Transform and warp images with Free Transform in Photoshop CC 2019

Free Transform in Photoshop CC 2019 – Complete Guide

Learn how to scale, rotate, flip, skew, distort and warp images using the Free Transform command in Photoshop! Fully updated for Photoshop CC 2019!

Written by Steve Patterson.

In this tutorial, I show you show to scale, rotate, flip, skew, distort and warp images, all using the Free Transform command in Photoshop. I also include tips for getting the most out of Free Transform, and for transforming images without losing quality.

We'll start with the basic transform options by learning how to scale and rotate images. Then we'll look at more advanced transformations (Skew, Distort and Perspective) along with the best ways to use them. From there, we'll tackle Photoshop's powerful Warp mode and learn how to create custom image warps, plus how to select and edit Photoshop's preset warp shapes! And at the end, I'll show you how to get more impressive results from Photoshop's standard Rotate and Flip commands, including how to easily create a four-way mirror image effect!

This tutorial has been fully updated to include changes Adobe made to Free Transform as of Photoshop CC 2019. So for best results, you'll want to be using Photoshop CC and you'll want to make sure that your copy is up to date. If you've been using Photoshop for awhile and just need to learn about the changes to Free Transform in CC 2019, check out my New Features and Changes tutorial.

Let's get started!

To follow along, go ahead and open any image. I'll use this image that I downloaded from Adobe Stock:

The image that will be used for the Free Transform tutorial. Credit: Adobe Stock
The original image. Credit: Adobe Stock.

In the Layers panel, we see my image on the Background layer:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the image on the Background layer.
The Layers panel showing the image on the Background layer.

Which types of layers can we transform in Photoshop?

Photoshop lets us transform virtually any type of layer, including pixel-based layers, Type layers, Shape layers, and even smart objects (which we'll look at in a moment).

But one layer we can't transform is the Background layer, and that's because the Background layer is locked:

The Background layer in Photoshop is locked in place.
The Background layer is locked in place.

The Free Transform command is found under the Edit menu in the Menu Bar. But with the Background layer locked, the command is greyed out:

Photoshop's Transform commands are not available when the Background layer is selected.
The Transform options are not available.

How to unlock the Background layer

To fix that, simply unlock the Background layer by clicking the lock icon:

Unlocking the Background layer in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Clicking the lock icon.

Then go back up to the Edit menu and you'll see Free Transform ready to be selected:

The Free Transform command is now available under the Edit menu in Photoshop
Free Transform is now available.

How to avoid transparency when transforming a layer

The only problem now is that, if I select Free Transform, and then I scale my image smaller by clicking and dragging one of the handles, I end up with a checkerboard pattern behind the image. The checkerboard pattern is how Photoshop represents transparency:

Scaling the image smaller using Free Transform fills the empty canvas space with transparency.
Scaling the image smaller fills the empty canvas space with transparency.

And the reason we're seeing transparency is because I currently have no other layers below my image:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing a single layer in the document.
The document contains a single layer.

Adding a new layer below the image

So to fix that, I'll add a new layer. And my favorite type of layer to use for a background is a Solid color fill layer.

First, I'll press the Esc key on my keyboard to cancel the Free Transform command without saving my changes. Then I'll click the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in Photoshop's Layers panel
Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

And I'll choose Solid Color from the list:

Adding a Solid Color fil layer in Photoshop
Adding a Solid Color fill layer.

The great thing about a Solid Color fill layer is that it's easy to choose any color you need from the Color Picker. For this tutorial, I'll keep things simple and choose white for my background, and then I'll click OK to close the Color Picker:

Choosing white for the Solid Color fill layer in Photoshop
Choosing white from the Color Picker.

Then back in the Layers panel, I'll drag the Solid Color fill layer below the image:

Dragging the Solid Color fill layer below the image in Photoshop's Layers panel
Dragging the fill layer below the image.

I'll click on the image layer to select it:

Selecting the image layer in Photoshop's Layers panel
Selecting the image layer.

