Layer Basics (Chapter 4, Adobe Photoshop Classroom in a Book 2021 release)

Getting Started

  1. Download the 04Start.psd, 04End.psd, Beach.psd, FamilyPhoto.psd, and Flower2.psd files in the Lesson04 folder in the Photoshop section on Canvas and copy them to a folder for today. These are files from the Adobe Photoshop Classroom in a Book 2021 release.
  2. In Photoshop, choose File > Browse in Bridge to open Adobe Bridge.
  3. Click the 04End.psd file and move the thumbnail slider to the right if you want to see the image in more detail.
  4. Double click the 04Start.psd file to open the file in Photoshop.
  5. Choose File>Save As and rename the file 04Working.psd.

Sidebar - About the Background Layer

Using the Layers Panel

  1. If the Layers panel is not visible, choose Windows > Layers
  2. Select the Background layer to make it active (if it is not already selected)
  3. Choose File > Open, and then double-click the Beach.psd file to open it. Notice it has one layer, Layer1, and no Background layer.

Renaming and Copying a Layer

To add content to an image and simultaneously create a new layer for it, drag an object or layer from one file into the image window of another file.

Make sure that both the 04Working.psd and Beach.psd files are open and the the Beach.psd file is selected.

  1. In the Layers panel, double-click the name Layer1, type Beach, and then hit Enter.
  2. Choose Window>Arrange>2-Up Vertical. Photoshop displays both of the open image files. Select the Beach.psd image.
  3. Select the Move tool and use it to drag the Beach.psd image onto the the 04Working.psd image window.

    You can also transfer layers between documents by copying and pasting. Select Layers in the Layers panel, choose Edit>Copy, switch to another document, and choose Edit>Paste

    In the 04Working.psd Layers panel, the Beach layer now appears between the Background and Pineapple layers. Photoshop adds new layers about the selected layer, and you had selected the Background layer.
  4. Close the Beach.psd file without saving changes to it.

Viewing individual layers

  1. Click the eye icon next to the Pineapple layers to hide the image of the pineapple.
  2. Click again in the Show/Hide Visibility column to display the pineapple.

Adding border to a layer

  1. Select the Beach layer
  2. To make the opaque area of this layer more obvious, hide all the layers except the Beach layer. The checkerboard indicates transparent areas of the active layer.
  3. Choose Layer > Layer Style > Stroke.
  4. Specify the following settings
  5. Click OK. A white border appears around the beach photo.

Rearranging Layers

The order of layers is called the stacking order. You can change the stacking order to make certain parts of the image appear in front or behind other parts.

  1. Make the Postage, HAWAII, Flower, Pineapple, and Background layers visible by clicking the Show/Hide Visibility column next to their layer names.

    The beach image is almost entirely blocked by images in other layers.
  2. In the Layers panel, drag the Beach layer up so that it is positioned between the Pineapple and Flower layers.

    The beach images appears on top of the pineapple and background images, but under the postmark, flower, and the word HAWAII.

Changing the opacity of a layer

You can reduce the opacity of any layer to reveal the layers underneath it; in this case, the postmark is too dark on the flower.

  1. Select the Postage layer and then click the arrow next to the Opacity field (a dropdown at the top right of the Layers panel just below the icons) to display the Opacity slider. Set the slider to 25%. Choose File>Save to save your work.

    The Postage layer becomes partially transparent

Duplicating a layer and changing the blending mode

You can apply different blending modes to a layer; blending modes affect how the color pixels of one layer blend with pixels on the layers underneath. First, you'll use blending modes to increase the intensity of the image on the Pineapple layer. Then you'll change the blending mode on the Postage layer.

  1. Click the eye icons next to the HAWAII, Flower, and Beach layers to hide them.
  2. Right-click the Pineapple layer and choose Duplicate Layer from the context menu. Make sure you click the layer name, not its thumbnail, or you'll see the wrong context layer
  3. With the Pineapple copy layer selected, choose Overlay from the Blending Modes dropdown in the Layers panel (in the panel, not the Layer menu option)

    The Overlay blending mode blends the Pineapple copy layer with the Pineapple layer beneath it to create a vibrant, more colorful pineapple with deeper shadows and brighter highlights.
  4. Select the Postage layer and choose Multiply from the Blending Modes menu. In this example, area of the postmark that are over the pineapple are darkened using the total values of the pineapple. Overlay tends to increase contrast; multiply tends to darken its layer.
  5. File > Save to save your work.

Blending Modes

See p.86 of the book for a description and photos of the effect of different blending modes.

Resizing and rotating layers

  1. Click the Visibility column on the Beach layer to make it visible.
  2. Select the Beach layer in the Layers panel and choose Edit> Free Transform.

