How To Use Grids & Guides In Photoshop (Complete Guide)

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Learning how to use grids and guides in Photoshop is useful to compose your project and put objects in the exact position you need them. They aren’t difficult to use once you know how to set them up and use the different settings. Let’s take an in-depth look at how to make Photoshop’s grids and guides work for you.

How To Use Photoshop Grids

To use a grid in Photoshop, go to View > Show > Grid to reveal a grid overlay on your canvas. To adjust the look of the grid, go to Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices. Within the Grid settings, choose a grid size, color, and line type to suit your needs.

A grid is an overlay you can add to your canvas that can help you compose your project. The grid only shows up while you’re working on the project – when you export, the grid will be gone. 

The grid’s main purpose is as a composition tool, helping you align objects. This can be especially useful for landscape photographers trying to straighten the horizon, or for architecture photographers working with lots of lines and angles.

To add a grid to your project, head to View > Show > Grid.

On a blank canvas, it’ll look something like this.

– Adjusting Grid Sizing 

There are some instances when you might need to change the size of the space between grid lines. When you add a grid to your canvas, the size is set automatically. But occasionally the grid appears too large or small for the project you’re working on. 

For instance, the photo I uploaded below was too big for the tiny grid to be of any use.

So, to change the size of the spaces between grid lines, head to Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices.

In the Grid section, you can change the number and unit of measurement of the space between each gridline. 

Let’s take the example in the photo above and increase the spacing between the grid lines since a gridline every 2 centimeters is much too close. Let’s alter the settings so that there is a gridline every 10 centimeters.

That size fits the photo much better. Now, using the grid, I can line up elements like sections of the road, the trees, and the side of the house to create the cleanest composition.

How To Use Photoshop Guides

To create a new guide in Photoshop, press Command/Control + R to reveal the ruler, then select the Move Tool by pressing V. Clicking on the horizontal or vertical ruler around your canvas, drag outwards to reveal a new guide on your image. To delete these guides, go to View > Clear Guides.

Guides are similar to grids in that both give you a visible set of lines to help you place objects, align elements, or otherwise compose your project. However, unlike Grids, you set the guides yourself, giving you even more control over what visual guidelines you can see on your canvas.

It can be helpful to have rulers showing while working with guides, so to enable rulers, head to View > Rulers or click Command + R on a Mac or Control + R on a PC.

Now rulers will appear at the top and side of your project in the unit of measurement set in your preferences.

Now to create a new guide, head to View > New Guide.

In the window that comes up, choose whether you’d like your guide to appear vertically or horizontally. Enter a position if you’d like – otherwise, the guide will appear at the start of your canvas. Click OK.

Now, the guide will appear in the orientation and position you set. This method is easiest for setting a guide in a certain part of your canvas automatically.

Once a guide is created, you can use the Move Tool to drag it into a new position on your canvas.

You can also create guides once you have rulers visible on your project by simply clicking and dragging either the horizontal ruler to create a horizontal guide, or the vertical ruler to create a vertical guide. With the Move Tool active, click the ruler and drag towards your canvas and the guide will appear. You can create as many guides as you need and move them about your canvas.

Now to remove your guides, head to View > Clear Guides.

– Using Smart Guides

Manual guides take a second to set up, so if you’re looking for a quick fix, Smart Guides are a great method to quickly align elements without having to go through the steps of creating a guide yourself.

Smart Guides should be on automatically, but to make sure, head to View > Show > Smart Guides. If there is a checkmark, the guides are enabled.

Once you’ve enabled smart guides, they’ll show up while you’re moving objects to help guide where they can go as well as show their relation to other objects. Notice how the smart guide below tells me when the pink and black rectangles are perfectly aligned. For me, the smart guides appear in pink, but we’ll cover how to change the color in a moment.

– How To Center Guides

Maybe you’d like to create guides in the very center of the canvas. The simplest way to do this is to head to View > New Guide. 

In the window that comes up, select whether you’d like a vertical or horizontal guide. In the Position box, enter 50% and click OK.

A guide will appear in the center of your canvas in the orientation you chose. If you’d like both vertical and horizontal guides running through the center of your canvas, repeat the same step for the other orientation.

You’ll now see both guides centered. To make sure you don’t accidentally move these guides, follow the steps in the next section to lock them in place.