And this time, if I select Free Transform from the Edit menu, and then I drag a handle to scale the image smaller, we see the white background behind the image instead of transparency. Again, I'll press the Esc key on my keyboard to cancel my changes:

Scaling the image smaller with Free Transform now reveals the fill layer behind it.
Scaling the image smaller reveals the Solid Color fill layer behind it.

How to transform images without losing quality

Before we look at all the ways to transform images in Photoshop, there's one more important topic we need to cover, and that's the difference between destructive and non-destructive transformations.

Each time we scale, rotate, or in some way transform a pixel-based layer, we lose image quality. That's because Photoshop needs to redraw the pixels every time. And this is known as a destructive edit because we're making permanent changes to the image.

To avoid losing quality, a better way to work is to first convert your layer into a smart object. Smart objects are like containers that protect the image inside them. Any transformations we make to a smart object are applied to the smart object itself, while the image inside it remains unharmed. And each time we apply a new transformation, Photoshop redraws the smart object based on that original image data. So no matter how many transformations we apply to a smart object, the result always looks great! You can learn more about smart objects in my Resizing Images Without Losing Quality tutorial.

How to convert a layer to a smart object

To convert your layer into a smart object, right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the layer in the Layers panel:

Right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) on the layer in the Layers panel
Right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) on the layer.

And then choose Convert to Smart Object from the menu:

Choosing the Convert to Smart Object command in Photoshop
Choosing "Convert to Smart Object".

A smart object icon appears in the lower right of the preview thumbnail, telling us that the layer is now inside a smart object, and we're ready to start transforming the image:

Photoshop smart objects are indicated by an icon in the lower right of the layer preview thumbnail
A smart object icon appears.

Which Transform options are available in Photoshop?

All of Photoshop's Transform options can be accessed by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Transform:

Where to find the Transform options in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Transform.

From here, we can choose to Scale or Rotate the image, Skew it, perform Distort and Perspective distortions, and even Warp the image. We also have standard options for rotating the image 90 or 180 degrees, and we can flip the image either horizontally or vertically:

All the ways we can transform images in Photoshop
Photoshop's Transform options.

What is Free Transform?

While you can keep coming back to the Edit menu to select these different options, there's really no point. That's because all of Photoshop's Transform commands can be selected using a single command known as Free Transform, a one-stop-shop for all your image transformation needs.

You can select Free Transform from here in the Edit menu. But a much faster way is to use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac). Even if you don't like keyboard shortcuts, this one is definitely worth knowing:

Where to find the Free Transform command in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Free Transform.

The transform box and handles

As soon as you select Free Transform, you'll see the transform box and handles around the image. There's a handle on the top, bottom, left and right, plus one in each corner:

The Free Transform box and handles in Photoshop
The Free Transform box and handles.

How to change the color of the transform box

If you find that the default color of the transform box outline is hard to see, you can choose a different color.

First, press the Esc key on your keyboard to cancel Free Transform. Then open Photoshop's Preferences. On a Windows PC, go up to the Edit menu. On a Mac, go up to the Photoshop CC menu. From there, choose Preferences, and then Guides, Grid & Slices:

Opening Photoshop's Guides, Grid and Slices preferences
Opening the Guides, Grid & Slices Preferences.

Down at the bottom of the dialog box is an option called Control Color. This is the current color of the transform box:

The Control Color option in Photoshop's Preferences controls the color of the Free Transform box.
"Control Color" controls the color of the Free Transform box.

The default color is a light blue, but you can click on the option and choose a different color from the list. The Classic option is a great choice because it displays a dark outline over light areas of the image and a light outline over dark areas, making it very easy to see. Once you've chosen a color, click OK to close the Preferences dialog box, and the next time you open Free Transform, you'll see the new color.

In my case, I'll leave it set to the Default color, and I'll click Cancel to close the dialog box without making any changes:

The color choices for Photoshop's Free Transform box.
The various color choices for the Free Transform box.

