Supercharge Photoshop

Many dedicated Photoshop users can get substantial speed gains from their existing equipment by simply optimizing their computer and software so that it runs Photoshop more efficiently.

Here is a quick collection of speed-enhancing tips for getting the most efficient usage out of your software and computer:

Allocate a Scratch Disk
Photoshop uses RAM memory to run itself, store picture information, and to save undo and History State steps. Unless you are working with particularly small photo files it won’t take too many editing changes before the RAM is completely used up. At this point Photoshop cleverly uses a portion of hard drive space as “fake” RAM. This is not a new idea. Most operating systems use the same approach (called Virtual Memory) to ensure that enough memory is available for running essential programs. Photoshop calls this extra memory a “Scratch Disk”, and correctly setting up the disk will provide immediate speed and efficient benefits.

To set your Scratch Disk, select Edit>Preferences>Plug-Ins & Scratch Disks. Then choose a drive that has the most free space from those listed in the pop-up menu. If you have other drives listed you can also allocate these as extra Scratch Disks. Photoshop will make use of the drive listed first until it is full and then move to the next drive, even if more memory is needed. Most imaging professionals who regularly work with large files install a specific “fast access” drive just to be used as a Scratch Disk by Photoshop.


Set RAM percentage
Photoshop shares the RAM on your computer with the operating system (Windows or Mac OS X) and any other programs running at the same time. The percentage designated in the Photoshop Memory & Image Cache preferences determines the upper amount of RAM memory that can be used by Photoshop. Most new users push this setting as high as possible, some as much as 90 percent, thinking that this will speed up the processing of their files.

Unfortunately if this allocation is set too high, the operating system, as well as Photoshop, may need to move information from the fast RAM memory to the slower hard drive memory while processing. This action is called “page swapping” as the data is moved back and forth between the different memory spaces, and results in Photoshop actually running slower.

If you experience slower performance when raising the percentage of RAM allocated to Photoshop, try reducing the total amount to 50-60 percent for systems with up to 2GB, and 70 percent for computers with 4GB of RAM. Remember that you have to restart Photoshop after making any memory changes to ensure that these alterations will take effect.


Defragment your drives
As images and files are saved and resaved to disk they tend to become fragmented. This means that rather than the whole file being saved in one continuous space on the hard drive the information is broken into bits and stored in several locations (where ever there is empty disk space). Later, when the file is reopened, the document is reconstructed from each of the individual pieces. This file fragmentation slows down the opening and saving of files, as well as the running of programs such as Photoshop, if they were fragmented when initially installed. You can overcome this problem by regularly defragmenting the drives you use to store your images and load your programs.

To defragment a drive in Windows XP: Click Start>All Programs>Accessories> System Tools>Disk Defragmenter. Choose the drive to be defragmented and then select the Defragment button.

To defragment a drive in Mac OS X: Despite the fact that the latest version of Mac OS X contains automatic defragmentation of files smaller than 20MB, most Apple users prefer to defrag their drives with third-party utilities.

Minimize History States
The Photoshop History palette is a great feature, especially if you make mistakes as often as I do. Each successive edit is recorded as a step in the palette, enabling you to step back through the changes, gradually reversing your edits as you go. But this great feature does come at a cost. Each step uses memory resources and, when you make complex changes to large files, you can imagine how much memory is used to store a collection of steps.

Thankfully Adobe provides a setting in the Edit>Preferences>General dialog that can be used to alter the number of History States (or undo steps) stored by your system. By default it is set to 20, but if you find that Photoshop is running slowly after making a few editing changes then try reducing the number. Less History States does mean less opportunity to reverse editing changes, but this action frees up memory resources and can bring new life back to a slow running machine.


Reduce the number of open files
It may seem like stating the obvious, but the more pictures you have open in Photoshop the more of the total resources of the machine is taken up just maintaining each open file. When you add in the memory used to ensure undo or multiple History States for each file, it is not too hard to imagine that you will very quickly run out of RAM, forcing Photoshop to use the much slower Scratch Disk space. To speed up the processing, make sure that you only open (and keep open) files that are essential for your current editing task.

Run Photoshop by itself
A simple measure to speed up Photoshop is to make sure that no other programs are running at the same time. Seemingly simple utilities such as iTunes, Outlook, and Word all chew up memory and processor resources that could be used to drive Photoshop more efficiently. The golden rule is that if the program is not essential for the editing task then close the software. Click on the photo below to enlarge.


Alter the tile size
When Photoshop processes a photo it splits the picture into smaller image sections called tiles, and works on each in turn. By default the size of each of these tiles is 132KB. You can increase the amount of memory used for the processing of each tile by activating the Bigger Tiles plug-in.

To enable the Bigger Tiles plug-in: Close Photoshop and find the ~Bigger Tiles plug-in file in the following directories:
Mac OS: Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS2/Plug-Ins/Adobe Photoshop Only/Extensions/Bigger Tiles
Windows: Program Files/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CS2/Plug-Ins /Adobe Photoshop Only/Extensions/Bigger Tiles
Now rename the file and in the process remove the tilde (~) from the title. Restart Photoshop. Now if you assign from 261MB to 1GB of RAM in the Memory & Image Cache preference, the tile size increases to 260KB. Increasing the allocation to more than 1GB increases the tile size to 1MB. Larger tile sizes reduce the amount of time Photoshop takes to process an image, especially on computers with more than 1GB of RAM.

Scratch Disk vs. Virtual Memory
Both Photoshop and the Windows XP operating system use hard drive space as extra “fake” RAM. Adobe recommends that Photoshop Scratch Disks be positioned on a different drive to the one used by Windows for its Virtual Memory system. On most setups the Windows swap file is stored on the Startup or C drive. To help with overall Photoshop and Windows performance, ensure that you don’t position the Scratch Disk on the same drive. To set the location of your Scratch Disk select Edit>Preferences>Plug-Ins & Scratch Disks and choose the drive to use from the drop-down menu. Remember don’t select Startup or C drive unless you have no other choices.

Alter the Image Cache setting
Photoshop uses a special Image Cache to help redraw high-resolution images quickly. Instead of displaying all the information contained in these big files, Photoshop creates lower-resolution versions of the photo that are then used to update the screen quickly.

You can elect to store from 1-8 cached versions of the photo. A value of 1 disables the caching. Higher values store multiple versions of the file, which in turn produces faster screen redraws. The default setting is 4, but inputting higher numbers will help speed up the redraw process.

When a high cache number is set, it will take longer to open files as Photoshop creates the low-resolution versions of the photo at this point. To alter the Image Cache setting select Edit>Preferences> Memory & Image Cache and enter a value from 1-8 in the Cache Levels text box.

Any suggestions, ideas? Feel free to comment on this article!
Back to Top

Comments 7

  1. Pingback: BestDigitalArtVids

  2. Pingback: Photography Help

  3. Pingback: Best Photography

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Supercharge Photoshop --

  5. Pingback: Best Photo Videos

  6. Pingback: Supercharge Photoshop | PhotoShopped

  7. Pingback: BestDigitalArtVids

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you human? * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.