The Transform Tool is one of the most useful and common tools you’ll come across in Photoshop. However, at first glance, you may be missing out on many helpful ways it can be used.
This tool is essential when moving, distorting, resizing, or rotating images or objects, such as shapes and text. While the basics of the tool offer your standard resizing and rotating functions, there is so much more to the tool. Once you dive deeper into the tool’s uses, you will learn how to make creative and unique layouts and edits in your projects.
Here is everything you need to know about the Transform Tool.
What Is The Transform Tool In Photoshop?
The Transform Tool is made up of the Standard Transform function and the Free Transform function. These two features work to manipulate an object in Photoshop in various ways. Using this tool, you can resize an object, rotate or flip an element, and manipulate an object more drastically by warping, skewing, or changing the perspective.
In short, the Transform Tool transforms an image or object by manipulating the pixels based on criteria when warping, skewing, distorting, or changing the perspective or with non-restricted manipulations when using Free Transform.
You can use the Transform Tool on almost every type of layer in Photoshop, including image, shape, text, and smart object layers. You can also transform multiple layers, layer masks, selections, paths, and alpha channels.
However, you can’t transform a background or locked layer. You must unlock the background layer by clicking on the lock icon before using the Transform Tool on that layer.
How To Activate The Transform Tool In Photoshop
To activate the Transform Tool, select a layer and then use the following menu path: Edit > Transform and choose one of the transform options from the menu.
When you open the Transform menu, you will see all the transform options you can use.
However, a much easier way to use the Transform Tool is to activate Free Transform first by going to Edit > Free Transform or using the shortcut Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac).
Once Free Transform is active, you will notice handles around the image or layer you are transforming.
You can locate the warp options from the Options Bar by clicking the Warp icon.
You can also right-click (Win) or Control + click (Mac) to access the other Transform Tool options.
Transform Tool Settings In Photoshop Explained
Once you have activated the Transform Tool, you can use the various settings to manipulate your layer or selection. I will show you the different settings using a layout with text, a shape, and an image so you can see how the tool works on various elements in your design.
Once you activate Free Transform by selecting a layer and pressing Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac), you can transform the object without any constraints.
First, you can resize the object by clicking and dragging one of the corner handles. Drag the handle inward to reduce the size and outward to increase the size.
You can rotate the object by hovering your cursor just outside the transform box and clicking when you see the double-arrow icon appear. Drag the cursor up or down to rotate the object.
To temporarily access the distort setting, hold in Control (Win) or Command (Mac), click, and drag any of the corner control handles to manipulate the object. This allows you to distort the object freely.
Hold in Control (Win) or Command (Mac) and drag any middle handles to turn on the skew function temporarily.
If you hold in Alt + Control (Win) or Option + Command (Mac) while moving a control handle, you can isolate the handle you select and the opposite handle to manipulate both points together while leaving the other control handles locked in place.
Hold in Shift + Alt + Control (Win) or Shift + Option + Command (Mac) to temporarily activate the Perspective setting, then drag a corner handle.
With Free Transform active, you can also right-click (Win) or Control + click (Mac) to access the other Transform Tool settings, which I will explain in the following sections.
If you need to undo any action you have done while using the Free Transform function, press Control + Z (Win) or Command + Z (Mac) to take a step back.
If you don’t want to add the transform effects to the object, you can press the Cancel button in the Options Bar to close the tool without making any changes.
Once you have manipulated your object using the Free Transform setting and are happy with the result, press Enter or click on the Checkmark in the Options Bar to apply the effect.
The Scale setting lets you resize the object. Once you activate the setting, click on any handles and drag to resize the object or layer.
In the newer versions of Photoshop, the dimensions are automatically restrained when resizing objects using this method. If you are using an older version of Photoshop, you need to hold in Shift while resizing to prevent distortion.
You can drag a handle, and the layer will resize without distorting.
If you want to resize the width of the layer without affecting the height, or vice versa, you will need to hold in Shift on newer versions of Photoshop or just drag the handles on older versions.
Note: This will distort your image, and I don’t recommend you use it on image layers, but it’s useful when resizing shapes and other elements.
The Rotate setting allows you to turn a layer on a center axis. Once you select the rotate setting, you can move your cursor to the edge of the object, and you will see the double-arrow icon appear.
You can then click and drag upward to rotate the layer anti-clockwise or drag down to turn the layer clockwise.
If you have a specific angle you want to rotate the layer, use the Angle box in the Options Bar. Add the angle value in the box next to the angle icon, and the layer will automatically rotate to that angle.
To reset the angle at any time, even after manually rotating the layer, you can type 0 into the Angle box. The layer will reset to the original angle.
By default, the layer rotates around the center of the layer, which is the default reference point. You can move the reference point any time to turn the object around a different spot. In older versions of Photoshop, the reference point is automatically visible inside the transform box.
In newer versions of Photoshop, you need to toggle the reference point on. You can turn the point on by checking the box in the Options Bar (the box doesn’t have a name next to it, but it is located next to the reference point grid).
Once the reference point is visible, you can move it around the transform box.
Now, when you rotate the layer, it will twist around the new reference point location.
