Photoshop Optimization Tips

Hello and welcome to this workshop session!  Today, we'll talk about performance optimization and configuration basics of one of the most popular image editors: Adobe Photoshop (or PS for short).  This workshop material focuses on digital artists primarily - those who have replaced real life paint brushes and canvases with the Photoshop digital arsenal.  Graphic designers and photographers who also use digital image post-processing should also find something useful here, too!

Nowadays, Photoshop is considered to be an industry standard and a leader in the field of image processing.  In this program you can do just about everything from website design to matte painting for Hollywood blockbusters.  And it's not surprising that there are tonnes of books, articles, lessons, FAQs - all sorts of tricks and other materials are available!  Like any other commercially successful programme, Photoshop is continuously evolving with new features and capabilities.  Therefore, when you start writing about PS you immediately have a challenge: to rely on a specific version or to refer to the basics with common words.  Fortunately, for the digital artists there have been no radical changes in the programme since version 7.0.  The following recommendations are therefore based on Photoshop 7.0, but will work in the Photoshop CS family as well.

Before we start, let's first take a brief look at the history of the software version


First of all, Adobe Photoshop for Windows was released in November 1992 (and the first release 0.63 was for the Mac platform).  Two years later, version 3.0 was released, introducing the layers concept as a key feature.  Beginning with the eighth version, the software number was replaced by the CS (Creative Suite) abbreviation.  Techronology of the major releases is as follows:

The main Photoshop purpose is faster image and photo processing, which makes it an indispensable tool for a variety of designers and photographers.  But traditional artists have also experimented with digital painting, since the mid 90s, despite the fact that Photoshop was never originally intended for painting.
Before we start to optimise, let's take a look at some of the restrictions we'll face.

Photoshop Constraints

There are two principal restrictions: file size and memory limitations.  Photoshop works with files up to 2 gigabytes in size, and a maximum resolution of 300,000 x 300,000 pixels.  In addition, it can only address up to 2GB of RAM.
Starting with the CS version, Adobe introduced a new file format: PSB (Photoshop Big), which allows users to store up to 4 million terabytes of data (4096 Petabytes). But of course, previous versions can't read .psb files.  In addition, you can work with TIFF files of sizes up to 4GB. Depending on the operating system, Photoshop CS3 is able to address up to 3GB of RAM. Therefore, if you have a machine with 4GB RAM installed, Photoshop will use 2-3GB maximum.

Photoshop Performance

Photoshop performance is affected by the amount of physical memory (RAM), CPU frequency and HDDs access time.  Physical RAM is used for programme modules and library storage, including working files with layers and effects, work history, etc.  The main RAM hog is, of course, your working files.  CPU frequency affects the speed of filters and also effects the tools' calculations (like fills, gradients, masks, etc.).  Paint brushes are more dependent on a tablet, although with fast CPU you'll get a faster response.  Regardless of the amount of installed RAM on board, Photoshop will always create temporary files on your hard disk(s).  The point behind this is the same as in the case of Windows' swap file: if the system does not have enough memory, it continues to write data in a separate area on the hard disk.  Photoshop works in the same way.  And the faster your disks are, the faster it will write/read data.  It's as simple as that!
We will now try to optimise Photoshop for the maximum performance

Photoshop Basic Settings

These settings are installed by default, since they are fairly simple and well-known by many users:

Edit > Preferences > Memory & Image Cache

First of all, it is necessary to allocate the amount of RAM that Photoshop will use (the default value is 50%).  If you're planning to run Photoshop only, without any other applications running in the background, then you can adjust the value to 90-95%.  In other cases, the optimal size of the allocated memory is within 1 - 1.5GB (on a computer with 2GB RAM).  In the Cache Settings menu, set up the Cache Levels value equal to 8 (the default is 4), and tick the "Use cache for histograms" option.

Edit > Preferences > Plug-Ins & Scratch Disks

Secondly, it is necessary to set up your hard drives for temporary files.  You can use 4 drives maximum (physical or logical).  The first disk usually refers to the fastest drive in your system.  For a smooth workflow, it's recommended for you to set up a separate partition (1.5 - 2GB would be fine) on your disk, which will be used by Photoshop's temporary files only.

