Exploring the Preset Manager in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements

If you collect or create a lot of custom Photoshop content and presets such as brushes, custom shapes, layer styles, tool presets, gradients, and patterns, you should get to know the Preset Manager.

The Preset Manager in Photoshop can be used to load, organize, and save all your custom content and presets for brushes, swatches, gradients, styles, patterns, contours, custom shapes, and tool settings. In Photoshop Elements, the Preset Manager works for brushes, swatches, gradients, and patterns. (Layer styles and custom shapes must be loaded a different way in Photoshop Elements.) In both programs, the Preset Manager is located under the Edit > Presets > Preset Manager.

Introducing the Preset Manager

Photoshop's Preset Manager
The Preset Manager in Photoshop. Adobe

At the top of the Preset Manager is a drop-down menu for selecting the specific preset type you want to work with. Beneath it is previews of that particular preset type. By default, the Preset Manager shows small thumbnails of the presets. To the right are buttons for loading, saving, renaming, and deleting presets.

The Preset Manager Menu

The Preset Manager in Photoshop Elements

Adjacent to the preset type menu on the right is a small icon that presents another menu (in Photoshop Elements, this is labeled more). From this menu, you can choose different layouts for how the presets are shown — text only, small thumbnails, large thumbnails, a small list, or large list. This varies somewhat depending on the preset type you are working with. For example, brushes type also offers a stroke thumbnail layout, and tool presets do not have the thumbnail choices. This menu includes all the preset sets that come installed with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

Using the Preset Manager, you can load presets from files stored anywhere on your computer, eliminating the need to put the files into any specific folders. In addition, you can merge several preset files together or save a customized set of your personal favorite presets. For instance, if you have several brush sets you've downloaded, but you primarily use only a handful of brushes from each of the sets, you can load all these sets into the Preset Manager, select your favorites, then save only the selected brushes out as a new set.

The Preset Manager is also important for saving the presets you create yourself. If you don't save your presets, you can lose them if you ever need to reinstall Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. By saving your custom presets to a file, you can make backups to keep the presets safe or share your presets with other Photoshop users.

Selected presets will have a border around them

Selecting and Saving Presets

You can select items in the Preset Manager just the same as you would in your computer's file manager:

  • Hold down Ctrl on Windows or Command on Mac and individually click on several items from anywhere in the list. If you want to make a selection of several items in a row, click on the first item in the list, hold down the Shift key, and click on the last item you want to select. Everything in between is selected.

You can tell when a preset is selected because it has a black border around it. After you select several items, press the Save Set button to save the selected presets in a new file in the location of your choosing. Make note of where you saved the file in case you want to make a copy as a backup or send your presets to someone else.

Renaming Presets

Click the Rename button to give a name to the individual presets. You can select multiple presets to rename and are able to specify a new name for each one.

Deleting Presets

Click the Delete button in the Preset Manager, to delete the selected items from being loaded. If they have already been saved to a set and exist as a file on your computer, they are still available from that file. However, if you create your own preset and do not explicitly save it to a file, pressing the delete button removes it forever.

You can also delete a preset by holding down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key and clicking on a preset. You can choose to rename or delete a preset by right-clicking on the preset thumbnail. You can rearrange the order of the presets by clicking and dragging the items in the Preset Manager.

Loading and Creating a Custom Set of Your Favorite Presets

When you use the Load button in the Preset Manager the newly loaded set is appended to the presets that are already in the Preset Manager. You can load as many sets as you like and then select the ones you want to make a new set.

If you want to replace the currently loaded styles with a new set, go to the Preset Manager menu and choose the Replace command instead of using the Load button.

To create a custom set of your favorite presets:

  1. Open the Preset Manager from the Edit menu.
  2. Choose the preset type you want to work with from the menu — Patterns, for example.
  3. Look through the currently loaded patterns and note whether they include any that you want to have in your new set. If not, and you're sure they have all been saved, you can delete these to make more room for the presets you want to work with.
  4. Press the Load button in the Preset Manager and navigate to the location on your computer where your preset files are saved. Repeat this for as many different files as you want to use. You can resize the Preset Manager by dragging on the sides if you need more space to work.
  5. Select each of the presets you want to include in your new set.
  6. Press the Save button and the Save dialog opens where you can choose a folder and specify the file name under which to save the file.
  7. Later you can reload this file and add to it or delete from it.

File Name Extensions for All Photoshop Preset Types

Photoshop and Photoshop Elements use the following file name extensions for presets:

  • Brushes: ABR
  • Swatches: ACO
  • Gradients: GRD
  • Styles: ASL
  • Patterns: PAT
  • Contours: SHC
  • Custom Shapes: CSH
  • Tools: TPL
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