How to scale an image with Free Transform

Let's look at all the ways we can transform images using Photoshop's Free Transform command, starting with Scale.

Scaling an image proportionally

To scale an image, click and drag any of the handles. As of Photoshop CC 2019, the default behavior of Free Transform is to scale images proportionally. So no matter which handle you drag, you'll scale the image with the aspect ratio locked in place. Here I'm dragging the top left corner handle inward:

How to scale proportionally with Free Transform in Photoshop
Dragging a handle to scale the image proportionally.

Scaling non-proportionally

To scale non-proportionally, hold your Shift key as you drag a handle. Here I'm squishing the image by holding Shift while dragging the left side handle:

How to scale non-proportionally with Free Transform in Photoshop
Holding Shift while dragging a handle to scale non-proportionally.

How to restore the original aspect ratio

To switch back to scaling proportionally, release your Shift key and then drag a handle. But notice that Photoshop does not restore the original aspect ratio of the image. Instead, we're locked into the new aspect ratio that we created while scaling non-proportionally:

Scaling the image with the new aspect ratio locked in place.
Photoshop does not restore the original aspect ratio automatically.

To restore the original aspect ratio, go up to the Options Bar and click the link icon between the Width and Height fields:

How to restore the original aspect ratio of the image when using Free Transform in Photoshop
Clicking the link icon in the Options Bar.

And now we're back to the original shape of the image:

The original aspect ratio of the image is restored after using Free Transform in Photoshop
The original aspect ratio is restored.

How to move the image with Free Transform

You can move the image around inside the canvas while transforming it by clicking and dragging inside the Free Transform box:

How to move images using Photoshop's Free Transform command
Dragging the image back into the center of the canvas.

How to scale an image from its center

To scale an image proportionally from its center, press and hold your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key as you drag a handle. Or to scale non-proportionally from the center, press and hold Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) as you drag:

How to scale an image from the center with Photoshop's Free Transform command
Holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) to scale from the center of the image.

RELATED: Restore the classic Free Transform behavior in Photoshop CC 2019!

How to accept the transformation

I'll scale my image to the size I need:

Scaling the image to the new size with Free Transform in Photoshop
Scaling the image to the new size.

And then, if you're happy with the size of the image and you have no other Transform commands to apply, you can accept your changes and close Free Transform by clicking the checkmark in the Options Bar, or by pressing Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard:

Clicking the checkmark to close Free Transform in Photoshop
Clicking the checkmark in the Options Bar.

How to restore the original image size

If you converted your image to a smart object as I showed you how to do earlier, then it's easy to restore the original size of your image even after you've scaled it and closed Free Transform.

First, press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to re-select Free Transform. Then, notice in the Options Bar that the Width and Height fields are both showing values less than 100%. In my case, I'm seeing a value of 59.93% for both the Width and the Height:

The current Width and Height of the scaled image.
The current Width and Height of the scaled image.

Because we're working with a smart object, Photoshop knows that the original image inside the smart object is larger than the scaled size. To restore the original size, simply change the Width and Height values to 100%. If the values are linked together, then changing one will automatically change the other. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it:

How to restore the original image size after scaling with Free Transform
Manually setting the Width and Height back to 100%.

And now the image is back to its original size, and with no loss in quality:

The original image size has been restored.
The original image size has been restored.

How to cancel Free Transform without saving your changes

That's not actually what I wanted to do, so to cancel Free Transform without saving your changes, click the Cancel button in the Options Bar. Or press the Esc key on your keyboard:

How to cancel Free Transform without saving your changes.
Clicking the Cancel button in the Options Bar.

And now I'm back to the scaled size:

Canceling Free Transform restored the scaled size of the image.
Canceling Free Transform restored the scaled version.

How to rotate an image with Free Transform

To rotate an image, move your mouse cursor outside the Free Transform box. Your cursor will change into a curved, double-sided arrow:

The Rotate cursor for the Free Transform command in Photoshop.
The rotate cursor.

