PFB: Layers, What you need to know.

Hello, today we will be covering: Layers


This tutorial will be covering layers, how to make, delete, duplicate, adjust, and otherwise utilize them. I went over how to unlock the back ground layer in my last tutorial here but in case you missed it or don’t feel like reading another tutorial right now you basically double-click the layer.

Now, how to make a New Layer: Quite simply in your layers panel, located either in the bottom right hand corner of your screen or in the Windows>Layers menu, you click on the highlighted button in the image below.


The new layer will appear on top of the other one in a hierarchy. The position of each layer can be moved by clicking and dragging  the layers to different positions on top of, or below each other. This will change which layer has more visibility. There is a practical view below.


As you can see whichever layer is the top most one, that layer dominates or is moved to the front whereas the other is moved backwards; the two shapes did not change position just simply their relation to each other in a stack.

If multiply layers need to have the same action preformed on them (ie. duplicate, or move) they can be selected by holding down the CTRL key while you click on each one. Likewise if you have multiple layers selected and you want to remove one from the selection, hold CTRL and click on it again. Layers that are selected appear in blue as is shown above.

You can easily change the name of a Layer by double clicking on the title of it, this will help you stay organized and thus improve your workflow. It’s a lot easier to find what you are looking for if each layer has a different name; instead of: layer 1, layer 2, layer 3, you could have them as: Background, Shadows, Highlights.

Duplicating Layers: There are actually a number of ways to duplicate or make copies of your layers. This is important if you are trying to do non destructive work, meaning if you don’t want to edit the original pixels within an image but still want to adjust or tweak it. Here are the different methods.

  1. With the layer you wish to copy selected in the layers panel press CTRL+J to quickly copy the layer. If you are using a Mac then it would be COMMAND+J.
  2. Drag the layer, in the layers panel, to the new layer button and release, this should make a new layer the same as the other. It’s name will still be the same but have copy after it. IE. Layer 1, Layer 1 CopyLayerDuplicate1
  3. If the ALT button is held while dragging the layer as in method 2 a new dialog box will open. In this box you can rename the layer to whatever you want and even designate if you would like to move the layer to another document, handy for logos or insignia that you want on multiple images.
  4. You can also use the hold ALT method directly in a document as well. As long as the layer you want to duplicate is selected you can hold ALT and drag with the move tool (hotkey V), the image to a new position in the document or even to a new document, this will create a new layer via copying the selected one.
  5. In the layers panel you can right-click on the layer you wish to duplicate a menu will pop up, this menu has many options which I will do tutorials on later but you can select Duplicate Layer and the copy will be made.

Deleting Layers: There are 2 easy methods for this. You can either select the layer in the layers panel and hit the Delete key or drag the layer, or layers, to the trash can highlighted below.Layer DeleteGrouping Layers: This method of organization will save you a lot of headache when it comes to working on images or documents with lots of different layers. You can create a group and add layers to it manually by dragging them into your newly created group. If you select multiple layers and hold CRTL then drag them to the highlighted folder icon in the image below all those layers will now appear as a sub layer within a group folder. Refer to the image to see what that looks like, as you can see I have the small and large frames separate from the background but together under my Frames group.

LayersGroupThe practical application of creating Groups is that the entire group can be moved or changed within an image or document at the same time instead of changing individual layers. Make sure that the group is selected not a layer inside of the group. If you find that your layers panel is getting a little full grouping can cut down on how many layers you see as well. If you click on the little purple arrow next to the group folder you can hide the layers that are in that group, click it again to see which layers are inside and make edits to individual layers.

Adjustment Layers: This is a topic that again could have its own tutorial.LayersAdjust By clicking on the highlighted icon that looks like a circle that is half black half white, the menu that is shown here pops up, or something like it. There are 15 different adjustments that can be done to a layer and each one has its own menu with its own options. Adding an adjustment layer creates a new layer over top of the existing ones and it affects all layers below it, I will explain later how to combat this.

The top 4: Brightness/Contrast, Levels, Curves, and Exposure, deal with the lightness and darkness of the whites and black of an image. They can effect the colors to in that they become lighter or darker by adding highlight or shadow.

The middle 6: Vibrance, Hue/Saturation, Color Balance, Black & White, Photo Filter and Channel Mixer, deal with the colors of an image. Either increasing the intensity of them or dulling the amount of color. You can set one color to be more predominate or tint an image to a different hue.

The bottom 5: Invert, Posterize, Threshold, Gradient Map, and Selective Color, have the most interesting effects on a layer. Each one is unique and should be played around with.

