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Creating layers

  1. After Effects User Guide
  2. Beta releases
    1. Beta Program Overview
    2. After Effects Beta Home
  3. Getting started
    1. Get started with After Effects
    2. What's new in After Effects 
    3. Release Notes | After Effects
    4. After Effects system requirements
    5. Keyboard shortcuts in After Effects
    6. Supported File formats | After Effects
    7. Hardware recommendations
    8. After Effects for Apple silicon
    9. Planning and setup
  4. Workspaces
    1. General user interface items
    2. Get to know After Effects interface
    3. Workflows
    4. Workspaces, panels, and viewers
  5. Projects and compositions
    1. Projects
    2. Composition basics
    3. Precomposing, nesting, and pre-rendering
    4. View detailed performance information with the Composition Profiler
    5. CINEMA 4D Composition Renderer
  6. Importing footage
    1. Preparing and importing still images
    2. Importing from After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro
    3. Importing and interpreting video and audio
    4. Preparing and importing 3D image files
    5. Importing and interpreting footage items
    6. Working with footage items
    7. Detect edit points using Scene Edit Detection
    8. XMP metadata
  7. Text and Graphics
    1. Text
      1. Formatting characters and the Character panel
      2. Text effects
      3. Creating and editing text layers
      4. Formatting paragraphs and the Paragraph panel
      5. Extruding text and shape layers
      6. Animating text
      7. Examples and resources for text animation
      8. Live Text Templates
    2. Motion Graphics
      1. Work with Motion Graphics templates in After Effects
      2. Use expressions to create drop-down lists in Motion Graphics templates
      3. Work with Essential Properties to create Motion Graphics templates
      4. Replace images and videos in Motion Graphics templates and Essential Properties
      5. Animate faster and easier using the Properties panel
  8. Drawing, Painting, and Paths
    1. Overview of shape layers, paths, and vector graphics
    2. Paint tools: Brush, Clone Stamp, and Eraser
    3. Taper shape strokes
    4. Shape attributes, paint operations, and path operations for shape layers
    5. Use Offset Paths shape effect to alter shapes
    6. Creating shapes
    7. Create masks
    8. Remove objects from your videos with the Content-Aware Fill panel
    9. Roto Brush and Refine Matte
  9. Layers, Markers, and Camera
    1. Selecting and arranging layers
    2. Blending modes and layer styles
    3. 3D layers
    4. Layer properties
    5. Creating layers
    6. Managing layers
    7. Layer markers and composition markers
    8. Cameras, lights, and points of interest
  10. Animation, Keyframes, Motion Tracking, and Keying
    1. Animation
      1. Animation basics
      2. Animating with Puppet tools
      3. Managing and animating shape paths and masks
      4. Animating Sketch and Capture shapes using After Effects
      5. Assorted animation tools
      6. Work with Data-driven animation
    2. Keyframe
      1. Keyframe interpolation
      2. Setting, selecting, and deleting keyframes
      3. Editing, moving, and copying keyframes
    3. Motion tracking
      1. Tracking and stabilizing motion
      2. Face Tracking
      3. Mask Tracking
      4. Mask Reference
      5. Speed
      6. Time-stretching and time-remapping
      7. Timecode and time display units
    4. Keying
      1. Keying
      2. Keying effects
  11. Transparency and Compositing
    1. Compositing and transparency overview and resources
    2. Alpha channels and masks
    3. Track Mattes and Traveling Mattes
  12. Adjusting color
    1. Color basics
    2. Color management
    3. Color Correction effects
    4. OpenColorIO and ACES color management
  13. Effects and Animation Presets
    1. Effects and animation presets overview
    2. Effect list
    3. Effect Manager
    4. Simulation effects
    5. Stylize effects
    6. Audio effects
    7. Distort effects
    8. Perspective effects
    9. Channel effects
    10. Generate effects
    11. Transition effects
    12. The Rolling Shutter Repair effect
    13. Blur and Sharpen effects
    14. 3D Channel effects
    15. Utility effects
    16. Matte effects
    17. Noise and Grain effects
    18. Detail-preserving Upscale effect
    19. Obsolete effects
  14. Expressions and Automation
    1. Expressions
      1. Expression basics
      2. Understanding the expression language
      3. Using expression controls
      4. Syntax differences between the JavaScript and Legacy ExtendScript expression engines
      5. Editing expressions
      6. Expression errors
      7. Using the Expressions editor
      8. Use expressions to edit and access text properties
      9. Expression language reference
      10. Expression examples
    2. Automation
      1. Automation
      2. Scripts
  15. Immersive video, VR, and 3D
    1. Construct VR environments in After Effects
    2. Apply immersive video effects
    3. Compositing tools for VR/360 videos
    4. Advanced 3D Renderer
    5. Import and add 3D models to your composition
    6. Import 3D models from Creative Cloud Libraries
    7. Image-Based Lighting
    8. Extract and animate lights and cameras from 3D models
    9. Tracking 3D camera movement
    10. Cast and accept shadows
    11. Embedded 3D model animations
    12. Shadow Catcher
    13. 3D depth data extraction
    14. Work in 3D Design Space
    15. 3D Transform Gizmos
    16. Do more with 3D animation
    17. Preview changes to 3D designs real time with the Mercury 3D engine
    18. Add responsive design to your graphics 
  16. Views and Previews
    1. Previewing
    2. Video preview with Mercury Transmit
    3. Modifying and using views
  17. Rendering and Exporting
    1. Basics of rendering and exporting
    2. H.264 Encoding in After Effects
    3. Export an After Effects project as an Adobe Premiere Pro project
    4. Converting movies
    5. Multi-frame rendering
    6. Automated rendering and network rendering
    7. Rendering and exporting still images and still-image sequences
    8. Using the GoPro CineForm codec in After Effects
  18. Working with other applications
    1. Dynamic Link and After Effects
    2. Working with After Effects and other applications
    3. Sync Settings in After Effects
    4. Creative Cloud Libraries in After Effects
    5. Plug-ins
    6. Cinema 4D and Cineware
  19. Collaboration: Frame.io, and Team Projects
    1. Collaboration in Premiere Pro and After Effects
    2. Frame.io
      1. Install and activate Frame.io
      2. Use Frame.io with Premiere Pro and After Effects
      3. Frequently asked questions
    3. Team Projects
      1. Get Started with Team Projects
      2. Create a Team Project
      3. Collaborate with Team Projects
  20. Memory, storage, performance
    1. Memory and storage
    2. How After Effects handles low memory issues while previewing    
    3. Improve performance
    4. Preferences
    5. GPU and GPU driver requirements for After Effects
  21. Knowledge Base
    1. Known issues
    2. Fixed issues
    3. Frequently asked questions
    4. After Effects and macOS Ventura
    5. How After Effects handles low memory issues while previewing

