Photoshop 101: How To Use The Free Transform Tool

July 29, 2009 • By

The free transform tool can be daunting if you don’t know how to use it. The tool has a lot of hidden options that make it quite powerful. In this tutorial we will be manipulating a simple square to show you the basics and then we will move on to a real life application.

First: The basics

Step 1: Draw A square with the rectangle tool (u)

Step 2: Select Edit>Free Transform Path (or Command+T)

You should see little handles on the corners and the middle of the sides of the square.

Step 3: Grab one of the handles and drag it from the square

Go ahead and experiment. Adding keyboard shortcuts while using the transform tool is being used really unleashes its power.

Free Transform Tool + Keyboard Shortcuts

Grabbing a handle and dragging alters the shape. Holding down shift while dragging a handle preserves the aspect ratio of the shape.

Holding down option when dragging moves the sides equal distances from the center reference point.

Hovering your mouse over a corner reference point allows you to rotate the shape. Holding down shift while rotating snaps the shape to 45 degree angles from the original position.

Holding down Option+Command allows you to move both sides equally from the reference point and vertically as well – allowing you to skew the object.

Holding down Shift+Option+command allows you to add perspective to an object.

You can also achieve similar distortions with the specific transform tools which do the same thing. These tools can be found under the Edit>Transform menu. One tool that is notable and worth pointing out is the warp transform tool.

Warp Transform Tool

This tool ads a grid over the shape and allows you to distort and warp specific points of the shape.

Now that we have the basics down lets do something cool!

I did a search over at iStockphoto for ‘blank billboard’ and found this photo:

We’ll also be using my favorite banana image again!

Cut out the bananas in the shape of the blank billboard area.

Place your type over the billboard and then right click and convert to shape. This allows us to preserve the quality of the vector image while distorting.

This may take some time, but with some small fineagling with the perspective and skew tools you can get the type to look just right. Then add some outer glow behind the type to make it pop whiz bang!

Download the PSD (Zip) File here

Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Tutorial written by  Niki Brown – author of The Design O’Blog. Follow me (@nikibrown) on twitter!