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Zooming And Panning In Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. When working in Photoshop, it often helps to be able to zoom in close to certain areas of an image, or to pull back and get more of a bird’s eye view of what’s happening.

In this tutorial, we’re going to learn several ways to quickly zoom in and out of a document, as well as how to move an image around on the screen when you’re zoomed in. We’ll be looking at Photoshop’s Zoom Tool, the Hand Tool, some menu options, and some handy, time saving keyboard shortcuts!

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The Current Zoom Level

Before we begin looking at different ways to zoom in and out of our images, let’s first check out the current zoom level of our document. Here’s the photo I have open on my screen:

A photo of a family open in Photoshop. Image licensed from iStockphoto by Photoshop Essentials.com.
A family photo.

There’s a couple of places where we can see our current zoom level. One is by looking up at the very top of the document window where you’ll find the zoom level listed as a percentage of the actual size of the image. In my case, I’m currently viewing my photo at 50% of it’s actual size:

The current zoom level shown at the top of the document window in Photoshop. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The current zoom level is shown as a percentage (%) at the top of the document window.

We can see the exact same information about our current zoom level in the bottom left corner of the document window. Again, it’s telling me that I’m viewing my image at a zoom level of 50%:

The current zoom level shown in the bottom left corner of the document window in Photoshop. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The same information about the current zoom level is also displayed in the bottom left corner of the document window.

Changing The Zoom Level From The Document Window

The difference between the two is that the zoom level listed at the top of the document window is for information purposes only. In other words, there’s nothing we can do with it other than read it and say "Yup, that’s my current zoom level alright." That’s not the case with the information in the bottom left corner of the document window. Here, we can actually change the zoom level simply by clicking inside the box, highlighting the current zoom level and typing in a new one! I’m going to click and drag over my current 50% zoom level to highlight it, then I’ll type in "100" and press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept the new value. This tells Photoshop to display my image at a full 100% of its actual size. There’s no need to type the percent sign (%) after the number. Photoshop will add it automatically for us:

Changing the zoom level to 100% in the bottom left corner of the document window. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
You can change the zoom level in the bottom left corner of the document window simply by highlighting the current level and typing in a new one.

As soon as I accept the new value by pressing Enter (Win) / Return (Mac), the zoom level of the image changes. My photo is now being displayed inside the document window at a zoom level of 100%, which we can see both at the top of the document window and in the bottom left corner:

The image has zoomed out to 100%. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The photo has now zoomed out to a full 100% of its actual size.

Unfortunately, the only real benefit to changing the zoom level this way is that you’re free to view the image at whatever zoom level you like. If, for some reason, you want to view a photo at a zoom level of 47.3%, no problem! Simply highlight the current zoom level in the bottom left corner of the document window, type in "47.3" and press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac). Of course, you’ll probably never have a reason to view an image at 47.3%, which means that having the option to do so is of no real use. The big disadvantage here, which greatly outweighs the benefit, is that you need to specify a zoom level each time you want to change it, and that gets tiresome very quickly, so let’s look at some better ways to zoom in and out of images.

The View Menu

Photoshop’s View menu offers us a handful of ways to zoom in and out. The View menu is found up in the Menu Bar at the top of the screen and is where we find the standard Zoom In and Zoom Out commands. We also find the Fit on Screen command, which tells Photoshop to zoom to whatever level it needs to fit the entire image on the screen at once, and the Actual Pixels command which zooms the image to a full 100% view size. Photoshop also offers us a Print Size command which is supposed to give us a preview of how large the image will appear when printed. In reality, it does no such thing and your best bet is to simply ignore it:

The zoom options under the View menu in Photoshop. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The various zoom options found under the View menu.