Layers overview

Layers are the elements that make up a composition. Without layers, a composition is only an empty frame. Use as many layers as necessary to create your composition. Some compositions contain thousands of layers, whereas some compositions contain only one layer.

Layers in After Effects are similar to tracks in Adobe Premiere Pro. The primary difference is that each After Effects layer can have no more than one footage item as its source, whereas a Premiere Pro track typically contains multiple clips. Layers in After Effects are also similar to layers in Photoshop, though the interface for working with layers differs. Working with layers in the Timeline panel in After Effects is similar to working with layers in the Layers panel in Photoshop.

You can create several kinds of layers:

  • Video and audio layers that are based on footage items that you import, such as still images, movies, and audio tracks

  • Layers that you create within After Effects to perform special functions, such as cameras, lights, adjustment layers, and null objects

  • Solid-color layers that are based on solid-color footage items that you create within After Effects

  • Synthetic layers that hold visual elements that you create within After Effects, such as shape layers and text layers

  • Precomposition layers, which use compositions as their source footage items

When you modify a layer, you do not affect its source footage item. You can use the same footage item as the source for more than one layer and use the footage differently in each instance. (See Importing and interpreting footage items.)

Changes made to one layer do not affect other layers, unless you specifically link the layers. For example, you can move, rotate, and draw masks for one layer without disturbing any other layers in the composition.

After Effects automatically numbers all layers in a composition. By default, these numbers are visible in the Timeline panel next to the layer name. The number corresponds to the position of that layer in the stacking order. When the stacking order changes, After Effects changes all numbers accordingly. The layer stacking order affects rendering order and therefore affects how the composition is rendered for previews and final output. (See Render order and collapsing transformations.)

