Photoshop Screen Modes Tutorial

Photoshop Screen Modes And Interface Tricks

Written by Steve Patterson.

One potentially frustrating problem with Photoshop, especially if you're not one of the lucky few working with dual monitors, is that with so many tools, panels, menus and options available to us, the interface can crowd and clutter up our screen, limiting how much room we have to actually view and work on our images.

And with the size of our photos ever increasing as camera technology improves, finding ways to maximize our work area becomes extremely important.

Fortunately, Adobe gives us a simple way to overcome this problem, and that's by taking advantage of Photoshop's various screen modes.

A screen mode controls how much of the interface is displayed on screen, ranging from a "standard" mode that displays the entire interface to a "full screen" mode that hides everything but the image itself.

In this tutorial, we'll look at each of the three screen modes, how to switch between them, and we'll learn a few handy keyboard tricks for getting the most out of this great feature. I'll be using Photoshop CS6 here, but this tutorial is also fully compatible with Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud).

The Standard Screen Mode

Here's the image I currently have open on my screen (woman with mask photo from Shutterstock):

Image 115920088 licensed from Shutterstock. Used by permission by Photoshop Essentials.com
The Standard screen mode in Photoshop.

This image is open in Photoshop's Standard screen mode, the default screen mode. It displays the entire interface, including the Tools panel on the left, the main panel area on the right, the Menu and Options Bars along the top, various options, scroll bars and other information for the document window itself, and more. While the Standard screen mode does give us quick and easy access to everything we'd need, it also takes up the most screen real estate.

It may not look like the interface is getting in the way of my image, but that's because currently, I have my image set to the Fit on Screen view mode, which sets the zoom level to whatever is needed to fit the image entirely on screen. To get a better sense of the benefits of choosing different screen modes, I'll press Ctrl+1 (Win) / Command+1 (Mac) on my keyboard to quickly jump my image to the 100% view size (you can learn all about zooming and panning images in Photoshop in our full Image Navigation Essentials tutorial as well as our Image Navigation Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts tutorial). At the 100% zoom level, the image is now much too large to fit entirely on screen, and this is when the interface can pose a problem by blocking our view, especially on smaller displays running at lower screen resolutions:

Zooming in to the 100 percent view size.
The interface clutter becomes more of a problem as we zoom in closer to the image.

Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar

If you want to give yourself a bit more room to work, you can switch to the second of Photoshop's three screen modes, known as Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar. There's a few different ways to get to it. First, you can go up to the View menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen, choose Screen Mode, then choose Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar:

Selecting Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar from the View menu in Photoshop.
Going to View > Screen Mode > Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar.

A much faster way, though, to switch between Photoshop's screen modes is to click and hold on the Screen Mode icon at the very bottom of the Tools panel. A fly-out menu will appear listing the three screen modes. Choose Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar from the list:

Selecting Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar from the Tools panel in Photoshop.
Clicking and holding on the Screen Mode icon, then choosing Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar.

Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar hides any interface elements that were part of the document window itself, like the name tab at the top, the buttons to minimize, maximize and close the document window, the scroll bars along the right and bottom of the image, and the zoom level and other document-related information normally found in the lower left of the document window. Also, if you had multiple images open in separate tabbed documents, only the active document remains visible. The others are hidden from view. All of the other interface elements (the Tools panel on the left, the panel area on the right, and the Menu and Options Bars along the top) remain:

The Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar screen mode.
Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar maximizes the document window while keeping the rest of the interface on screen.

Full Screen Mode

To fully maximize your work area, switch to the third of Photoshop's three screen modes, known simply as Full Screen Mode. You can select it either by going up to the View menu at the top of the screen, choosing Screen Mode, then choosing Full Screen Mode, or just click and hold on the Screen Mode icon at the bottom of the Tools panel and choose Full Screen Mode from the fly-out-menu:

Selecting Full Screen Mode from the Tools panel in Photoshop.
Clicking and holding on the Screen Mode icon, then choosing Full Screen Mode.

If this is the first time you've selected Full Screen Mode, Photoshop will pop open a dialog box explaining the basics of how Full Screen Mode works. If you don't want to see this message every time you switch to Full Screen Mode, click inside the checkbox for the Don't show again option, then click the Full Screen button:

The Full Screen Mode warning in Photoshop.
Photoshop warns you ahead of time that Full Screen Mode is a bit different from what you're used to.

In Full Screen Mode, the interface is completely hidden, leaving just the image itself visible, turning your entire screen into your work area:

The Full Screen Mode screen mode.
It may not look like it, but this image is still open in Photoshop. Full Screen Mode hides the interface.

Accessing The Interface From The Sides

You may be thinking, "Gee, that's really great, but how am I supposed to work with the interface completely hidden?" Well, you could always rely on Photoshop's keyboard shortcuts if you happen to have them all memorized, but you actually don't need to be a "power user" to work in Full Screen Mode. There's an easy way to bring back the interface when you need it. To temporarily show the Tools panel so you can switch tools while in Full Screen Mode, simply hover your mouse cursor anywhere along the far left edge of the screen. Once you've selected a tool, drag your mouse cursor away from the edge and the Tools panel will disappear:

Temporarily showing the Tools panel while in Full Screen Mode.
In Full Screen Mode, move your mouse cursor to the left edge to show the Tools panel.

To show the panels that normally appear along the right of the interface, hover your mouse cursor anywhere along the right edge of the screen. When you're done with the panels, drag your cursor away from the edge to hide them once again:

Temporarily showing the panels along the right of the interface while in Full Screen Mode.
In Full Screen Mode, move your mouse cursor to the right edge to show the panels.

Showing And Hiding The Interface From The Keyboard

You can also temporarily show and hide the interface directly from your keyboard, and not just in Full Screen Mode. These keyboard shortcuts work no matter which of the three screen modes you're in, and are a great way to give yourself extra room when you need it. In any of the three screen modes, press the Tab key on your keyboard to show or hide the Tools panel on the left, the Options Bar along the top and the panels along the right. Here, I'm still in Full Screen Mode, but try it out in both Standard and Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar to see how it works:

Pressing the Tab key to show the interface while in Full Screen Mode.
Pressing the Tab key in Full Screen Mode to show the Tools panel, the right-side panels and the Options Bar.

To show and hide just the right-side panels, press Shift+Tab on your keyboard. Again, I'm still in Full Screen Mode here, but this works in all three of Photoshop's screen modes:

Showing just the right-side panels in Full Screen Mode by pressing Shift+Tab..
Showing just the right-side panels in Full Screen Mode by pressing Shift+Tab.

Cycling Through The Screen Modes

We've seen how to switch between screen modes from the View menu in the Menu Bar at the top of the screen and by clicking and holding on the Screen Mode icon in the Tools panel, but the fastest way to switch between screen modes is by simply pressing the letter F on your keyboard. Pressing F repeatedly will cycle you from Standard Mode to Full Screen Mode With Menu Bar to Full Screen Mode, and then back to Standard Mode. If you want to cycle backwards through the screen modes, press Shift+F. Finally, in Full Screen Mode, you can press the Esc key on your keyboard to exit out of it and return to Standard Mode (although pressing the F key would do the same thing).