The ultimate guide on how to use guidelines

Jürgen Heiss

Anyone who works in Photoshop should know about guidelines. They are such an important tool that can save a lot of time when laying out text, shapes, or anything else. Let’s fire up Photoshop, set some guidelines, and learn something new.

1. Turning on rulers

First of all, make sure your rulers are turned on. If they are not, then go to Menu > View > Rulers (CTRL+R; CMD+R on a Mac).

guide1

2. Setting and adjusting guidelines

With the rulers turned on, we are ready to set our first guidelines. Click on the vertical ruler and drag while you are pressing down on the left mouse button. You will see a dotted line which you can move to the left or right. Once you release, the guideline will be set and appears as a colored line (the default guideline color is cyan).

guide2

The horizontal guidelines work the same as vertical. The only difference is you drag from the up or down direction. Again, your guide will be set once you release the mouse button.

guide3

It doesn’t matter which tool you use when you’re creating guidelines — for example, there is no reason to switch from the brush tool to any other tool. However, if you want to reposition an existing guideline then you would need to switch to the Move tool (press V). With the Move tool active, you can hover over an existing guideline and reposition it. You will notice the cursor changes when it’s ready to move the guideline.

guide6

3. Important shortcuts while dragging guidelines

As you’ve learned, setting guidelines is easy but there are a few shortcuts that can make this task even more comfortable and quick:

  • Alt Key (Option Key on a Mac): Let’s say you started dragging a horizontal guideline and mid-drag you realize you actually need a vertical. The easiest way to switch a guideline while still dragging is pressing and holding the Alt or Option Key. This will change the dotted guideline from horizontal to vertical and vice versa.
  • Shift Key: Press and hold the Shift key while you are dragging a guideline — this will align the guideline to the closest measurement line on your ruler. If you want to change your units, you can right-click on the ruler and select a new unit from the drop down. My unit is set to inches in the image below. When holding Shift, I can place my guideline exactly on any measure, like 0.5 inches for example.
guide4

4. Hide/show, clear and lock guidelines

Hide/show: No matter how great or useful guidelines are sometimes you want to hide them then turn them on later. To hide or show guidelines, go to Menu > View > Extras (CTRL+H).

Clear: To remove your guidelines completely, choose Menu > View > Clear Guides.

Lock: To lock your guidelines, choose Menu > View > Lock Guides. With locked guidelines you can not reposition guidelines, but it’s possible to create new ones.

5. Place guidelines exactly where you want

Let’s say you want to place a horizontal guideline and a vertical guideline in the center of our canvas. We could do this by dragging and holding Shift, or you can choose Menu > View > New Guide:

guide7

So, for example, if your design if 8 x 6 inches. Than you would need to set a vertical guideline at 4 inches and a horizontal at 3 inches.

You might find it easier to type 50% for both vertical and horizontal guides:

guide8

Please note, you can use every unit the ruler offers. And you don’t need to manually change the ruler unit to do this 🙂

6. An example of using guidelines

Now, let’s take a look at the benefits of guidelines in a real-world example. We’ll be working with 3-column layout where we want the same whitespace between the text and canvas edges, we also want the same amount of whitespace between each column of text. The final result will look like this:

guide_result

Create a new document: and place some text, like Lorem Ipsum, on it.

guide_text

Adding basic guidelines: Before starting, place a guideline at each end of the document — this will be 4 guidelines total (top, bottom, left and right). When dragging the guidelines, they should automatically snap to the edges of your document. If they do not, make sure Snap is turned on: Menu > View > Snap. Now we need to place our vertical guidelines. Open the dialog with Menu > View > New Guide. Set the orientation to vertical and the position to 33.33% and set another at 66.66%. You should end up with something like:

guide_guidelines2

Creating whitespace: Now we need to create whitespace between each column. In this case, it would be quite hard to set whitespace with guidelines or with the help of the New Guide dialog. Take the Rectangle tool (Shift+U) and draw a shape the size of the white space you want. Take a quick look, I used magenta so that it’s easy to see:

guides_helper2

Now the fun part, select the Move tool (V) while making sure your Shape layer (rectangle) is activated.

guides_move

Click on the rectangle and drag it to the left guideline we drew in the beginning. Once the shape snaps to the guide, draw two new guidelines on both sides of the rectangle — do the same thing to the right guideline. We have two new guidelines now (left and right side), which is our whitespace.

guide_columns

Rotate the shape so we can create whitespace at the top and bottom of our design. To do make sure that your layer with the shape is selected and choose Menu > Edit > Transform Path > Rotate 90 CW. Also it would be possible to rotate the shape by pressing CTRL + T, which will switch you into the transform mode. From there, move your mouse cursor outside from the shape and start rotating while holding down the Shift key.

guide_rotate

From here, move the shape to the top guideline and draw a new guideline at the end of the shape. The same must be done for the bottom.

guide_final_layout

I colored the shapes so you can really see what we’ve created. The cyan color shows the whitespace area and the magenta shows the place for our 3-columns.

guide_colored

Aligning the text: With this layout you can use guidelines to snap your text to each column.

Select a text layer and press CTRL+T, which will bring us to the Transform mode. Now hover your cursor over the text, and you should see a single black arrow. Now click on the text and drag it to the left guideline on the first column. When you move close to the guideline the text should snap automatically. Hit Enter when down.

Now double-click on the same text layer to highlight it. Click on the bottom right anchor point of the text, and drag it to the bottom right guideline. The first text field should be in place now. You can do the same for the second and third columns of text. You can either use different text or just copy the text layer from the text we just move into place. To copy the text make sure the layer is selected then press CTRL+J.

guide_result2

When everything is in place, you should get a result like this!

Any questions or tips to share about guidelines?

Related articles

How to quickly remove a background in Photoshop

How to quickly remove a background in Photoshop

Photoshop offers many different techniques to remove an unwanted background from an image. For simple backgrounds, using the standard Magic Wand tool to select and delete the background may well be more than adequate. For more complicated backgrounds, you might use the Background Eraser tool. This tool samples the color at the center of the…

Photoshop vs. Illustrator vs. InDesign

Photoshop vs. Illustrator vs. InDesign

From photo editing to typography tools to sound design, the industry-standard Adobe Creative Suite gives creators of all kinds everything they need to create professional work fast—for literally any type of design project. For now, let’s get graphic. Whether it’s creating a logo, designing social media graphics or putting together a brochure, Adobe has created…

3 ways Photoshop Actions can speed up your workflow

3 ways Photoshop Actions can speed up your workflow

Photoshop Actions are a great starting point for graphic designers looking to become more efficient in their workflow. With the help of this computer automation technique, designers can quickly accomplish tasks that would otherwise take countless manual hours. We’ve already walked you through the basics of Photoshop Actions, so now it’s time to teach you some of the effective ways to…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.