Layers in the Layer, Composition, and Timeline panels

After you add a layer to a composition, you can reposition the layer in the Composition panel. In the Timeline panel, you can change a layer’s duration, starting time, and place in the layer stacking order. You can also change any of the properties of a layer in the Timeline panel. (See Layer properties in the Timeline panel.)

You can perform many tasks—such as drawing masks—in either the Composition panel or the Layer panel. However, other tasks—such as tracking motion and using the paint tools—must be performed in the Layer panel.

The Layer panel shows you a layer before any transforms are applied to the layer. For example, the Layer panel does not show the result of modifying the Scale property of a layer. To see a layer in context with other layers and with the results of transforms, use the Composition panel.

Layers that are not based on a source footage item are synthetic layers. Synthetic layers include text layers and shape layers. You cannot open a synthetic layer in the Layer panel. You can, however, precompose a synthetic layer and open the precomposition in the Layer panel.


To view changes to a layer (such as masks or effects) in the Layer panel, select Render in the Layer panel. Deselect Render to view the original, unaltered layer.

Opening layers and layer sources

  • To open a layer other than a precomposition layer in the Layer panel, double-click the layer, or select the layer and choose Layer > Open Layer.

  • To open the source composition of a precomposition layer in the Composition panel, double-click the layer, or select the layer and choose Layer > Open Composition.

  • To open the source footage item of a layer, Alt-double-click (Windows) or Option-double-click (Mac OS) the layer, or select the layer and choose Layer > Open Layer Source.


If you right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) a layer, you can choose Open Footage or Open Composition to open the layer’s source item.

  • To open a precomposition layer in the Layer panel, Alt-double-click (Windows) or Option-double-click (Mac OS) the layer, or select the layer and choose Layer > Open Layer.

Create layers from footage items or change layer source

You can create a layer from any footage item in the Project panel, including another composition. After you add a footage item to a composition, you can modify and animate the resulting layer.

When you add a composition to another composition, you create a layer that uses the composition that you added as its source. (See Precomposing, nesting, and pre-rendering.)

The Still Footage preference setting (Preferences > Import) controls the default duration of layers that use still footage items as their sources. By default, when you create a layer with a still image as its source, the duration of the layer is the duration of the composition. You can change the duration of the layer after it’s created by trimming the layer.


By default, new layers begin at the beginning of the composition duration. You can instead choose to have new layers begin at the current time by deselecting the Create Layers At Composition Start Time preference (Edit > Preferences > General (Windows) or After Effects > Preferences > General (Mac OS)).

Often, the next step after adding a layer to a composition is scaling and positioning the layer to fit in the frame. (See Scale or flip a layer.)

Create layers from one or more footage items

When you create layers from multiple footage items, the layers appear in the layer stacking order in the Timeline panel in the order in which they were selected in the Project panel.

  1. Select one or more footage items and folders in the Project panel.
  2. Do one of the following:
    • Drag the selected footage items to the Composition panel.

    Hold Shift while dragging to snap the layer to the center or edges of the composition.

    • Drag the selected footage items to the Timeline panel. When you drag the item into the layer outline, a highlight bar indicates the layer appearence when you release the mouse button. If you drag the item over the time graph area, a time marker indicates the position of the In point of the layer when you release the mouse button.

    Hold Shift while dragging to snap the In point to the current-time indicator.

    • Drag the selected footage items to the composition name or icon in the Project panel, or press Ctrl+/ (Windows) or Command+/ (Mac OS). New layers are created immediately above a selected layer and at the center of the composition. If no layer is selected, then new layers are created at the top of the layer stack.

Create a layer from a trimmed footage item

You can trim a moving-image footage item in the Footage panel before inserting a layer based on that footage item into a composition.

  1. Double-click a footage item in the Project panel to open it in the Footage panel. (See View footage items in the Footage panel.)

  2. Move the current-time indicator in the Footage panel to the frame that you want to use as the In point of the layer, and click the Set In Point button at the bottom of the Footage panel.

  3. Move the current-time indicator in the Footage panel to the frame that you want to use as the Out point of the layer, and click the Set Out Point button  at the bottom of the Footage panel.
  4. To create a layer based on this trimmed footage item, click an Edit button at the bottom of the Footage panel:

    Overlay Edit

    Creates the layer at the top of the layer stacking order, with the In point set at the current time in the Timeline panel.

