Fix Photoshop CS3 missing scratch disk problem in OS X

Yesterday I was in a state of panic. Adobe’s Photoshop CS3 was crapping on me at the most unexpected and inopportune time. The Photoshop icon would do its dance in the dock a few times, load the splash screen, then scream for attention with an error reading:

Could not initialize Photoshop because the disk is not available

"Disk is not available"?! Not only was Photoshop sidelined, Illustrator was out of service as well. The two applications seem to sing the same note when it comes to not working as expected.

Not the best feeling in the world. The initial reaction was "is there something wrong with my hardrive?" Naturally, the first thing to do is to launch Disk Utility to verify & repair permissions. The second step is to restart the computer with the original install DVD to verify the disk. In my case, both steps reported no issues.

What disk is Photoshop trying to initialize?

The "disk" that Photoshop initializes on startup is the scratch disk – otherwise known as virtual memory. Think of it as the applications reserves / backup for processing your giant layers. Without it, the application will fail to function properly.

Photoshops inability to initialize the scratch disk can be caused by any number of reasons including: operating system updates, hardware re-configurations, or in my case sheer luck. One morning it’s working, the subsequent afternoon it’s not.

What won’t fix the problem #1

One of the finer features of OS X is the simplicity of uninstalling applications. For the most part, removing applications means dragging icons directly into the trash can (and removing a folder or file from /Library/Application Support). Adobe products are a whole ‘nother beast with multiple folders and nested items installed here and there. Even if you use Adobe’s included Creative Suite uninstaller, remnants of Adobe are still buried on your hardrive.

I used the Creative Suite uninstaller, repaired permissions, then restarted and re-installed CS3. The "failed to initialize" disk error persisted. FAIL.

What won’t fix the problem #2

I tried again. This time, I ran the the uninstaller then manually searched out any folder or file [left behind] that shared any association with Adobe. Once completed, I repaired permissions and restarted before re-installed the CS3. Same result – failed to initialize the disk. FAIL.

Damaged hidden Photoshop preference?

I was irritated beyond belief. Photoshop failed to initialize the disk under my own user account, but functioned properly under any other user accounts I created and tested. I was very much against flattening my hardrive just for Adobe. Re-formatting is generally reserved for a toasted developed environment or serious OS issues.

What will fix the problem #1

A complete reformat will definitely do the trick. Flatten your disk, re-install OS X, then re-install your Adobe products. 3-4 hours later, you’ll be up and running like nothing ever happened. Personally, I prefer something that doesn’t require me sitting through a boring installation and relocating GB’s of data from a backup to a clean install.

What will fix the problem #2

Although this option does require a little more shuffling, it works and will save you hours of time waiting for an OS installation and backup transferring. Note that the directions will differ for pre-Leopard users (see this KB Article).

  • Backup your hardrive – use SuperDuper or CCC.
  • Ensure that you have the root account enabled.
  • Log-out of your current account and log-in as root.
  • Open System Preferences > Accounts and delete your main user account (Photoshop FAIL).
  • 10.5 offers the option to save the User folder as 1) a disk image, 2) retain on the the hardrive under Users, or 3) remove completely. Select to keep the folder locally.
  • Open the Finder and navigate to the Users folder. Open the folder and you will notice your previous Home directory appended with the word "deleted".
  • Rename the directory – removing the word "deleted".
  • Return to System Preferences > Accounts and create a new Administrator account with a shortname which matches your previous (remember you removed the word "deleted").
  • OS X will notify you that a folder with the same name already exists and prompt you asking if you want to keep the existing. Select to keep.
  • Log-out as root and back in as your original account and Photoshop should work as it should.

Visit the original Adobe Forums thread for more info. A headache, but definitely more convenient then having to wipe the disk clean for an OS re-install.

Related Adobe note. I have the Adobe CS3 Master Collection installed on an iMac. All of the Adobe tools at my finger tips – quite convenient. All is well until the Adobe Updater launches notifying me of a new Illustrator 11.0.3 update. The updater successfully downloads the update, but fails to complete the install recommending that I uninstall and then re-install the entire Master Suite. Um, no thanks. Your update can’t be that important Adobe. Who wants to wait 1+ hrs. for a re-install when the suite functions as expected? Why can’t expensive software just work?

Discuss - 20 Comments

  1. William says:

    What a nightmare! Nothing worse than installing, reinstalling etc to find it doesnt work, and then go searching. All this as the heart flutters that bit faster because you’re freaking out about the harddrive or something you need to do urgently. Thanks for sharing the ‘fix’ – may come useful to quite a number of us!

  2. Thanks for the detailed solution! Ive been encountering similar problems. I got so frustrated, especially when the program is that expensive,,,

  3. […] tells us how to fix a nagging “missing scratch disk” error in Photoshop CS3 in Mac OS […]

  4. Ugh, that does sound like a pain in the ass. I would have probably given up and reformatted. Thanks for taking the time to go through this… hopefully this never happens to my CS3. Were you doing anything big before you first noticed the error? Like working on a massive project, etc? I only do basic web stuff – cropping, adjusting levels – for images in blog posts.

