Photoshop CC's Character and Paragraph Panels - dummies

Photoshop CC’s Character and Paragraph Panels

By Peter Bauer

For incredible control over the appearance of your text in Photoshop CC, use the Character and Paragraph panels. In addition to all the text attributes available on the Options bar, the panels provide a wide range of choices.

With them, you can customize the general appearance of the text or apply sophisticated typographic styling. The Character and Paragraph panels can be shown and hidden by clicking the Panels button on the right end of any type tool’s Options bar or through the Window menu.

You can use the Character panel to edit a single selected character, a series of selected characters, or the entire content of a type layer. This figure shows what you face when “building character” using this panel.


When an OpenType font is selected in the upper-left field, the Character panel offers OpenType options as buttons. Which buttons are grayed out and which are available depends on which features are built into the OpenType font.

Unless you’re a typographer, a number of the fields in the Character panel might require explanation:

  • Leading: Leading (pronounced LED-ding rather than LEED-ing and which refers to the lead strips of metal that typesetters used to place between lines of type) is the vertical space between lines of text. Generally, you’ll leave Leading set to Auto.

    However, you can select one or more lines of text (select the whole line) and change the spacing. Adding more space gives the text an airy, light appearance. Reducing the leading tightens up the text, which enables you to fit more lines in the same area.

  • Kerning: The space between two characters is determined by the kerning built into a font. You can, however, override that spacing. Click with a type tool between two letters and then change the setting in the Kerning field to change the distance between the letters.

    You might, for example, want to reduce the kerning between a capital P and a lowercase o to tuck the second character protectively under the overhang of the taller letter. This can produce a cleaner and better-connected relationship between the two characters.

  • Scaling: Vertical and horizontal scaling modifies the height and width of the selected character(s). You’ll find this useful primarily for customizing short bits of type rather than long chunks of text.

  • Baseline Shift: Produce subscript and superscript characters, such as those used in H2O and E = mc2, with the Baseline Shift field. It’s generally easier to use the Superscript and Subscript styles (see the next bullet on faux styles).

  • Faux Styles: Use faux styles to apply the appearance of a character style, even when they’re not built into the font. From the left, as the buttons show, the available faux styles are Bold, Italic, All Caps, Small Caps, Superscript, Subscript, Underline, and Strikethrough.

    Select the character or characters to which you want to apply the style, and then click the appropriate button or buttons. Generally speaking, if a font offers a specific style on the Font Style menu, you’ll use the font’s built-in style rather than the faux style. Remember that you can’t use Faux Bold when you want to warp text.

  • OpenType Options: OpenType fonts, which can include many more glyphs (characters) than can TrueType or Type 1 fonts, may include a number of special features, including (from left) Standard Ligatures, Contextual Alternates, Discretionary Ligatures, Swashes, Stylistic Alternates, Titling Alternates, Ordinals, and Fractions.

    If you type certain character combinations, a single character, more visually pleasing, will be substituted. Not all OpenType fonts include all options.

  • Dictionary: Photoshop has more than four dozen dictionaries built in. And, wonderfully or confusingly depending on your personal linguistic talents, you can assign dictionaries on a word-by-word (or even character-by-character) basis.

    You could, for example, insert a bon mot into the middle of your text in the language of your choice, assign the appropriate language dictionary, and not have that phrase trigger an alert when you run a spell check (by choosing Edit→Check Spelling).

If you click in your image window and start typing but no characters appear, check the Layers panel to make sure no layer is hiding your type layer and verify in the Options bar that your text color isn’t the same as the background over which you’re typing.

If neither of those factors is the problem, it’s likely an invalid setting in the Character panel (perhaps Baseline Shift). Press the Escape key, and then right-click on the Type tool icon at the left end of the Options bar and select Reset Tool.