ATTENTION!  It's not recommended for you to share this partition with Windows swap files (located typically on the disk C:\pagefile.sys).  Do not use external drives like Flash, ZIP or Jaz as scratch disks, since they slow down the performance!

To apply these changes, you need to restart the program.  Also, you can hold Ctrl + Alt when you start Photoshop, to change your scratch disk preferences before the work starts.

Advanced Photoshop Settings

For most people, basic settings will work just fine, but for maximum performance we need to tweak some other things!

When you run Photoshop, in the boot window you may notice some quick flickering lines (well, they could flick slowly of course, depending on the speed of your computer).  At that time, Photoshop loads the necessary libraries, brushes, templates, presets and plug-ins into the memory, and reads the system fonts etc. To speed up this process, we can optimise the following:

1. Pattern & Brush Libraries

Using the Preset Manager, remove all unnecessary brushes and leave only those that you're actually working with.  Do the same with your patterns.  All brush settings are stored in files with a .abr extension, while pattern settings are stored as .pat files.

2. Plug-ins

All plug-ins are stored in a separate folder: \Plug-Ins in .8bf, .8be and similar files.  To prevent Photoshop from loading a specific plug-in, you can either delete it or put the tilde symbol "~" at the beginning of the file.  For example, to disable the Digimarc plug-in that is used to determine digital watermarks in the opening image, change its folder name to "~Digimarc" and start up Photoshop!  Now, when you open any image in Photoshop, it won't check it for secret signs.  Similarly, you can remove image filters, like Lens Flare, Clouds, etc.  For digital painting, you'll in fact need very few filters!

3. System Fonts

Fonts are installed by the standard functions in your PS.  If you haven't played with new font installation, then you will most likely not need to change anything here.  In the other cases have a check through your fonts as you may have hundreds of fonts that you're not even using anymore!

4. Working Windows

In the Window menu you can turn the windows that will be visible on your desktop on and off.  Turn off anything that you don't use!

Next, let's check the general settings:

Edit > Preferences > General
The History States value is set, by default, to 20.  This allows you to undo 20 steps back, but this takes more memory as well. The optimal history states value is 7-8.
Now look at the Layers window. On each layer you can see a small preview icon.  It is clear, but uses precious memory. Personally, I turn off my layer thumbnails. (Fig.01-02)

Layers > Palette Options...> Thumbnail Size: None

Fig. 01

Fig. 01

Fig. 02

Fig. 02

The layers palette also uses text and colour codes as layer descriptions (Fig.03):

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

You can do the same thing with your Channels and Paths tabs.

We can also turn off Image Snapshot in the History tab.  Image Snapshot is used for saving your work at any stage so that you can always revert back if something goes wrong.  But from my own and my colleagues' experiences, no one really uses it - we prefer to save image stages or copies in separate files.  You can disable the Image Snapshot as follows: (Fig.04):

Fig. 04

Fig. 04

In conclusion, I'll just mention a little about Colour Correction profiles, or ICC.  These are configured via the Edit > Color Settings... menu, and are used to ensure compatibility with various equipment (displays, printers, etc.) that work with colour.  If you are running a publishing house, or doing colour selection and scanning etc., then you will probably know what and how things should be set up.  For the rest of us, the chances are that this function will never be required.

When you open up an image in Photoshop, analyse it according to ICC and, if necessary, adjust its gamma, brightness and saturation values. As a result, it may happen that, in image viewing software (like IrfanView), you will see different colours compared to Photoshop. It's therefore better to turn colour correction off.  Press Ctrl + Shift + K, and in Settings choose "Colour Management Off". If you have already used colour correction, then leave the checkbox near the Profile Mismatches: Ask When Opening item.

Finally, you may also remove Adobe Gamma Loader from the Windows Startup menu (Start > Programs > Startup).

And that's all, thanks for reading!

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