12 Common Photoshop Mistakes and Malpractice

With the same goal in mind as 10 Common Mistakes Made in Type Design, this article was created to raise awareness and educate new Photoshop users and designers,not to make fun of or mock the one’s who use the below techniques and practices.

Below is a list of 12 common mistakes, misuses and various ways new users abuse Photoshop. I have fell victim to a few of these myself when first starting out, so I hope this article helps educate designers and other individuals new to Photoshop. I encourage all of you to add your own mistakes or tips in the comment section below.

Improper extraction methods

Many new and unexperienced Photoshop users depend on the magic wand, quick select or lasso tool to extract backgrounds or objects in an image. Photoshop’s “easy” selection and extraction methods have come a long way, but it still doesn’t compare to the precision you get with the pen tool.

The pen tool can be quite tricky to new users, but once mastered you will wonder how you ever used any other method. Other great methods of quick masking or extraction can also be used. Just don’t use the eraser tool!

Adding a slight feather to your extractions helps improve the appearance of your images.

Setting body copy

Photoshop can be used to create fantastic text effects, but that doesn’t mean you should use it for large areas on text — especially for body copy. That’s what InDesign, Quark or even, Illustrator is for.

Your text will not print as clear and sharp in a raster-based program like Photoshop. Stick with vector-based programs for large amounts of copy.

Using rainbow gradients

You know you’ve seen them a million times, and every time they get more jarring to look at. Just say no to rainbow gradients! (Caution: Grip your arm chair before clicking the link to the left!) :)

Now that doesn’t mean you should stay clear of gradients all together. I’ve seen plenty of designs and websites as of late using tactful gradients. Try blending the gradients from a lighter shade to a darker shade of the same color, instead of blending 2 or more disconnecting colors.

Assuming K=100 is Black

Many new designers, including myself at one point, thought that setting my K in CMYK to 100 would result in black. This is not the case… instead, it results in a dark grey.

Although you can get away with setting your K to 100 for black text, large areas of black should be set to ‘Rich Black’. Try using C=90 M=60 Y=30 K=100 — it will produce a much richer and noticeable black.

Overusing and abusing filters

I shouldn’t have to go into too much detail with this one, but I remember being obsessed with filters when I first experienced Photoshop. Even though they’re “fun and easy” doesn’t mean they make you look professional and experienced.

Overusing and misusing filters can easily make you look like an amateur.

Creating logos in Photoshop

Though this one can be argued, you should create logos in vector-based programs, like Illustrator, as much as possible.

Vectors are easily scalable and retain consistent clarity no matter how large or small you scale them.

Working under 300dpi in print

Many new users fall into the trap of working in 72 dpi (dots per inch). While this is true for the web, it should not be used when printing. Typically 300 dpi is best for print, but you should always check with your printer.

Also, when working with images that are 72 dpi in print, don’t assume you can just increase the resolution or size of the image and everything will be fixed. The image will appear pixelated and of lower resolution once printed.

Not learning shortcuts

No matter which program you are working in, learning shortcuts is a must. Not only will it increase your workflow by saving valuable time, but many of the tools require additional keys for added functionality.

You can even create your own in Photoshop by selecting ‘Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts…’

Not using layers and folders

Everything in Photoshop revolves around layers. I’ve seen many new Photoshop users neglect using little to no layers, only to regret it later. They make it much easier to edit, move, duplicate, delete, etc.

Also, naming your layers and structuring them into folders is essential, especially when dealing with large PSDs or if you’re a web designer. It will help you navigate around your project, save time and reduce headaches.

‘Desaturate’ to convert images to Black & White

This one is often over looked, even by experienced designers. Choosing Image > Adjustments > Desaturate for converting your image to black and white, often produces a flat, “lifeless” photograph.

Try converting by choosing ‘Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer’. Check off ‘Monochrome’ and then adjusting the Red, Green and Blue channel sliders — this produces a much richer image.

Beveled, embossed and drop shadows

Similar to rainbow gradients and abusing filters, beveled and/or embossed text can be labeled as unexperienced. Unless you have a valid reason, stay clear of these or use sparingly.

Drop shadows should also be treated properly and with care. When applying a drop shadow, make certain to pay attention to other lighting in the image. You don’t want drop shadows coming from all directions causing an image to appear unbelievable or fake.

Also, adjusting or toning down drop shadows is important as well. They should be subtle and soft, not dramatic and harsh.

Not taking advantage of guides and grids

You wouldn’t believe how many designers “eye” things up instead of pulling out guides or using the grid in Photoshop. They’re there for a reason… use them.


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Discussion and Comments

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  1. Shane says:

    Great post, I totally agree with your points. I still forget to organize my photoshop layers into folders, and always regret it later on!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Issa says:

    Being a newbie in the world of graphic design, I’d say I find your tips really useful. I guess, I’m on my way to studying Illustrator after having read this. Thanks!

  3. Henry says:

    Excelent selection!

