Photoshop Layers

Layer PanelLayers are one of the most important topics in Photoshop. They are so improtant that the Photoshop Essentials site say "Nothing worth doing in Photoshop can or should be done without layers." At the very least, they provide a way of organizing your edits and of making your edits non-destructive.

Just make sure you save the master copy of your images as a PSD file to retain all the layer information.

Introduction to Layers

If you've never used layers before, then you should start with this introductory tutorial.

This gives you a good description of what layers are, and why they are important.

Layers are managed using the layer panel. Shown on the right, this is usually found in the bottom right corner of the Photoshop window. A good overview of using this panel, including the basics of layer masks and adjustment layers, is available here.

Layer MenuThe Background Layer

Every image always starts with a background layer (although this can be copied and renamed if your edit needs to). The background layer is different to other kinds of layers in am image. If you want to understand how to work with the background layer, this tutorial gives a good overview.

Layer Masks

Layer masks give us total control of what portions of a layer are visible without having to delete any of it. They also let us control how adjustments such as HSV can affect different parts of an image with different intensity.

Using a simple photo-montage as an example, this tutorial gives a good introduction to the basics of layer masks.

Keeping Organized

As you get more ambitious and start using more and more layers in your edits, you will appreciate being able to keep your layers organized. This can be done using layer groups, as discussed here.

Oh, and don't forget that there's an entire menu devoted to layers that brings together all the various commands, options and effects into a single location.

Adjustment Layers

Using adjustment layers to make image enhancements in Photoshop means that we can edit non-destructively. This means we can always modify the changes at a later date.

You can find a good introduction to this technique here.

Adobe TV also have a video tutorial that takes you through a basic workflow using adjustment layers.

Further Reading

The tutorials linked to above will give you a solid foundation in working with Photoshop layers. Once you're comfortable with the basics, you'll probably want to start extending your skills...

Clipping masks are an interesting technique for managing the relation between layers. You can use them to force an adjustment layer to only affect the layer immediately underneath it and you can use them to create vignette effects. Find an introductory tutorial here.

Outer GlowLayer styles give you some cool effects that can be applied. They are often used with vector text to add visual flare, but they can be applied to any layer. The example on the right shows two different applications of the Outer Glow effect on two different layers in an image. There is an introductory tutorial here, and a detailed worked example here.

If you like to use keyboard short cuts in your editing, you can find a collection of short cuts for layer tools here.

In addition to all the tutorials mentioned above, the full collection of Photoshop Essentials layer tutorials can be found here.

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