How To Use The Navigator Panel In Photoshop

Learn how to use Photoshop’s Navigator panel to zoom and pan your images, and why it’s perfect for navigating around an image when you’re zoomed in! Part 3 of our Image Navigation chapter. For Photoshop CC and CS6.

You can follow along by opening any image in Photoshop. Here’s the photo I’ll be using (lighthouse photo from Adobe Stock):

A photo open in Photoshop CC

An image open in Photoshop CC. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Opening The Navigator Panel

As we learned in the previous chapter, Photoshop uses workspaces to determine which of its many panels are displayed on your screen. The default workspace is known as Essentials. If you’ve only ever used the Essentials workspace, you may have never heard of the Navigator panel. That’s because the Navigator panel is not included in the Essentials workspace, which means that, by default at least, it’s nowhere to be found on your screen. That’s okay, though, because Photoshop lets us open any panel we need, any time we need it.

All of Photoshop’s panels can be opened from the Window menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen. To open the Navigator panel, go up to the Window menu and choose Navigator from the list. If you see a checkmark next to a panel’s name, it means that the panel is already open. In my case, there’s no checkmark next to the Navigator panel, so I’ll select it to open it:

Opening the Navigator panel from the Window menu in Photoshop

Opening the Navigator panel from the Window menu.

The panels that are open in Photoshop are located in columns along the right of the interface. By default, Photoshop docks the Navigator panel into the small, narrow column on the left, where the panels appear only as icons. The Navigator panel’s icon looks like a ship’s steering wheel. You can open (expand) or close (collapse) the panel by clicking on its icon:

The Navigator panel open in Photoshop

The Navigator panel appears in the narrow panel column to the left of the main column.

Resizing The Navigator Panel

At its default size, the Navigator panel isn’t very useful, but we can easily make it bigger. To resize the panel, click on its lower left corner and drag it outward. You can make the Navigator panel as large as you like, but of course you’ll want to leave room to see your image in the document window. If you’re working with two monitors, you can move the Navigator panel to the second monitor and resize it to fill the entire screen. In my case, I’ll make it big enough so that it’s easy to see my image inside of it:

Resizing the Navigator panel in Photoshop

Click and drag the lower left corner to resize the Navigator panel.

The Preview Area And The View Box

The most obvious feature of the Navigator panel is the image preview area. The preview area shows us the entire image, even when we’re zoomed in. We’ll see why that’s important in a moment. Notice that the preview area is surrounded by a thin, red border. This is known as the View Box. The View Box represents the section of the image that we’re currently seeing in the document window. When we first open an image, Photoshop fits the entire image on the screen. So, since we can see the entire image, the entire image in the Navigator panel is surrounded by the View Box:

The Navigator panel in Photoshop

The Navigator panel showing the image preview and the red View Box surrounding it.

Viewing The Current Zoom Level

Just as we can view the current zoom level of the image in the lower left corner of the document window, we can also view it in the lower left of the Navigator panel. Here, the box is showing that I’m seeing my image on screen at the 33.33% zoom size. We’ll come back to this zoom level box a bit later:

The Navigator panel displaying the current zoom level

The Navigator panel displays the current zoom level in the lower left corner.

Changing The Zoom Level With The Slider

Let’s see what happens with the View Box in the preview area when we change the zoom level of the image. One way to change the zoom level from the Navigator panel is by using the slider. You’ll find the slider along the bottom of the panel. Drag the slider to the right to zoom in, or to the left to zoom out:

The zoom level slider along the bottom of the Navigator panel

The zoom level slider in the Navigator panel.

Here, I’m zooming in by dragging the slider to the right. We can see that I’ve zoomed in on my image in the document window. But, notice that the preview area in the Navigator panel is still showing the entire image, as if I had not zoomed in at all:

Changing the zoom level of the image with the slider in the Navigator panel

Dragging the slider in the Navigator panel changes the zoom level of the image in the document window.

A Closer Look At The View Box

The way the Navigator panel works is that the preview area always shows the entire image, no matter the zoom level. The View Box, on the other hand, is different. It shows us which part of the image we’re seeing in the document window at the current zoom level. Earlier, when the entire image was visible on the screen, the View Box surrounded the entire image. But now that I’ve zoomed in, and the image is now too big to fit on the screen, the View Box has resized. It now surrounds only a smaller section in the center of the image. The area inside the View Box is the area that’s visible in the document window at my current zoom level. Everything outside the View Box now extends off the screen:

The View Box in the Navigator panel showing the visible area in the document window

The View Box shows us where we are in the image while zoomed in.

