Understanding layers in Photoshop

 Dec 14, 2016

What are layers and why should we use them in Photoshop?

  1. You will have more control.
  2. They do not destroy your original photo.
  3. You are working on top of or on copies of that photo.
  4. You can use blending modes to change the way layers interact.
  5. You can change the opacity of any effects.
  6. You will have or can add layer masks so that you can work selectively on your photo with any adjustments you make.

Here are a four examples of layers in Photoshop

New Layer:

Layer – New Layer or (SHIFT, CTRL or CMD, and “N”):

This will create a blank transparent layer. This is useful when you want to add or change something on a photo and pixels are not needed. For example, adding a border. If you make a new blank layer, and then add a border by doing Select – All. Then Edit – Stroke. You can turn the layer on or off by toggling the eye ball, add a layer style such as a bevel or emboss, or change the opacity by working on this type of layer.

Note: CTRL for PCs and CMD for MACs

Adjustment Layer:

Layer – New Adjustment Layer – or using the black and white circle in the layers palette:

This will create a transparent layer where you can make direct changes to your photograph without effecting your original in any way. Any levels, curves, hue/saturation layer, channel mixer layer, are edited using an adjustment layer. Why? The way adjustment layers work is you make the changes on a transparent layer. They change the appearance of pixels underneath without actually touching or destroying anything. So they are Non-Destructive. Another reason to use adjustment layers is that you can go back and edit these layers even after you are on to new layers, by double clicking the adjustment layer icon of any layer. You can stack these layers and they accumulate. They do not cover each other up. They work together. And most importantly, they have layer masks. Layer masks allow you to selectively effect a photo.

Text Layer:

Press letter “T” on your keyboard or click on the “T” symbol in the tool bar to bring up the text tool. When you do this, it automatically puts your text on a new text layer. You can adjust the font, colour, size, and shape of the text. This works similarly to an adjustment layer in that you can go back and edit it even after doing other layers, as long as you do not flatten.

Duplicate Layer:

Layer – Duplicate Layer or (CTRL or CMD and “J”:

This will create a duplicate copy of whatever layer you are on. If you are on an adjustment layer, it will copy that layer and double the effect. If you are on the “Background” layer, it will copy that layer. Think of duplicate layers like a photocopy. These can be useful in certain situations. When you duplicate a pixel layer (such as the background), remember than it will cover up anything under it, unless certain blending modes are used. Duplicate layers are most useful when using a defog (which clarifies the photo), for sharpening, for working on skin such as wrinkles or acne, or when using the clone tool. Many of these adjustments (but not all) can be done on a New Layer versus Duplicate. If they can be done on a New Layer, that is preferable. For a tool like the patch tool, you will need the pixels there and will need a Duplicate Layer.

For more information, take a look at New Horizons' Photoshop training courses.

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About the Author:

Alice Antonsen  

Alice is one of New Horizons’ most experienced Desktop Applications trainers. She is qualified with a Diploma of Business (Computing) and a Diploma of Information Technology. Since joining New Horizons in 2006, Alice has achieved the prestigious status of a certified Microsoft Office Master and for the past 4 years, has been placed in the Top 25 Desktop Applications trainers for New Horizons Worldwide. Throughout her career, she has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in providing training to individuals and groups of varying skill levels. Alice delivers each training session with great care and consideration ensuring each one is tailored to the learning needs of her students.

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