How to Bring Back Photoshop’s Old Free Transform Controls

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Adobe recently changed how Free Transform works by default. It’s thrown a lot of users for a loop, but you can get the old Free Transform behavior back. Here’s how.

How Free Transform Used to Work

First, a quick recap: Free Transform is the tool that enables you to resize and reshape any layer, shape, path, text, mask, object, or anything else.

With an unlocked layer selected, you access it by going to Edit > Free Transform, or with the keyboard shortcut Control+T (Command+T on a Mac.) This brings up a box with eight handles that surrounds the layer or object.

free transform active around a purple circle
This is what Free Transform looks like.

Here’s how Free Transform used to work: To reshape or resize the object, you’d click-and-drag on one of the handles. You were then able to freely drag the handle anywhere you wanted and distort the object however you’d like.

distorted purple circle with free transform controls visible

There were two important keyboard shortcuts: Alt (or Option on a Mac) and Shift.

Holding “Alt” (or “Option”) resized or reshaped the object around the reference point. In other words, dragging one handle would cause the opposite handle to move as well basically resizing the object in place. (You could also click and move the reference point to change where the center of transformation was). “Shift” locked the proportions of the transformation. Instead of reshaping, it limited you to just resizing.

old free transform controls with shift held down to lock shape
Holding “Shift” keeps the circle a circle.

So,what’s the situation now? Well, free transform is arguably simpler for new users: It works much the same but the proportions are locked by default and, instead, you hold down “Shift” to distort things. It’s easier to get right the first time, but it’s a total pain for anyone who has the Shift-to-lock keyboard shortcut firmly ingrained in their muscle memory.

Also, by default, the reference point is now hidden. This means “Alt” (or “Option”) only resizes around the center rather than where you placed the reference point.

How to Restore Free Transform’s Classic Behavior

The good news is that bringing back Photoshop’s old behavior is simple.

To do so on Windows, click Edit > Preferences > General. On a Mac, click Photoshop > Preferences > General.

Under Options, toggle “Use Legacy Free Transform” on. Now, pressing “Shift” will lock the transformation rather than unlock it. You can close the Preferences window.

photoshop general preferences pane with legacy free transform option highlighted

Also, to show the reference point when you have Free Transform active, click the little checkbox in the top left of the ribbon. You can then drag it around as before, or select one of the other points as the center of transformation.

central reference point option checked