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Mastering Photoshop – Pixel Perfection When Rotating, Pasting and Nudging

When creating Web and app interfaces, most designers slave over every single pixel, making sure it’s got exactly the right color, texture, and position. If you’re not careful, though, some common functions like moving, rotating, and pasting can undo your hard work, resulting in a blurry mess. But with some small changes to your workflow, you should be able to maintain the highest-quality artwork from the start to the end of the project

Pixel perfect rotation

If you’re not careful, rotating layers in Photoshop can damage them in a very noticeable, pixel-mashing way. When rotating layers with Free Transform (and some other tools) to exactly 90 or 270°, the quality of the outcome is determined by the layer’s size. If the layer is of even width and even height, then you’ll be fine. If it’s of an odd width and odd height, you’ll also be okay.

In this case, the artwork is 20 × 9 pixels: even-by-odd dimensions. The results for bitmap layers and vector layers are different, but they both produce unusable results because the origin of rotation doesn’t fall on an exact pixel boundary.

Pixel Perfect Vector Pasting

If you’ve drawn pixel-snapped artwork in Illustrator and pasted it into Photoshop as a shape layer, you may have noticed that the result is not quite what you expect (i.e. a perfectly sharp image), but rather a blurry mess. Here’s how to fix that. Below is some artwork as it appears in Illustrator: perfectly formed, snapped to the pixel grid, and at the size, we intend to use in Photoshop.

What Went Wrong

Photoshop’s pasting behavior works in one of two ways. If you’ve made a selection, then the clipboard’s contents are pasted so that the center of the clipboard is aligned with the center of the selection. If a selection hasn’t been made, then the contents are pasted so that the center of the clipboard aligns with the center of your current view. The level you’re zoomed into and the portion of the document you’re viewing determines the result.

An Easier Fix

The marquee doesn’t have to be the exact size of your artwork, though. In our case, a 2 × 2-pixel selection would work just as well, because the center of an even-width-and-height marquee selection and the center of even[1]width-and-height clipboard contents would fall exactly on a pixel boundary, which is what we want. If the artwork was an odd width and height, then a 1 × 1 selection would have been required.

Pixel perfect vector nudging

When nudging vector points, Photoshop exhibits some strange behavior, related to how far you’re zoomed in. At 100%, nudging with the arrow keys will move your vector point to exactly 1 pixel. At 200%, nudging moves the point by half a pixel. At 300%, it moves by a third of a pixel.

The behavior seems intentional, but it’s not usually what I’m after. Most of the time, I want to nudge in whole pixel increments. Here’s how you can do that, without zooming out to 100%

Last word

Using the correct techniques, it should be easy to place pixels exactly where you want. Remember, you’re the one in charge. Demand that they fall in line. Accept nothing less than pixel perfection.

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