Getting Started with Adobe Photoshop
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Layer Management

The most difficult aspect of working in Photoshop for me to master when I first used it was how to work in a document on multiple layers. Though you can perform an uncanny number of operations using the layers pane and menus, I'll only go over the basics to reduce beginner's confusion.

Layers Pane
The layers pane is one of the panes that it's best to keep visible at all times. If you don't see it when you open Photoshop, goto window> show layers and it will be restored.

layers pane
The Layers Pane

  • A note on working with jpeg file copied from other applications: If you've pasted in a jpg image, you'll notice that there is only one layer. If you open a jpeg image, this layer will be called "background" and will have a lock icon demonstrating that it is locked. In order to unlock it, double click on the layer name in the layer pane and change the name. The layer is now unlocked. Depending on how you plan to alter this image, it may be a good idea to leave this layer alone, and do your work on other layers.

Adding New Layers
OK, as I said earlier, you can think of the layers as clear pages overlaying each other. The layers pane provides a good visualization of this concept because the layers appear in the layers pane as they are organized in the document. To demonstrate this, we'll add a new layer and type a little on it.

Go to Layer> and Select New Layer. Type a name for the layer in the dialog box that appears and hit enter. It should now appear in the layers pane (but since it is currently empty, there will be no sign of it in the image. Select the text tool from the tool bar and click & drag somewhere on the image (making sure the new layer is still highlighted in blue).

Selecting Layers
Select the Type tool (which I'll detail shortly) and type a little. You can see that the type appears on top of the image (i'll explain more about type a little later) . Now, we'll use these two layers to learn how to use the layers pane.

For starters, on the top text layer, click the eye icon. You'll see that it toggles the layer between show and hide. When you click on the paintbrush next to it, which represents that this is the layer you're currently working on, nothing happens. Now click on the name of the layer below. You see that the paintbrush now shows on the new active layer.

You can click on the empty paintbrush box to lock and unlock layers to avoid unwanted changes. The squiggle means it's locked.

Arranging Layers
Also, you can manually arrange the layers. Click and drag your text layer underneath the original image layer. You'll see that the text no longer appears. That is because it is now located behind the opaque image layer.

I already showed you one way to add a layer, but there's a quicker and easier way. Just click on the dogeared page icon at the bottom of the layers pane. You can double click on this layer's name to change it. If you want to delete a layer, you can either drag it to the trash icon at the bottom of the layers pane or select the layer and click the trash icon.


Combining ("Merging") layers
Sometimes you'll want to combine the contents of two layers onto one layer. Select the layer you want to be on top of the new merged layer, make sure the other layer you'd like to merger is directly beneath it, and select Merge Down from the Layer menu. The two layers are now one. If you want to merge down an entire file of layers, select "Flatten image" from the layers menu, and then all layers will be squashed into one.

When you merge or flatten layers that contain text layers, you will be asked whether you'd like to rasterize that text (that is, convert it to an image and lose the ability to edit it). I find it's a good idea to copy any layers and hide them before you rasterize and merge. It saves you the work of completely recreating layers if you decide to change text.

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© 2003 Patrick Williams| iSchool | UT Austin | webmaster