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The Best Tricks to Reduce Photoshop File Size

By on Oct 10, 2018 in Tutorials
The Best Tricks to Reduce Photoshop File Size

When you're sharing PSD files with a client or preparing them for sale on a site like Creative Market, file size matters. Saving megabytes wherever possible helps you save time on the upload and the person on the other end save time on the download, so it's a critical step. But how do you go about it? Today, we'll go over all the best tricks for quickly reducing your Photoshop file sizes.

Before you do any of these, save your work and duplicate it. Do not do these to the original document as they can reduce your editing capabilities.

1. Put a Solid Color Layer on Top

This is the craziest and most highly effective trick I've come across, and I found it entirely by accident. I recently downloaded a pack of large PSDs only to find that when I looked at them in Finder, they appeared to be blank. However, when I opened them up in Photoshop, all the promised layers were present, there was simply a solid white layer on top. Why on Earth would someone do this?


As I experimented with the files, I quickly found the answer. It turns out, deleting that layer made the file size increase substantially! Photoshop's high-quality file previews are surprisingly weighty, so simplifying them as much as possible saves you tons of space on huge files.

Obviously, the downside here is that you lose the nice file previews in applications like Finder and Bridge. If you need a no-brainer, quick way to cut down a PSD before you upload it though, it's a great trick. If you're interested in more tricks, beyond file downsizing, head over here for a list of awesome Photoshop tutorials that you never knew could be so easy.

Tip: Instead of adding a layer on top, you could simply hide all the layers. This can get tricky though if you have a complex PSD where some layers should be hidden while others should be showing.

2. Only Keep the Essential

I know this one sounds kind of obvious, but it's easy to forget some of the junk that accrues as you create your document. Hidden layers used to trace a design? Delete them. A layer for your color palette? Delete it. Notes and measurements? Delete them. When going through, ask yourself, "Does the recipient of the file need to see this?" If the answer is no, then delete it.

3. Merge/Flatten Layers

The idea here is simple, a PSD with 100 layers is much larger than a PSD with ten layers. Be careful though, flattening layers is destructive and greatly reduces your ability to make changes to your file. Only flatten the PSD that you're sending to a client, printer, etc., and only flatten layers that will never need to be edited by the person receiving the file.


Sometimes, flattening is actually a good precaution before sharing your files. There are tons of cases where you don't want the person who receives the file to be able to change certain aspects, and flattening any critical layers is the best way to ensure that making changes is more work than they care to tackle.

4. Apply Layer Masks

Layer masks are a complex tool that eat up plenty of 1s and 0s. They're essentially extra layers that can hide in plain sight. Right-click on a mask, then apply it and you'll reduce your file size.


5. Crop Oversized Layers to Document Bounds

Even the graphics and colors you leave off the canvas add to your file size. Make sure to delete anything in the document that is off the canvas. Of course, this only saves space if you have overhang in your document. As a quick fix, hit Command-A to select all, then go to Image>Crop.


6. Rasterize Smart Objects

When you rasterize a smart object (Layer>Rasterize>Smart Object), you're taking away its intelligence, which saves space. All the code that makes up the different functions of the object are now deleted from the file, thus making it smaller. This one isn't too complex, but it is commonly forgotten.


7. Use Adjustment Layers

This is probably the most technical of all, but it can help you immensely if you use duplicate layers to blend two photos together. When you duplicate a layer, you also duplicate the file size of that layer. Adjustment layers work from the original layer, so it saves space. Normally, you just duplicate a layer and then use blend the screen. Instead, you should create an adjustment layer and change the blend mode to screen.



Will This Confuse Buyers?

There are lots of reasons you might want to shrink a PSD's footprint. Perhaps your Dropbox or hard disk is filling up and you need a way to cut back on some of your heavy files, or maybe you're sending the file from one of your own machines to another and want to make the transfer quick and painless.