    Ripple Insert Edit

    Also creates the layer at the top of the layer stacking order, with the In point set at the current time in the Timeline panel, but splits all other layers. Newly created split layers are moved later in time so that their In points are at the same time as the Out point of the inserted layer.

Replace layer sources with references to another footage item

  1. Select one or more layers in the Timeline panel
  2. Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) a footage item from the Project panel onto a selected layer in the Timeline panel.

Solid-color layers and solid-color footage items

You can create layers of any solid color and any size (up to 30,000x30,000 pixels). Solid-color layers have solid-color footage items as their sources. Solid-color layers and solid-color footage items are both usually called solids.

Solids work just like any other footage item: You can add masks, modify transform properties, and apply effects to a layer that has a solid as its source footage item. Use solids to color a background, as the basis of a control layer for a compound effect, or to create simple graphic images.

Solid-color footage items are automatically stored in the Solids folder in the Project panel.

To learn how to modify solids folder for better project organization, see Enhanced solids folder organization.


In After Effects CS6 and later, new solid layers are 17% gray (45/255) so they can contrast with the new default darker user interface brightness

Create a solid-color layer or solid-color footage item

  • To create a solid footage item but not create a layer for it in a composition, choose File > Import > Solid.
  • To create a solid footage item and create a layer for it in the current composition, choose Layer > New > Solid or press Ctrl+Y (Windows) or Command+Y (Mac OS).

    To create a layer that fits the composition when you create a solid-color layer, choose Make Comp Size.

Modify settings for solid-color layers and solid-color footage items

  • To modify settings for the selected solid-color layer or footage item, choose Layer > Solid Settings.

    To apply the changes to all solid-color layers that use the footage item, select Affect All Layers That Use This Solid. If you don’t select this option, you create a footage item, which becomes the source for the selected layer.

Adjustment layers

When you apply an effect to a layer, the effect applies only to that layer and no others. However, an effect can exist independently if you create an adjustment layer for it. Any effects applied to an adjustment layer affect all layers below it in the layer stacking order. An adjustment layer at the bottom of the layer stacking order has no visible result.

Because effects on adjustment layers apply to all layers beneath them, they are useful for applying effects to many layers at once. In other respects, an adjustment layer behaves like other layers; for example, you can use keyframes or expressions with any adjustment layer property.


A more accurate description is that the adjustment layer applies the effect to the composite created from all layers below the adjustment layer in the layer stacking order. For this reason, applying an effect to an adjustment layer improves rendering performance compared with applying the same effect separately to each of the underlying layers.


If you want to apply an effect or transformation to a collection of layers, you can precompose the layers and then apply the effect or transformation to the precomposition layer. (See Precompose layers.)

Use masks on an adjustment layer to apply an effect to only parts of the underlying layers. You can animate masks to follow moving subjects in the underlying layers.

  • To create an adjustment layer, choose Layer > New > Adjustment Layer, or press Ctrl+Alt+Y (Windows) or Command+Option+Y (Mac OS).
  • To convert selected layers to adjustment layers, select the Adjustment Layer switch for the layers in the Timeline panel or choose Layer > Switches > Adjustment Layer.

You can deselect the Adjustment Layer switch for a layer to convert it to a normal layer.

Online resources about adjustment layers

Andrew Kramer provides a video tutorial on his Video Copilot website in which he shows how to use an adjustment layer to apply an effect to only a short duration and to only specific portions of a movie.

Lloyd Alvarez provides a script on his After Effects Scripts website that creates an adjustment layer above each selected layer, with each new adjustment layer trimmed to the duration of the selected layer.

Create a layer and new Photoshop footage item

When you create an Adobe Photoshop file from After Effects, Photoshop starts and creates a PSD file. This PSD file consists of a blank Photoshop layer that has the same dimensions as your composition, with the appropriate title-safe, and action-safe guides. The color bit depth of the PSD file is the same as the color bit depth of your After Effects project.

The newly created PSD file is automatically imported into After Effects as a footage item. Any changes that you save in Photoshop appear in the footage item in After Effects.

  • To create a Photoshop footage item and use it as the source for a new layer in the current composition, choose Layer > New > Adobe Photoshop File. The Photoshop layer is added as the top layer in your composition.
  • To create a Photoshop footage item with the settings of the most recently open composition, without adding it to a composition, choose File > New > Adobe Photoshop File.


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