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Would you like to learn the art of photo manipulation, but don't know where to start? Check out our Tutorial Index, which lists all articles in order from Beginner to Advanced:

SurrealPSD Tutorial Index

Core Skills: Document Setup in Photoshop


The best place to start I suppose, is the very beginning. To many, the starting dialog box in Photoshop is just the launchpad to get rolling with artwork, to others it may seem intimidating with all it’s parameters; but theres one thing for certain – the settings here can actually make or break your work. The following tutorial will go through what’s important when creating new documents and explore the interface and it’s functions.



When selecting File > New from the menu or hitting Ctrl (Mac: CMD) + N you are you are given the following dialog:

Document name is pretty self-explanatory, so we’ll skip that.

1. Preset

This function is very handy and is excellent for getting you started right away. Clicking the Preset drop-down will give a number of options where the common sizes for print, web, video etc. are setup for the user automatically. When creating photo manipulations the ‘International Paper’ is a useful parameter as it will provide preset document sizes for A6, A5, A4 etc. – preferable when producing detailed work. Whatever you select within Preset, will activate the options in the Size dropdown (fig.2). If you would like to work at your own dimensions, then you are free to do that too – as soon as you enter your own dimensions into the width / height, the Preset dialog states ‘Custom’.

2. Size

This dropdown gives further options for item selected on the Preset menu, providing various standard paper sizes and web layouts etc.

3. Height & Width

These values can be input by the user or automatically set by one of the Preset options. The units to the right can be set to pixels, inches, mm, points, picas or columns.


4. Resolution

Now this is the important one. Resolution is the pixels per linear inch of the document, and is used to set whether your image is created for onscreen or print. Creating graphics for the web / screen would require 72dpi, whereas print would be 300dpi upwards. When producing photo manipulations I’d highly recommend working at 300dpi as this allows a greater depth of detail and will allow your works to be printed. If you are producing print-media such as event posters or flyers, then it is essential that you work at ‘print-resolution’ of 300dpi or higher if required. This is a topic of great importance in Photoshop, and will get it’s own tutorials shortly.


5. Colour Mode

Colour Mode is another broad topic, and again is of high relevance when producing print-media. The default setting is RGB colour mode, which uses the primary colours Red, Green and Blue to produce a colour-range of 16.8 million colours. RGB is geared toward on-screen / web display, but it has it’s other uses as well. CMYK is the colour mode used for print (mainly large runs for booklets, flyers, posters etc.) which uses print colour range of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Key (Black).



The dialog above shows settings that I personally use when creating photo manipulations. I like to work big when creating personal work so I can really get into the details and print at high quality on a large format printer if I wanted. If Im creating event posters  it is essential that I work at print size and resolution. The International Paper preset of A3 at 300dpi  is a size I often use for many different projects. Working with this size can be quite demanding for some systems when your document increases in layers – generally however most consumer laptops / desktops these days have the processing power to deal with it . High resolution documents require quality stock images, so get in the habit of seeking stock photography that is of a workable size. I tend to work in RGB because of the broader colour-range, and I convert to CMYK when required for print production for clients. This is a tricky area however, and something that will be explained more in-depth later ;)



For casual users I’d recommend working at A4 300dpi, using the RGB colour mode when producing photo manipulations. This allows you to work in high detail, use a broad colour-range, be kind to your processor and the PSD files will not be huge. Starting at this size gives you more freedom to utilise your project for print projects as well – it is a comfortable middle ground. When displaying your work online,  on DeviantArt or Flickr for instance you can always downsize the physical size and resolution to a web size format later.

In a nutshell: Work BIG. 8-)


Would love to hear your comments! Feel free to share your thoughts below.


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Stock Credit: Catalog by malkowitch SXC: [link]

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2 Responses to “Core Skills: Document Setup in Photoshop”

  1. eric says:

    i have noticed that you havent commented on Pixel Aspect Ratio that was my main point of intrest…wat do all those stuff mean and where do they apply?

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