Where you really have to be careful though is when you're prepping a PSD for sale on a site like Creative Market. Just because a trick is effective in reducing the file size, doesn't mean it's the best option for your customers. For instance, the white layer trick above is potentially very confusing to a buyer. As one of our commenters pointed out below, even with clear instructions for how to deal with it, it might lead to lots of refund requests or support emails. Use your own discretion and always be very careful to structure your PSDs to be as user-friendly as possible. All of the tricks here are a tradeoff, so while they have the upside of reducing file size, there are serious downsides as well. If all you're looking for are ways to further optimize your workflow, make sure to check out this article we wrote featuring incredibly useful Photoshop plugins.

How Do You Reduce Your PSD File Size?

While all these tips are helpful, the best way to make sure your file is a sendable size is to take it into consideration from the very beginning. If you can plan ahead for as many obstacles as possible, then you'll get through any problems with a breeze. Perhaps our list of incredibly common Photoshop fails to avoid can help. Hopefully, you learned something new about reducing your Photoshop file size in this post. If not, then share some of your own tips and tricks below.

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  1. robbrink

    this is great! Ive been trying different ways to reduce my file sizes in both photoshop and illustrator. In Illustrator I would hide the layers as well, but I was having the problem that people kept contacting me saying their file was blank. I had it written in my description that you need to make layers visible to view and use the textures, but too many people didnt read so I had to change the file. Ive also learned that when saving an illustrator files to unclick Create PDF Compatible File in the options menu.

  2. creativenauts

    I dont think adding a blank layer or hiding layers is a good thing to be telling people about file size because you will be opening up a can of worms with buyers who already do not have a lot of skill in photoshop, in result you'll be getting all sorts of messages stating the file they purchased is blank, in result could be dealing with more chargebacks / disputes / refunds.

  3. creativenauts

    @Jenn Palandro That would probably help but if the text is not in different languages you will will have issues with instructions. You wouldn't believe the type of messages I get from people that refuse to read anything.

  4. secondfret

    @Derek - Creativenauts it's definitely an important consideration. It confused the heck out of me as a buyer when I first came across it. The layer was simply called "Delete this layer" and I couldn't figure out why it even existed. Seemed dumb until I figured out why they did it. It takes a hit against usability, which is not great.

  5. creativenauts

    @Josh Johnson I get all sorts of messages from buyers who are confused about simple things because they lack the necessary knowledge to work Photoshop. Recently I had a message stating they couldn't open the file in photoshop, it's because it was zipped LOL.

    My biggest concern is these types of methods can lead to unauthorized charge backs, disputes and support messages / tickets which can increase workload. I wish that Photoshop had a way to reduce file size without hacks.

  6. secondfret

    @Derek - Creativenauts yeah, ultimately I think shrinking a PSD has lots of use cases beyond selling on CM and I had those in mind here. For instance, when storing your own PSDs on Dropbox, the white layer trick could help you save space, and you're the one who did it so there's no issue.

    The opener does mention selling though, so I'll update this with a warning about sending people weird PSDs. Great feedback.

    UPDATE: New section added with advice for being cautious when selling PSDs.

  7. creatifolio
    • Staff

    @Derek - Creativenauts - for those of us on a slower connection, reducing file size is worth the few questions that come my way, in my humble opinion! It's a lot quicker to send a message to a confused customer, explaining the file reduction hack ("Just delete the top layer, and you should be all good!") than to spend hours uploading an unnecessarily large file. Just my two cents! ;)

    Thanks for all these cool tricks, @Josh Johnson - just in time for a new .psd product for my shop. Can't wait to try them out!!

  8. creativenauts

    @Beth Rufener @Josh Johnson It does make more sense if you are storing the files yourself to add that additional layer / hide all layers trick.

    The issue I have lately is many times I am getting messages from people that do not understand English and messaging back and forth can be very frustrating due to the language barrier. I'd also hate to see users start using these tactics and then chargeback rates go up for the marketplace, in result puts everyone at risk.