Zooming In And Out Incrementally
Each time you select the Zoom In command from the View menu, Photoshop will zoom further into the image using specific size increments. For example, if you’re currently viewing an image at a zoom level of 25%, selecting Zoom In will zoom the image in to 33.33%. Selecting it again will zoom in to 50%, then 66.67%, and finally a full 100%. Of course, you can continue zooming in well beyond 100%. In fact, Photoshop allows us to zoom all the way in to 3200%, although you’ll rarely if ever need to zoom that far in to an image. The same is true for the Zoom Out command. Each time you select Zoom Out, you’ll zoom further out from the image in incremental steps.

The nice thing about the Zoom In and Zoom Out commands is that they both have handy keyboard shortcuts which save us from having to keep going up to the View menu. To zoom in from the keyboard, simply press Ctrl++ (Win) / Command++ (Mac). That’s the Ctrl / Command key and the plus sign (+). To zoom out from the keyboard, press Ctrl+- (Win) / Command+- (Mac). That’s the Ctrl / Command key and the minus sign (-).

The Fit on Screen command, which instantly fits the entire image on the screen using whatever zoom level is necessary depending on the size of your image, also has a handy keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+0 (Win) / Command+0 (Mac). Finally, to quickly zoom the image in to 100% using the Actual Pixels command, simply press Ctrl+Alt+0 (Win) / Command+Option+0 (Mac):

The Actual Pixels command zooms an image to 100% view size. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Actual Pixels command instantly zooms an image to 100% view size.

Resizing The Document Window As You Zoom

Depending on your personal preference, you may want Photoshop to resize the document window as you zoom in and out of your images, or you may prefer to leave the document window at a fixed size. You can set the behavior of the document window inside Photoshop’s Preferences. Press Ctrl+K (Win) / Command+K (Mac) to quickly bring up the Preferences dialog box. In the General Preferences section, you’ll see an option called Zoom Resizes Windows. Select this option to have Photoshop change the size of the document window as you zoom, or deselect it to keep the size of the document window fixed in place:

The Zoom Resizes Windows command in Photoshop's Preferences. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Select the Zoom Resizes Windows option to have Photoshop resize the document window as you zoom.

If you change your mind later, you can always go back to the Preferences dialog box and select or deselect the option as needed. Or, to temporarily change the behavior of the document window, simply add the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key to the shortcut for zooming in and out. For example, if you have the Zoom Resizes Windows option selected in Photoshop’s Preferences and you want to temporarily disable it, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt++ (Win) / Command+Option++ (Mac) to zoom in, or Ctrl+Alt+- (Win) / Command+Option+- (Mac) to zoom out. The same shortcuts will temporarily enable the Zoom Resizes Windows option if it’s deselected in the Preferences.

The Zoom Tool

By far, the easiest and most popular way to zoom in and out of images in Photoshop is with the Zoom Tool, which you can access from the Tools palette. It’s the tool with the magnifying glass icon near the bottom of the Tools palette. Click on it to select it. Or, for an even faster way to select the Zoom Tool, simply press the letter Z (for "zoom") on your keyboard:

The Zoom Tool in Photoshop. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Selecting the Zoom Tool from the Tools palette.

To use the Zoom Tool, just click on the area of the image that you want to zoom in on and Photoshop will zoom in to that exact spot. The Zoom Tool has a big advantage over the Zoom In and Zoom Out commands that we looked at a moment ago because it allows you to target the specific area you want to zoom in on simply by clicking on it! If you want to zoom in on someone’s eye, for example, just click on their eye with the Zoom Tool and Photoshop will zoom in on it. Like the Zoom In and Zoom Out commands, the Zoom Tool uses specific size increments, so each time you click on the image, you’ll zoom in to the next zoom level (25%, 33.33%, 50%, 66.67%, 100%, 200%, etc.).

Switching Between “Zoom In” and “Zoom Out”
By default, the Zoom Tool is set to zoom in on an image. If you look at your mouse cursor with the Zoom Tool selected, you’ll see a small plus sign (+) in the center of the magnifying glass which tells us that the tool is currently in "zoom in" mode:

The default behavior of the Zoom Tool is 'zoom in'. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
By default, the Zoom Tool zooms in on an image.

