How to Clear Photoshop’s Scratch Disk Cache to Free Up Space

Photoshop utilizes a section of your hard drive called a “scratch disk” to store temporary files and history states when your computer’s RAM is insufficient. Over time, this scratch disk space can fill up, preventing you from working efficiently in Photoshop. Clearing the scratch disk cache is necessary to free up space and optimize performance.

What is the Photoshop Scratch Disk?

The scratch disk acts as virtual memory, allowing Photoshop to perform operations that require more RAM than your computer has available. It uses spare hard drive space to temporarily store data like:

  • Clipboard content
  • History states
  • Cache data
  • Auto-recovery files

By default, Photoshop designates your primary hard drive (usually the C: drive) as the scratch disk. But you can add secondary scratch disks if needed.

Signs You Need to Clear the Scratch Disk

Here are some common signs it’s time to clear your scratch disk cache:

  • The “Scratch Disk Full” error appears – This prevents you from working in Photoshop until you free up scratch disk space.
  • Large temporary files accumulate – Check your hard drive for files like “Photoshop Temp” or “PST####.tmp”. These take up space.
  • Performance slows – With limited scratch disk space, Photoshop lags when applying edits. Clearing the cache typically improves performance.
  • You force quit Photoshop – Forced quits prevent scratch disk files from deleting properly, causing a buildup over time.

How to Clear Scratch Disks in Photoshop

Use these steps to delete unnecessary files and free up scratch disk space:

1. Purge Cache Files

  • Open Photoshop and click Edit > Purge > All to clear clipboard content, history states, and cache data.
  • This deletes potentially large files related to your open documents.

2. Delete Temporary Files

  • In Windows, browse to C:\Users$$user]\AppData\Local\Temp to find Photoshop temp files.
  • On Mac, go to your user account /tmp folder.
  • Delete files like “Photoshop Temp####” to remove scratch disk space waste.

3. Reset Photoshop Preferences (Optional)

If purging files doesn’t resolve the issue, try resetting Photoshop’s preferences file:

  • Navigate to [Photoshop Folder]/Presets/Photoshop Defaults
  • Delete the “Adobe Photoshop [Version] Prefs.psp” file
  • Relaunch Photoshop, which generates a fresh preference file

4. Change Scratch Disk Location

For ongoing relief, consider changing your primary scratch disk:

  • Go to Edit > Preferences > Scratch Disks
  • Deselect your main hard drive and select a secondary drive with ample free space
  • This prevents your operating system drive from filling up again

5. Increase System RAM

Adding RAM reduces reliance on scratch disk space for performance. Even an extra 2 GB can help optimize Photoshop.

Tips to Prevent Scratch Disk Issues

Here are some best practices to avoid repeat issues:

  • Work in 8-bit color mode – 16 and 32-bit images require more scratch disk space.
  • Limit history states – Reduce this in Preferences to store fewer historical versions.
  • Add new layers – Duplicating layers bloats document size, consuming more scratch disk capacity.
  • Close unneeded documents – Having fewer open files reduces scratch disk demand.
  • Use adjustment layers – Unlike standard adjustments, these don’t take up scratch disk space.
  • Avoid forced quits – Let Photoshop properly close instead to delete temp files automatically.
  • Set optimal cache levels – Find the right balance of performance vs. scratch disk usage for your workflow.
  • Defragment your scratch disk – Prevent fragmented free space, so Photoshop can utilize all available capacity.

By regularly clearing your scratch disk cache and modifying settings for efficiency, you can ensure Photoshop’s speed and reliability. Implement these essential maintenance practices to keep temporary storage optimized.