Now as I was saying before the Adjustment Layer effects all layers under it in the hierarchy, if you want it to effect only one layer then you can change it to a Clipping Mask. Changing an adjustment layer to a clipping mask will tie it to just one layer therefore only that one layer will be affected by it. To set an adjustment layer as a clipping mask place it over the layer you wish to affect and right-click on the adjustment. A menu will pop up and all you need to do is select Create Clipping Mask, if you want to disable the clipping mask you can either move the adjustment layer to a new position in the layers panel or right-click again and select Release Clipping Mask. There is an example below.


Layer Masks: There is a lot you can do with layer masks but their basic function is to block out part of a layer so it is transparent or semi-transparent without deleting it. Again if you are doing non destructive photo editing this is the perfect tool for you, it allows you to show different parts of layers stacked on top of each other or more precisely apply effects. Below is a quick example of how masking works.

LayersMasksHow you add a layer mask is by clicking the Add Layer Mask button that looks like this. LayerAddMask It is found at the bottom of the layers panel. If you have a selection on the layer that you wish to mask before pressing the Add Layer Mask button then Photoshop will automatically mask everything outside your selection in black. That is how I achieved the cut-out of the door above.

You can also paint a mask by using a grey scale color and painting in the area you either wish to show or hide, just make sure you have the Mask selected in the layers panel and not the layer itself. You can tell which one is selected by a black box that will appear around either the layer or the mask thumbnails in the layer panel. If you want to get a clearer picture of where your mask is covering you can enter the mask view by holding ALT and clicking on the mask thumbnail, to exit hold ALT and click again.

With layer masks you have the option to link them to the layer, this option is automatically enabled when you create a layer mask and appears as a linked chain in between the layer and the mask. That way if you need to move or re-size the layer the mask will move and re-size with it. You can un-link the mask and layer as well and even move the mask to another layer.

FX: Otherwise known as Effects and Blending Options is the last important thing to know about layers. I will only briefly touch on this subject as I myself am no expert on all the finer workings of these options. Each one could have its own How-To tutorial and I may do that one day when I know what all they do and how they do it. For now I can show you the base menu and explain a bit about what sorts of effects you can achieve.

LayersBlendingModeAs you can see there are many options once in this menu. Every check box on the left hand side has its own customizable settings that allow you to do just about anything. About 90% of the really cool effects you see done to letters and images utilize a good portion of the options found in the menu, sometimes all of them and more. The site psdtuts+ is fantastic and where I actually started learning. Here’s a link to their tutorials on Layer styles, they are really great.

As far as what kinds of effect you can create, there is no real limit. I have seen thousands and people all over the world come up with new ones and remakes of old ones all the time. This is definitely an experimenting tool, play around with the different overlays, shadows, and glows. There is always a small preview that shows what the current settings will do to the image once you click OK. The really great thing about the Blending options is that you can go back and edit or delete them any time you like. You can also copy a layer style and apply it to different layers. The layer styles show up in the layer panel under the fx and can be shown or hidden by clicking on the eye next to them. There is an example of one of the first layer style tutorials I ever did below, I also included what the layers look like in the panel.


So you see, you can make some pretty cool effects. Just a couple more quick things to add.

Modes: Every layer has blending modes that affect how the layer is seen or interacts with the layers below it. There are 6 groupings in these modes and each one is different in how it uses information from the layer to create an effect.

1. The normal and dissolve modes either show the whole layer or a grainy version of it.LayerModes

2. The second section containing Darken, Multiply, etc. uses the darker colors of the layer to darken the underlying layers creating more shadows or a darker richer color.

3. The third section containing Lighten, Screen, etc. uses the lighter colors of the layer to lighten the underlying layers creating more highlights and more muted colors.

4. The fourth section containing Overlay, Soft light, etc. uses not only the lighter colors but the darker ones and textures of the layer to effect the ones below in varying degrees.

5. The fifth section containing Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and Divide apply a similar effect to a photo negative flipping colors or excluding lighter or darker tones.

6. The sixth section containing Hue, Saturation, Color, and Luminosity affect those 4 different aspects of the layer and applies them to the layer below. Either using the hue or amount of color present in the layer to affect the others.

Locks: Did you know you can put locks on your layers? Well if you didn’t you can. The layer locks allow you to lock certain aspects of each layer so you don’t accidentally make a move you can’t undo once you have them how you want them. Really you can go back on just about anything if you don’t get too far ahead of yourself.

LayersLockFrom left to right beside the word Lock: Lock transparent pixels, Lock image Pixels, Lock position, and Lock All. Each of the locks will affect that certain aspect of the layer. Here you also have the Fill and Opacity sliders that allow you to set each of those. Opacity will control how transparent the layer is. Fill will do a similar effect except when it comes to FX applied to the layer. For example you can have a layer that is 0% Fill yet still see all the effects you have applied to it, pretty cool huh? You will need to have some kind of color at least though to see an effect. You won’t be able to use a transparent layer for instance.

That brings us to the end of another hopefully helpful tutorial. Thank you so much for going through it with me.



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