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How to get back Photoshop’s old Free Transform controls

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Adobe recently changed the way Free Transform works by default. It has thrown a lot of users for a loop, but you can bring back the old free transform behavior. Here’s how.

How free transformation used to work

First a quick summary: Free Transform is the tool that allows you to resize and reshape any layer, shape, path, text, mask, object, or anything else.

With an unlocked layer selected, open it by going to Edit> Free Transform, or with the keyboard shortcut Control + T (Command + T on a Mac.). This will bring up a box with eight handles surrounding the layer or object.

free transformation active around a purple circle
This is what Free Transformation looks like.

Here’s how Free Transform worked: to reshape or resize the object, click and drag one of the handles. You could then freely drag the handle anywhere you want and distort the object as you wish.

distorted purple circle with visible free transformation controls

There were two main keyboard shortcuts: Alt (or Option on a Mac) and Shift.

Holding down Alt (or Option) changes the size or shape of the object around the reference point. In other words, dragging one handle would cause the other handle to move and also resize the object in place. (You can also click and move the reference point to change where the center of the transformation was). “Shift” locked the proportions of the transformation. Rather than reshaping, it limited you to just resizing.

old free transform buttons with shift pressed to lock the shape
By holding down “Shift”, the circle remains a circle.

So what’s the situation now? Well, free transform is arguably easier for new users: it works much the same way, but the proportions are locked by default and instead hold down “Shift” to warp things. It’s easier to get right the first time, but it’s a total pain for anyone who has the Shift-to-lock hotkey firmly ingrained into their muscle memory.

In addition, the reference point is now hidden by default. This means that “Alt” (or “Option”) only resizes around the center instead of where you placed the reference point.

How to restore the classic Free Transform behavior

The good news is, it’s easy to bring back Photoshop’s old behavior.

To do this in Windows, click Edit> Preferences> General. On a Mac, click Photoshop> Preferences> General.

Under Options, enable ‘Use old free transformation’. Now pressing “Shift” will lock the transformation instead of unlock it. You can close the Preferences window.

Photoshop's general preference pane with the old Free Transform option highlighted

To display the reference point when Free Transform is active, click the small check box in the top left corner of the ribbon. You can then drag it as before, or select one of the other points as the center of transformation.

option central reference point checked

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