Written by Steve Patterson. Is your copy of Photoshop acting strange? Panels or menu items disappearing? Tools misbehaving? Things just not displaying correctly? Chances are, the problem is that your Photoshop Preferences file has become corrupted. No, I don't mean it's been accepting bribes from shady business associates (or at least, we haven't found anyone willing to talk). It just means that the file itself has been damaged or the information inside of it is messed up.
The Preferences file is where Photoshop stores many of its performance settings. There's general display and interface settings, tool settings, file handling and saving options, type settings, scratch disk settings, plugin options, and more. Each time we close out of Photoshop, the Preferences file is re-written. Unfortunately, each time we re-write a file, there's a chance that something will go wrong, and if that file happens to be your Preferences file, well, that's when Photoshop starts acting up.
Luckily, there's an easy way to reset Photoshop's preferences back to their defaults. In fact, as of Photoshop CC 2015, there's two easy ways to do it! In this tutorial, we'll learn both ways. We'll start with the original way that works with any version of Photoshop. Then, as if that way isn't easy enough, we'll look at an even easier way to reset the Preferences file using a brand new option in Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud).
A Word Of Caution
Before we begin, it's important to keep in mind that resetting Photoshop's Preferences file will actually reset more than just the preferences. You'll also reset your color settings as well as any custom keyboard shortcuts or workspaces you've created. If you want to keep these items, make sure you've saved them (using their respective dialog boxes) before you continue.
Resetting Photoshop's Preferences (All Versions)
To reset Photoshop's preferences using the first method (which works with all versions of Photoshop), the first thing we need to do is quit Photoshop. To do that, on a Windows PC, go up to the File menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and choose Exit. On a Mac, go up to the Photoshop menu in the Menu Bar and choose Quit Photoshop:
Then, with Photoshop closed, press and hold Shift+Ctrl+Alt (Win) / Shift+Command+Option (Mac) on your keyboard and relaunch Photoshop the way you normally would. Just before Photoshop opens, a message will pop up asking if you want to delete the Adobe Photoshop Settings file (which is your Preferences file). Choose Yes. Photoshop will then open with all of your preferences restored to their default settings:
Resetting Photoshop's Preferences (Photoshop CC)
There's also a new way to reset your preferences that was first introduced in Photoshop CC 2015, which means you'll need to be using Photoshop CC and you'll want to make sure that your copy is up to date.
In Photoshop CC, there's no need to quit Photoshop, at least not at first. Instead, there's a new option found in the Preferences dialog box. To get to it, on a Windows PC, go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen, choose Preferences, and then choose General. On a Mac, go up to the Photoshop menu, choose Preferences, then choose General:
This opens the Preferences dialog box set to the General options. Here, you'll find the new Reset Preferences On Quit option. Click on it to select it:
You'll be asked if you're sure that you want to reset the preferences when you quit Photoshop. Click OK:
Once you've clicked OK, quit Photoshop by going to File > Exit (Win) / Photoshop > Quit Photoshop CC (Mac). The next time you open Photoshop CC, it will launch with your preferences restored to their defaults.
And there we have it! That's how to quickly reset Photoshop's Preferences file and restore your default settings, including a look at the new Reset Preferences On Quit option in Photoshop CC! Looking for more Photoshop tips? Download our tutorials as print-ready PDFs and get our member-exclusive 101 Photoshop Tips & Tricks PDF!