(Last updated on February 8th, 2023)
As you get used to Photoshop, there will undoubtedly be times when you mess up. I have used the software for years and still need to correct things! Maybe you have moved an object to the wrong place or applied a filter that actually looks terrible, for example. It happens! The beauty of this software, however, is that you have non-destructive editing and virtually any action you do is reversible.
This is via two main tools – the redo and undo functions. In this guide, I talk you through the basics of how to redo in Photoshop, how to undo mistakes, and how to use the history toolbar. These three things combined will give you much greater flexibility and allow you to work more effectively without crippling errors.
There is nothing worse than doing something wrong when editing in Photoshop, or any software for that matter. Any times I’ve applied a filter that I thought would look amazing, only to find out that it’s actually horrendous!
This is something that you will encounter. But the key is not to panic. Photoshop offers non-destructible editing. This essentially means that anything you do can be undone. No change is permanent.
And this is a big, however – no change is permanent while you have an image open. But ONLY while you have that image open!
Let’s look at a theoretical scenario.
I am editing a photo, I add a new layer and make some local adjustments. I do the old Ctrl + S shortcut on my keyboard to save the photo and close it to go for lunch. Coming back later, I open the image only to realize that the local adjustments don’t look great. I use the undo function – nothing happens. Oh no. I now have to try and spend time correcting the photo!
If you save and close a file in Photoshop, the editing history is closed and lost. That means that any changes you made cannot be redone or undone. Therefore, only save and close files when you are completely satisfied with what you have done.
OR, use layers and make sure you always keep a PSD version of the file that still contains the different components and objects for future editing!
Now we’ve got that out of the way – while you have a file open, you can redo and undo actions! Hell – you can even go through your entire editing history for that session. This is via these three tools:
- History Toolbar
These are three of the most invaluable tools in Photoshop and I will show you how to use each one below!
The undo and redo functions are possibly the things I use the most in Photoshop! They aren’t just useful for corrections, but they are incredibly useful for switching between versions so you can quickly see how a change affects a photo for example.
- Undo = Undoes the last action you did in Photoshop
- Redo = Re-applies the last action you did in Photoshop
For example, let’s say that I’ve added a gradient to a photo to give it a retro look using the gradient tool. Once I have applied it, I am unsure if it looks good. Therefore, I use the undo function to remove the gradient. However, I then think about it, use the redo tool and re-apply the gradient to look at it again – I decide it’s better than I thought – perfect.
You can use these two features in two different ways – via the edit menu, or via keyboard shortcuts.
Using the menus is much slower but there are a few benefits and I do recommend knowing where the undo and redo tools are in the menus to be prudent.
To undo your last action using menus, do the following:
- Click on the edit main menu.
- Click on Undo at the top (It will say “Undo XXX” where XXX is the name of the last action)
To redo your last action using menus, do the following:
- Click on the edit main menu.
- Click on Redo at the top (It will also show the last action that will be redone)
That’s literally all you have to do! As you can see from the below photo, the benefit is that the last action you did is clearly outlined. Below, we can see that I can undo a gradient, or redo changing the opacity of the gradient. This is useful if you have stepped away from your computer, and have forgotten what you last did! This video visually demonstrates using the undo and redo function in the edit menu –
While the menus are useful, I find having a quick and accessible keyboard shortcut much easier and more convenient. Over time, these shortcuts will be second nature and you won’t even have to think about what they are!
To be fair – when creating this guide I actually had to look down at my keyboard and see what I was pressing when undoing functions because it’s that automatic! Anyway, the keyboard shortcuts are as follows:
- Undo: Ctrl + Z
- Redo: Shift + Ctrl + Z
- Toggle Last State: Alt + Ctrl + Z
You can use the undo shortcut more than once too, to toggle back through your editing history for as many steps as it has stored.
The Toggle Last State shortcut is also really useful too and if you keep pressing it, it basically alternates between undo and redo. I typically use this if I want to see the difference between the photo with or without a particular filter or edit.
If ever you want to learn what shortcuts there are – just look at the main menus. As you can see below in my file menu, the most important functions have their keyboard shortcut listed next to the option!
Instead of simply undoing or redoing your last action, there is a more detailed function too. This is the History Panel. This is invaluable for photo editing and essentially shows you every change that you have made to the currently active file during that session (Remember – the history only stays active during a single session i.e. from when you open a photo to when you save and close it!).
You first have to activate the history panel and to do this, do the following steps:
- Click on the window main menu.
- Click on the history sub-item.
The window menu is basically where you customize your Photoshop layout and change what toolbars are visible. Once you click the history item in this menu, it should pop up on the right-hand side of your screen.
The history panel shows every action you have taken during that session as individual lines up to a maximum of 50. You can then simply click on one of the actions and the image will revert to that stage of editing! As a result, by using the history panel you can effectively undo any change.
It is also useful as you can create snapshots at particular points. For example, if you have just made a major change and may want to revert later – click on the camera icon and it creates a snapshot of the image edited up to that point.
I hope you have found this guide useful! I can’t count the number of times that the undo and redo functions have saved me when using Photoshop! It’s so easy when editing to make a mistake and do something wrong.
This is where these tools are invaluable and together with the history toolbar, you essentially have non-destructive editing where you can correct any error! I advise spending some time getting used to the udon and redo functions and playing with the history toolbar until you can use them comfortably.
Frequently Asked Questions
To undo your last action either click the undo option in the edit menu, or use Ctrl + Z on your keyboard. To redo a previous action, click redo in the edit menu, or use Shift + Ctrl + Y on your keyboard.
Yes! You can use the undo function multiple times – as many times as what is stored in the image history. Just note that if you close the image and then re-open it – that history is lost and you can’t then use the undo function.
This could be a bug and has been reported before. However, the most common reason is that you have closed your image and then re-opened it. If you have saved an image, closed it, and then re-opened it, any editing history is lost and therefore the redo/undo action won’t work until you have done something new.
Yes! If you click on the window main menu and then select the history tab you can view your entire editing history for the currently open file on the right-hand side.
If you have the history toolbar open, you can see all steps you have taken on the current image. You can then revert to a previous stage of the image by clicking on one of the steps.
Mark McPherson has been working as a video editor and content writer for over ten years. His background started in animation and video editing before shifting into the realm of web development. He also branched out into content writing for various online publications. Mark is an expert in video editing, content writing, and 2D/3D animation.