Learn how to use layers in the Layers panel, resize the contents of a layer, add images to a layered file, and work with a background layer in Adobe Photoshop.
Learn what layers are and why they are so useful.
Layers are the building blocks of any image in Photoshop. So, it's important to understand, what layers are and why to use them - which we'll cover in this video. If you're following along, open this layered image from the downloadable practice files for this tutorial. You might think of layers like separate flat pints of glass, stacked one on top of the other. Each layer contains separate pieces of content. To get a sense of how layers are constructed, let's take a look at this Layers panel. I've closed my other panels, so that we can focus on the Layers panel. But you can skip that. By the way: If your Layers panel isn't showing, go up to the Window menu and choose Layers from there. The Layers panel is where you go to select and work with layers. In this image there are 4 layers, each with separate content. If you click the Eye icon to the left of a layer, you can toggle the visibility of that layer off and on. So, I'm going to turn off the visibility of the tailor layer. And keep your eye on the image, so you can see what's on that layer. I'll do the same for the cloth layer and for the pattern layer. You can see that the bottom layer, the Background layer, is filled with white, because this image started with a new blank image preset with a white background. Let's turn on all the other layers again by clicking in the empty box just to the left of each layer to add the Eye icon back in. Now let's take a look at just one layer, the tailor layer. A quick way to turn off all the layers except the tailor layer, is to hold down the Option key on the Mac, or the ALT key on the PC, and click on the Eye icon to the left of the tailor layer. In the Document window, you can see that this layer contains just the one small photo surrounded by a gray and white checkerboard pattern. That pattern represents transparent pixels, which allow us to see down through the corresponding part of this layer to the content of the layers below. So, let's turn that content back on by going back to the Layers panel, again holding the Option key on the Mac or the ALT key on the PC and clicking on the Eye icon to the left of the tailor layer. And all the other layers and their Eye icons come back into view. So again: You might think of layers like a stack of pints of glass, each with its own artwork and in some cases transparent areas that let you see down through to the layers below. The biggest benefit of having items on separate layers like this, is that you'll be able to edit pieces of an image independently without affecting the rest of the image. Follow along with this example to see what I mean. Let's say you wanted to edit or move just the small photo of the cloth being cut. To do that, you'd have to select the layer that contains that photo. Go to the Layers panel and click on the cloth layer just to the right of the layer name. Now that the cloth layer is selected, any editing you do will affect only that layer. For example, go to the Tools panel and select the Move tool and then click on the cloth photo and drag - and only that photo moves, because only that layer is selected. And this applies to other kinds of edits too. For example, if you painted on the image or applied a filter, as you'll do later in this tutorial series, those edits would affect only the selected cloth layer and not the rest of the image. By the way: There are some editing activities, like moving layers, that you can do to more than one layer at a time. And to do that, you need to select more than one layer. Over in the Layers panel, we already have the cloth layer selected. If you don't, click on that layer. To select the tailor layer too, hold down the Command key on a Mac or the Ctrl key on a PC, and click on the tailor layer. With both layers selected, you can click and drag either of those photos and they'll move together. Now here's a bonus tip: With the Move tool selected, take a look at its Options bar. And you'll see this option, Auto-Select: Layer is checked. With that option checked, clicking anywhere in the image will automatically select the top layer at that location that contains content. For example, watch the Layers panel as I click over here on the pattern photo and you'll see that the pattern layer was automatically selected for you in the Layers panel. Sometimes that's really useful, but sometimes it can cause you to inadvertently select a layer that you didn't mean to. To avoid that you can uncheck Auto-Select: Layer in the Move tool Options bar and instead select layers manually by clicking on them in the Layers panel, as we did in this tutorial. So, to recap: Being able to work with selected pieces of content independently is the biggest benefit of using layers. There's lots more to learn about layers, so stay tuned for the rest of this tutorial.
What you learned: To view and select layers in the Layers panel
- Layers contain the images, text, or objects that make up a layered file. They let you move, edit, and work with content on one layer without affecting content on other layers.
- Layers are arranged in a stack in the Layers panel, which is usually located in the bottom right of the work area. If the Layers panel is not visible, choose Window > Layers.
- In the Layers panel, click the eye icon to the left of a layer to hide its content. Click again in the same spot to reveal the content. This is a useful way to remind yourself what’s on a particular layer.
- A layer must be selected in order to make changes to it. In the Layers panel, click once to the right of a layer name to select that layer. To add more layers to your selection, hold Control (Windows) or Command (macOS) as you click other layers.