Then click and drag to rotate the image freely. Or to constrain the angle of the rotation to increments of 15 degrees, hold Shift as you drag:

How to rotate an image with Free Transform in Photoshop
Click and drag outside the image to rotate it.

How to avoid accepting the rotation by mistake

Be careful that you don't move your mouse cursor too far away from the image. If you do, the rotation icon will change into a black arrow. And if you click with the black arrow, you'll accept your changes and close Free Transform.

This is a new feature as of Photoshop CC 2019, but it also makes it easy to close Free Transform by mistake:

Click with the black arrow to accept the changes and close Free Transform
Clicking with the black arrow is another way to accept your changes.

If that happens, just go up to the Edit menu and choose Undo Free Transform, or press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac). Then press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to reselect Free Transform and rotate the image again:

How to undo Free Transform in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Undo Free Transform.

Entering a specific rotation angle

Instead of dragging your mouse to rotate the image, you can also enter a rotation value directly into the Angle option in the Options Bar:

How to enter a specific rotation angle in Photoshop's Free Transform command
Entering a rotation angle manually in the Options Bar.

How to reset the rotation angle

And to reset the angle at any time, just enter 0:

How to reset the angle of rotation in Photoshop's Free Transform command
Enter 0 to reset the angle of the image.

The transformation Reference Point

Before Photoshop CC 2019 came along, the Free Transform box included a target icon in the center. The target icon is known as the Reference Point because it marks the center of the transformation. We'll look at what that means in a moment.

How to show the Reference Point

But for whatever reason, Adobe decided to hide the Reference Point in the most recent version of Photoshop. It's still there, but we can't see it unless we turn it on. To turn the Reference Point on, go up to the Options Bar and click the Toggle Reference Point checkbox:

How to show the transform Reference Point in Photoshop CC
The Toggle Reference Point checkbox.

Then look in the center of the Free Transform box and you'll see the target icon:

The Reference Point (target icon) in the center of the Free Transform box in Photoshop
The Reference Point (target icon) in the center of the Free Transform box.

Moving the Reference Point

Earlier when we scaled the image from its center by holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and dragging a handle, what we were really doing was scaling the image from the Reference Point. And we can move the Reference Point just by dragging the target icon to a different spot.

I'll move the Reference Point onto the tip of the butterfly's wing:

How to move the Free Transform Reference Point in Photoshop
Dragging the target icon to move the transform Reference Point.

And now if I hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and drag a handle, I'm scaling the image with the tip of the wing as the new center point:

Scaling the image from the new Free Transform Reference Point in Photoshop
Scaling the image from the new Reference Point.

And if I rotate the image, the image now rotates around the wing:

Rotating the image around the new Free Transform Reference Point in Photoshop
Rotating the image around the new Reference Point.

Tip: A faster way to move the Reference Point is to hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and simply click on the spot where you want the target icon to appear.

The Reference Point Grid

Another way to move the Reference Point is by using the Reference Point Grid in the Options Bar (directly beside the Toggle Reference Point checkbox). Each outer square in the grid represents one of the handles around the transform box.

To move the Reference Point to a specific handle, click on its square in the grid. It's pretty small, so you may want to keep a magnifying glass handy:

How to use the Reference Point Grid to move the Free Transform target icon in Photoshop
Using the Reference Point Grid to move the target icon to a handle.

How to center the Reference Point

And to move the Reference Point back into the center of the transform box, click the center square in the grid:

How to reset the transform reference point to the center in Photoshop
Clicking the center square to reset the target icon.

How to turn the Reference Point on permanently

If you want to see the Reference Point all the time without needing to click the Toggle Reference Point icon in the Options Bar, you can do that from Photoshop's Preferences.

If Free Transform is active, press the Esc key to cancel it. Then press Ctrl+K (Win) / Command+K (Mac) to open the Preferences dialog box. Select the Tools category on the left, and then choose Show Reference Point when using Transform. Click OK to close the dialog box:

How to turn the transform Reference Point on permanently in Photoshop CC
Turning the transform Reference Point on permanently in the Preferences.

