Pro Tip | Pixel Snapping: The Unsung Hero of Photoshop CS6

design / photoshop   Posted on Jul 25, 2012 by Darin Senneff

Adobe's latest major update to its flagship software program, Photoshop CS6, has been out for a few months now, and I'm still stumbling upon and learning about some of the new features and improvements daily that have been tucked away just waiting to be discovered. However, there's one incredible new feature that tops them all in my book. This improvement saves me a ton of time on almost every project I work on, and I'm willing to bet that it's improving the work of the majority of Photoshop CS6 users without them even realizing it, yet it's flying under the radar. That new feature is Global Pixel Snapping.

First of all, let me explain pixel snapping for you non-nerds out there. Photoshop's canvas, however large or small you happen to have sized it for your particular project, is made up of a large grid of pixels. You can even choose to hide/show this pixel grid at your whim while working by using the [View > Show > Pixel Grid] menu command in Photoshop. Let's say you use the Rectangle Tool to draw a vector rectangle into your document. In previous versions of Photoshop, if you happened to size that rectangle so that its width or height contained a decimal, the points of that shape would sit between whole pixels. This resulted in the edges of shapes not appearing flush, making it look blurry.

In the image below I have drawn two rectangles. The left box's anchor points sit in-between pixels because I created it with Pixel Snapping turned off. The box on the right's anchor points sit neatly on whole pixel lines. The result is the border of the left box looks slightly blurry if you look closely, while the right box looks perfect.


Each of the vector shape tools like the Rectangle Tool had a setting hidden away in their respective tool menu to enabled what is called Pixel Snapping. The Pixel Snapping feature made sure that even if you drew a rectangle that was 107.75 pixels wide, it would automatically change the width to 108 pixels wide, so that the anchor points of the shape sat nicely on a whole pixel allowing it to look nice and sharp. But, this option was pretty well hidden, and very few knew it existed. So, unless you had an eye for your work to be "pixel perfect" and nudged all of your vector shape paths onto a whole pixel, your work would always have a blurry, amateur appearance to it. I would often receive a file that was sent along by a client which was created by an in-house designer or previous agency they worked with, only to open it up and see all this unintentional shoddy work.

Below is a close-up of a shape's anchor points that sit in-between the lines of the pixel grid. Note that it forces the shape's borders to "bleed" into the adjacent pixels, which is what causes the blurred edges when zoomed out.

Not Pixel Locked

When I first downloaded the Beta of Photoshop CS6 from Adobe Labs, I noticed a great new feature almost immediately after I started using it. I was zoomed in on an area of detail in my document and had drawn a horizontal line using the Line Tool (drawing while zooming would place vector objects' anchor points in-between pixels even if you had the Pixel Snapping feature enabled in previous versions). I expected my line to appear blurry, which would mean I had to use the Direct Selection Tool to select each anchor point individually and nudge it onto a whole pixel. To my surprise, the line was crisp and sharp automatically. Thinking this was a lucky sizing moment and that I had somehow perfectly dragged my mouse exactly only 400 pixels, I tried another shape, and it turned out perfect as well. Now look at the image below and note how the box's anchor points sit nicely on the pixel grid, as opposed to the image above where they do not.

Pixel Locked

After doing some research, I discovered that Adobe had included a new feature into CS6. Instead of having the inconsistent Pixel Snapping feature buried in each individual vector tool's options menu, it moved the functionality to the global level. Now, you could have all of your tools use Pixel Snapping consistently and accurately, just by clicking on the Snap Vector Tools and Transforms to Pixel Grid option in Photoshop's general settings (see below for a screenshot). This feature was enabled by default in my version, but I would double-check your settings if you're running CS6 and be sure it is turned on, and then never worry about blurry shapes again.

Photoshop Preferences

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