Understanding Layers in Photoshop

Hi everyone! In this post I wanted to explain why we have and use layers in our artwork. I also wanted to share some different kinds of layers and how to best keep them organized.  Let’s get started!

What Are Layers?

The layers in paint and 3d art programs are to help you keep your work organized. By adding layers to a project, you are able to keep your original as pristine as you started with. Your work then flows nondestructively, meaning that you are working in a way that will not harm the original copy, and that it will not harm any copy. 

Understanding Layers in Photoshop Panel

Each layer used contains different information added to your artwork. These can be adjustment layers, text layers, fill layers, and so on and so forth.

Why do you want to use layers?

  • They keep your work flowing nondestructively, keeping your original image intact.
  • You can use different blending modes to change the way the original picture looks and how the different layers interact with each other.
  • you can duplicate layers and stack them on top of each other
  • you can change the opacity and transparency of the layers
  • you can add layer masks to layers, covering things up to work selectively on your layers
  • you will have more control over what happens with your image

To create a new layer go to the layers panel. At the bottom right of the panel, you will see a few icons. The little icon that looks like a sheet of paper with the corner bent up is the new layer icon you’ll want to press to create a new layer. New layer understanding layers

This will create a new transparent layer for you. Or you can go to Layer>New>Layer.  file options photoshopYou can also press SHIFT + CONTROL (or COMMAND) + N to create a new layer. This will bring up a popup window that will give you the option to name the layer. If you don’t name it here, that’s OK. You can rename it later by right clicking beside the layer on the name. The line will turn blue and you can rename your layer. I would recommend that you name your layers as this will help keep your work organized. It will also help you if you need to make changes later and need to find that layer to adjust, it makes it much easier.

What Kinds of Layers are There?

Duplicate Layers

Duplicate layering is a way for you to do just as it is titled: duplicate a layer – any layer you want. You can create a duplicate layer by pressing CTRL (or CMD) + J. Or you can go to Layer>Duplicate Layer. This will create an exact copy of whatever layer you want to duplicate.

You may want to duplicate a layer if you’re going to be making some major changes to any of the layers – usually the original.


Adjustment Layers

Adjustment layers are a specific kind of layer that lets you adjust things like brightness and contrast or color balance and vibrancy, or various other ways of adjusting your layer.

Adding an adjustment layer again allows for a nondestructive way of modifying your image.

You can add a link to any specific layers as well to keep the information added to only be added to one or more specific layers, so it doesn’t touch any other layer at all.

To add an adjustment layer, go to the bottom of your layers panel and the circle that is half black and half white is the one you want to click on. From there you can select from any of those adjustments as a new layer. Adding adjustment layers understanding layers photoshop

Text Layer

If you want to add text to your image, you can add a text layer. With each text that you add it will add a new layer.

To create a new text layer go to your tool bar and click on the large T. Text icon understanding layers photoshop You can click anywhere on the image and start typing.

Change your font by going up to the options bar and scrolling through the different fonts. 

text options understanding layers photoshop

After you’re done with changing your text press enter and your text is set.

Make Your Layers Work With You

Deleting Layers

In order to delete a layer, you can right click beside the layer. Click on Delete Layer. You can also left click the layer and left click the garbage can icon down at the bottom right of the layers panel. Or!!! You can left click and hold and drag the layer down to the garbage can icon. All three of these ways will delete the layer.delete layers understanding layers photoshop

Hiding and Revealing Layers

To the left of every layer is an eye. Left click on the eye and it will shut or reopen. When it’s shut the layer will no longer be visible. And, clicking on it again and reopening the eye, the layer will be visible again.eyes for hiding and revealing layers understanding layers photoshop

Reordering Layers

To reorder your layers around, left click the layer and drag it to the desired order position. Reordering your layers changes the way your image looks.

If you would like to move the background image to a different position or stacking order, you simply need to click the little padlock icon on the background layer. That unlocks the background image and you can move it around to whichever stack order you want to.   To lock a layer, go to Layer>Lock Layers.  A popup window will show.

lock layers photoshop

If you want to lock everything within this layer, just check All.  If, though, you only want to lock off certain parts of the layer, be selective in your checks.  Then click OK.

Grouping Layers

Another way to keep your images organized is by grouping your layers. Let’s say that you’re working on a portrait. So, you’ve got the skin, the hair the eyes and so on. You will want to group these layers within each other. All the layers of the hair would go in one group, the skin in another, the eyes in another.

To start grouping layers, go to your layers panel and click on the little folder down at the bottom between the Adjustments icon and the New Layer icon. It’s the one that looks like a file folder. 

grouping layers icon

You can also go to Layer>Group Layers.

Then left click the layers you want in that group and drag them in. You can also rename your groups just like the layers.

Put it into Practice

Now that you know how to use layers, try using layers. Remember that in order to keep your image nondestructive, add layers. Add as many layers as you need. There is no limit. But add them. You can always delete a layer if it’s not benefiting your image. Please remember to group your layers and rename your layers and groups for better organization.

Have fun!

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