How to access any transform command from Free Transform

So far, we've looked at how to scale and rotate an image with Free Transform. But what about Photoshop's other transform commands that we saw under the Edit menu, like Skew, Distort, Perspective, and Warp?

With Free Transform active, that same menu of options can be accessed by right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) inside the Free Transform box. Then just choose the one you need:

Free Transform lets you choose any Transform command any time.
Free Transform lets you choose any Transform command any time.

How to skew an image

Let's look at the next three commands in the list (Skew, Distort and Perspective), starting with Skew. Select Skew from the menu:

Selecting the Skew command from the Free Transform menu in Photoshop
Selecting the Skew command.

With Skew selected, click on either the top or bottom handle and drag to skew the image left or right:

How to skew an image left or right with Photoshop's Free Transform command
Drag the top or bottom handle to skew left or right.

I'll press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) to undo that. And to skew the image up or down, click and drag one of the side handles:

How to skew an image left or right with Photoshop's Free Transform command
Drag a side handle to skew up or down.

Again I'll undo that by pressing Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac). You can skew opposite sides at once (the top and bottom or the left and right) by holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) as you drag:

How to scale opposite sides at the same time with Photoshop's Free Transform command
Holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) to skew opposite sides at the same time.

How to distort an image

To distort an image, right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) inside the Free Transform box and choose Distort:

Selecting the Distort command from the Free Transform menu in Photoshop
Selecting the Distort command.

Then click and drag any of the corner handles. This is known as a four-point distortion because you're distorting the image from its four corner points:

How to distort an image with Photoshop's Free Transform command
Drag any of the corner handles to freely distort the image.

How to undo a distortion

Photoshop only gives us one level of undo with Free Transform. So if you've dragged two or more corner handles (or the same handle more than once) and want to revert back to the original shape of the image, you'll need to press Esc on your keyboard to cancel and close Free Transform. Then press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to reselect it.

How to distort an image in perspective

Along with performing a four-point distortion, we can also perform a perspective distortion. Right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) inside the Free Transform box and choose Perspective:

Selecting the Perspective command from the Free Transform menu in Photoshop
Selecting the Perspective command.

What's the difference between Distort and Perspective?

The difference between Distort and Perspective is that Distort lets us move each corner handle independently, but Perspective moves the opposite handle at the same time, in the opposite direction.

Here I'm dragging the top left corner handle towards the right. And notice that the top right handle moves along with it, but to the left:

How to perform a Perspective Distortion with Photoshop's Free Transform command
In Perspective mode, opposite corner handles move together in opposite directions.

And if I drag a corner handle up or down, the opposite handle again moves along with it. Perspective mode is great when you need to reshape an object to match the perspective of the image, or to create simple 3D effects:

Another example of a perspective distortion using Free Transform in Photoshop
Dragging a bottom corner handle upward moves the top corner handle down.

The Skew, Distort and Perspective keyboard shortcuts

The problem with selecting transform commands from the menu is that the commands are sticky, meaning that you can't do anything else unless you select a different command. If you select Skew, for example, and then try to scale or rotate the image, you won't be able to do it. You would need to first select Scale or Rotate from the menu, which can quickly become tedious.

A better way to select Skew, Distort or Perspective is to temporarily switch to them using their keyboard shortcuts. Again, even if you don't like keyboard shortcuts, these ones are worth knowing.

Skew

With Free Transform active, press and hold Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) on your keyboard to temporarily switch to Skew mode. Then click and drag a top, bottom or side handle to skew the image. To constrain your movement to horizontal or vertical, hold Shift+Ctrl (Win) / Shift+Command (Mac) and drag. Add the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key to skew opposite sides at the same time. Then release the key(s) to exit Skew mode and return to Free Transform.

Distort

To perform a four-point distortion, hold Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) and drag any of the corner handles. To constrain your movement to horizontal or vertical, add the Shift key. Release the key(s) to return to Free Transform.