You can also change the location of the reference point using the reference point grid by clicking on a point in the grid. Each grid point represents a control handle in the transform box.
The Skew setting allows you to slant a layer up, down, left, or right. This is a good option to tilt or slant text or skew an image in a particular direction.
Since you can simultaneously use the Transform Tool on multiple objects, I will show you how to skew two objects together. The process is the same when working with one layer.
First, select your layer(s) and activate the Skew setting. If you are working with multiple objects, there will be one transform box around both objects.
To skew the layer(s) up or down on one side, click on the middle control handle on the left or right of the transform box.
Drag the control point up or down to skew the object(s). I dragged the handle up for this example.
You can also skew the layer(s) left or right by clicking on the middle top or bottom control handle and pulling it left or right.
Note: Skewing an image only moves one side of the transform box. If you want to skew the opposite side simultaneously, hold in Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) by dragging the control handle.
Depending on how you drag the handles, the distort setting pulls and stretches the layer in all directions. This offers a more freeform manipulation and is the same effect you get when using Control/Command while Free Transform is active.
Once the distort option is active, you will see the usual transform handles around the object.
You can then click and drag any of the corner handles to distort the shape in various directions. Moving any of the middle handles will scale the shape inward or outward.
Each corner handle will move independently while the other handles remain in their original positions.
Hold in Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) to distort the opposite handle at the same time.
A practical example of the Distort setting is if I want to add photos into picture frames in another image to create a lifestyle scene. For example, I have the following three photos.
I can add the last two images into the picture frames in the first image. First, I cropped the wedding and beach pictures into portrait orientations, added them to the bedroom image, and distorted them to fit into the frames.
The Perspective setting works similarly to the Distort function but automatically moves the opposite handle in the opposite direction to add a one-point perspective to an item. This is an accurate way to change the perspective of an object.
For instance, if you want to give the text a 3D look as though the end of the text is closer to you than the start, you can use the perspective setting to enlarge the end letters.
Once the Perspective setting is active, you can click and drag one of the corner handles, and the opposite handle will move in the opposite direction, creating a perspective distortion.
Your object now looks as if it’s moving out of the screen.
The Warp setting lets you manipulate the shape of an object while giving you a lot of control over the areas that are warped and those that aren’t. Here is a basic explanation of the Warp Tool, but you can find the full capabilities in the linked article.
You can access the Warp Tool from the menu path, the pop-up menu, or from the Warp icon in the Options Bar.
Once the Warp Tool is active, a grid appears over your object.
You can change this default grid or add default warps to the layer using the settings in the Options Bar.
You can then distort isolated areas of the layer using the grid. For instance, I can increase the size of the mountain by adding more gridlines and then dragging one of the lines around the mountain area upward.
The warp only distorts the pixels in that region, while the gridlines keep the rest of the pixels in place.
This setting gives you plenty of distortion capabilities for your layers, images, and objects.
Additional Transform Settings
There are a few more transform settings that don’t need much explanation. You can use the set Rotate options to rotate the layer 180 degrees, 90 degrees clockwise, or 90 degrees counter clockwise.
You can also use the Flip Horizontal and Flip Vertical options to mirror the image by flipping it on a horizontal or vertical axis.
How To Transform An Image Without Stretching In Photoshop
Unless you are trying to create a distorted look, you likely want to prevent an image from stretching when resizing it in Photoshop. Here is how you can keep the original aspect ratio of a photo when resizing.
When resizing a picture in Photoshop, especially to a much larger size, you may start losing quality when you resize the image multiple times. To prevent quality loss, I recommend you convert your image to a smart object first.
To convert your image to a smart object, right-click or Control + click on the image layer and select Convert to Smart Object from the options.
You will notice the smart object icon appear in the layer’s thumbnail, and you can now rescale the picture while retaining the quality.
Option 1: Clicking & Dragging The Transform Box
The first way to transform an image without stretching it is to use the transform box. Press Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac) to activate the Free Transform Tool. You will see the transform box appear around the photo.
If you are using a newer version of Photoshop, you can click and drag any of the control handles, and you will resize the image without stretching it.
If you are using an older version of Photoshop, you must hold in Shift while dragging the handle to prevent the photo from stretching. You can drag the handle outward to increase the image size and inward to decrease the image size.
When using a newer version of Photoshop, you can turn the set aspect ratio on and off by toggling the link icon in the Options Bar. Ensure the link is active to automatically maintain the aspect ratio or turn the link off to keep the aspect ratio unconstrained when resizing.
Option 2: Using The Dimension Settings In The Options Bar
The second method to resize an image without stretching it is to use the dimension settings in the Options Bar. When the Scale setting or the Free Transform Tool is active, you will see a Width and Height box in the Options Bar.
Ensure the Link icon is turned on (it turns a darker gray when active), and then add the percentage you want your image to be in the width or height box. The other value will automatically resize while keeping the aspect ratio the same.
The values should be 100% if you haven’t resized the photo yet. To adjust the size, type in a new percentage. For example, type in 60% to decrease the picture size to 60% of its original size.
The image size is reduced on the canvas without the image stretching. If you want to reset your photo to its original size, you can type in 100% in the width or height block, and Photoshop will reset the image without any quality loss.