    A Transform bounding box appears on the beach image. First you'll resize and angle the layer.
  3. Press Shift as you drag a corner handle inward to scale the beach photo down by about 50% (Watch the Width and Height percentages in the options bar.) Holding down the shift key maintains the aspect ratio (the ratio of the width to the height) of the image.
  4. With the bounding box still active, position the pointer just outside one of the corner handles until it becomes a curved double arrow. Drag clockwise to rotate the beach image approximately 15 degrees. You can also enter 15 in the Set Rotation box in the options bar.
  5. Click the Commit Transform button (the check mark) in the options bar
  6. Make the Flower layer visible. Then select the Move tool and drag the beach photo so that its corner is tucked neatly beneath the flower. The beach photo appears underneath the flower because the beach layer is below the Flower layer.
  7. Choose File > Save.

Using a filter to create artwork

  1. In the Layers panel, select the Background layer to make it active and then click the Create a New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel (at the right, right next to the trash can)

    A new layer, named Layer 1, appears between the Background and Pineapple layers. The layer has no content so it has no effect on the image.
  2. Double-click the name Layer 1, type Clouds and press Enter to rename the layer.
  3. In the Tools panel, click the foreground color swatch (the top one, on the left), select a sky blue color from the Color Picker and choose OK. We selected a color with the following values: R=48, G=138, B = 174.
  4. With the Clouds layer still active, choose Filter > Render > Clouds.
  5. File > Save.

Dragging to add a new layer

You can add a layer to an image by dragging an image file from Bridge or from the desktop in Explorer (Windows)

  1. If Photoshop fills your monitor, reduce the size of the Photoshop window - click the Restore button in the upper right corner and then drag the lower right corner of the Photoshop window to make it smaller.
  2. In Photoshop, select the Pineapple copy layer in the Layers panel to make it the active layer.
  3. In Explorer, navigate to the Lesson4 folder.
  4. Select Flower2.psd and drag it from Explorer onto your image.

    The Flower2 layer appears in the Layers panel, directly above the Pineapple copy layer. Photoshop places the image as a Smart Object which is a layer you can edit without making permanent changes.
  5. Click the Commit Transform button to accept the layer.
  6. Position the Flower2 layer in the lower left corner of the postcard, so that about half of the flower is visible.

Adding text

  1. Make the HAWAII layer visible. You'll add text just below this layer, and apply special effects to both layers.
  2. Choose Select > Deselect Layers, so that no layers are selected.
  3. Select the Horizontal Type tool in the Tools panel. Then choose Window > Character to open the Character panel. Do the following in this panel.
  4. Click just below the "H" in Hawaii and type Island Paradise. Then click the Commit Any Current Edits button (the check mark) in the options bar.

    The Layers panel now includes a layer named Island Paradise with a T thumbnail. This layer is at the top of the layer stack.
  5. Select the Move tool and drag the "Island Paradise" text so that it is centered below "HAWAII"

Applying a gradient to a layer

  1. Select the HAWAII layer in the Layers panel to make it active
  2. Right-click the thumbnail in the HAWAII layer and choose Select Pixels. Make sure to right-click the thumbnail as opposed to the layer name for example.

    Everything on the HAWAII layer (the white lettering) is selected. You'll now apply a gradient
  3. In the Tools panel, select the Gradient Tool (seventh down in the first column).
  4. Click the Foreground Color swatch in the Tools panel, select a bright shade of orange in the Color Picker and click OK. The Background color should still be white
  5. In the options bar, make sure that Linear Gradient is selected (the first of equal size rectangles in the options bar
  6. In the options bar, click the rectangular box that will be showing a gradient using the foreground and background colors selected) to open the Gradient Editor. In the Gradient Editor, select the Foreground to Background; it's the first one in the Basics group), and click anywhere outside the Gradient panel to close it.
  7. With the selection still active, drag the Gradient Tool from the bottom to the top of the letters. To drag straight up, press the Shift key as you drag. When the pointer reaches the top of the letters, release the mouse button
  8. Choose Select > Deselect and then File>Save.

Applying a layer style

"You can enhance a layer by adding a shadow, stroke, satin sheen, or other special effect from a collection of automated and editable layers styles."

Like layers, layer styles can be hidden by clicking the eye icon. Layer styles are nondestructive and you can edit or remove them at any time. Earlier we used a layer style to add a stroke to the beach photo. Now we will add drop shadows to the text to make it stand out.

  1. Select the Island Paradise layer, and then choose Layer>Layer Style > Drop Shadow.
  2. In the Layer Style dialog box, make sure the Preview option at the right is selected.
  3. In the Structure area, select the checkbox for Global Light and then specify the following settings:
  4. Drag the sliders to see what the effect of each of these settings is.

    When "Use Global Light" is selected, one "master" lighting angle is available in all the layer effects that use shading. If you set a lighting angle in any of these effects, any other effect with Use Global Light selected inherits the same angle setting.

  5. Click OK to accept the settings and close the Layer Style dialog box.

    Photoshop nests the layer style in the Island Paradise Layer. First it lists Effects, and then the layer styles applied to that layer. An eye icon appears next to the effect category and next to each effect. An effect can be turned or off by clicking its eye icon. To hide all layer styles, click the eye icon next to Effect. To collapse the list of effects, click the arrow next to the layer at the far right.
  6. Make sure that eye icons appear for both items nested in the Island Paradise layer.
  7. Press Alt, and in the Layers panel, drag the Effects listing or the fx symbol for the Island Paradise layer onto the Hawaii layer.

    The Drop Shadow layer style is applied to the HAWAII layer, copying the settings you applied to the Island Paradise layer. Next we'll add a green stroke around the word HAWAII.
  8. Select the HAWAII layer in the Layers panel, click the Add A Layer Style button (fx) at the bottom of the panel and then choose Stroke from the pop-up menu.
  9. In the Structure area of the Layer Style dialog box, specify the following settings:
  10. Click OK to apply the stroke.

    Now we'll add a drop shadow and a satin sheen to the flower.
  11. Select the Flower layer, and choose Layer > Layer Style > Drop Shadow. Then change the following settings in the Structure area
  12. With the Layer Style dialog box still open, click the word Satin on the left to select it and display its options. Then make sure Invert is checked, and apply the following settings:
  13. Click OK to apply both layer styles

Adding an adjustment layer

Adjustment layers can be added to an image to apply color and tonal adjustments without permanently changing the pixel values in the image. We have used adjustment layers in an earlier lesson. Here we'll add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the purple flower. An adjustment layer affects all layers below it in the image's stacking order unless a selection is active when you apply it or you create a clipping mask.

  1. Select the Flower2 layer in the Layers panel.
  2. Click the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel (first on the left in the second row) to add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.
  3. In the Properties panel, apply the following settings:
  4. The changes affect the Flower2, Pineapple Copy, Pineapple, Clouds, and Background layers, but we want to change only the Flower2 layer.

  5. Right-click the layer name on the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, and choose Create Clipping Mask.

    An arrow appears in the Flower2 layer, indicating that the adjustment layer applies only to the Flower2 layer.

Updating layer effects

  1. Select the Island Paradise layer in the Layers panel.
  2. In the Tools panel, select the Horizontal Type tool (one of the tools under the Type tool)
  3. In the options bar, set the font size to 32 points and press Enter.

    Although you didn't select the text by dragging the Type tool,"Island Paradise" now appears in 32 point type
  4. Using the Horizontal Type tool, click between "Island" and "Paradise" and type "of"

    As you edit the text, the layer styles are applies to the new text. To see this, you can hide the "Pineapple" layer so that the drop shadow is more evident, and then you can make the Pineapple layer visible again.
  5. Delete the word "of" - just put in to demonstrate
  6. Select the Move tool and drag "Island Paradise" to center it beneath the word "HAWAII"
  7. File > Save

Adding a border

  1. Select the Postage layer and then use the Move Tool to drag it to the middle right of the image. If you have trouble moving it, you can move it with the arrow keys.
  2. Select the Island Paradise layer in the Layers panel, and then click the Create a New Layer button at the bottom of the panel. The reason to select a layer before inserting a new layer is you want to control where the layer is inserted. Since the Island Paradise layer is the top layer in the stacking order, the new layer will become the new top layer.
  3. Choose Select > All
  4. Choose Select > Modify > Border. In the Border Selection dialog box, type 10 pixels for the Width, and click OK.

    A 10-pixel border is selected around the entire image. Now we'll fill it with white.
  5. Select white for the Foreground color, and then choose Edit > Fill.
  6. In the Fill dialog box, choose Foreground Color from the Contents menu, and click OK.
  7. Choose Select > Deselect
  8. Double click the Layer1 name in the Layers panel, and rename the layer Border

Flattening and saving files

Flattening combines all the layers into a single background layer and reduces the file size. Once you have flattened the image, you can no longer edit the layers. Before flattening a PSD file, it's a good idea to save a copy with all the layers intact, in case you need to edit a layer later.

There are two numbers for file size in the status bar at the bottom of the image window. The first number represents the file size if you flattened the image. The second number represents the file size without flattening. If the document sizes are not showing, click the ">" symbol at the bottom and choose "Document Sizes" from the dropdown. (My file shows 2.29MB for the flattened size, and 41.5MB for the unflattened)

  1. Select any tool but the Text tool, to be sure you are not in text-editing mode. Then choose File > Save.
  2. Choose Image > Duplicate
  3. In the Duplicate Image dialog box, name the file 04Flat.psd and click OK
  4. Leave the 04Flat.psd file open, but close the 04Working.psd file.
  5. In the Layers panel menu, click the Menu bar at the far right at the top, and Choose Flatten Image - only one layer, named Background, will then remain
  6. File > Save.

Revised November 4, 2021. Comments to William Pegram,