Perspective

And to temporarily switch to Perspective mode, hold Shift+Ctrl+Alt (Win) / Shift+Command+Option (Mac) and drag a corner handle. Then release the keys to return to Free Transform.

RELATED: How to Distort and Perpective Distort text in Photoshop!

How to warp an image

Of all the ways to transform an image in Photoshop, the most powerful way is Warp. You could select Warp by right-clicking (Win) / Control-clicking (Mac) inside the Free Transform box and choosing Warp from the menu:

Choosing Warp from the Free Transform menu in Photoshop
Choosing Warp from the Transform menu.

But a faster way is to click the Warp icon in the Options Bar:

How to switch from Free Transform to Warp mode in Photoshop
Clicking the Warp icon in the Options Bar.

The Warp transform box

You will know you're in Warp mode because the Warp transform box divides the image into a 3x3 grid:

The Warp transform box in Photoshop
The Warp transform box.

Warping the image with the grid

Let's look at all the ways to warp the image, beginning with the grid itself. If you click and drag inside the center grid box, you'll reshape the area in the center without affecting the outer shape, or the aspect ratio, of the image.

Here I'm dragging the center box upward, and notice that the butterfly is now bending upwards, yet the aspect ratio of the image remains the same:

Dragging the center square in the Warp grid in Photoshop
Dragging the center box in the Warp grid.

And if you drag inside the outer grid boxes, you'll warp both the contents of the image and its overall shape:

Warping the image in Photoshop using the 3x3 grid.
Dragging the outer grid boxes.

Warping the image from the corners

You can also warp the image by dragging any of the corner handles:

Warping the image in Photoshop by dragging the corner handles.
Dragging the corner handles.

Warping with the directional handles

And you can drag the directional handles, or control points, that extend out from the corners, just like you would if you were using the Pen Tool. Each corner has two directional handles that can be dragged independently. You can also drag the directional handles longer or shorter to adjust the length of the curves:

Warping the image in Photoshop by dragging the control points.
Dragging the directional handles.

Choosing a Warp preset

When we warp the image using the grid or the handles, it's known as a custom warp. And in the Options Bar, the Warp Presets option currently shows Custom:

The Warp Preset option in Photoshop
The Warp Preset option, currently set to Custom.

But if you click on the option, you'll see a list of various preset shapes that you can choose from:

The Warp Presets shape menu in Photoshop
Warp mode lets us choose different preset shapes.

Each preset will warp the image into a different shape, but they all behave the same way. To see how they work, I'll choose the first one in the list, Arc:

Selecting Arc from the Warp Presets menu in Photoshop
Selecting the Arc preset.

Photoshop instantly warps the image from the random mess I made earlier into this Arc shape:

The Arc warp preset shape in Photoshop
The Arc preset shape.

Zooming out to view the entire shape

Notice that the arc is so wide, the upper corners are extending outside the viewable area of my document. If that bothers you, zoom out by going up to the View menu in the Menu Bar and choosing Fit on Screen, or by pressing Ctrl+0 (Win) / Command+0 (Mac):

Selecting the Fit on Screen command in Photoshop
Going to View > Fit on Screen.

Adjusting the amount of bend in the shape

Unlike the Free Transform box which places handles all around the image, each preset shape contains a single handle. And this handle controls the amount of bend in the shape. With most of the presets, including this Arc shape, the bend handle is found at the top. But a few presets place it at the bottom or near the center, so you may need to look for it:

The Bend handle for the preset warp shape in Photoshop
The Bend handle for the preset warp shape.

To adjust the bend amount, simply click and drag the handle up or down. If you drag far enough, you'll bend the shape in the opposite direction:

Dragging the bend handle to adjust the bend of the Warp preset shape in Photoshop
Dragging the handle to adjust the bend of the preset shape.