  5. Derek says:

    Were you doing anything big before you first noticed the error? Like working on a massive project, etc? I only do basic web stuff – cropping, adjusting levels – for images in blog posts.

    There was a semi-major software change that happened which was setting up a Java environment with Eclipse IDE. I’m still banking on the situation being an untimely misfortune. I have the same environment setup with the same software on the office machine.

  6. Kenji says:

    I had a similar problem with CS2, but the solution was far simpler. I can’t remember offhand the details, but a quick google search and one file in my PS folder to delete, and I was up and running again in a couple of minutes.

  7. Hasnain Syed says:

    Derek, you may already know this, but one reason this problem may happen is if you’ve used Monolingual or XSlimmer to remove unnecessary code and languages. The Adobe Suite is known to give quirky responses to such removal of (unnecessary) code. One thing’s for sure: after running Mono to reduce Adobe’s fat, it definitely does not allow updates – though it will still work.

    Although XSlimmer does not allow changing any Adobe files (because its on the program’s black list), Monolingual will do it. This problem happened to me and I’m loathing reinstalling the suite – so I’m putting it off for as long as I can.

  8. Derek says:

    Hasnain, thanks sharing. I ran both apps on my match pre Adobe Suite install so that wasn’t the cause of the missing disk this time around. I can definitely see Monolingual making a mess of things though. Glad I only run that app immediately after a clean wipe to remove weight after an OS install.

  9. Hasnain,

    I wish I had come across this post about 12 hours earlier! I downloaded mono-lingual today, and played around with it a while, before deciding to run it. 10 seconds after running it I had a thought that it may send Time Machine into fits, so cancelled. Hopefully not too much will result from this moment of insanity (especially in today’s world of 1TB hard drives).

    Derek, in future I will follow your example and either run the app immediately after a fresh bake, or not at all.

  10. sepa says:

    hi, just wanted to add my solution that was inspired by this excellent post and it is so painless you wont even feel it

    steps as below:

    * Backup your hardrive – use SuperDuper or CCC. (very optional but recommended)
    * Ensure that you have the root account enabled.
    * Log-out of your current account and log-in as root.
    * Open System Preferences > Accounts
    * ctrl + click on your account icon listed in “Other Accounts”, you will see an “Advanced Options” context menu, click on it.
    * in the advanced options window click on the “Create New” button for the UUID field.
    * Click OK and exit root account, login to your account and try to open photoshop, hopefully it will open itself to you.

    i hope it is useful for someone!!

  11. Mike D says:

    Reset Photoshop CS3 Preferences

    Photoshop is so highly customizable. You can drag out panels and even icons within panels as well as make dozens various presets. This is often good. Unless once in a while you did something and didn’t know how to get it back. Or if you are trying to follow a tutorial either in a book or online and your screen does not looks like the screen shots because your configurations had been customized.

    There is a way to reset all your customization back to the Photoshop default factory setting. Your preferences and customizations are stored in a Photoshop CS3 preference files. If you hold down the three modifier keys Ctrl-Alt-Shift in Windows (Command-Option-Shift in the Mac) while starting up Photoshop, then Photoshop will give you the following prompt…

    Click “Yes” and Photoshop will delete your preference file. This bring all settings back to factory default settings.

    Make sure the three keys are already depress when Photoshop starts. And hold the keys down long enough during the startup process until you see the prompt.

    • LAW says:

      Thank you for this tutorial.

    • crayform says:

      Whew! Thank you for the tip Mike D! I was playing around with settings and set-up my external HD as the scratch disk. After that Photoshop wouldn’t start. Thanks to three simple keys it’s back!

  12. geoffrey says:

    BEFORE trying any of those try removing your preference files for Photoshop. Make sure Photoshop is NOT running. Go to yourusername/Library/Preferences/ and you’ll see at least a folder and a file with the word Photoshop in them. Delete those and any other files in the Preferences folder that have the word Photoshop in the title. Restart your computer. This worked for me, I hope it works for you.

  13. urs0polar says:

    This is the easy ownership option for CS3

  14. Stephen McConnell says:

    You don’t need to do all of this!!!!!!!!

    Just delete your Photoshop preferences.

    /Users//Library/Preferences/Adobe Photoshop CS (number) Settings/Adobe PhotoShop CS(number) Prefs.psp.

    empty trash and reboot….

    Works like a champ…

  15. zach says:

    Just click command option and hit the application icon. You can designate which drive to use as scratch disk. Problem solved in 10 seconds.

  16. Leigh says:

    Whoa, the solution is a whole lot simpler.

    The problem is that disc permissions are screwed up. Click on the hard drive(s) Photoshop uses as scratch discs (which are work areas, NOT virtual memory) and select Get Info. Click the padlock at the bottom to unlock and click the Ignore Ownership of this Volume check box. Reopen Photoshop and you’re on your way.

  17. Leigh says:

    It dawns on me the same error message could crop up if you recently changed hard drives without telling Photoshop. Here’s how to solve that wrinkle:

    Open Photoshop while holding down the Cmd and Opt keys, which will give you a chance to select other hard drives.