The Move Tool – Learning Photoshop

The Move Tool  in the tool bar
Image 1 – The move tool

Let’s start off with one of the simplest, easiest, and maybe one of the most used tools – the move tool. It’s the first tool you see in the toolbar and is used to move objects around on your canvas. But there are also some settings that can be very useful to be aware of.

What are you moving?

Although it may seem like you are moving the objects on the canvas, it is in fact the entire layer you are moving around. So if you happen to have two objects on the same layer, they will both move around simultaneously when using the move tool. In the layers panel, select the layer that you want to move and then click and drag around the object. By selecting multiple layers you can move them around together. This can be used on all types of objects, text, shapes, images, etc as long as they are not locked. To unlock a layer click on the padlock to the right 

To select multiple layers, press shift and choose the first and the last layer you would like to select. These layers and all in-between them will be selected. You can see what layers are selected by them having a lighter gray color than the unselected ones. If you need to select individual layers press cmd on Mac or ctrl on Windows. While holding the key click on all the layers you wish to select.


You can quickly access the move tool with shortcuts. Press v to switch to the move tool. You can also access the move tool temporarily by pressing and holding cmd on Mac or ctrl on windows. While holding it, your cursor will change to the move tool, and when you release you’ll go back to your previous tool. This is convenient if you quickly need to move something and then get back to what else you were working on.

Shortcut: v

Temporary shortcut: Command – Mac /Control – Windows

Changing the settings in the option bar. 

The option bar at the top of your canvas is where you can control the move tool and choose its settings. (Image 2)

The option bar for the move tool
Image 2 – The option bar
Settings for the move tool
Image 3

The first icon we see here is the move tool icon. (Image 3 No. 1) Here you can, among other things, reset the tool to its default settings. Click on the icon and you will get a popup. In the upper right corner, you see a gear icon where you find the settings. By clicking here you will get a menu in which you can choose ”reset tool”. This can be useful if you notice that a specific tool is acting strange. You may have changed some of its settings and it may just need to be reset. 

You can also save different types of settings presets to choose between. Some tools have pre-made presets, however the move tool does not since there are not that many settings this tool has to offer. To make a preset, select your chosen settings in the option bar and open the popup. Here you select the plus sign on the right and you will be prompted to name the preset. It will then be saved and listed in the popup for you to use whenever you need it. 


(Image 3 No. 2)

Auto-select is arguably the most important setting for the move tool, and also a very useful one. (Image 3 No. 2) It lets you automatically select the layer by clicking the object on the canvas. This means that you can move any object on your canvas without having to use the the layer panel. Auto-select is by default checked in your option bar. However, if you uncheck it you will only be able to move the object on the layer you currently have selected, no matter what or where you click on the canvas.

Both these options are very helpful in different situations and personally, I switch between them depending on what is most convenient at the time. Auto-select is very time-saving, not having to manually go to the layers panel to switch between the layers. However, if you have many overlapping objects and it’s hard to select the right object to move, it is very useful to be able to turn off auto-select. 

Select layers or groups.

(Image 3 No. 3)

The next option is connected to the auto-select and is only relevant if you have auto-select checked. It lets you decide if you want to move just the layer you click on or the entire group that the layer is a part of. Choosing the option ”groups” would assume that you are using groups in your layers panel. The default is set to ”layers” and it will be the option you’ll most often use if you do no work with lots and lots of layers that are grouped. 

Show transform controls 

(Image 3 No. 4)

Transform controls
Image 5

This option is by default turned off. Selecting it will let you see a blue box around the object on which layer you currently have selected. (Image 5) By selecting a different layer, the blue box will switch to the object on that layer instead. So, these boxes, what do they do? They let you change the size or shape of the object you currently have selected. You can also rotate the object. The blue box appears as long as you have “show transform controls” checked and have the move tool selected. If you select any other tool, you will see that the box disappears. To resize an object, make sure you check the checkbox in the option bar and select the layer with the object you wish to change. You see the blue box around the object and if you hover over one of the blue lines you will see an arrow with two arrowheads. (Image 6 No.1) You can now click and drag it inward or outward to make the object bigger or smaller. By default, the object will remain proportionate. If you don’t want that, hold shift while dragging and you will only change the width or height of the object. To rotate, hover outside the blue box and you will see a bent arrow. (Image 6 no. 2) Click and drag and the object will rotate around. When you are done you have to confirm or cancel your changes. Up in the option bar, you will see that a new checkmark and a crossed circle have appeared. To confirm, press the checkmark, and to dismiss your changes select the circle. If you cancel, the size and rotation will go back to how it was before. 

Changing size or rotating an object
Image 5

Align and Distribute 

(Image 3 No. 5)

Align and distribute popup in the option bar
Image 7

These tools can also be found in the properties panel but since they are a part of the move tool we will go through them here too.

The align tools are the ones shown in the option bar while all these tools are hidden underneath the three dots. (Image 3 No. 5) Click on the dots to get a popup that will show you all the tools you have to choose between. (Image 7)


As the name suggests, the align tool will let you align objects to one another. To do this you select at least two layers with objects that you would like to align. You can aline horizontally or vertically, to the left, the right, top or bottom, or to the center. If you, for example, would like to align two objects on their left side, you select the layers and press the first align option in the option bar ”align left edges”.

Align to the canvas

You can also align objects to the canvas instead of aligning objects to one another. To do this, click the three dots in the option bar, and in the popup go to ”align to”. There you can change from ”selection” to canvas” and the reference point will now be the canvas. You can select one or more layers and align them however you would like. If you choose “horizontal center” and then “vertical center” your object will be perfectly centered on your canvas. 


The distribute tools will help you distribute your objects so that there will be equal spacing between them. You have to have three or more layers selected and when distributed, all these objects will have the same spacing between them. Here you also choose if the spacing is horizontal, or vertical as well as if you want to distribute from the top, bottom, left, right, or from the center.

More about the move tool

The only thing we have left now in the option bar is the controls for 3D objects, which we will not go through here today. (Image 3 No. 6) Working with 3D objects is a whole other subject in itself. We may go through it in the future when we get to a more intermediate level if there is an interest to learn about it.

That’s all for today! For now, have fun moving things around. I see you in the next one. 

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