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What Is a PSD File

In today’s digital world, we’re all inundated with file extensions, many of which require specialized software to open. And without the necessary software, you can’t open or preview their contents. The .PSD, or Photoshop Document File, is surely one of them. And it’s no surprise if you came across one recently and your computer didn’t recognize it.

Thankfully, there are many free tools available to open or convert one with ease. And there’s no real need to license Photoshop if you don’t plan on using this file format exclusively. To help, this article will cover both how to open or convert them. But, we’ll also cover its history briefly, strengths, and key disadvantages compared to other file formats.

What is a PSD File?

PSD, or Photoshop Document File, is the proprietary file format created for the now-famous graphic editor Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop, publicly released in the 1990s, was specifically designed for graphic design and digital imagery. But, it and its native file format have risen to the ranks of what many consider the industry-standard editor for digital imaging. And the .psd file remains the software’s default format for saving files unless you specify otherwise.

psd-files-in-mac-finder

Unlike many other graphic file formats, PSD’s can contain much more information, and it’s pretty complex in design. In this case, it can house multiple images, layers, filters, masks, texts, shapes, vector paths, and effects. They also support various color gamuts, ranging from RGB, CMYK, and Lab, along with 32-bit color.

And while you can use this file to house a single image, the most common use is saving an editable project. Say, for example, you’re retouching a picture with various color grades, healing, and compositing effects. And, in fact, you can save the exact state of any document with hundreds of layers, adjustments, masks, and selections to a maximum file size of 2 GB.

Sure, the PSD file looks like a single flat image on the surface. But, once opened, it’ll reveal all of the individual layers, adjustments, and other effects housed in the file. And this functionality, combined with Photoshop’s large tool set, delivers never-ending possibilities in how you can edit a final image.

It’s also a key reason Photoshop, as an editor, provides an entirely non-destructive workflow, since you can always go back afterwards to edit the file and make tweaks when necessary. Thus, given this level of power and flexibility, the PSD format, along with TIFF, is generally the go-to’s amongst professional editors, graphic artists, and photographers.

However, as a native format owned by Adobe, it’s supported best by the company’s Creative Cloud Suite. Using the format on other third-party editors generally results in missing features or compatibility issues. Even so, there are many applications that support the format to a large degree.

Note: the maximum pixel dimensions of a PSD are 30,000 pixels high and wide. And the maximum file size is also 2 GB. But, you can up these limits by using PSB, Photoshop Large Document File.

How to Open a PSD File

While Adobe Photoshop is a powerful editor, not all of us feel the need to license it monthly or want to register merely to open a single file. So, what can we do if we need to open a PSD file but don’t have Photoshop? Thankfully, there are many ways to open this file type. Below is a list of some free tools that can do so without requiring you to purchase or lease them.

Note: it’s important to highlight that the best way to open a PSD is Adobe’s Creative Cloud, namely Photoshop. But, you can also open this file using Lightroom, Illustrator, After Effects, and Premiere Pro. Even so, it’s designed perfectly for Photoshop as a proprietary file format.

And Photoshop will handle the file natively, understanding all of its components like filters, layers, color space, and so on. So you’ll likely never run into a compatibility issue, except using an older version of Photoshop than the source file. So, if you want maximum functionality from this format, using Photoshop is best long term.

Cross-Platform:

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

GIMP is a popular photo-editing tool that’s remarked as “the free version of Photoshop,” offering a large majority of its features entirely free of charge. With this tool, you can not only open PSDs, but you can also edit them and convert them to other formats. And while not as intuitive to use as Adobe’s Photoshop, it’s mighty for free software.

Google Drive

If you only want to preview a PSD file without resorting to installing third-party software, merely upload it to Google Drive. Once processed, you can preview its contents using Google Drive’s native file preview functionality. But, note, you can’t edit the PSD file this way. So this solution only works to review its contents.

Pixlr

Pixlr is a cloud-based web application and photo editor, offering a direct alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop Express. Merely upload a PSD file to their Pixlr X basic editor, then convert the file or edit it as necessary. The editor recognizes each layer, and you can configure elements like blend mode, hide them, and so on. Overall, it’s quite a powerful tool, considering it’s wholly web-based.

