Editing Workflow part 2: Optimising Photoshop CS5

Welcome to the second part of my editing workflow series. In the last post, which looked at setting up Lightroom 3, I gave some tip on performance boosts to make Lightroom run just that little bit smoother. In this post I will take a look at Photoshop and how to optimise it to make it run that bit quicker and efficiently.Again to start with, it makes sense to have the fastest computer you can afford, RAM is one of the most important aspects of running design software like photoshop, so fit as much in as possible. I currently run 8GB Ram, which works fine for most things, but some complex tasks still take a bit longer to process.

Now before I start with the program side of things, there is one thing that vastly improves performance and is relatively inexpensive is a Solid State Drive (SSD) these are like giant SD cards, and have no moving parts. The information is dragged from the drive without the delay you get with standard hardrives. Good practice would be to install photoshop onto the SSD and also use it for the Scratch disk (will talk about that later), this will drastically improve the speed which photoshop works on files etc. They are now relatively cheap like this 120gb Corsair on amazon. They are not the most reliable of items, so I wouldn't use them for storage of precious documents, but in terms of a performance boost they fantastic.

Now for the software tips.

Memory Usage.

Handily photoshop has all of the most important tuning parts in one window. This can be found by going to Edit => Preferences => Performance. I believe this is the same as CS4. You should now have something similar to the image below.

Photoshop memory usage


As with Lightroom, Photoshops default memory usage is quite conservative. As a rule of thumb if you are running windows or Mac 32bit operating systems you can have it set to about 70% memory usage, this will mean that photoshop should run smoothly and not seize up other operations. If you are running a 64bit Windows or Mac, you can ramp the usage right up to 100% as photoshop will automatically take into account system RAM usage. As I tend to run Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time I have mine set between 75% and 80% whilst running 64bit windows.

Assgining the scratch disk

The Scratch disk is where photoshop saves temporary information which is too big for the RAM, but is still required for editing. Using a SSD for this would be ideal.

Scratch disk

The ideal scratch disk would be a fast HDD that is not the boot drive for the OS. It is very important to keep this drive de-fragmented and clear of clutter. I will be investing in a SSD soon for this purpose. The scratch disk needs plenty of space on it.

History and Cache Preference

This is very complicated to explain and there are a lot of permutations.

History and Cache


Essentially this is where you tell photoshop what sort of files you will be working on, giving pr warning as to what to expect. This makes it a little quicker in determining how to handle your file. I won't go into too much detail here as there is already a good article on the Adobe website. With today's cameras running around 10mp or higher the best settings are "default" with a cache level of about 4, depending on the amount of RAM, again the more RAM the higher you can push that number, but 4 is adequate. If you are running a processor later than a Pentium 4 you can set the cache tile size to either 128K or 1024K if you are running a Pentium 4 or AMD processor set them at 132 K or 1032 K.


That was a very quick and basic run through, more detail can be found on the adobe website, but this will get you set up and running much smoother. The next part of this series will start looking at my importing and editing workflow. Any questions or feedback please comment or email me web@darrenobrien.co.uk