Photoshop Layers


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Photoshop layers refers to the easiest to use and understand.  If these are the only ones you understand then your Photoshop work will improve dramatically!  In fact, your ability to work with them will determine your success with all of your Photoshop projects.

Working with layers probably gives new Photoshoppers more fits and cold sweats than any other aspect of the program.  This is unnecessary because they really are easy to use and easy understand and the following tutorial will prove that to you.

Think of a layer as a piece of plastic you can see through placed on top of an image.  Whatever you do on that piece of plastic will be visible when you look at the image but the original image will be totally unchanged.

You can add as many pieces of plastic on top of the image as you like.  You can do all kinds of adjustments to those pieces of plastic.  When they are all stacked on top the image it may be substantially different but the original image is unchanged.


Creating Photoshop Layers


The background copy layer was created by dragging the Background onto the New Layer Icon (outlined in red)  or by clicking Layer >  Duplicate Layer or pressing Ctrl-J/Cmd-J.

The Photoshop layer (called Layer 1) is created by clicking the New Layer Icon (outlined in red) or clicking Layer > New > Layer.

layer palette

The Photoshop layer that is highlighted is the active layer - that means it is the one where adjustments will be done.

The active layer is changed simply by clicking on another layer.

This is simple, isn't it?

Working With Photoshop Layers


So lets try out some adjustments on this simple layer.  How about a bit of makeup and cloning on this image?

basic layer girl layer girl palette
Original Image The Layers


Activate Layer 1 (you activate a layer by clicking on it), make the foreground color a nice red and paint over the cheeks on the layer with your Wacom pen (this will add some blush to the cheeks).


layer girl blush layer girl palette


Now that looks really weird, doesn't it? One of the good things about layers is that we have the ability to lower the opacity of the layer and when it is lowered down to about 15%  this is the result.  This would be really difficult to achieve on the original photo but on a layer - much easier and more effective.


layers low opacity

Now that makes a difference,  doesn't it?

How about some eyeliner?  Create a new layer and select a nice deep purple color.  Now grab your Wacom pen, paint her eyelids and lower the opacity of this new layer (this was lowered to 18%).

layer girl eyes layer palette layer girl eye 18
100% Opacity Palette 18% Opacity

OK - so I'm not a makeup artist.  It's the technique that is important, not the artistry of the operator.

Moving on - let's do some cloning on a new layer ...



Cloning To Photoshop Layers


When cloning there is a check box named Use All Layers at the top of the screen.  When it is checked it's possible to clone from one layer to another.  Working with the same image we will remove some of the small hairs between the eyebrows and lighten up the areas under her eyes.

layer after cloning

This is the image after cloning the area between the eyes (to prevent the appearance of the dreaded 'unibrow') and the shadows under the eyes.

layer palette longEach one of the areas has its own layer so that adds 3 more layers to the stack - which is getting quite large - 6 now with the Background Copy layer.

Impressive, isn't it?

When you have a palette like this it is difficult to do a quick before and after check if you have to laboriously turn off each eyeball from the Background Copy to the top layer.

Notice that each layer has its own name.  It makes life much easier when there are a slew of layers.  To rename a layer just double click on the name and type in the new name.

Before and After View

Here is how to get a really quick before and after view of the adjustments you have completed ... hold down the ALT key and click the eyeball in the Background Copy layer.

All of the layers above it will be turned off.

To get them all back just do it again - press the ALT key and click the Background copy eyeball.

In the image the cheeks adjustment is not particularly good.  In a situation like this (the adjustment does not meet your high standards) simply drag the layer into the trash can, activate the Background copy and add a new layer to replace the old one.

Make A Layer Set

When there are a bunch of Photoshop layers it's sometimes easier to group them all together in one set.

This is accomplished by activating the top layer in the stack and then clicking the New Layer Set Icon at the bottom of the palette (it is the third one from the left).

A little folder appears at the top of the stack so now it is a simple matter of dragging the layers you want in the set to the folder.

Not only are things better organized but now turning off and on the layer set eyeball will give a before and after view of the image.

When all of the layers are dragged in - give the layer set a new name.

layer set
New Layer Set With A Name

The Eyes

This is going well, don't you think?

Now lets work on the eyes.  

Activate the Background copy layer and then zoom in so that one eye fills the screen.  Grab the Magnetic Lasso and make a selection around the eye.  When the selection is good press Ctrl-J/Cmd-J to promote the selection to a new layer.

What you have is one lonely little eye on a layer.

Zoom in on the other eye and repeat the selection and Ctrl-J/Cmd-J so now there are two new layers each with its own eye.

That is kind of messy so lets put them together.  Activate the top eye layer and then click Layer > Merge Down or Ctrl-E/Cmd-E.  This takes the activated layer and merges it with the next layer down.

Give this new layer a name and keep it activated.

layer eye sharpening layers merge down
One Layer For Each Eye After Layer > Merge Down


Here are the eyes after combing them on a single layer ...

eyes on a layer

Kind of freaky, isn't it - anyway ...

Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask and play around with the sliders to get nice sharp eyes.

This little eye sharpening exercise on a layer can make an enormous difference!

So here is the final image complete with seven new layers.

layers final image

Aren't Photoshop layers great?  There were 9 different modifications made to this image without touching one hair on the original image meaning it is still intact!  

Always remember ...

Layers are our friends!



On Page Links

Creating Layers

Working with Layers

Cloning to Layers
The Eyes


Final Layer Palette
For This Tutorial

layers palette



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 photoshop in a day
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