Photopea

Photopea is a free cloud-based photo editor that, like Pixlr, lets you upload a PSD file then edit it freely. From there, you can export and convert the file to another format. But, it delivers an interface that closely matches Adobe Photoshop. Yet, it offers far more advanced features than the more basic Pixlr X editor. The problem is that it does have ongoing ads. So it’s more distracting to use. Even so, it’s a solid option given its ease of use and high-end functionality.

PSD Viewer

Suppose you’d rather convert the file without bothering with the hassle of extra features like filters, masks, and layers. In that case, PSD Viewer is a solid option. Merely upload your file to the website and select the file format to download the conversion to.

MacOS:

Apple Preview

On a Mac, you can view PSD files with the native Preview app. Merely double-click or right-click them to launch the app. No additional software is required here.

Windows:

IrfanView

IrfanView is a lightweight graphic viewer for Windows that supports nearly all available graphic formats around, ranging from Canon CR2’s to GIFs, HDR, HEIC, TIF, and of course PSDs. You can’t edit the file with this particular tool. However, you can convert it, and it’s a great option if you don’t want an editor specifically.

Paint.NET 

Paint.NET is a longstanding free software acclaimed as the best Microsoft Paint alternative. And it combines some of the advanced features from GIMP and Photoshop within a more simple-to-understand interface. For this tool, though, you’ll want to download the PSD plugin, letting it recognize the format. Otherwise, by default, it doesn’t support this file format.

There are others softwares such as CorelDRAW, Corel PaintShop, ACDSee Photo Studio, and Adobe Photoshop Elements that all support PSD. But, all of these applications only offer a free trial period, and aren’t wholly free. There are also many other online converters similar to PSDViewer, so you don’t have to use it specifically.

Disadvantages of PSD files

While this file format has many advantages, it doesn’t come without some downsides. Below are the most notable ones.

  • As a native and proprietary file format to Adobe, you have limited external support outside their Creative Cloud Suite. And while many third-party applications support this file format, you rarely get the same level of control or extensive functionality. There are always a few functions that remain unsupported and inaccessible. Not to mention, this file format isn’t wholly supported on either Windows or macOS. You only get partial editing options here too. So overall, to use this format requires a dedicated editor. And long-term, it eventually requires Photoshop itself.
  • Depending on your use case, PSDs can get large and often near their maximum file size of 2 GBs. And suppose you’re working on a series of ten images for a project. In that case, you can quickly create several dozen gigabytes worth of files, adding a considerable demand to your file storage, backup, and delivery workflow. If you’re not prepared to handle such file sizes, this can surely become a deal-breaker.

How to Convert a PSD File

If you’d rather avoid some of the hassles of PSD files, you can convert them to a more preferred and widely-supported file format, say JPG, SVG, or PNG. But, it’s important to highlight that even if you don’t mind the hassles, most websites don’t support uploading PSD files. And it’s more complicated to transfer these files via email as well. Thankfully, the process is straightforward. And the easiest ways to do so are by using Adobe Photoshop if you use it, or GIMP.

In both applications, merely go to File – Export

export-psd-file

From there, merely select the appropriate file format to export the file.

Note: once you convert the PSD to another image format, you’ll simultaneously flatten, compress, and merge all of its layers into a single file. And there’s no way of reverting this change and going back to the layers once you convert it. So if it’s essential to have access to the layers later in the future, it’s best to back up the PSD file itself.

FAQ

Can you print a PSD file?

Yes. On macOS, you can print it directly using the Preview app. But for Windows, you’ll want to convert the file to a JPG or PDF first.

Is a PSB a PSD?

No. A PSB file is the larger Photoshop Document file that stores more data than the standard PSD file format. It also has larger maximum document dimensions.

Can I Make a PSD File Larger Than 2 GB?

Yes. But you’ll need to save the document in the PSB, Photoshop Large Document format, which removes the standard 2 GB file limit restriction.