Change layer order, create a new layer, change layer opacity, and delete a layer.
Let's take a look at the functions you'll use most often when you're working with layers in the Layers panel. You can follow along with this image from the practice files for this tutorial or with a layered image of your own. Over on the right in the Layers panel, the order in which the layers are stacked from top to bottom controls the front to back arrangement of content in the image. For example, in this image, the tailor layer is above the pattern layer in the Layers panel. And so, in the image, the tailor photo with the man in the red hat is on top of the pattern photo where those two photos overlap. Well, what if you wanted the tailor photo here to be behind the pattern photo in the image? In that case, come over to the Layers panel and select the tailor photo by clicking on it. Then click, hold and drag the tailor layer beneath the pattern layer. Now this can be tricky. You need to wait until you see a double line below the pattern layer and then release your finger from the mouse or the track pad. And that moves the tailor layer beneath the pattern layer in the Layers panel. And look what happened over in the image: The photo of the tailor is behind the photo of the pattern. Another thing you're probably wondering about, is how to create a new layer. Let's say that I want a new empty layer on which I could add pixels, maybe by painting with a Brush tool. First, think about where you want to add the layer in the layer stacking order and select the layer just below that. In this example, I'd like to add a new layer above the pattern layer, because I want to paint on top of this pattern. So, I'll go to the Layers panel and I'll select the pattern layer. And then I'll create my new layer by going to the bottom of the Layers panel and clicking this icon with the turned-up page corner. That creates a new layer above the pattern layer. Adding a layer this way creates a pixel based layer on which you could do things like add color. If you use a different tool, like the Type tool or the Shape tool, or if you use the Place Embedded command to add a new photo or another image to a composition - all of this we'll do later in this tutorial series - Photoshop will make a new layer for you automatically. So, don't be surprised if you see extra layers in your Layers panel when you use any of those functions. When you do make a new layer, it's a good idea to give it a name that's meaningful to you, so it's easier to find later. To rename any layer, double-click right on the layer name and typewrite over it to enter your own name. I'm going to type "paint". And then press Enter or Return on the keyboard. Now let's put this new layer to use by adding some color to it. I'll go up to the Swatches panel. If your Swatches panel isn't open, open it from the Window menu at the top of the screen. In the Swatches panel, I'm going to click on a color. You can use any color you like. And then I'll move over to the Tools panel, where I select the Brush tool. I go up to the Options bar for the Brush tool and I click on the Brush Picker where I have a Size slider that I can drag to the right to change the size of this brush. And then I move into the image and I'll start to paint and the Brush Picker closes as I paint on the pattern. Because the paint is on its own layer in the Layers panel you have lots of flexibility to edit that paint swatch without affecting the rest of the image. As just one example, you could change the opacity of the paint layer. With the paint layer selected I'll go up to the top of the Layers panel and I'll click the arrow to the right of Opacity. And then I'll drag the Opacity slider to the left. Keep your eye on the paint swatch as I do this and you can see that it gets less and less opaque or more transparent. I'll click off of the Opacity slider in a blank area to close that slider. That's a simple way to blend the content of 2 layers together. Finally: What if you decide that you don't want the contents of the new layer at all? You can delete that layer or any layer by selecting it and then pressing the Delete key on a Mac keyboard or the Backspace key on a Windows keyboard. And don't worry: You can undo that by pressing Command + Z on the Mac or Ctrl + Z on a Windows keyboard. And here's a bonus tip: There're even more layer related commands located in the Panel menu, which you can access by clicking this little Menu icon at the top right of the Layers panel. So, if you ever want to do something else with your layers - like maybe duplicate a layer - take a look in this menu. So that's how to use some of the most common layer functions: Changing layer stacking order, creating a new pixel based layer, changing layer opacity and deleting a layer.
What you learned: To work with layers in the Layers panel
- Drag a layer up or down in the Layers panel to change the order of layered objects in the image.
- Click the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the layers panel to make a new layer. This layer is transparent until something is added to it.
- To name a layer, double-click the current layer name. Type a new name for the layer. Press Enter (Windows) or Return (macOS).
- To change a layer’s opacity, select a layer in the Layers panel and drag the Opacity slider located near the top of the Layers panel to make the layer more or less transparent.
- To delete a layer, select a layer in the Layers panel and press Backspace (Windows) or Delete (macOS).
Change the size of the content of selected layers.
