The Mobile Reference Point

with 17 Comments

The Mobile Reference Point
by Jen White

Save yourself time and frustration with a simple move of Transform’s Reference Point.

As a template and quick page designer I’m always on the lookout for tips and tricks that will save me time and frustration. In this tutorial I’ll show you how and why you might want to move the Reference Point when transforming an object. It’s a simple trick that you’ll find yourself using over and over again.

Step One: Download the Folder

• Download and unzip the practice template and paper for this tutorial.

Step Two: Open the Template

• Open (File > Open) the KISS-01a-12×12-SimplyJenWhite.psd file found in the KISS Template folder you just downloaded.
• Get the Move tool.
• In the Tool Options, uncheck Auto Select.
• On the document, hold down the Ctrl key (Mac: Cmd key) and click on the second teal shape. That layer should now be active in the Layers panel.



Step Three: Open and Add the Paper

  • Open the paper1-TimeTeller-EtcByDanyale.jpg file from the Paper folder found in the download.
  • Using the Move tool, click and drag the paper onto the template. If you hold down the Shift key before letting go of the mouse, the paper will land centered on the template.

Note: In the Layers panel, the paper layer should be directly above the second teal square layer. If it is not, drag it there now.



Step Four: Clip the Paper

• In the Menu Bar, choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask.
• On the document, click and drag down and to the left until you see flourish as shown in the screenshot below.



Step Five: Rotate the Paper

I think this particular part of the black paper looks nice clipped to a small square. But, I want the lines in the paper to be vertical instead of horizontal.

• Press Ctrl T (Mac: Cmd T) to get the Transform options.

Now I’m ready to rotate the paper 90˚, but first let me explain the next step.

What is a Reference Point?

All transformations are performed around a fixed point called the reference point. By default, this point is at the center of the item you are transforming.

In the screenshot above, I’ve circled the reference point in its default location (the center of the black paper).

Reference Point Problem

If I were to rotate the paper right now, I would loose the flourish and have move the paper around to get it to show up again on the clipping mask. Go ahead and give it a try:

• In the Tool options of Transform, set Rotate to 90. (PS: Set Angle to 90.)

You should now be looking at a completely different part of the black paper. That’s not at all what I was after, so I’ll undo that by:

• In the Tool options of Transform, set Rotate back to 0. (PS: Set Angle back to 0.)

Reference Point Solution

I can move the reference point so that when I rotate the paper I won’t loose the cute little flourish and lines.

• On the document, hold down the Alt key (Mac: Opt key) and click inside the clipped square. The reference point should have repositioned. See the screenshot below.


Now when I rotate the black paper, the center of the rotation will be within that little black square.

• In the Tool options of Transform, set Rotate to 90. (PS: Set Angle to 90.)

Notice how the paper rotated around the new reference point location.


• Click the checkmark to commit the transform.

This little reference point trick saves me a lot of time when playing with templates and clipping masks.

The next time you are using the Transform options, ask yourself if moving the reference point would benefit your particular need. You might be surprised what you’ll discover.


Page, Template & Photos: Jen White
Kit: Time Teller by Etc by Danyale, September Premier Posting Bonus
Fonts: DJB I Love Me Some Aly

Download PDF


jenwhite-48x48Author: Jen White | Contact Us
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17 Responses

  1. Donna
    | Reply

    I just tried your tutorial today, Jen. I love it! I also reviewed some of your lessons from The Savvy Stasher and this tutorial reminds me of a few things you taught in that class. Always, love your tips and tricks!

  2. Kim
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! That was awesome!

  3. Anita
    | Reply

    Thanks for the tip!

  4. Su Hall
    | Reply

    I never knew what that thing was called!! LOL I admit I knew about this, but, I would like to add how invaluable that little gizmo is when creating a repeating circular design, like a flower, from individual ‘petals’.
    Just copy the first ‘petal'(ctrl/cmd>’J’), turn on ‘Transform’ and move the ‘point’ to the location of the first petal’s base. Rotate the new petal as many degrees as you like, like 15 or 30 degrees). Repeat until you have a complete circle! Easy peasy! LOL
    I so love learning new things! Now I know what it is called!

  5. Casey
    | Reply

    What an awesome trick!! I know that I will use this tip often. Thanks, Jen!!

    • Casey
      | Reply

      And here’s a (probably very dumb!) question… How did you get the top photo to stretch across the two different layers? I’m sure it’s a simple step, but I’m totally missing it! Thanks!!

      • Jen White
        | Reply

        Hi Casey. Great question.
        Create a duplicate of your photo. Clip one photo to the left mask and the other photo to the right mask.
        Make sense? If you need more specific instructions, email me directly — — and I’ll be glad to help. 😀

        • Casey
          | Reply

          Oh my goodness, why didn’t I think of that? That makes SO much sense!! Thanks very much, Jen!

  6. Michele Kendzie
    | Reply

    So that’s what that’s for! Great! Until I read this it was just an annoying little thing I often accidentally clicked and dragged. I wondered what it was. Glad to finally know.

  7. Jenifer Juris
    | Reply

    So awesome! I love learning about this kind of thing – such a handy thing to know!! Thx, Jen!!! 🙂

  8. Barbara
    | Reply

    Thanks so much Jen. It is always a treat to read what you have to say and never have to guess what you mean. I love learning and you always deliver.

  9. Carol
    | Reply

    Thanks, Jen. I love it when we get to peek inside your “bank” of knowledge. And LOVE that we can download the PDF for easy reference. (especially for those of us with less in our “bank” account.) 🙂

  10. Vivian
    | Reply

    Well, who knew? Jen did, and now I do too. What a great tutorial!

  11. Jessie
    | Reply

    What a neat tip, Jen! Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! I see many times that I could have used this info! Thank you.

  12. Tricia Roush
    | Reply

    Oooh. Very cool. I never knew about that.

  13. Dorrie
    | Reply

    I agree Lori, Jen is wonderful in explaining detailed information on how things work in Photoshop. Her newest class on selections is also full fo good things. Thank you Jen for keeping us informed.

  14. Lori
    | Reply

    AWESOME tutorial! I have always wondered about the reference point and why you would move it. Now I understand perfectly. Thank you for the detailed demonstration of this feature. Keep the great tips coming! 🙂

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