What is a PSD File and How to Open It

Why do we have so many different file formats? Each format offers different capabilities that help us get the job done. You may already be familiar with PDFs, JPEGs, and maybe even GIFs but what is a PSD file?

Hello there, I’m Cara! I’ve written a ton of the tutorials available here on Photoshop Buzz. However this time, instead of learning something cool like how to create fire, we’re going to learn something interesting about Photoshop. 

So let’s dive in and answer the question “What is a PSD file?” and find out how to open it!

What is a PSD File?

If you’ve ever saved anything in Photoshop, you have likely created a PSD file – whether you knew it or not. PSD files are the native file format used by Adobe Photoshop. In fact, PSD stands for Photoshop Document.

This file format is unique and very helpful for graphic artists, photographers, and other design-oriented folks for a couple of reasons. 

First, it is capable of holding large amounts of data. Need to create an image 30,000 pixels square? You can do that with a PSD file. 

Second, it can store that data in multiple layers, images, or objects. Furthermore, it can retain that information in high resolution. 

With these capabilities, it’s no wonder that the PSD has become the industry standard for digital image manipulation and editing. 

Where Did the PSD Come From?

Not surprisingly, PSD files originated along with Photoshop. In 1988, when Adobe was developing Photoshop, it was an extremely innovative software. 

We would scoff at its basic capabilities today. But when it was released to the public in 1990, nothing like it had ever been seen before. It was so brand new and innovative that there were no existing file formats that could meet the program’s requirements. 

Fast forward 30 years and Photoshop is still king. Lots of other software has been developed over this time but Photoshop and its native file format are still leading the industry. 

Who Uses PSDs?

Anyone who uses Photoshop! 

It is possible to use Photoshop without using the PSD file format. In fact, Photoshop is capable of saving projects in many different file formats. 

Open the Save as Type menu when using the Save as command. There you’ll be presented with 19 options, including PSD, JPEG, PNG, GIF, and more. When using the Save as a Copy command, you’ll find a few more, 23 in all.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to learn about 23 file types to use Photoshop. In fact, the majority of users only use a handful of these file types depending on what they use Photoshop to create. 

But, while one person may save projects as a PNG all the time another may not even know what a PNG is. However, nearly every Photoshop user uses the PSD file. 

After all, when working on an elaborate project with individual layers, it’s nice to be able to come back and make changes. Other file formats require flattening the image (merging all the layers into one) in order to save it. 

What are PSD Files Used for?

Any digital designer who uses Photoshop will find PSD files useful. Not only can they save their work without losing layers, but also they can share that work with other members of their team. Everyone has access to the same information when sharing a PSD file. 

The same can’t be said for a JPEG or PNG, which both require flattening before saving. 

Photographers also find PSD files extremely useful when working with images. With the ability to work in layers and the suite of tools available in Photoshop, nearly nothing is impossible when it comes to editing, compositing, and other retouching. 

PSD gives them the file format needed to make those changes without having to commit to them at once. When you start a project and save it as a PSD, you can come back and pick up right where you left off. 

How to Open a PSD File in Photoshop?

Opening a PSD file is simple when you have Photoshop. Simply find the file on your computer and double-click on it. Your computer will automatically open Photoshop and display the file. 

How to Save a PSD File in Photoshop?

Saving as a PSD is just as simple. It is the default format for Photoshop so when you choose the Save or Save As command in the File menu it shows up automatically in the Save as File Type box. 

How to Open a PSD File Without Photoshop?

The best way to use PSD files to their full capacity is with a subscription to Photoshop. But as the design industry standard, there are a few other programs that support PSD files. So if you don’t have Photoshop but need to take a peek at a PSD file, you can use one of these. 

However, there is a caveat. Many of these programs can open the PSD as a flattened image, but can’t display the layers. So you’ll be able to see the image, but not edit it. So I’ll divide the list into two parts.

Can Only Display PSDs

  • Google Drive
  • XnView
  • IrfanView

Can Display and Edit PSDs (Though Capability May Be Limited)

  • GIMP
  • Paint.NET
  • Photopea

What is a PSB File?

PSD files support a document of up to 30,000 pixels square. That’s pretty darn big and will be large enough for most projects. But, PSDs tap out at 2 GB of information. So if you have a lot of layers and information in your project, you may not be able to save it as a PSD. 

If you need more digital space, you can use a PSB file instead. The Adobe Photoshop Large Document Format (or Photoshop Big) can support up to 300,000 pixels in any dimension. 

And as far as size? Well a PSB can support file sizes up to 4 exabytes. 

What? Never heard of exabytes? Okay, well that’s a whopping 4.2 billion GB! Let that sink in for a moment because it’s honestly ridiculous when you think about it.

Let’s Get Photoshopping!

While it’s interesting to learn about the technical aspects of Photoshop, it’s even more fun to create! Let’s put these PSD files to use and check out this tutorial on how to create composite images.

About Cara Koch
Cara fell in love with photography circa 2014 and has been exploring all corners of the imagery world ever since. When she felt limited by Lightroom, she dove headfirst into Photoshop to learn how to create the images she wanted.

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