When you're making a multi-layered design, you may need to resize the content of a layer as opposed to resizing the entire image. To do that, you'll use a Transform command. If you're following along, you can use this image from the practice files for this tutorial or you can use your own multi-layered image. Let's say that we want to make this photo of sewing tools smaller. The first step is to go to the Layers panel and select the layer that contains that photo, which is the tools photo layer. I'll click on that layer to select it. Then go up to the Edit menu and choose Free Transform. That puts this border around all the contents of the selected layer. So, if there were more artwork on the same layer, all of it would be encompassed within that border and all would be resized together. Now usually, you don't want to distort an image as you resize it. To avoid that, hold down the Shift key to constrain proportions as you click on any edge or any corner and drag in to make this photo smaller or out to make it larger. By the way, it's fine to make layer content smaller but in most cases, it's best not to make pixel based content - like a photograph - a lot bigger than the original or it may look blurry. The last step, is to accept the change that you made with the Transform command. One way to do that is to go up to the Options bar and click the big Checkmark that appears there whenever you use Free Transform. And that's all there is to it. Another thing you can do is to resize the content of more than one layer at a time. This can save you time and can help you to resize multiple images by the same amount. So, let's say that we want to make both the sewing tools photo and the photo of the tailor smaller at the same time. They're located on 2 different layers. So, we have to go over to the Layers panel and make sure both of those layers are selected. The tools photo layer is already selected. If yours isn't, just click on that layer. To add the tailor photo layer to the selection, hold down the Command key on a Mac or the Ctrl key on Windows and click on the tailor photo layer. Then as before, go up to the Edit menu and choose Free Transform. Hold down the Shift key and click on any edge or any corner of the border that surrounds both of the images on both selected layers. Drag inward to make both photos smaller at the same time. And when you're done, go up to the Options bar and click the big Checkmark to accept that change. So that's how to resize layers with Free Transform. Please don't confuse this technique with resizing an entire image which is done with the Image Size command in the Image menu as you learned in another tutorial in this series.
What you learned: To resize layers
- In the Layers panel, select one or more layers that contain images or objects you want to resize.
- Choose Edit > Free Transform. A transform border appears around all the content on the selected layers. Hold the Shift key to avoid distorting the content, and drag the corners or edges until it is the desired size. Drag inside the transform border to move the content around the image. Drag outside the transform border to rotate the content.
- Click the check mark in the options bar or press Enter (Windows) or Return (macOS) to finalize the change.
Bring more images into a design, each image on its own layer.
In this video, you'll learn how to add multiple images to a composition that you're building in Photoshop. Like many things in Photoshop, there's more than one way to do this. We're going to use the Place Embedded method which automatically creates a new layer for each added image, giving you the flexibility to size and position each added image as you like. If you're following along, start by opening this image from the practice files for this tutorial. You can leave the other practice file with a similar name closed for now. When we use the Place Embedded command to add another image to this composition, Photoshop will automatically create a new layer for the added image, above whichever layer is selected at the moment. So, the first step is to go to the Layers panel, and select the layer above which you want your new layer. I'm going to select the Background layer. Next, go to the File menu, and choose Place Embedded... That opens your Finder or File Explorer, where you'll navigate to the file that you want to add. If you're using the downloadable practice files, navigate to the practice files on your computer and choose this file. Then click the Place button at the bottom right. The added photo appears in the open image in your Document window. This photo happens to be larger than the open image but you don't have to worry about that. Photoshop automatically scales the added photo down so it fits in the original image. Before you complete the placement, you'll scale down the photo and place it where you want it in the composition. To scale this photo down proportionately without distorting it, hold the Shift key as you drag from any of the corners inward. If you want your added photo to be about the same size as one of the other small photos in this composition, use one of those photos as a guide to help you size this one. I'll remove my finger from the mouse or track pad, and release the Shift key. I'll hold the Shift key down and come over to this other corner and drag inward there to get the added photo just about the same size as this other small photo. Next, you want to position the added photo where you want it in the composition. To do that, click inside of the border and drag. These pink guides may appear - they're called smart guides - to help you align the added photo to the other elements in the composition. When you're happy with the size and the placement of your added photo, complete the placement by going up to the Options bar and clicking the big Checkmark there. And that's all there is to it. If later you decide that you want to move the added photo, you can do that by just selecting its layer, getting the Move tool in the Tools panel, and dragging the added photo elsewhere in the composition. Or let's say you want to change the size of the added photo. You can do that too. And to do that, you'll use the Free Transform command that we learned about in an earlier video in this tutorial. So, let's say I wanted that middle image to be a different size, I would make sure its layer is selected in the Layers panel, I'd go up to the Edit menu, and choose Free Transform, hold the Shift key to constrain proportions and drag from any of the corners to change the size of that photo. And then click the Checkmark in the Options bar to commit that change. There's one thing to keep in mind when you use the Place Embedded command. And that is, that there are some edits you can't do directly on the resulting smart object, that this command creates. Now, there's lots to learn about smart objects, but for now, let's just talk about what to do if you run into this situation. Let's say that I wanted to paint on the photo that I added. I'll make sure I have its layer selected in the Layers panel, and I'll go over to the Tools panel, and I'll select the Brush tool. When I move into the image and click to paint, I get this message saying that "This object must be rasterized before proceeding". This means that if I click OK, I'll be converting my added photo layer into a regular pixel-based layer. And that's just fine, so I click OK. And that's the simple solution that will allow me to paint on my added photo. So now that you know how to add images to a composition, have fun creating your own unique multi-image designs in Photoshop.
