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Help! My Photoshop Cursors are Messed Up!

Photoshop is a complex program that lets users configure numerous options to meet their needs and preferences. Unfortunately, every now and then this can lead to frustration if you settings get messed up somehow. One of the most visible such frustrations stems from messed up cursors. But before you literally start cursing at Photoshop, there are ways to solve Photoshop cursor problems.

Photoshop CS4 Cursor preferencesThe first place to check is what Photoshop thinks your cursor preferences are. As with many settings you can find these under Edit >> Preferences. Once there, go to the Cursors tab. In addition to what it calls "Standard" cursors that look like the corresponding tool icon, Photoshop supports "Precise" cursors which display as a crosshair. For painting cursors, Photoshop also supports "Brush Tip" cursors. "Normal Brush Tip" cursors (the Photoshop default) cover about fifty percent of the brush area, and "Full Size Brush Tip" cursors that cover the entire area affected by your brush. It might seem tempting to select "Full Size" but keep in mind that brush edges are generally feathered and if the cursor outline indicated the full area being painted it could be misleading. "Normal" generally better approximates the area your brush stoke will actually affect.

If you're satisfied that Photoshop knows how you want your cursors to look, the next thing to be aware of is how the Caps Lock key on your keyboard affects things. Pressing it will toggle between Standard and Precise cursors. This can be very useful when you need to do detail work, but if you don't realize you have Caps Lock on it can lead to cursor frustration. If your preferences are set to Standard (or Brush Tip) cursors, Caps Lock will temporarily switch to Precise cursors. If your preferences are already set to Precise, Caps Lock will temporarily switch to Standard. Turning off Caps Locks takes you back to your chosen cursor style.

Another possibility is that your Photoshop preferences file has become corrupted. This used to be much more likely than it is these days, but if you want to rule this out as a possible cause of your cursor problems it's perfectly safe to delete your preferences and start with a clean slate. Be advised of course that this will reset all your choices such that a visit to Edit >> Preferences will look as if you've just installed Photoshop. Not just your cursor preferences will be gone. Everything will be. Before you delete your preferences, make sure you've written down how everything was set so you can put things back again. Just a word to the wise. If you're ready to do the deed, the location of the file in question varies depending on your operating system. In Windows you can find it at "C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS4\Adobe Photoshop CS4 Settings\Adobe Photoshop CS4 Prefs.psp." To see it, you'll need to use enable display of hidden files and folders on the View tab in the Folder Options applet in Windows Control Panel. On Mac OS X, the Photoshop file lives at "Users\[username]\Library\Preferences\Adobe Photoshop CS4 Settings\Adobe Photoshop CS4 Prefs.psp." Make sure you don't have Photoshop running when you delete the file and a new one will get created when you next start Photoshop.

If you're still having cursor problems, don't panic just yet. Without realizing the consequences, you may have brought the problems on yourself. Windows lets users change standard user interface cursors to symbols of their own choice. While Photoshop mainly uses cursors symbols that are independent of what you've told Windows to use, there are overlaps. In an effort to make Windows look cool you may have somewhat messed up Photoshop without realizing it. To double check what Windows is set to use, go to Control Panel >> Mouse and click on the Pointers tab. Windows Vista defaults to a scheme called "Windows Aero (system scheme)." While you don't necessarily have to stick with the default scheme, you should at least check to see if any of the cursor symbols in what you have chosen are the same as ones responsible for your Photoshop frustration.

And finally, here's one more possible issue I recently heard about from a reader. If you're on Windows 7, it's possible that Photoshop will display three cursor images instead of just one when your Windows text DPI is set to 150 percent. If this is your problem I would imagine there will be a better fix forthcoming, but for now Adobe advises that you change your Windows DPI to 149 or 151 percent instead. To do so, click on the Start menu and go to Control Panel >> Appearance and Personalization >> Display. You can find out the latest on this in Adobe's Knowledge Base here

So before you start cursing at Photoshop, make sure you understand how Photoshop cursor choices work and what affects them. No sense getting frustrated if you don't have to.

Date posted: November 15, 2009


Copyright © 2009 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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