Introduction to Layering
Layers are an integral part of Photoshop. You can use them to create complex images with editable parts, blend them together in a myriad of ways, quickly check changes, or even try out different layouts. They are very powerful with many confounding features, but getting started is quite simple.
What are they?
A simple way of thinking about layers is to look at them as a bunch of things stacked on top of each other. If it was 1972 and you had a blue piece of paper on your desk, and you put a white paper and a cheque on top of it, it would look like this:
In Photoshop it would look like this:
Although you can combine all of these elements into a single image as you go along, it’s better to give everything it’s own layer for greater flexibility. If these images were all pasted into the same image, and next week you wanted to change the white piece of paper to red, you’d have to start over from scratch.
With layers you only need to select the layer containing the content you want to effect, and change or replace it.
What follows is a brief description of the layers panel, where the tools are and what they do.
After that we’ll change those papers.
The Layers Panel
Normal Layer: This is where your image layer is stored.
Layer Effects: Special effects applied to your image layer. If you your layer is using effects you will see the small f icon.
Type Layer: Like image layer, except it holds type that can be edited.
Background: Your default layer when you open PS. Its always locked, can’t be moved or effected. The lock on the right, indicates its locked. You can change it into a regular layer by double clicking on the thumbnail, or even better right-click-duplicate.
Thumbnail: A small picture of the layers contents.
Layer Visibility: If the eye is showing the contents of that layer are visible. Click on the eye and the layer will still be there but hidden until you click on the eye again.
Normal Layer: Where your image layer is stored.
Layer Effects (Styles): Special effects applied to your image layer. Noted by the little f. Each effect will be listed. Here only the drop shadow is used, multiple effects may be used at once.
Type Layer: The same as an image layer, except this layer contains type that can be edited; (Change character, color, font or size).
Background: Always locked, cannot be moved or have layer effects applied to it. The little icon of the padlock on the right, indicates it is locked. Can be changed into a regular layer by simply double clicking on the thumbnail.
Thumbnail: A small picture of the layers contents.
Show/Hide Icon: If the eye is showing that layer is visible. Click on the eye and the layer will still be there but invisible until you click on the eye again.
Blending mode: Changes the way the layers interact with each other.
Layer opacity: Adjusts how transparent each layer is. 0 is completely transparent, 100 is completely opaque.
Lock: If the box is checked the layer is totally protected from any editing.
Delete: Deletes the entire layer. Either Drag the thumbnail to the icon or select the layer* and click on the trash can (delete icon).
New Layer: Click to add a new blank layer. Or drag an existing layer thumbnail to create a duplicate.
Fill (adjustments): Allows non-destructive adjustment of colors to a layer. (Can be undone anytime, even after closing document)
New Folder: Allows you to organize your layers into folders, any items in a folder are treated as a group. Select layers and drag onto icon, or add a new group and drag icons into it as needed.
Layer mask: Allows you to paint away parts of your layer without damaging your original image.
Let’s change stuff!
- Open the file desk.psd.
- The first thing we want to do is to change the white paper to red.
- Select the white paper layer.
- Ctrl click on the thumbnail to select it.
- Edit menu – fill (shft F5) – Use: colour (pulldown menu).
- Select a nice shade of red, and click okay.
You’ve just red the paper.
- Lets try something different to get the same effect. Make sure nothing is selected.
- (Select menu – deselect)
- Select the blue paper layer.
- Click the Layer Effects (Add Layer style) button on the bottom of the layers panel.
- Select Color Overlay.
- Click the red square to bring up your colour picker and choose a nice purple (c600ff), and OK your way out of there.
You’ve achieved now the same result, but with much greater flexibility. You can change the colour in seconds just by double clicking the f icon which now appears on the right side of your blue paper layer.
- Change the order of papers by dragging the blue paper layer (with the purple paper) above the white paper layer (which is now red).
- Let’s change the names of the layers to avoid further confusion.
- Double click the name ‘blue paper’ and change it to ‘purple’ in the layer panel, do the same for the white layer.
- Turn the purple paper into wax paper by reducing the opacity to 40% (Top right of layers panel).
- Now click on the eyeballs of the purple and red layers to hide them. Now the cheque is on top of the desk (Layer is named Sean).
- Double click the f icon click on the drop shadow tab and increase the opacity to 75%, distance to 9px and click ok.
- Turn back on the visibility of the purple and red layers and select the Desk layer.
- In your toolbar, select the shape tool, custom shape, and find the Heart shape to use (your shape flyout menu may look different).
- Hold down shift and draw out a nice big heart, the colour doesn’t matter.
- Ctrl click the layer mask on your new heart layer to select the shape of the heart.
- In the layers panel select the red paper layer and click the layer mask icon (bottom left)
- On the purple layer, right click on the existing layer mask, and delete it.
- Now ctrl click the heart shape again, make sure the purple layer is selected, and add a layer mask to it as well.
You should end up with something like this:
Finally, select the shape layer, click the Layer Effects Icon, select Pattern Overlay and choose the Nebula pattern.
Select the Red paper layer, and change the blend mode from Normal to Overlay.
The Final result looks something like this:
This should give you a good introduction to what layers are, how they work, and how to make an ugly foil heart with a cheque made out to me for $100,000 on top.