What you learned: To add images to a design
- Choose File > Place Embedded, navigate to an image file in File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (macOS), and click Place.
- Hold the Shift key to avoid distorting the image, and drag the corners of the image border to resize the added image.
- Drag inside the border to position the added image where you want it.
- Click the check mark in the options bar to finalize the placement. This automatically creates a new layer containing the added image.
Learn how a special Background layer works.
Many files have a special background layer. Let's take a look at what a background layer is, and how to work with it. If you're following along, use this file from the practice files for this tutorial. Let's take a look at the Layers panel, where at the bottom of this layer stack, there's a layer labeled Background with an uppercase B and a Lock symbol. That's how to recognize a special background layer. The content of this background layer is a large photo in the background of the image, in the document window. A background layer like this has special properties that are different than a regular layer. For example, you can't change the stacking order of a background layer in the Layers panel. Try to move it up in the layers stack by selecting the Background layer and then dragging up. And you just can't drop it on top of these other layers. Instead, you get this no way symbol. And when you remove your finger from the mouse or the track pad, the Background layer pops back down to the bottom of the layer stack. Similarly, you can't drag another layer beneath the background layer in the Layers panel. Try selecting another layer, and then drag beneath the background layer and you get that same no way symbol. A background layer just has to be at the bottom of the layer stack, and its content has to be at the back of the image, behind the other image elements. Let's go back to the Layers panel, and select the Background layer again to see something else that you can't do with the background layer. And that is to move it with the Move tool. I'll go over and select the Move tool in the Tools panel. I'll click on that large background photo and I'll try to move, and I just get a message that the Move tool can't move this layer because the layer is locked. I'll click OK to dismiss that. There are a couple other things you can't do with a background layer either. For example, you can't vary the opacity of a layer and you can't have transparent pixels on a background layer. So, what if you want to do any of that with a special background layer? In that case, you need to convert the background layer to a regular layer. And that's as simple as one click. Just come down to the Background layer and click on the Lock symbol and it goes away, and that layer becomes a regular layer called Layer 0. And now because it's a regular layer, I could do all the things I just mentioned that you can't do with a background layer. That's just one example, I can move this layer with the Move tool. I have the Move tool still selected, I'll move into the image and I'll drag to the right and that does move Layer 0, and it reveals transparency behind it, because this is the bottom most layer in the layer stack. Now, what if you did want to have a special background layer and you didn't have one in your file. Well you can make any layer into a special background layer by going up to the Layer menu, and choosing New, Background from Layer. I actually want to make a new layer in this case and make that the background layer. So, I'll go down to the bottom of the Layers panel and I'll click the Create New Layer button. That makes a new Layer 1, which I'll drag to the bottom of the layer stack. Layer 1 is currently empty. I'll fill it with white. To do that, I'm going to go up to the Edit menu, and I'll choose Fill... In the Fill dialog that opens, I'll change the first drop-down menu to White. And I'll click OK. And now we have a white layer at the bottom of the layer stack. To change that into a special background layer, I'll go up to the Layer menu and choose New, Background from Layer. And now that layer is locked, I can't move it, or do the other things that I mentioned. And it's providing a stable base for this composition. So, background layers deserve mention, because you will run into one sooner rather than later. And now, you know what a background layer is, what its limitations are, and how to work with it.
What you learned: To convert a Background layer into a regular layer
- Because the Background layer is locked, it can’t be moved in the Document window or rearranged in the Layers panel, and some editing functions won’t work on it.
- To change the Background layer into a regular layer, click the lock icon to the right of the layer name in the Layers panel.