Adjustment and fill layers

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About adjustment and fill layers

An adjustment layer applies color and tonal adjustments to your image without permanently changing pixel values. For example, rather than making a Levels or Curves adjustment directly to your image, you can create a Levels or Curves adjustment layer. The color and tonal adjustments are stored in the adjustment layer and apply to all the layers below it; you can correct multiple layers by making a single adjustment, rather than adjusting each layer separately. You can discard your changes and restore the original image at any time.

Fill layers let you fill a layer with a solid color, a gradient, or a pattern. Unlike adjustment layers, fill layers do not affect the layers underneath them.

Adjustment layers provide the following advantages:

  • Nondestructive edits. You can try different settings and re‑edit the adjustment layer at any time. You can also reduce the effect of the adjustment by lowering the opacity of the layer.

  • Selective editing. Paint on the adjustment layer's image mask to apply an adjustment to part of an image. Later you can control which parts of the image are adjusted by re-editing the layer mask. You can vary the adjustment by painting on the mask with different tones of gray.

  • Ability to apply adjustments to multiple images. Copy and paste adjustment layers between images to apply the same color and tonal adjustments.

Adjustment layers have many of the same characteristics as other layers. You can adjust their opacity and blending mode, and you can group them to apply the adjustment to specific layers. Likewise, you can turn their visibility on and off to apply or preview the effect.

Photoshop adjustment and fill layers
Original (left); adjustment layer applied to barn only (center), which brings out detail in the barn; and adjustment layer applied to entire image (right), which lightens the entire image and pixelates the clouds

Note:

Because adjustment layers contain adjustment data rather than pixels, they increase file size far less than standard pixel layers. If you are working with an unusually large file, however, you may want to reduce file size by merging adjustment layers into pixel layers.

Create and confine adjustment and fill layers

Adjustment and fill layers have the same opacity and blending mode options as image layers. You can rearrange, delete, hide, and duplicate them just as you do image layers.

Photoshop Adjustment and fill layers
Adjustment and fill layers

A. Adjustment layer confined to "Log home" layer only B. Layer thumbnail C. Fill layer D. Layer mask 

Create an adjustment layer

  1. Do one of the following:
    • Click the New Adjustment Layer button  at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose an adjustment layer type.

    • Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer, and choose an option. Name the layer, set layer options, and click OK.

    Note:

    To confine the effects of an adjustment layer to specific image layers, select the image layers, choose Layer > New > Group From Layers, and change the Mode from Pass Through to any other blending mode. Then place the adjustment layer at the top of the layer group.

Create a fill layer

To create a fill layer, do one of the following:  

  • Choose Layer > New Fill Layer, and choose an option - Solid Color, Gradient, or Pattern. Name the layer, set layer options, and click OK.
  • Click the New Adjustment Layer button  at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose a fill layer type - Solid Color, Gradient, or Pattern.

Solid Color

Fills the adjustment layer with the current foreground color. Use the Color Picker to select a different a fill color.

Gradient

Click the gradient to display the Gradient Editor, or click the inverted arrow and choose a gradient from the pop‑up panel. Set additional options if desired.

  • Style specifies the shape of the gradient.
  • Angle specifies the angle at which the gradient is applied.
  • Scale changes the size of the gradient.
  • Reverse flips the orientation of the gradient.
  • Dither reduces banding by applying dithering to the gradient.
  • Align With Layer uses the bounding box of the layer to calculate the gradient fill. You can drag in the image window to move the center of the gradient.

Pattern

Beginning with Photoshop 21.2, you can also set an angle to rotate the fill layer's pattern and easily change its orientation.

In the Pattern Fill dialog, choose a pattern from the pop‑up menu. Set the following options as required: 

  • Angle specifies the angle at which the pattern is applied. Set the angle selector at a certain degree or manually type in an angle value to rotate your pattern at the desired angle.
  • Scale changes the size of the pattern. Enter a value or drag the slider.
  • Link With Layer moves the pattern along with the layer as the layer moves. When selected, you can drag in the image to position the pattern while the Pattern Fill dialog box is open.
  • Snap To Origin makes the origin of the pattern the same as the origin of the document.

Confine adjustment and fill layers to specific areas

To confine adjustment and fill layers to specific areas, use layer masks. By default, adjustment and fill layers automatically have layer masks, indicated by the mask icon to the right of the layer thumbnail. (To create adjustment layers without masks, deselect Add Mask by Default in the Adjustments panel menu.)

To change the shape of a mask on an existing layer, see Edit a layer mask. To create a new adjustment or fill layer with a mask of specific shape, complete one of the following procedures.

Create an adjustment or fill layer mask using a selection or path

  1. In the Layers panel, select the layer to which you want to apply the adjustment or fill layer.

  2. In the image, create a pixel selection, or create and select a closed path.

    A selection confines the new adjustment or fill layer with a layer mask. A path confines the new adjustment or fill layer with a vector mask.

  3. Create an adjustment or fill layer.

Create an adjustment layer mask using a color range

The Color Range feature, which is useful for creating a selection area based on sampled colors in an image, can also be used to create an adjustment layer mask. For more information, see Select a color range.

  1. In the Layers panel, select the layer to which you want to apply the adjustment layer.

  2. Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer, and choose an adjustment type.

  3. In the Masks section of the Properties panel, click Color Range.

  4. In the Color Range dialog box, choose Sampled Colors from the Select menu.

  5. Select Localized Color Clusters to build a mask based on different color ranges in the image.

  6. Set the display option to Selection, and Selection Preview to None.

  7. Click a color area in the image.

    Note:

    To sample multiple areas, hold down Shift to activate the plus eyedropper. Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) to activate the minus eyedropper.

    As you click on image areas, you can preview the mask in the Color Range dialog box. White areas are unmasked pixels, black areas masked, and gray areas partially masked.

  8. Use the Fuzziness slider to increase or decrease the range of colors around your sample colors that are included in the masked area. Use the Range slider to control how far or near a color must be from the sample points to be included in the mask. After adjusting the mask, click OK to close the Color Range dialog box.

  9. Modify the adjustment as needed in the Properties panel.

    The adjustment is only applied to the unmasked (or partially masked) areas of the image. If necessary click Color Range again to make further adjustments to the adjustment layer mask.

Edit or merge adjustment and fill layers

Editing adjustment and fill layers

You can edit an adjustment or fill-layer setting. You can also edit the mask of an adjustment or fill layer to control the effect that the layer has on the image. By default, all areas of an adjustment or fill layer are "unmasked" and are therefore visible. (See About layer and vector masks.)

Change adjustment and fill layer options

  1. Do one of the following:
    • Double-click the adjustment or fill-layer thumbnail in the Layers panel.

    • Choose Layer > Layer Content Options.

  2. Make the desired changes in the Properties panel.

    Note:

    Inverted adjustment layers do not have editable settings.

Merging adjustment or fill layers

You can merge an adjustment or fill layer several ways: with the layer below it, with the layers in its own grouped layer, with other selected layers, and with all other visible layers. You cannot, however, use an adjustment or fill layer as the target layer for a merge. When you merge an adjustment or fill layer with the layer below it, the adjustments are rasterized and become permanently applied within the merged layer. You can also rasterize a fill layer without merging it. (See Rasterize layers.)

Adjustment and fill layers whose masks contain only white values do not add significantly to the file size, so it is not necessary to merge these adjustment layers to conserve file space.

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