Panning The Image With The View Box

The View Box in the Navigator panel makes it easy to tell which part of the image we’re looking at when we’re zoomed in. But there’s more to the View Box than just that. We can also use it to change which part of the image we’re seeing. To pan, or move, to a different part of the image, simply click inside the View Box and drag it to a new location. The new location becomes the area you’re seeing in the document window. I’ll drag the box over to the right, away from the lighthouse, so that the ship on the far right of the photo is within the View Box boundaries:

Dragging the View Box in the preview area of the Navigator panel

Dragging the View Box to a different part of the image.

After moving the View Box, the ship is now visible in the document window, while the lighthouse has been moved off to the side:

The document window after moving the View Box in the Navigator panel

The new area within the View Box is now visible in the document window.

The Zoom In And Zoom Out Buttons

We’ve seen that we can zoom in and out of the image using the slider along the bottom of the Navigator panel. Another way to zoom in and out is with the Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons on either side of the slider. Click the Zoom In button (the big mountain range) on the right to zoom in, or the Zoom Out button (the small mountain range) on the left to zoom out. Clicking the same button repeatedly will zoom you in or out further, in incremental steps. Again, the View Box resizes to show the area now visible in the document window. You can click and drag the View Box to inspect different areas of the image at your new zoom level:

The Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons at the bottom of the Navigator panel

The Zoom In (right) and Zoom Out (left) buttons on either side of the slider.

Changing The Zoom Level From The Current Zoom Level Box

Earlier, we learned that we can view the current zoom level in the box in the lower left corner of the Navigator panel. We can also change the zoom level from the same box. Click inside the box to highlight the current value. Type in your new value, and then press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard to accept it. If you press and hold your Shift key while pressing Enter (Win) / Return (Mac), you’ll keep the value highlighted after you’ve accepted it. This lets you quickly enter a different zoom value without needing to first click inside the box to highlight it again. Photoshop will automatically add the % symbol, so there’s no need to type it in yourself:

Changing the zoom level in the lower left of the Navigator panel

Changing the zoom level using the box in the lower left.

Changing The Zoom Level With The Scrubby Slider

For more fine-tuned control over the zoom level in the Navigator panel, use the Scrubby Slider. Hover your mouse cursor over the current zoom level in the lower left corner. Then, press and hold the Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key on your keyboard. Your cursor will change into a hand with direction arrows pointing left and right. This is Photoshop’s Scrubby Slider icon. Click and hold your mouse button, and then drag left or right to change the zoom level in 1% increments. Drag to the right to increase the zoom level, or to the left to decrease it. If you press and hold your Shift key as you drag (while still holding the Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key), you’ll change the zoom level in increments of 10%:

Changing the zoom level in the Navigator panel with the Scrubby Slider

Changing the zoom level with the Scrubby Slider.

Manually Selecting An Area To Zoom In

The quickest and easiest way to zoom in on part of your image with the Navigator panel is to simply drag a selection around the area you need. Hover your mouse cursor over the preview area, and then press and hold the Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key on your keyboard. Your cursor will change into a magnifying glass, similar to the Zoom Tool’s cursor. With the Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key held down, click and drag out a View Box around the area where you want to zoom in. Here, I’m dragging around the lighthouse:

Dragging a View Box in the preview area of the Navigator panel

Dragging a View Box around an area to zoom in.
When you release your mouse button, Photoshop instantly zooms in to that part of the image in the document window. In my case, the lighthouse is now front and center:

Photoshop zooms in on the area when you release your mouse button

Photoshop zooms in on the selected area.

Changing The Color Of The View Box

Finally, let’s learn how to change the color of the View Box. The default color is light red, but depending on your image, light red may not be so easy to see. To change the color, click on the menu icon in the upper right of the Navigator panel:

The Navigator panel menu icon in Photoshop

Clicking the Navigator panel’s menu icon.

Then choose Panel Options from the menu:

Opening the Navigator panel options

Opening the Navigator panel options.

In the Panel Options dialog box, click on the default Light Red and choose a different color for the View Box from the list. Or, click Custom at the top to open Photoshop’s Color Picker where you can choose any color you like. Click OK when you’re done to accept it and close the dialog box:

Changing the color of the View Box in the Navigator panel

Choose a color for the View Box that’s easier to see in front of your image.