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How to Use the Free Transform Tool in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo shares the Free Transform tool with Adobe Photoshop and other photo editors. However, in Affinity Photo, it looks nothing like the tool in Photoshop, and many users look for it bewildered. They claim the program doesn’t have it, which isn’t true. Affinity Photo has the Free Transform tool, and we’ll show you how to use it.

Affinity Photo and Photoshop have many similar features, but you shouldn’t expect them to have the same user interface. And that’s a good thing, even if it is confusing at the beginning. It is good because it forces you to understand the principle behind a functionality instead of learning by heart where it is in the menu. And once you know what a tool does, you also know where to find it in any editor. The Free Transform tool is a very good example in this sense.

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What Does a Free Transform Tool Mean?

A Free Transform tool allows you to change the geometry of an image in any way you want without imposing any limitations It provides 2D and 3D distortions and doesn’t preserve the aspect ratio of the image.

You have access to all basic geometric transformations plus a few three-dimensional transformations. With the help of a Free Transform tool, you can transform an image as follows:

  • Scaling – You can resize an image to new dimensions, regardless if they are smaller or larger than the original ones.
  • Rotating – You can rotate the image in the XY plane with an angle between -180° and 180°.
  • Shearing – You can shift one part of the image in one direction and the rest in the opposite direction using a shifting angle between -180° and 180°.
  • Changing perspective – It allows you to apply perspective distortions and adjust the depth of an image.
  • Warping – You can distort an image using a 3D mesh system of control points.
Shearing

How to Use the Free Transform Tool in Affinity Photo

Unlike Photoshop and other photo editors, Affinity Photo splits the functionality of the Free Transform tool in two and groups together the two-dimensional, respectively three-dimensional, transformations.

The Move Tool controls the two-dimensional transformations. The Warp Tool group, which includes the Mesh Warp and Perspective tools, controls the three-dimensional transformations. You can find them all in Affinity’s tool panels.

Free Transform Tools in Affinity Photo

Step-by-Step: How to Use the Move Tool in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo allows you to apply any two-dimensional geometric transformation by dragging control points or introducing numeric values in the Transform panel.

Step 1: Open the Image in Affinity Photo

Go to File -> Open and choose the image you want to edit.

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Step 2: Unlock the Background Layer

To prevent you from ruining the original image, Affinity locks the Background layer by default. Therefore, destructive adjustments such as geometric transformations don’t work on this layer.

If you want to change the geometry of your original image, you have to tell Affinity to allow the alteration of the background layer. You can either right-click on the Background layer and uncheck the Lock option or click on the small locker icon following the layer’s name.

Note: If you use the Free Transform tool with a different layer than the Background layer, skip this step.

Step 3: Activate the Transform Panel

With the layer you want to modify selected, select the Move Tool (or press V) from the Tools panel to activate the Transform panel. The Transform panel contains the XY coordinates of the image inside the canvas, the width and height of the image, and the angles of rotation and shearing in the XY plane. It also highlights the nine control points you can use to adjust the image, three on each side and one in the middle.

Transform panel

Step 4: Apply Transformation to the Image

If you know the transformation’s parameters (e.g., rotate clockwise with 90°), just set the numbers in the Transform panel.

If you don’t know how much you want to change the image, use the small arrows near each control point and drag the points until you are satisfied with the results. You can also mix the two techniques: drag the points to an approximate state and fine-tune the results by increasing/decreasing the values.

The four corner control points allow you to resize and rotate the image. The four middle control points let you resize and shear the image.

Drag control points to change the geometry of the image

Step 5: Additional Settings of the Free Transform Tool

When the Move Tool and a layer are selected, a context toolbar becomes active. It gives you the following settings to fine-tune the free transform:

  • Enable Transform Origin – The center of the layer is enabled and moveable so that you can change the center of rotation.
  • Hide Selection while Dragging – It hides the selection of the layer to give you a better perspective.
  • Show Alignment Handle – It displays alignment guides and handles to help you position the selection.
  • Transform Objects Separately – It lets you work on objects separately when you have multiple selections.
  • Cycle Selection Box – It toggles the selection box between one that follows the transform (Base Box) and one that follows the original shape (Regular Box).
  • Align Left, Align Center, Align Right, Align Top, Align Middle, and Align Bottom – Alignment settings for multiple selections.