To zoom out with the Zoom Tool, hold down your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key. With the key held down, you’ll see the plus sign in the center of the magnifying glass change to a minus sign (-), letting you know that the tool is now in “zoom out” mode. Click on the image to zoom out, or click multiple times to zoom out in specific size increments:

The Zoom Tool in 'zoom out' mode. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Hold down Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) to change the Zoom Tool to “zoom out” mode.

You can also switch between the “zoom in” and “zoom out” modes by clicking on their icons in the Options Bar when you have the Zoom Tool selected:

The Zoom Tool options in the Options Bar. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The “zoom in” and “zoom out” options in the Options Bar.

The Zoom Tool Keyboard Shortcuts
An even faster and more convenient way to use the Zoom Tool is with the keyboard shortcuts. To zoom in on an image without having to actually select the Zoom Tool first, simply hold down Ctrl+spacebar (Win) / Command+spacebar (Mac) on your keyboard. This temporarily switches you from whatever tool you have selected to the Zoom Tool set to "zoom in" mode. Click on the image while holding down the keys to zoom in on it, then release the keys to switch back to your previous tool. To zoom out, hold down Alt+spacebar (Win) / Option+spacebar (Mac), which temporarily switches you to the Zoom Tool set to "zoom out" mode. Click on the image to zoom out, then release the keys to switch back to your previous tool.

Dragging Out A Selection With The Zoom Tool
Yet another great way to use the Zoom Tool is by dragging a selection around the area you want to zoom in on and Photoshop will instantly zoom in to the exact area you selected. Let’s say with my photo, I need a closer view of the man’s face. Without even selecting the Zoom Tool, all I need to do is hold down Ctrl+spacebar (Win) / Command+spacebar (Mac), which temporarily switches me to the Zoom Tool set to “zoom in” mode. Then, while still holding the keys down, I’ll click and drag a selection around the man’s face:

Dragging a selection with the Zoom Tool. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Dragging a selection with the Zoom Tool.

As soon as I release my mouse button, Photoshop zooms in and fills my document window with the area I selected:

Photoshop has zoomed in to the man's face. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Photoshop fills the document window with the selected area.

The Hand Tool

When you’re zoomed in on an image, you’ll often want to drag the image around inside the document window to check out other areas of the image at the same zoom level. This is commonly known as “panning”, and we can pan images around inside the document window using the Hand Tool which you’ll find next to the Zoom Tool in the Tools palette (it’s the icon that looks like a hand). You can quickly select the Hand Tool by pressing the letter H (for “hand”) on your keyboard:

The Hand Tool in Photoshop. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Selecting the Hand Tool from the Tools palette.

The best way to select the Hand Tool is to simply hold down your spacebar. This temporarily switches you from whatever tool you had selected to the Hand Tool. You’ll see your mouse cursor temporarily change to the hand icon. Then, while holding down the spacebar, simply click on the image and drag it around inside the document window. When you’re done, release the spacebar and you’ll switch right back to whatever tool you previously had selected:

Panning the image with the Hand Tool. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Hold down the spacebar to temporarily switch to the Hand Tool, then click and drag the image to move it inside the document window.

Selecting “Actual Pixels” And “Fit on Screen” From The Tools Palette

If you ever find yourself wanting to quickly zoom an image to 100% view size or fit the image entirely on the screen but can’t remember the keyboard shortcuts for the Actual Pixels or Fit on Screen commands, not to worry. Both commands are easily accessible from the Tools palette. To quickly select the Actual Pixels command, simply double-click directly on the Zoom Tool in the Tools palette. To quickly access to Fit on Screen command, double-click directly on the Hand Too:.

The Zoom Tool and Hand Tool in the Tools palette. Image © 2009 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Both the Actual Pixels and Fit on Screen commands can be accessed from the Tools palette.

And there we have it!

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