Along with dragging the handle, you can also adjust the bend value from the Options Bar. Click and hold on the word Bend, and then drag left or right to adjust the value using the scrubby slider. Or, enter a specific bend value into the field:

Adjusting the Bend value for the Warp tool in the Options Bar
Adjusting the Bend value in the Options Bar.

Changing the orientation of the warp

Also in the Options Bar, you can change the orientation of the warp from vertical to horizontal by clicking the Orientation icon:

How to change the orientation of the Warp tool in Photoshop
Swapping the orientation of the warp.

And now my shape is bending in the other direction:

The Warp shape preset after swapping the orientation
The shape after swapping the orientation.

How to distort the shape

Finally, we can distort the shape horizontally or vertically using the Horizontal (H) and Vertical (V) Distortion options in the Options Bar.

To distort the shape horizontally, click and hold on the H and then drag left or right to increase or decrease the value using the scrubby slider. Positive values with make the right side taller than the left, and negative values make the left side taller than the right.

By default, the value increases or decreases in increments of 0.1%. Hold Shift as you drag to change the value in larger 1% increments:

How to adjust the horizontal distortion of the Warp preset in Photoshop
Click and drag on the H to adjust the horizontal distortion.

By increasing the Horizontal Distortion value from 0 to 60, the right side of my shape is now much taller than the left side. To reset the shape, set the value back to 0:

The result after distorting the Warp shape horizontally in Photoshop
The result after distorting the shape horizontally.

And to distort the shape vertically, click and hold on the V and then drag left or right. Positive values make the bottom wider than the top, and negative values make the top wider than the bottom. Hold Shift as you drag to change the value in larger increments:

How to adjust the vertical distortion of the Warp preset in Photoshop
Click and drag on the V to adjust the vertical distortion.

At a Vertical Distortion value of 60, my image now looks like it's tilting backwards. Again to reset the shape, just set the value back to 0:

The result after distorting the Warp shape vertically in Photoshop
The result after distorting the shape vertically.

Choosing a different Warp preset

To select a different preset shape, just click on the Presets option in the Options Bar and choose a different shape from the list. But before I do, I'm going to make sure that my other settings in the Options Bar (Orientation, Bend, and Horizontal and Vertical Distortion) are all reset to their defaults.

The default Bend value is 50, and the default Horizontal and Vertical Distortion values are both 0:

Resetting the default Bend and Distortion values for the Warp preset in Photoshop
Resetting the default values.

Then I'll click on the Presets option in the Options Bar, which is currently set to Arc:

Clicking the Warp Presets option in Photoshop
Clicking the Warp Presets option.

And I'll choose a more interesting shape, like Fish:

Choosing the Fish Warp preset shape in Photoshop
Choosing the Fish warp preset.

And now my butterfly has been swallowed by a fish. Notice the Bend handle at the top, which works the same way here as it did with the previous shape. You can drag the handle up or down to easily adjust the bend amount:

The fish Warp preset shape in Photoshop
The Fish preset.

How to edit a Warp preset using Custom mode

Once you've chosen a preset shape, you can always switch back to Custom mode by clicking the Presets option in the Options Bar and choosing Custom:

Selecting Custom from the Warp Presets menu in Photoshop
Selecting "Custom" from the Warp Presets menu.

This gives you more control over editing the shape by letting you drag the grid, the corner handles or the directional handles:

Using Custom mode to make further edits to the Warp Preset shape in Photoshop
Using Custom mode to further edit the Warp preset shape.

How to clear a Warp preset shape

Or to clear the preset shape and revert to your original image, choose None from the Warp Presets menu:

How to remove a Warp preset shape in Photoshop
Choosing "None" to clear the Warp preset shape.

And now I'm back to the original aspect ratio:

Clearing the Warp preset in Photoshop restored the original shape of the image.
Clearing the Warp preset restored the original shape of the image.

How to switch from Warp mode back to Free Transform

To switch from Warp mode back to Photoshop's standard Free Transform command, click the Warp icon in the Options Bar. It's the same icon we clicked earlier to switch from Free Transform to Warp mode. Use this icon to toggle between Warp and Free Transform at any time:

How to exit Warp mode and back to Free Transform in Photoshop
Use the Warp icon to toggle between Free Transform and Warp modes.