Step-by-Step: How to Use the Warp Tools in Affinity Photo

The Mesh Warp and Perspective tools allow you to distort an image or part of an image using different methods. The Mesh Warp tool uses a customizable grid made of nodes and curve lines, while the Perspective tool uses fixed planes.

Step 1: Open the Image in Affinity Photo

Go to File -> Open and choose the image you want to edit.

Step 2: Duplicate the Background Layer

Mesh Warp tools produce destructive results. If you want to protect the original image, you have to work on a duplicate of the Background layer.

To duplicate a layer, right-click on it and select Duplicate from the context menu.

Note: Skip this step if you use a different layer than the original one.

Step 3.1.1: Select the Mesh Warp Tool

With the layer you want to distort selected, click on the Warp Tools from the Tools panel and select Mesh Warp Tool.

The Mesh Warp settings come in the form of a context toolbar and include the working mode (Source – lets you set mesh points; Destination – applies the changes to the image), options for restoring the original image (Synchronize) and original mesh grid (Reset), options for displaying the grid, actions on nodes (Delete Node, Covert to Smooth or Sharp), and resampling settings.

Step 3.1.2: Distort the Image

You can drag any node, node’s corner handle, line, or patch. The default grid has four corner nodes.

To add a new node to the grid, double-click within the grid. Two crossing lines will appear, dividing the grid once more. When you drag a node to introduce a distortion, Affinity applies the transformation to the part of the mesh adjacent to the node. For example, if you add a node in the center of the grid and drag the bottom-left node, the program will apply the distortion only to the bottom-left quarter of the image.

Adding extra nodes allows you to protect a part of the image you don’t want to alter, for example, the horizon in a landscape photo.

Add nodes to limit the distortion area

Step 3.1.3: Apply Warp Tools Changes

You can undo and redo each action you make within the Mesh Warp tool. When you are satisfied with your changes, click Apply to exit the tool.

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Step 3.2.1: Select the Perspective Tool

With the layer you want to distort selected, click on the Warp Tools from the Tools panel and select Perspective Tool. A pop-up dialog appears to allow you to set the parameters of the transformation.

The Perspective settings include the number of planes on which perspective can be applied (one or two), the working mode (Source – lets you adjust the grid without changing the image; Destination – applies the perspective to the image), options for displaying the grid and altering the image beyond the boundaries of the perspective grid points, and options of previewing the results.

Perspective panel

Step 3.2.2: Change Perspective

Select Dual Planes and set the Mode to Source. Check Show Grid and Autoclip. Move the control points from the intersection of the two planes at the top and bottom of your object. Then switch the Mode to Destination. Now, when you drag one of the two intersection points, Affinity applies the perspective and modifies the image. This method works very well for buildings and other vertical objects.

Preview the results before applying the changes to your image

Step 3.2.3: Apply Perspective Changes

You can undo and redo each action you make within the Perspective tool. Affinity allows you to preview the result and compare it with the original image. When you are satisfied with your edits, click Apply to exit the tool and apply the changes.

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Concluding words

The Free Transform tool may seem just a way to add creative effects and distortions. However, it is very useful for correcting the geometry of a photograph and fixing perspective errors. It is often used for correcting architectural photographs, straightening the horizon in landscape photos, and adding depth to photographs with a single subject such as portraits. So take some time to practice and see how it can help you improve your photos.

Did you use the Free Transform tool in Affinity Photo? Let us know if you fancy having all the transformations in one place like in Photoshop or having them grouped by purpose like in Affinity.

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