  9. MamdouhEzzSamy

    I love those tricks and I noticed that deleting hidden layers also reduces the file size, something which I discovered by accident today.

  10. MamdouhEzzSamy

    @Josh Johnson , well this is truly amazing.
    I had a file for print which was 1.09 GB and only by adding a top white layer, size was reduced to 520 MB.

  11. creativenauts

    I just gave this a shot with one of my files that i have uploaded here and it reduced my size from 1.8GB to 870mb - unfreakinbelievable :D

  12. Sivioco

    Number 1 is one of the most simple yet effective Photoshop tips I've seen in a long time. Nice find, Josh. Thanks for sharing!

  13. FreshDesignElements

    I came across this in the description mentioned above myself a week ago when I was researching products for my blog post http://freshdesignelements.com/24-editable-headerhero-images-engage-visitors/ about header/hero images on Creative Market.
    I thought the trick was amazing.

    I have an idea to solve the issue mentioned in the tip when hiding all the layers where some layers should be hidden while others should be showing.
    Layer Comps!
    Make a Layer Comp where everything is hidden and other Layer Comps with layers that are showing that need to be showing for that composition.
    If you just have one composition there is no need for Layer Comps and you should delete the unused layers.

    This does never take away the issue of people who refuse to read instructions and are to impatient.

  14. FreshDesignElements

    I use layer comps all the time when I'm trying to find the right composition for the image.
    Every Comp can have different layer styles to the same layer. That's the power.
    But this is not about Layer Comps but file size so I'll open a new discussion about LC's. :-)

  15. ianbarnard

    Amazing tip. This would reduce the file size of 70% of my products. Definitely help having a slow upload speed!

  16. beto

    Hiding all layers does the same (or better) than a blank top layer, since it renders white too; but without that extra layer, that in big dimension files can add a lot to the file. For photo editing, you make a merged layer on top, and hide everything else, you still get the thumbnail, but smaller file (not small like the other ways, but still you save a bit of space)

  17. stefusilviu

    Another tip: If you make all layers invisible (the eye icon on each layer), will reduce the size even more than the solid layer. Try it, I just did.

  18. captxenu

    Two other tips to help:

    1) Preferences>File Handling>Image Previews>Never Save (Previews still occur on my Macs with file icons, Quicklook, iView & Bridge.)
    2) Save as .tif files instead of .psd. (Image Compression: LZW, Layer Compression: ZIP [the other options don't matter]) All editing capabilities are retained.

  19. brightboxstudio

    There's a better way to do what the white layer trick does, a way that saves even more space and without complicating layers for your customers. All you have to do in Photoshop is open Preferences, click File Handling, and set Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility to "Never". That will prevent Photoshop from generating the full size composite preview that is usually saved in a PSD in addition to the document layers. (Set it to "Ask" if you'd like to decide for each file when you Save As.)

    Adding a white layer saves space because a single solid color compresses a lot better than the variations in a real image, but changing the setting above saves even more space because you didn't add another layer and you aren't generating that full size preview in the first place. You don't have to worry about telling clients to turn off layers, and you don't have to set up special layer comps. It's a lot simpler all around.

    You will still have the same problem as you would with the white box: The file won't have a full size preview unless the OS or application can render PSD files.

    Here are the results of a test I did to see whether the white box trick is really one of the "best tricks" to reduce file size:
    Original file: 249.2 MB
    White layer trick: 182.6 MB
    Maximize Compatibility off: 180.8 MB
    TIFF with layers and ZIP compression: 120.8 MB

    The white layer trick finished in third place. TIFF with ZIP compression turns out to be the winner because it saves the most space, yet it preserves all layers and effects and is fully previewable, Why isn't TIFF ZIP more popular? It saves very slowly, and some (very old) software can't read it. Which is the best tradeoff? You decide.


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