Free Transform and Warp in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop

Updated 11-2019

Here are several shortcuts and tips for transforming and warping layers in Photoshop:

• Photoshop 2020 (v21) has updated the behavior of Free Transform – Now, clicking the Link icon (in the Options bar) will toggle the  “constrain aspect ratio” option on/off.

The state of the icon is sticky – once it’s set, it will stay that way until it’s clicked again. This means that, regardless of the contents of the layer (pixels, type, shape, etc.), transform will behave consistently. Holding the Shift key while transforming will temporarily toggle the opposite behavior. Note: if you enabled the general preference “Use Legacy Transform” in Photoshop 2019 (v20), and you carried your preferences forward, be sure to disable the preference to take advantage of the new behavior.

• With the Move tool selected, checking “Show Transform Controls” in the Options bar displays a bounding box around the selected layer(s). Drag the anchor points to quickly transform an object without having to select the Free Transform command.

• When using Free Transform:

Command + T (Mac) | Control + T (Win) displays the free transform bounding box. 

Option + drag (Mac) | Alt  + drag (Win) an anchor point to transform from the center. 

Command  (Mac) | Control  (Win) -drag a corner anchor point to freely distort the image.

Command + Shift  (Mac) | Control  + Shift (Win) -drag a center anchor point to skew the image.

Command + Option + Shift (Mac) | Control + Alt + Shift (Win) -drag a corner anchor point to change the perspective of an image.

Or, instead of memorizing each individual shortcut, Control -click (Mac) | Right -click (Win) within the transformation bounding box and choose a transform option from the context sensitive menu. 

• To apply the transformation tap the Return (Mac) | Enter (Win) key.

To cancel a transformation tap the Escape key. 

• When using Free Transform, the “Reference Point” can be changed to determine the location around which transformations occur. By default, the reference point is hidden to prevent accidental repositioning.

To display the reference point (while in Free Transform), check the empty well to the left of the reference point icon  in the options bar (or, choose Edit > Preferences > Tools > “Show reference point when using Transform”). 

To reposition the Reference Point, drag the center point freely within the image area, click on one of the nine reference point locations in the Options bar, or set the position numerically (also using the Options bar). 

• Command + Shift + T (Mac) | Control  + Shift + T (Win) transforms the layer(s) again by applying the last used transformation settings. 

• Command + Option + Shift + T (Mac) | Control + Alt + Shift + T (Win) will create a copy of a layer and apply the last used transformation settings. Note: this shortcut does not work with multiple layers selected.  

• When applying Free Transform on layers that contain information which extends beyond the canvas, the transformation handles may not be visible depending on the zoom level. Use the shortcut Command + 0 (zero) (Mac) | Control + 0 (zero) (Win) to zoom the document and “fits” the transformation handles on screen. 

• Use the options on the Layers panel to change Layer Opacity, Fill, and Blend Modes while in Free Transform.

• To have the Free Transform command automatically choose the best resampling method based on the transformation made, in the Options bar, set Interpolation to Bicubic Automatic. If the layer(s) is scaled larger,  Photoshop will use Bicubic Smoother, if the layer(s) is scaled smaller, it will use Bicubic Sharper.

• When dragging the transformation handles, the transformation values appear at the top right of your cursor. The location of the display can be controlled via Preferences > Tools > Show Transformation Values (Top Right, Top Left, Bottom Right, Bottom Left or Never). 

• To make transformations more “flexible”, convert the layer(s) to Smart Objects before transforming. Smart Objects enable multiple transformations to a layer(s) to be calculated at one time, not as each transformation is made (so that if you transform a layer smaller, then transform it larger, the Smart Object retains all of the original information unlike a regular (pixel based) layer which would discard information when transformed smaller and then make up information when transformed larger).  

• To warp content in Photoshop, view the video below:

• And some additional shortcuts for Warping:

Option -click (Mac)| Alt -click (Win) in the image area to add a split line when warping

With the Vertical or Horizontal split line selected, Option -click (Mac)| Alt -click (Win) near an existing horizontal/vertical split line to add a  split line in the opposite direction).

Use the Grid drop-down menu and select a pre-defined warp grid (3×3, 4×4 or 5×5) or enter a custom value (up to 50).

Shift -click to select multiple anchor points (or Shift -drag to multi-select points).  Shift -click an active anchor point to deselect.

With multiple anchor points selected, click -dragging:

Near the corners of the rectangle uniformly scales the selected anchors.

Outside the corners of the rectangle rotates the anchors.

Near the center edges of the rectangle scales the anchors in one direction.

Inside the rectangle repositions the anchors.

Command + Z (Mac) | Control + Z (Win) to undo individual steps of editing a warp or transform.

If a split line is selected, pressing Delete removes the split line. Note: If an anchor point is selected and you press delete, both the horizontal and vertical lines passing through the anchor point are removed.

• In order to warp multiple layers as if they are “merged together”, first convert them to a Smart Object, then choose Edit > Transform to warp the Smart Object.

• When in Free Transform, if you want to toggle to Warp mode, you need to click the Warp icon in the Options bar. However, while in Warp mode, Command +T (Mac) | Control + T (Win) toggles from Warp to Free Transform mode.

Adobe Photoshop

Posted on 06-18-2019


  • By Shoilen Sannamat - 4:05 AM on June 29, 2019  

    That’s a really useful tutorial for image editors like us. The detail and shortcuts are very easy to understand. I Appreciate your effort