Adobe Creative Cloud Design Tools All-in-One For Dummies (2013)

Book IV

Photoshop CC

Chapter 9: Using Layers

In This Chapter

image Discovering layers

image Using text as a layer

image Implementing layer masks

image Organizing layers

image Using Smart Objects

image Using 3D layers to create 3D objects

image Merging and flattening a layered image

Knowledge of layers can be incredibly helpful when producing images in Photoshop. By using layers, you can make realistic additions to an image that can later be removed, edited, and changed with blending modes and transparency settings. This chapter shows you how to create composite images using helpful layer features. Even if you’re an experienced Photoshop user, read this chapter to discover all sorts of great key commands that can help you improve your workflow.

If you’re a video professional, you can open videos in Photoshop. Photoshop Extended automatically creates a Movie layer, and with the Timeline, you can do pixel editing frame by frame!

The Creative Cloud includes the extended version of Photoshop, which means that you can convert layers into 3D files. Though many 3D features are beyond the scope of this book, you can still discover enough to be dangerous by reviewing the section Experimenting with 3D Files, later in this chapter.

Creating and Working with Layers

Layers make creating composite images (images pieced together from other, individual images) easy because you can separate individual elements of the composite onto their own layers. Much like creating collages by cutting pictures from magazines, you can mask out selections on one image and place them on a layer in another image. When pixel information is on its own layer, you can move it, transform it, correct its color, or apply filters only to that layer, without disturbing pixel information on other layers.

The best way to understand how to create and use layers is to, well, create and use layers. The following steps show you how to create a new, layered image:

1. Choose FileNew to create a new document.

The New dialog box appears.

2. Select Default Photoshop Size from the Preset drop-down list, select the Transparent option from the Background Contents area, and then click OK.

Because you selected the Transparent option, the layer appears as a checkerboard pattern, which signifies that it’s transparent, versus a white background layer.

imageIf you don’t like to see the default checkerboard pattern where there’s transparency, choose Edit⇒Preferences⇒Transparency and Gamut (Windows) or Photoshop⇒Preferences⇒Transparency and Gamut (Mac). In the Preferences dialog box that appears, you can change the Grid Size drop-down list to None to remove the checkerboard pattern entirely. If you don’t want to remove the transparency grid, you can change the size of the checkerboard pattern or change the color of the checkerboard.

imageWhen you open an existing document (say, a photograph), the image is typically the background layer.

3. Create a square with the Rectangular Marquee tool on Layer 1.

For example, we created a green square by using the Rectangular Marquee tool to create a square selection; we then filled the selection with green by double-clicking the Foreground color swatch, selecting a green shade of color from the Color Picker, and clicking in the selection with the Paint Bucket tool (hidden under the Gradient tool).

imageAfter you select a color, you can also use the key command Alt+Delete (Windows) or Option+Delete (Mac) to fill the selected area with your foreground color.

4. To rename the layer, double-click the layer name (Layer 1) in the Layers panel and type a short, descriptive name.

A good practice is to name layers based on what they contain; for this example, we named Layer 1 the catchy name square.

image  5. Create a new layer by Alt-clicking (Windows) or Option-clicking (Mac) the New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

The New Layer dialog box appears. By holding down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac), you can name the layer while you create it.

6. In this example, you add a circle, so name the layer Red circle. Click OK.

7. Create a circle using the Elliptical Marquee tool on the new layer.

In this example, we created a red circle by using the Elliptical Marquee tool and filled it with red.

imageThe keyboard shortcut for Edit⇒Fill is Shift+F5. After the dialog box opens, you can choose Use⇒Color and select a red color from the Color Picker.

The new shape can overlap the shape on the other layer, as shown in Figure 9-1.


Figure 9-1: The circle overlaps the square.

Duplicating a layer

Perhaps you want to create a duplicate of a layer for your composite. This technique can be helpful for creating do-it-yourself drop shadows and for adding elements to an image, such as more apples in a bowl of fruit.

image  Press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) and drag a layer to the New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel to duplicate it. Again, by holding down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac), you can name the layer while you create it.

Selecting a layer

When you start working with layers, you may move or adjust pixels only to discover that you accidentally edited pixels on the wrong layer. Select the layer you plan to work on by clicking the layer name in the Layers panel.

imagePhotoshop CC represents a selected layer by simply highlighting the layer in the Layers panel. The indicator paintbrush icon is gone in this version.