And now we're back to seeing the standard Free Transform box and handles:

Photoshop's standard Free Transform box appears around the image after exiting Warp mode.
The standard Free Transform box returns.

The Rotate and Flip commands

And finally, if you right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) inside the Free Transform box, you'll find standard options for rotating the image 180°, rotating it 90° clockwise or counter clockwise, and for flipping the image horizontally or vertically:

The Rotate and Flip commands in Photoshop
The Rotate and Flip transform commands.

On their own, the Rotate and Flip commands are pretty straightforward. But if we combine them with the transformation Reference Point (the target icon) that we looked at earlier, we can do more interesting things.

Create a four-way mirror image effect with Free Transform

For example, let's learn how to quickly create a four-way mirror image effect using the Free Transform command.

I'll scale my image a bit smaller, and I'll move it over to the right side of the canvas. Then I'll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it and close Free Transform:

The image after scaling and moving it with Free Transform in Photoshop
The image after scaling and moving it to the right.

Making a copy of the image

I'll make a copy of my layer (or in this case, my smart object) by pressing Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac). And now in the Layers panel, we see two copies of the image. I'll make the sure the top one is selected:

Selecting the smart object copy in Photoshop's Layers panel
Selecting the copy of the smart object.

Moving the Reference Point

Then I'll press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to select Free Transform. But before I select one of the transform commands, I'll click on the Reference Point in the center of the Free Transform box and I'll drag it over the left side handle:

Moving the Free Transform Reference Point from the center to the side of the image.
Moving the Reference Point from the center to the side of the image.

Flipping the image horizontally

Then I'll right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) inside the Free Transform box and I'll choose Flip Horizontal from the menu:

Choosing the Flip Horizontal command in Photoshop
Choosing the Flip Horizontal command.

And because I moved the Reference Point over to the side, Photoshop flips the image using the left side as the center of the transformation, creating a mirrored version of the image. I'll press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it:

Flipping horizontally from the side creates a mirror copy of the image
Flipping horizontally from the side creates a mirror copy of the image.

Moving the images

Back in the Layers panel, I'll select both smart objects at once by holding Shift and clicking the bottom smart object:

Selecting both smart objects in the Layers panel
Selecting both smart objects.

Then I'll press V on my keyboard to quickly select Photoshop's Move Tool and I'll drag both copies of the image into the upper half of the canvas. I'll hold Shift as I drag to make it easier to drag straight up:

Dragging both copies of the image into the upper half of the canvas in Photoshop
Using the Move Tool to move both images into the upper half of the canvas.

Making a copy of the two images

With both copies of the image still selected in the Layers panel, I'll press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to copy them:

Photoshop Layers panel showing the copies of the two smart objects
Pressing Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to copy the smart objects.

Flipping the images vertically

And then back in the document, I'll press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to select Free Transform. This places the Free Transform handles around both images at once.

I'll click on the Reference Point in the center, and this time, I'll drag it down onto the bottom handle. This way, the bottom of the images will become the center of the transformation:

Moving the Free Transform Reference Point onto the bottom handle in Photoshop
Moving the Reference point onto the bottom handle.

Then I'll right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) inside the Free Transform box and I'll choose Flip Vertical:

Choosing the Flip Vertical command from Free Transform in Photoshop
Choosing the Flip Vertical command.

Photoshop flips the copies vertically, again using the Reference Point as the center of the transformation, creating a four-way mirror reflection of the image. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it:

A four-way mirror reflection effect created with Free Transform in Photoshop
A four-way mirror reflection effect created with Free Transform.

And there we have it! That's everything you need to know to start scaling, rotating, flipping, distorting, and warping images using the Free Transform command in Photoshop! Check out our Photoshop Basics section for more tutorials! And don't forget, this tutorial plus hundreds more are now available to download as PDFs!


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