With the release of Photoshop CC 2020, Adobe introduced new warp transformation features, more specifically the so called "quilt warp". As designers were limited to the classic 3x3 warp previously, the main selling point of the quilt warp was offering a higher density grid for more precise transformations.

Ongoing, there have been various discussions, complaints and misconceptions about the new warp tool. Since warp transformations are essential for my workflow of creating mockups, I tested the new features quite soon after their release. Similar to other people, my first impression was that something seemed off, or rather unintuitive. In this article I will take a closer look at the actual changes to the warp tool and the current behaviour of it.

Comparing the old and new warp tool

Most people would agree that we’ve always had a 3x3 warp in previous versions of Photoshop, so it seems fair to compare it to the new 3x3 warp:

Photoshop warp comparison CC 2019 and CC 2020

As you can see, there’s clearly a difference in results, which made some people condemn the new warp tool and wish back the old one. However, the underlying warp transformation logic didn’t get changed - I would rather say that there’s a problem with the naming conventions. The old warp was actually a 1x1 grid, or you could argue that the new 3x3 warp is really a 9x9, here’s why:

Every main warp point has 2-4 additional handles, based on its position in the grid. They become visible upon selection:

Photoshop Quilt Warp 3x3 Grid

Using the Script Listener I’ve extracted the code that the 3x3 quilt warp produces. There are a total of 100 so-called “rational points” that are used for calculations. Counting all the points and handles, this number makes sense and was expected. In comparison, the warp we used before only processes 16 “rational points”. This equals the amount of the 1x1 warp in CC 2020.

How to achieve the behaviour of the old warp

As we’ve learned in the previous section, the old warp should be compared to the quilt warp with a 1x1 grid. In fact, if you set the grid setting to “Custom” and enter 1x1, it gets set to “Default” automatically. That’s also the active mode if you initially start a warp transform. So if you want to warp layers like you were used to before, this is your way to go.

However, there’s a little drawback: The inner guidelines are no longer existent. While the transformation behaviour is exactly the same as before (no handles were removed), these guides gave designers a better understanding of how the inside of an image got transformed. This was especially a great help when trying to accurately align the warp with a photo of a real world product, for example when creating a mockup.

Adobe probably removed the guidelines to preserve visual clarity when creating denser grids. Anyways, hopefully they will bring it back in a future update, at least as an optional setting people can turn on or off.

I wrote a small script that creates or removes temporary guidelines, that you can use with the warp in Photoshop CC 2020:

Free Skript to show inner guidelines in CC2020 warp

This isn’t a perfect or pretty solution, but it might help some people at better aligning their transformations. You can download it here for free.

Further inspecting the new quilt warp

Let’s check out what the updated warp tool brings to the table. First of all I’ve noticed that it’s now possible to undo / redo multiple steps during the warp process. This is a great little improvement, since you could only undo one change previously, which isn’t very fault tolerant.

The biggest difference is of course the introduction of higher density warp grids / meshes. You can either select a predefined grid (3x3, 4x4, 5x5 or custom) or add new horizontal or vertical splits manually. As this is the first time we encounter splits inside of the warp grid, we have to learn new rules about how these transformations get performed.

First thing to notice is that moving a warp point never affects areas beyond its adjacent points.

Photoshop Warp: Comparison of Affected Area

Although the above comparison might suggest that the old warp behaves in a different way than the new one (regarding the affected area), this is not really the case. The adjacent points simply happen to be the corner points in a 1x1 grid, so the whole layer is affected by transformations.

The next observation is that the additional handles of all points except for the corners are always locked to a 90° angle:

CC 2020 Quilt Warp Bug: Inner Handles locked to 90 degree

These restraints can cause unwanted twists or rotations inside the warp grid. I’m not sure if this is by design or just a bug, in any case it limits the possible transformations you can achieve, so keep that in mind.

Tips for using the quilt warp in a real world example

With all the mentioned drawbacks in mind, has the quilt warp even been an improvement? I think so, since it enables designers to perform more precise warp transformations than before. It’s a step in the right direction and I’m optimistic that Adobe will keep reworking the tool to make it more robust and intuitive.

If you’re still struggling with using the quilt warp, here are a few tips that helped me get a hang on it:

  • Start with a low density grid (preferably 1x1) and roughly fit it to the desired shape.
  • Then add detail (in form of new splits) to areas where the warp doesn’t align perfectly.
  • Select multiple points (Shift+Click or Shift+Drag) to move or scale them evenly
  • Don’t move handles of inner grid points - it will cause unwanted twists. (You can still move the points themselves though).

I’ve set up a realistic scenario to test the capabilities of the quilt warp, in which I matched a design layer to a spray bottle mockup: (click the image for full resolution)

Using the new Quilt Warp to create a bottle mockup

In Photoshop CC 2019 and older versions, step two of the image above would be the final results. The quilt warp however enabled me to refine problematic areas, especially around the bottle neck, to obtain a more realistic result.

The closeup below shows that the warp mesh is still “wobbly” in some areas due to the 90°-limitation explained earlier. On the left side you can see the unwanted rotations that occur when trying to straighten up the outline.

Closeup of Warp used on Bottle Mockup

Backwards compatibility of the CC 2020 quilt warp

As an author of design products, backwards compatibility is a considerable factor for me, since many clients are still using Photoshop versions that aren’t up-to-date.

That’s why I briefly got upset when I first saw the updated warp tool and realised that the 3x3 grid is not compatible with Photoshop CC 2019 and older versions.

Luckily, it’s not as bad as it first seemed. If you followed this article, you learned that the old warp is now labeled as the 1x1 or default grid. As long as you only apply this basic type of warp transformation, it will in fact still work in older versions.

It absolutely makes sense that the quilt warp with a 3x3 or other complex grid will not remain editable in older versions, since it’s a new feature added to Photoshop CC 2020. Anyways, you can still open up PSD files with complex quilt warps on Smart Objects, however all transformations will simply reset as soon as you try to edit the layer.