    Thanks for the Channel Mixer advice

  4. Boldis Media says:

    Oh, my! “Assuming K=100 is Black” excellent point to know much more about photoshop and graphic design.

  5. dresses says:

    Excelent selection!

    Thanks for the Channel Mixer advice

  6. very nice tips and tricks… mostly the monochrome effect is just incredible.. I tried it..

  7. Cal Ibration says:

    I have various proofs set up in photoshop to view manipulations in various alternating umm, ‘brightnesses’. I was constantly dismayed after working on an image on a mac to see how a PC monitor revealed a bunch of my errors and embarrassing secrets (notably in the blacks that I thought were a lot blacker) Also, to combat this while working I’ve made a photoshop action that when I press F1 it automatically creates a Brightness and Contrast adjustment layer – brightness set to full, contrast set to nill) above my work (so I can view my work ‘warts and all’). I was many years into photoshop before I had access to many different platforms, computers, monitors (good and bad) and I became increasingly paranoid about how more often than not, calibration/intensity can really make you look like a complete amateur revealing all of your ‘shady’ errors to the world. – One time I had actually used a clone tool randomly to dot out a few specs on a black wall (which clearly wasn’t as black as my mac suggested). Embarrassing MS Paint shock horror effect when viewed from a del. Check your proof setups and I suggest the brightness and contrast checking dummy layer. Thanks for the K=100 tip!

  8. lenia says:

    you are thw best ! very nice post :) thank you so much

  9. This is very helpful, tahnk you

  10. vasilyrud says:

    I’m probably overusing guides. Create them for every single detail. I’m just so paranoic. ^^

    And btw, that “Channel Mixer” is a great tip! Thanks!

  11. Saira says:

    thanks for this…
    i found a fantastic Website for really cool Photoshop tip & Tutorials


    where all tutorials have a higher page rank and professional

  12. spamfilter says:

    Good article. i am looking for a shortcut sheet so i can rember them.

  13. [...] 12 Common Photoshop Mistakes, a list to help educate new designers and “users” of Photoshop, not only become popular via  TDC readers, but was 1 of 3 articles that hit the front page of Digg (accumulating 1,500+ Diggs). [...]

  14. Just like being trapped in a fury of chains when you are lost in transition of the new photoshop version.

  15. I know I experienced these pitfalls already…. :( I hope others read this and don’t make the mistakes I have made….:)

  16. Arshad Cini says:

    Thanks for the tips Brian

  17. Rondell Paul says:

    well written article….great points!!

  18. Great, the Rainbowgradients remind me of the movie »epilepsy now«. Or was it a different name.

  19. Natashya says:

    I totally agree with what you’ve said here – and cannot express to you how much it makes me want to pull my hair out when I see Jr. designers in my office hand over PSD’s with no guides/grid, proper layer structure or “logo” designs done in Photoshop.

  20. spencer says:

    The Channel Mixer is nice, but I think there is a way that is even a tad better. By creating a black and white adjustment layer (non-destructive) You can then adjust not only the reds, yellows, and blues, but also cyan, green, and magenta.

    And since its an adjustment layer you can always go back and adjust it later, or remove it all together. No need to make copies of the original layer. Just my opinion though.

  21. geoff says:

    I think using masks for extracting images is superior to the pen tool. The pen tool is fast for geometric objects but extracting people and hair, using layer masks is preferable because of the control you have with the alpha channel. You simply cannot do this with the pen tool – especially with women’s hair.

  22. i use adobe illustrator a lot and i really love its great freatures’.*

  23. Ariana says:

    I’m guilty of eyeing! I appreciate self-improvement lists like these.

  24. ace says:

    Im a graphics designer from PI. Thanks for sharing this information hope many new photoshop users read this article

  25. Movahedi says:

    tnx. it was very useful….i agree with u specially about rainbow gradients!

  26. David says:

    “Many new users fall into the trap of working in 72 dpi (dots per inch). While this is true for the web, it should not be used when printing.”

    Apologies if this has been mention earlier in the comments, but the above couple of sentences can easily be misread.

    While it’s absolutely true that 72dpi should not be used for print, it’s misleading to say “it’s true for the web”. DPI has no bearing on how things display on screen, it’s simply the wrong unit of measurement. Pixels matter on screen, not DPI. Pixel density on screen is measured in pixels per inch (PPI), not dots (DPI).

    I realise I’m labouring the point, but it’s an important distinction.

    Otherwise, it’s a solid set of pointers, the rainbow gradients link is priceless.

  27. Hand Winch says:

    in our office we use adobe illustrator very much:,.

  28. These are tips. I’m a new Photoshop user and I’m guilty of using some of the things mentioned above specially the use beveled, embossed and filters. Thanks educating me,I appreciate this very much and avoid the mistakes again.

  29. Vik says:

    great tips, thanks. I am guilty of a few of these!!!

  30. SJL says:

    Thanks for the interesting read Brian. Definitely agree with the shortcuts paragraph :)

  31. orkutscraps says:

    Great information. About your methods getting quality designing.I just began Designing work for our website and your website certainly helps.

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: