Photoshop Tip #001 – 2GB+

Posted by Scott

I’ve added a new category to the blog: "Photoshop Techniques".  I’ll be posting random tips and techniques I have found to be useful when working with Adobe Photoshop.  To kick it off I’ll start with a pretty simple one that a lot of you may already be aware of. When working with large files in Photoshop the file size can become so big that Windows (yes, I use Windows, not mac!) cannot write the file, this limit is 2GB in the case of Windows XP (x86).  I’ve found that the PSD file format is rather wasteful and does very little (if no) compression.  You can simply save the file as a layered TIFF with the lossless "LZW" or "ZIP" compression enabled and shave the file size down by over 50% while still maintaining complete editability.  

I have been working through the process of recreating my prints in the 24"x36" @ 300DPI size so I have run into this problem a lot more recently (I originally design everything around the 12"x18" format). If you’re on a Mac, you no doubt have a 64bit OS and so don’t have to deal with file size limitations like this and you also have a really cool looking aluminum sculpture in your workspace, but this tip is still useful if not just to save a bit of disk space.  I would love to make the switch for design purposes, but I use the same machine for making music and design and in my opinion the Mac just can’t hang with the PC when it comes to recording and music.

Next week I’ll be covering hardware setups for large format stuff.

UPDATE: After reading about it in the comments of this post, I tried using the PSB format on a very large document last night. Saved after 5 hours of work, woke up this morning to find the file was highly corrupted with errors in a lot of the complex gradient masking. The errors were all isolated to masks on layers and layer groups. I have seen corruption like this before, but only when the computer crashed while trying to save a file. This time, the PSB saved fine and everything seemed to be going as planned, but the file was still corrupted. The file in question was 2.2GB with about 350 layers and 60 or so masks on various layers and groups. Anyways, this could obviously be an isolated incident and no testing was done to reproduce the error. Whatever the case may be, I won’t be using the PSB format again, I’ll stick to the TIFFs.

44 Comments Leave A Comment


Sam says:

October 22, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Thanks for noting that you use windows! I thought I was beginning to think I was the only graphic designer out there that did. A misconception among almost every designer I’ve met is that the mac is for design and that windows is incapable of producing nice work or that I am somehow an inferior designer for choosing windows over mac. This is simply erroneous. The programs are the same, it’s only the operating systems that really differ these days. More power to windows using designers, is what I say.


Scott says:

October 22, 2007 at 5:54 pm

I don’t use illustrator all that much, I do most of my vectors in PS. I will definitely do a post on how I use Ill for the more complex vector stuff and how I get them into Photoshop.

Yeah, I get the same thing. PCs and Macs use the same hardware (CPU, GPU, HDs, RAM, etc…) they just have different OS’s. But it’s not like OSX is somehow able to produce superior graphics, it’s just about the interface and how the user interacts with the applications. Beyond that, the output is exactly the same. What I can say for the Macs is that they have tighter integration when it comes to color management and calibration, but of course that’s what you get when the same company that makes your software makes your hardware. But it’s a double edged sword, that leads to less choices when it comes to buying hardware whereas the PC has many many choices. The debate could go on forever, the point is, if you like one platform, more power to you, it’s all about what comes out of the computer at the end of the day, not what kind of computer you used to make it.


drew kora says:

October 22, 2007 at 5:56 pm

Ooooh, this new category is gonna be great. Can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon.

Scott, I was under the impression that Macs were preferred for audio recording as well. And I could swear you had a mac on stage at your show at Sonotheque in Chicago.

For what it’s worth, I use a windows machine at my day job (I’m a graphic designer at a university) and it does the job well enough. Lots of people are polarized, like you have to like one OS and not the other. Given a choice I prefer a mac (OSX is just so much easier to work with), but a good Windows machine can be just as good.


Camilo says:

October 22, 2007 at 6:23 pm

congrats on the blog!

i also work 12×18 on windows, and i understand how dreadful it can be more that 8 layers on a psd. I’m gonna try your tip, until i switch to mac hopefully this christmas.

Santa promised!


Antonio says:

October 22, 2007 at 6:31 pm

Scott, you haven’t been using the right Mac then if you think the PC handles audio better. Every pro recording studio I’ve been in uses an Apple machine. It’s the way to go and one day you will come over from the dark side.


Scott says:

October 22, 2007 at 6:41 pm

good eye! I was borrowing that Mac laptop for a while until I got a new PC laptop (my last one was very old and just not cutting it anymore)

As for the Mac vs. PC audio debate….it’s just as heated as the graphics debate. But yeah, that’s why I put “in my opinion”. I love my PC, I built it, I know it inside and out, and I know exactly how to do the things I need to get my ideas recorded. That doesn’t mean it’s best for everybody, and perhaps you’re right, maybe I would like a Mac better, I can’t really say as I haven’t spent as much time working with them as I have with PCs. But the fact that most professional studios use Macs for audio work does not necessarily mean they are better for the job. What it does mean is that they *were* better for the job back when digital audio workstations were first catching on, so all the engineers learned Mac and all the schools taught Mac (same goes for design). But that was a long long time ago, things have changed, PCs have caught up. All that aside, I don’t like Pro Tools or Logic, I use Sonar, and Sonar is PC only (the others are Mac only) so it’s not really about the OS for me, it’s about the choice of software. Sonar used to be a very limited affair (used to be called Cakewalk), it wasn’t really up to the level of the competing DAW apps of the time. But since then it has grown leaps and bounds, and today it is every bit as powerful and full-featured as any of it’s Mac-based counterparts.
I will concede that the Windows OS is a sloppy mess that needs to be completely understood in order to work at peak performance. It takes a lot of work to set it up just right and to keep it running clean. But when you get it there, it can be a very stable and ridiculously fast OS. I have used $6000 Macs that take double the time to perform tasks that my PC can. I know this is biased, I have just always felt like Macs were somewhat slow, they may be rock solid, but it seems to be at the expense of raw power. But again, at the end of the day it’s what you’re comfortable with and know. For me, that happens to be a PC. You know there’s probably a bunch of people out there who would scoff at all of this nonsense and proclaim Linux the greatest OS on earth (and yes, OSX is based on Linux, so maybe that’s another score for Mac?). But the reality is they all have their limitations, their strengths, their weaknesses, it’s just up to you to figure out which one will best help you in your creative process.


Kelvin says:

October 22, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Nice, I always have problems working on bigger files, esp when I like to use alot of raster stuff over vector graphics. Great tip!
Can’t wait for more tutorials/tips.


drew kora says:

October 22, 2007 at 7:22 pm

It’s amazing how quickly any blog that opens a can of “mac or PC” fills up with comments and opinions so fast. it’s like you said, Scott, the work is what is it. Computers are just tools. Right on. Working on my MacBook doesn’t produce better results than working on my PC or vice versa.


Scott says:

October 22, 2007 at 7:45 pm

yeah, it’s crazy, guess I didn’t think it out before putting the words “mac” and “pc” in the same paragraph. It’s always a good discussion though, maybe helps people just getting into things decide which to go with.


NAVIS says:

October 22, 2007 at 7:54 pm

I had a big conniption whether to buy another PC or Mac a few months ago. I decided to make the jump and spend a little more than I bargained for and got a 24″ iMac. So far, I love it. We had some growing pains at first but after getting used to it… I dig it. I really like the expose feature and doing multiple projects in PS is waaaay easier. I could use either system to be honest. Aesthetically speaking – PC’s look better if you’re a tech junkie and Macs if you prefer clean, simplicity. I love my $2,400 aluminum sculpture. I just need my walnut-steel ipod with built in analog clock.

Do you use a tablet for parts of your work?


Jon says:

October 22, 2007 at 10:00 pm

I’ve used a PC for Photoshop for years, and have just recently moved over to a mac, and Photoshop on a mac is exactly the same. I’m using a G5 tower and 24inch iMac at home, and a PowerMac at work. Made a 100% PC to Mac switch in under 2 months, and couldn’t be happier. I have also heard that CS3 is now optimized for Intel Macs, and should run faster.

Can’t wait for these photoshop tips, I would love to hear about how you get some of your effects with different textures and fonts.


Hannes says:

October 23, 2007 at 2:06 am

I have no experience with files that big to be honest, but I was wondering, is that limit on the filesize a limit in Photoshop? Because as far as I know, Windows XP itself doesn’t have a real filesize limit, and FAT32 (which all the bigger harddisks are generally formatted in) has a 4GB limit. FAT16 is 2GB, but I don’t think yours will be FAT16… NTFS has no real limit, again. That’s the filesystem modern age computers should be formatted in.

If you know for sure it’s photoshop, then yea, stupid “feature” right there. But if it’s not PS, I’m pretty sure you should look into formatting your harddisk / partition into the NTFS filesystem

Can’t wait to read some more tips & tricks,
Take care,


Hannes says:

October 23, 2007 at 2:09 am

Is that limit due to Photoshop itself? I have no experience with files that big, so I can’t really tell, but if it’s not Photoshop I’d have a look at what that specific partition of the harddisk is formatted in. FAT16 has a 2GB filesize limit, FAT32 has 4GB as its limit, and NTFS has no real limit (it’s actually so big, that generally speaking you can’t get files that big)

I guess it’s just photoshop though, normally harddisks are FAT32 “out of the box”, I believe. Unless they’re old and rather small. NTFS is the way to go, anyway

I’m looking forward to reading some more tips and tricks,


Tor Løvskogén says:

October 23, 2007 at 4:38 am

I’m learning OS X at the moment, but I still use Windows at work, because I need to be efficient – but I think it’s a good skill to master both Windows and OS X.


Cheba says:

October 23, 2007 at 6:41 am

Windows XP itself can handle files much bigger than 2GB. There is a limit of 4GB in FAT file systems, but NTFS can handle even bigger files. So 2GB limit problem, I think, related to Ps itself with great probability. Maybe you should report a bug if it can’t save such big files.


Andrew says:

October 23, 2007 at 8:21 am

OS X isn’t based on GNU/Linux Scott ;), it’s based on Darwin/4.4BSD, and a lot of people says that BSD is better than GNU/Linux.

Can’t wait for next posts in this category.


Mark says:

October 23, 2007 at 9:18 am

I am seriously excited about this category. Scott, you should do a calendar, my girlfriend creams herself over your shit.


vitor cervi says:

October 23, 2007 at 9:18 am

Hi Scott,
A friend of mine once had a similar problem with big files in Windows while trying to render some stuff from After Effects. He found out that HDs with FAT 32 file system can handle files up to 2 GB and no more than this. Then he formated his PC to NTFS and the problem was solved, he could create files as big as he wanted with no concerns. Maybe you should see your PC system and check this issue.
Other thing I’ve learned in Photoshop is that if you turn all your layers off when saving the file, the size can decrease a lot.


Kristian says:

October 23, 2007 at 10:07 am

i have been searching my *** of for tutorials that you may have posted. i found one on the computer arts magazine website of Nightvision. very good tutorials, learned alot.
my point is that this is a very good idea and as the many posts here show i very much wanted one too.


Scott says:

October 23, 2007 at 10:21 am

Strange, I had read that Darwin was only a part of the source. I thought that there was Linux and BSD in there as well (it’s supposedly a mix of all those). No?

Calendars are hopefully coming soon.

I have been running all NTFS for years now, this problem doesn’t seem to be related to the file system but to Photoshop CS2 itself. It throw the error when the file exceeds 2GB. Either way, using the TIFF format can drastically reduce file size so it’s worthwhile just for the space savings.

I have written 2 tutorials for Computer Arts magazine. One was the “Nightvision” article you mentioned and the other was the cover story, the one with the stag on the front.


Alex says:

October 23, 2007 at 10:25 am

The limit is indeed in the FAT 32 file system. The “64 bit” processor only refers to the instruction size and amount of ram that can be addressed. They “are those that are based on registers, address buses, or data buses of that size.” FAT 32 is limited to 2 GB because of the 32 bit addressing. I had to save TIFF files over 2 GB regularly for the GigaPan project at NASA, all drives needed to be NTFS for this. You can convert FAT 32 to NTFS (but not back) following this: .
NTFS will also run better for you. FAT 32 vs NTFS :


Andrew says:

October 23, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Nope Scott ;), if you want more details it was something like that: Darwin was OS built on Mach-3 microkernel, some daemons and applications are from Free/Net BSD that’s why Darwin is based on 4.4BSD and also that’s why Darwin was real UNIX (not UNIX-like but in fact it doesn’t matter).
I should also mention about NeXT, NeXT was created by Steve Jobs after that he was kicked from Apple. They create their own system called NeXTStep (1993) which could be name “father of idea of OS X” because it was based on BSD Unix and when Steve Jobs return to apple he `command` to build new MacOS, and, with experience from NeXTStep, they create OS X (2000).
And as you can see Linux (and also whole system which is GNU/Linux) have nothing to do with OS X. In fact Linux (kernel I mean) also have some source code from BSD ;).

English isn’t my native language, I have hope that everyone will understand me.