– How To Lock Guides

Because Guides are so easy to move, you may accidentally click and drag them while you’re working on your project. Luckily, you can lock guides to a fixed position so that they don’t get in the way of your workflow. To lock all the guides on your canvas, go to View > Lock Guides.

Now, your guides will stay locked in place as you work on your project. To unlock them and move them, just click View > Lock Guides again.

How To Create Custom Guide Layouts In Photoshop

If you’d like your guide to have multiple lines with specific spacing, you can quickly create a custom guide layout. This is much faster and easier than creating and positioning each guide individually. 

To create a new guide layout, head to View > New Guide Layout.

In the window that appears, you can choose the settings for your new guide layout. This allows you to add as many rows and columns as you need to your guide, as well as specify the width and height for each. You can also set the size of the gutter, aka the space between the lines.

Keep in mind that there is no place to select a measurement unit, so you’ll have to type the measurement you’d like to use with the unit. For instance, the automatic number and unit size of my gutter is 1.693mm, but you could also use pixels, points, centimeters – whatever works best for your project.

You’ll notice the guides are visible on the canvas and change as you edit the settings. For instance, I set my guides to have the following settings:

These guides show up on my canvas like this:

When you’re happy with how the guides will appear, you can add them to your project with or without any existing guides you’ve already added. Once on your project, you can click any guidelines you’d like to move, so I suggest locking the guides to avoid clicking and moving anything accidentally by heading to View > Lock Guides.

How To Change The Color Of Your Grids & Guides

To change the color of grids, guides, and smart guides in Photoshop, go to Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices. Here you can choose a preset color from the drop-down lists provided, or click the color swatches on the right to choose a custom color.

Let’s break that down more in-depth.

Once your grid or guides are in place, you may find it helpful to change the color of the lines if they blend into the colors of your project. You can do this by heading to Photoshop > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices.

To change the appearance of your guides, head to the Guides section.

Here, you can change the colors of the Guides on your Canvas and Artboard, as well as the Smart Guides, by clicking the drop-down boxes with the colors on them. You’ll see different colors to choose from and the option to choose a custom color.

You can also change the type of line that appears if need be.

In the preferences window, you can adjust the color and appearance of the lines in the grid under the Grid section.

Like with the guides, you can change the Color by clicking the drop-down menu and choosing or customizing a color. Next to the Color, you also can change the type of line you see. Once you’re satisfied with your new colors, click OK.

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts For Grids & Guides

While working with grids and guides, there are a few ways you can optimize your workflow and speed up the process a bit.

To quickly show the grid, use Command + ‘ on a Mac and Control + ‘ on a PC.

In order for guides to function at their best, it helps to have the rulers visible vertically and horizontally on your canvas. To quickly show both rulers, use Command + R for Mac, and Control + R for PC. The rulers will appear at the top and side of your canvas.

While you’re working with guides, you can change the orientation of a specific guide by holding Option on a Mac and Alt on a PC, and clicking the guide. The orientation will switch from vertical to horizontal, or vice versa. 

You can easily remove guides to get them out of the way by dragging them off the image and back onto the ruler.

How To Use Snapping

Photoshop’s Snap settings help you place objects by “snapping” them in line with a grid or guide, depending on the settings. To enable snapping, head to View > Snap to and then select whether you’d like objects to snap in place with a grid or guide.

Once you’ve made your selection, there will be a checkmark next to the option you choose. Snap to Grid will click the objects in place with the grid lines, while Snap to Guide will do the same but based on the guides you’ve created. Obviously, you need the grid or guides present in your canvas before you can snap objects to them, so make sure you’ve enabled them and set them up the way you’d like.

Sometimes, though, snapping objects can prevent you from placing them the way you’d like. If snapping is disrupting your workflow, you can turn it off by heading to View > Snap and clicking Snap so that it is unchecked. 

You can also disable snapping temporarily by holding down Command on a Mac or Control on a PC while you’re placing an object, but keep in mind this only works with the Move tool active.

Grids and Guides are helpful tools for a variety of different projects, from editing photos to designing graphics. They are easy to use once you’ve learned the ins and outs, and will surely help you with creating the perfect compositions for your projects.

Happy Editing!

Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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