Here are some tips to help you select the correct layer:

check Select the Move tool and then right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac) to see a contextual menu listing all layers that have pixel data at the point you clicked and to choose the layer you want to work with.

check Get in the habit of holding down the Ctrl (Windows) or Command Key (Mac) key while using the Move tool and when selecting layers. This technique temporarily turns on the Auto Select feature, which automatically selects the topmost visible layer that contains the pixel data you clicked.

check Press Alt+[ (Windows) or Option+[ (Mac) to select the next layer down from the selected layer in the stacking order.

check Press Alt+] (Windows) or Option+] (Mac) to select the next layer up from the selected layer in the stacking order.

Controlling the visibility of a layer

Hide layers that you don’t immediately need by clicking the eye icon in the Layers panel. To see only one layer, Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) the eye icon of the layer you want to keep visible. Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) the eye icon again to show all layers.

Rearranging the stacking order

Layers are like clear pieces of film lying on top of each other. Change the stacking order of the layers in the Layers panel by dragging a layer until you see a black separator line appear, indicating that you’re dragging the layer to that location. You can also use these helpful commands to move a layer:


Windows Shortcut

Mac Shortcut

Move selected layer up


Command Key+]

Move selected layer down


Command Key+[

Creating a Text Layer

When you create text in Photoshop, the text is created on its own layer. By having the text separate from the rest of the image, applying different styles and blending modes to customize the type, as well as repositioning the text, is simplified.

image  To create a text layer, choose the Type tool and click the image area. You can also click and drag to create a text area. The Options bar, shown in Figure 9-2, gives you the controls to change the font, size, blending mode, and color of the text.


Figure 9-2: The Text tool options.

imageWhen you’re finished typing, you must confirm your text entry by selecting the check box (on the right of the Options bar) or pressing Ctrl+Enter (Windows) or Command Key+Return (Mac).

Warping text

image  When you click the Create Warped Text button on the Options bar, the Warp Text dialog box appears. You can use it to apply different types of distortion to your text.

You can still edit text that’s been warped. To remove a warp, click the Create Warp Text button again and select None from the Style drop-down list.

Fine-tuning text

For controls such as leading, baseline shift, and paragraph controls, click the Toggle Character and Paragraph Panels icon near the right end of the Options bar.

Use the keyboard commands in Table 9-1 to fine-tune text in Photoshop. Make sure that you have text selected when you use these shortcuts.

Table 9-1 Helpful Typesetting Key Commands




Increase the font size


Shift+Command Key+>

Decrease the font size


Shift+Command Key+<

Increase the kerning (the cursor must be between two letters)



Decrease the kerning (the cursor must be between two letters)



Increase the tracking (on several selected letters)



Decrease the tracking (on several selected letters)



Increase or decrease the leading (on several selected lines)

Alt+uparrow or Alt+down

Option+uparrow or Option+down

imageTo change the font, drag over the font family name on the Options bar and then press the up-arrow key (uparrow) to move up in the font list or the down-arrow key (down) to move down in the font list.

After you’re finished editing text, confirm or delete the changes by clicking the buttons on the right end of the Options bar.

imageIf you’d rather use key commands to confirm or delete changes, press the Esc key to cancel text changes; press Ctrl+Enter (Windows) or Command Key+Return (Mac) to commit text changes (or use the Enter key on the numeric keypad).

Using Layer Masks

In the following sections, we show you how to create a layer mask from a selection or a pen path. A layer mask covers areas of the image that you want to make transparent and exposes pixels that you want visible. Masks can be based on a selection you’ve created by painting on the mask itself. You can also take advantage of the Pen tool to create a path around the object you want to keep visible.

Creating a layer mask from a selection

You need to have two images open to follow these steps where we show you how to create layer masks from a selection:

1. When combining images, choose ImageImage Size to make sure that the images are approximately the same resolution and pixel dimensions.

Otherwise, you may be astonished by the disproportionate images in your composite.

2. Choose WindowArrangeTile Vertically or Horizontally to position the images in separate windows.

3. Using the Move tool, click one image and drag it to the other image window.

A black border appears around the image area when you drop an image into another image window. By dragging and dropping an image, you automatically create a new layer on top of the active layer.

imageHold down the Shift key when dragging one image to another to perfectly center the new image layer in the document window.

You can also drag a layer (background or regular layer) to another image file. First make sure that no selection is active. Then use the Move tool to drag the layer from the artboard up to the tab of the image you want it to copy the image to.

4. Using any selection method, select a part of the image that you want to keep on the newly placed layer, and choose SelectModifyFeather to soften the selection.

Five pixels should be enough.

image  5. Click the Add Pixel Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

A mask is created to the right of the layer, leaving only your selection visible, as shown in Figure 9-3.


Figure 9-3: Click the Layer Mask button while you have an active selection to create a custom layer mask.

6. If you click the Layer thumbnail in the Layers panel, the mask thumbnail shows corner edges, indicating that it’s activated.

While the layer mask is active, you can paint on the mask.

7. Select the Brush tool and paint black while the mask thumbnail is selected to cover areas of the image that you don’t want to see; press X to switch to white and paint to expose areas on the image that you do want to see.

You can even change the opacity while you paint to blend images with each other.

imageTo create a smooth transition from one image to another, drag the Gradient tool across the image while the layer mask is selected in the Layers panel.

Creating a vector mask from a pen path

vector mask masks a selection, but it does so with the precision you can get only from using a path. The following steps show you another, slightly more precise, way to create a layer mask by using a pen path:

image  1. Use the Pen tool and click from point to point to make a closed pen path.

If you already have a path, choose Window⇒Paths and click a path to select it.

See Chapter 5 of this minibook for more about working with the Pen tool.

image  2. On the Layers panel, click the Layer Mask button and then click it again (see Figure 9-4).

Wow — a mask from your pen path! Anything not contained within the path is now masked out. You can still adjust your path (and masked selection) by using the Direct Selection tool to click and drag the anchor points and directional lines in your path.

If you no longer want a vector mask, drag the thumbnail to the Trash icon in the Layers panel. An Alert dialog box appears, asking whether you want to discard the mask or apply it. Click the Discard button to revert your image to the way it appeared before applying the mask, or click the Apply button to apply the masked area.


Figure 9-4: Create a mask from your pen path.

Organizing Your Layers

As you advance in layer skills, you’ll want to keep layers named, neat, and in order. In this section, we show you some tips to help you organize multiple layers.

Activating multiple layers simultaneously

Select multiple layers simultaneously by selecting one layer and then Shift-clicking to select additional layers. The selected layers are highlighted. Selected layers move and transform together, making repositioning and resizing easier than activating each layer independently.

Select multiple layers to keep their relative positions to each other and take advantage of alignment features. When you select two or more layers and choose the Move tool, you can take advantage of alignment features on the Options bar (see Figure 9-5). Select three or more layers for distribution options.


Figure 9-5: Align multiple layers simultane-ously with the Move tool.

Auto-Align Layers tool

image  Do you ever have multiple shots of two or more people, say, one with the guy’s eyes shut and the girl looking the other way? Or maybe you like the smile in one shot better than in another. With the auto-alignment feature, you can pull the best parts of multiple images into one “best” image.

To use this tool, simply have the Move tool active, select multiple layers, and then click the Auto-Align Layers button to the right of the alignment tools. The Auto-Align Layers dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 9-6; make your selection and click OK.


Figure 9-6: The Auto-Align Layers feature can help create a better composite.

Layer groups

After you start using layers, you’ll likely use lots of them, and your Layers panel will become huge. If you often scroll to navigate from one layer to another, take advantage of layer groups, which essentially act as folders that hold layers you choose, as shown in Figure 9-7. Just as with a folder you use for paper, you can add, remove, and shuffle around the layers within a layer group. Use layer groups to organize layers and make the job of duplicating multiple layers easier.


Figure 9-7: Select the layers that you want to group together and then choose New Group from Layers.

To create a layer group, follow these steps:

1. After creating several layers, Shift-click to select the layers you want to group together in a set.

2. Choose New Group from Layers from the Layers panel menu, name the group, and then click OK.

That’s it. You’ve created a layer group from your selected layers.

imageWith the Blending Mode drop-down list in the Layers panel, you can change all layers within a group to a specific blending mode, or you can use the Opacity slider to change the opacity of all layers in a group at one time. Pass through in the blending mode indicates that no individual blending modes are changed.

After you create a layer group, you can still reorganize layers within the group or even drag additional layers in or out. You can open and close a layer group with the arrow to the left of the group name.

Duplicating a layer group

After you create a layer group, you may want to copy it. For example, you may want to copy an image, such as a button created from several layers topped off with a text layer. The most efficient way to make a copy of that button is to create a layer group and copy the entire group. To copy an image made up of several layers that aren’t in a layer group would require you to individually duplicate each layer — how time-consuming!

To duplicate a layer group, follow these steps:

1. Select a group from the Layers panel.

2. From the panel menu, choose Duplicate Group.

The Duplicate Group dialog box appears.

3. For the destination, choose the present document or any open document or create a new document.

Be sure to give the duplicated set a distinctive name!

4. Click OK.

Using Layer Styles

Layer styles are wonderful little extra effects that you can apply to layers to create drop shadows and bevel and emboss effects and to apply color overlays, gradients, patterns and strokes, and more.

Applying a style

To apply a layer style (for example, the drop shadow style, one of the most popular effects) to an image, follow these steps:

1. Create a layer on any image.

For example, you can create a text layer to see the effects of the layer styles.

2. With the layer selected, click and hold the Add a Layer Style button at the bottom of the Layers panel; from the menu options, choose Drop Shadow.

In the Layer Style dialog box that appears, you can choose to change the blending mode, color, distance spread, and size of a drop shadow. You should see that the style has already applied to your text. Position the cursor on the image area and drag to visually adjust the position of the drop shadow.

3. When you’re happy with the drop shadow, click OK to apply it.

imageTo apply another effect and change its options, click on the Layer Style button in the Layers panel and choose the name of the layer style from the menu that appears — Bevel and Emboss, for example. In the dialog box that appears, change the settings to customize the layer style and click OK to apply it to your image. For example, if you choose Bevel and Emboss from the Layer Styles menu, you can choose from several emboss styles and adjust the depth, size, and softness.

Here are some consistent items you see in the Layer Style dialog box:

check Contour: Use contours to control the shape and appearance of an effect. Click the arrow to open the Contour fly-out menu to choose a contour preset or click the preview of the contour to open the Contour Editor and create your own edge.

check Angle: Drag the cross hair in the angle circle or enter a value in the Angle text field to control where the light source comes from.

check Global light: If you aren’t smart about lighting effects on multiple objects, global light makes it seem as though you are. Select the Use Global Light check box to keep the angle consistent from one layer style to another.

check Color: Whenever you see a color box, you can click it to select a color. This color can be for the drop shadow, highlight, shadow of an emboss, or for a color overlay.

Creating and saving a style

If you come up with a combination of attributes you like, click the New Style button in the upper-right area of the Layer Style dialog box. After you name the style, it’s stored in the Styles panel. After you click OK, you can retrieve the style at any time by choosing Window⇒Styles. If it helps, click the panel menu button and choose either Small or Large List to change the Styles panel to show only the name of the styles.

After you apply a layer style to a layer, the style is listed in the Layers panel. You can turn off the visibility of the style by turning off the eye icon or even throw away the layer style by dragging it to the Layers panel’s Trash icon.

Thinking about opacity versus fill

In the Layers panel, you have two transparency options: one for opacity and one for fill. Opacity affects the opacity of the entire layer, including effects. Fill, on the other hand, affects only the layer itself, but not layer styles. Figure 9-8 shows what happens when the Drop Shadow and Inner Glow effects are applied to text and the fill is reduced to 0 percent. This technique gives you the opportunity to make it look like text is chiseled into rock, wood, or even plastic for the look of a personalized credit card.


Figure 9-8: A text layer with styles applied and the fill reduced to 0 percent.

Smart, Really Smart! Smart Objects

Choose File⇒Place and place an image, an illustration, or even a movie into a Photoshop document. A new layer is created and — even better — a Smart Object is created. The double-square icon in the lower-right corner of the layer thumbnail indicates that a layer is a Smart Object. This means that you have much more flexibility in the placement of your images because the original pixel information has essentially been embedded into your image.

Have you ever placed a logo only to find out later that you need it to be three times its size? Resizing is no longer an issue, because the Photoshop Smart Object is linked to an embedded original. If the original is vector, you can freely resize the image repeatedly without worrying about poor resolution. Want to change the spelling of the Illustrator logo you placed? Just double-click the Smart Object, and the embedded original is opened directly in Adobe Illustrator. Make your changes, save the file, and — voilà — the file is automatically updated in the Photoshop file.

What could be better? Smart Filters, of course. You can apply Smart Filters to any Smart Object layer, or even convert a layer to use Smart Filters, by selecting Filters⇒Convert for Smart Filters. After a layer has been converted to a Smart Object, you can choose filters, any filters, and apply them to the layer. If you want to paint out the effects of the filter on the layer, simply paint with black on the Filter Effects thumbnail. Paint with different opacities of black and white to give an artistic feel to the filter effect, as shown in Figure 9-9. You can even turn off filters by turning off the visibility on the Filter Effects thumbnail by clicking the eye icon to the left of the thumbnail.


Figure 9-9: Cover the filter effects by painting on the Filter Effects thumbnail.

Experimenting with 3D Files

As we mention earlier in this chapter, working with 3D files is beyond the scope of this book, but even a 3D novice can experiment with the 3D features in Photoshop CC. Follow these steps to try out some 3D features on your own:

1. Open an existing Photoshop document.

To eliminate any confusion, it’s best if this document simply has a Background layer and no additional layers.

2. If you have an image open with multiple layers, select a layer to which you want to apply 3D perspective.

image  3. Select the Move tool.

4. Choose 3DNew Mesh from LayerPostcard.

If a Warning dialog box appears asking if you want to switch to the 3D workspace, click Yes.

The image hasn’t changed, but you can see that you’ve entered the 3D workspace that includes a perspective plane. Also, note that the layer now has a 3D icon (looks like a 3D box) on the layer thumbnail in the Layers panel, as shown in Figure 9-10, indicating that it’s now a 3D layer.


Figure 9-10: Creating a 3D layer in Photo-shop CC.

5. Experiment with angle and positioning by clicking and dragging on the 3D layer, as shown in Figure 9-11.


Figure 9-11: Click and drag with the Rotate the 3D Object tool to reposition the 3D layer.

6. Use the Object Rotate, Roll, Drag, Slide, and Scale tools located in the Options bar, and shown in Figure 9-12, to change the positioning of the 3D layer.


Figure 9-12: The 3D tools appear when you are in the 3D workspace.

Notice that these tools have additional options available on the Options bar across the top of your Photoshop document.

Filter Capabilities in the Layers Panel

Now in Photoshop CC, you can filter the display of layers in the Layers Panel, as shown in Figure 9-13. Filter categories include Kind, Name, Effect, Mode, Attribute, and Color.


Figure 9-13: Filter layers in the Layers panel to view only the ones you need.

If you would rather not use the filters, you can click the Turn Layer Filtering On/Off toggle switch to the right of the filters.

Merging and Flattening the Image

Merging layers combines several selected layers into one layer. Flattening occurs when you reduce all layers to one background layer. Layers can increase file size, thereby also tying up valuable processing resources. To keep down file size, you may choose to merge some layers or even flatten the entire image to one background layer.


Merging layers is helpful when you no longer need every layer to be independent, such as when you have a separate shadow layer aligned to another layer and don’t plan to move it again or when you combine many layers to create a composite and want to consolidate it to one layer.

To merge layers (in a visual and easy way), follow these steps:

1. Turn on the visibility of only the layers you want merged.

2. Choose Merge Visible from the Layers panel menu.

That’s it. The entire image isn’t flattened, but the visible layers are now reduced to one layer.

imageTo merge visible layers on a target (selected) layer that you create while keeping the visible layers independent, create a blank layer and select it. Then hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) when choosing Merge Visible from the panel menu.


imageIf you don’t have to flatten your image, don’t! Flattening an image reduces all layers to one background layer, which is necessary for certain file formats. After you flatten an image, you can’t take advantage of blending options or reposition layered items. (Read more about saving files in Chapter 10 of this minibook.)

If you absolutely must flatten layers, keep a copy of the original, unflattened document for additional edits later.

To flatten all layers in an image, choose Layer⇒Flatten Image or choose Flatten Image from the panel menu on the Layers panel.