Scott says:

October 23, 2007 at 12:20 pm

thanks, makes sense. I may be remembering when they were speculating on the release of OS X and whether or not it would be based on a linux kernel…guess that never ended up happening!


ryan says:

October 23, 2007 at 1:20 pm

I’m really surprised how long it took someone to mention .psb format– I’ve been using that since I started using CS2, a year and a half or so ago. It’s a good working format for huge files, then when it’s ready to send to print, I save as a single-layer tiff.

Works like a charm.


Eric says:

October 23, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Scott, did you know that you rock?

Unrelated to that, I too am on a PC, largely because that’s what I was raised on. I’m on a Mac at work and I enjoy both, but find OS X a lot friendlier. I’d be interested to hear what kind of configurations you make to Windows to make it a more work-friendly OS.


Wayne says:

October 23, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Love your work. I have both Mac and PC and love ’em both. But what I really love is your work! The attention to detail is plainly evident. I check your blog almost daily, but with this new TIPS category, I’ll be watching like a hawk.

Thanks for the inspiration…


Héctor says:

October 24, 2007 at 7:48 am

Your style is perfect, congrats!… im an industrial designer and I really like your work.
also its very grate that you give this kind of advices.

Work on MAC or PC is the same if you are a good designer!…

thank you!


Justin Meyers says:

October 24, 2007 at 8:19 am

I have a brandnew intel core duo Imac and a PC, the PC performs much faster. Kind of disapointing when you think about the price difference. I can build a really nice PC for $500 and buy a Mac for $3k, which one would you get?

Unless I start selling a bunch of prints and the cash starts rolling out, I’ll probably stick with PC’s after this mac burns out.


Phil says:

October 24, 2007 at 1:16 pm

Scott – Thanks for the tip, i will probably never save in the .psd format again. :).

Justin – Imacs aren’t really built for performance, but convenience. They’re basically a laptop with a HUGE screen…

I think PC’s can be just as good of a machine as Mac, if it is taken care of. But with al the spyware and viruses out there, that can be a daunting task.

But since the Intel switch, i don’t think there is much difference between the two, other than the OS.


Ward says:

October 24, 2007 at 2:02 pm

Scott – Thanks for starting this section, great idea. It’d be great to see your tips applied to music composition as well. Have you ever used Ableton Live for your music projects?


Alex says:

October 24, 2007 at 7:31 pm

Interesting results, thanks for following up. I cant fathom why Adobe did not make their native formats compressible. Looks like tiff is the way to go.

– look forward to meeting you at offf, been a fan of your work :]


GradeK says:

October 28, 2007 at 7:22 pm

Nice thing about the newer intel macs is that you can run windows and os x. So you have best of both worlds. I agree that Windows still has better audio apps. But OS X 10.5 is awesome, I actually enjoy using my computer the interface is way ahead of windows. Personally I swing both ways, but I can’t recommend my MacBook Pro enough.


Armando says:

November 3, 2007 at 10:44 am

good work, I would like to know more a bout your prinitng experiance or experiance with printers. how to make posters etc. thank you for the information you are sharing.


justin says:

November 14, 2007 at 2:27 pm

dude – start adding stuff. I have the cold shakes of anticipation. I would like to learn about drop shadows, papyrus font, and flames. You’re the guy, bring us home!


porteño says:

November 19, 2007 at 5:44 pm

….just saying. i wanted to call him out and say he’s been ripping off some of the posters. i for one have tried to recreate some of scott’s styles but just to learn a different approach to layering texture on to my work. However i would never sell it like if it were mine.


Aaron Weinstein says:

December 14, 2007 at 9:50 am

Thanks a lot for adding this category. I can’t wait to learn how you achieve some of the effects that you’ve mastered. Bequeath your knowledge unto us—your faithful minions. K…enough of that.


J.Cross says:

December 25, 2007 at 6:37 pm

I can’t concieve of 300+ layers and 50+ masks, I would love to see how you work and what all those layers are. I’ve never had more than 30!


Leo says:

May 29, 2008 at 4:47 am

Hi Scott,

Humble Greetings to you !

Thank you so very much for being an inspiration for me to get in the graphic designing profession. I am learning a lot by observing your works. I was wondering if you have any tutorials coming up or any links about your tutorials written for photoshop and the way you construct your masterpieces. Looking forward for it. Thanks


Simon Robertson says:

October 29, 2008 at 11:23 pm

hey, firstly let me say i love your work! and thanks for the PS tip, i do lots of big work too and have had the same problem.

hey i noticed you credit as the platform for your site, yet it seems to me to be a affair… sorry to nit-pick…

anyway, i really love what you do, so keep it up!


– sye :)