Here are several shortcuts and tips for transforming and warping layers in Photoshop:
• While you can select the Background and choose to Select > All and then Edit > Free Transform, if you transform the content smaller than the document size, the surrounding areas will be filled with the background color. To create transparency in the surrounding area, first convert the Background into a layer by clicking the lock icon on the Layers panel and then choose Edit > Free Transform.
• To display the transformation handles at all times, select the Move tool and enable “Show Transform Controls” in the Options bar. Photoshop displays a bounding box around the selected layer(s). Not only does this reveal which layers are selected, but can also be used to quickly transform an object without having to select the Free Transform command (by dragging the anchor points on the bounding box).
• If the “Show Transform Controls (see previous tip) are too distracting, disable them and use Command + T (Mac) | Control + T (Win) to display the free transform bounding box.
• Depending on the content of the layer, the Properties panel may display options to transform images numerically, rotating, and flipping (horizontal/vertical).
• 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. The video below demonstrates how this feature works:
• When using Free Transform:
Command + T (Mac) | Control + T (Win) displays the free transform bounding box.
Position the cursor outside of the transformation handles (the cursor becomes a double headed arrow), and drag to rotate. Add the Shift key to snap to 15 degree increments.
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.
• Command + Z or Control +Z will undo the last transformation.
• To apply the transformation, tap the Return (Mac) | Enter (Win) key, click in the preview area outside the transformation handles, or select another tool. 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.
• While in Free Transform, Command (Mac) / Control (Win) “+” (plus) to zoom in, Command (Mac) / Control (Win) “-” (minus) to zoom out when using Free Transform. Or, you can quickly zoom to a specific point using via the Navigator panel.
• 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 Transform a layer without transforming it’s layer mask, unlink them on the Layers panel.
• 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. To override this setting, you can change the default option for resampling (throughout the application) under Preferences > General > Image Interpolation.
• When dragging the transformation handles, the transformation values appear at the top right of your cursor. This display can be controlled via Preferences > Tools > Show Transformation Values (Never, Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Left, Bottom Right).
• To make transformations more flexible (nondestructive), 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.
• 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.
• 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. Note: to make changes any of the individual layers, choose Layer > Smart Object > Edit Contents (or double click on the Smart Object Layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel).