make a post about setting up Photoshop for the first time. There a lots of default preference settings that are meant to work well out of the box, but aren't always optimized for a black and white workflow.

First we need to open the Photoshop Preferences. This is found under Photoshop > Preferences (or cmnd+k on a Mac)


Color Theme (CS6 and CC)

These screen shots were made with CS5, but for CS6 and CC I recommend the lightest grey available. The intention in a fine-art environment (New York galleries, museums, and serious collectors) is that, in almost all cases, photographs will be displayed matted and in a frame. Mats are generally white/off-white/cream depending on the process (despite what other's might think of black mats and "setting off" the print—but that is for an entirely different rant) The dark background and tool and menu pallets are not only harder to read, but can make your image appear lighter than it will actually be when printed and exhibited.

Color and Border

I leave all backgrounds set default, and turn off all border settings, like drop shadows, as they can also be misleading when editing. 

File Handling

Memory usage

The default settings can be left as is, although you might want to consider turning off "ask before saving layered tiffs" it can be annoying to click that option every time you save a tif. That is another legacy option from when disk storage was expensive and limited.


I set photoshop to use about 75% of my available ram on my laptop limited to 4 GB of RAM, but when working with huge drum scans on a MacPro  I let photoshop use 80%-85% of the available 32 GB,

Scratch disk

This is where the settings can be highly customized. On a laptop or with a desktop with only one drive, just leave it as is. However, if there are multiple drives, one can be set as a scratch disk only. The important thing to realize is that if you do have multiple drives and have a separate drive as the primary scratch disk, be sure to set boot drive as a secondary scratch disk. If the main scratch disk hard drive fails (or is ejected), you will still be able to open photoshop. I learned that the hard way and had to reinstall photoshop. 


Painting cursors

Set to Normal Brush tip

Other cursors:


Units and rulers

Printing Resolution

If using epson printers I recommend setting the resolution to 360 ppi, which is the native input resolution for those printers. For HP and Cannon leave it set to 300 ppi

Screen Resolution

The default setting is a remnant of old CRT monitors and the original Mac display that had a resolution of 72 ppi. Screen resolution in modern displays are much higher, so to give an accurate setting you must take the pixel dimensions of your actual main display, and then measure the diagonal of your main display, and divide by that number. Dust off those algebra and geometry skills and think back to old Pythagorus A squared + B squared=C squared  (or you can just divide the horizontal pixel dimensions by the length of your display to get an approximate result—it depends on your personal level of compulsiveness—mine happens to be fairly high. In many cases, you can just set this to somewhere between 90-100 dpi and be fine.

That about does it for the Photoshop preferences 

Now we move on to Photoshops Color Settings

This is found in the menu bar under Edit > Color Settings

There are several presets, but we will set up a custom preset based on the following settings:

Working Spaces

We want to be working with a greyscale color space of Gamma 2.2. The RGB equivalent to that is sRGB or Adobe RGB 1998. I prefer to use ProPhoto RGB, which has a gamma correction of 1.8, but also has the largest color gamut of all the RGB color working spaces (The idea is that you want to be editing your photos with the most information possible, and then translate that to fit the output). When I convert the black and white conversion the shadow values can be expanded further separately without completely compressing, or blocking up compared to if it were converted from a color working space with a Gamma 2.2.  

RGB: Adobe RGB or Prophoto RGB
CMYK: leave as is—US webcoated (SWOP) v2
Gray: Gamma 2.2
Spot: Dot Gain 20%

Color Management Policies 

Profile Mismatches

Leave both checkboxes unchecked. You want to keep all embedded profiles and it does not need to ask every time an embedded profile does not match your working space.

Missing Profiles

If you or someone else does not embed the device or working space profile when saving their file, you might be asked what profile you would like to assign when opening it in photoshop. I prefer to know that there is a missing profile when opening the file and being able to select and assign the appropriate profile when opening or leaving as is and assigning the profile with ability to preview it after it is opened in photoshop. I will cover this in more detail in a future video and blog post.

That's it. At least for all the initial settings. In the next post I will move on to what I think are the essential tools, options, and pallets for image editing.