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Sally Jane Photographic Art

Adobe Photoshop Tutorial


Photoshop Layers Pallet


A the Layers feature in Photoshop is such a vast subject this tutorial be be created in installments so if the section you need is not here do check back later.

Before I go into any detail about layers I will need to give some description about the basics. I apologise if I am trying to teach some of you to suck eggs but for others it is important you know the basics before you can understand the more complex uses.

In this first illustration I have created a simply image with 3 layers each with a different colour disk on it. I show the corresponding layers pallet nest to it so you can see how they relate. I have names each layer with the colour of the disc it holds.


Think of layers as a stack of tracing paper. On each sheet you have something different drawn. You can remove a sheet, change the order of the sheets, move one sheet horizontally in relation to the rest, rotate a sheet or even inverse a sheet by flipping it over. Each time you change the way the composite image appears when you look through all the sheets together. Well it is the same with layers only the flexibility is even greater. The order the layers appear in the layers pallet is the order the discs are stacked in the image. By dragging the layers up and down in the pallet you can change the order in which they are stacked.


As you can see, I have now moved the yellow layer to the top and so the yellow disc is now the one most prominent in the image. The eye icon on each layer in the pallet toggles the layer on and off. Click on an eye and that layer seems to disappear. Click on the now blank icon and the layer re-appears.


You can drag the contents of the layers around to re-arrange the image. Highlight the layer that contains the image you want to move then either use the move tool to drag the image around the canvas or with any tool active hold down the ctrl key (you will see your cursor changes to a move icon) while you drag the image to its new position. You will only move the image that is on the active layer or layers unless you have linked two or more layers together.


To select more than one layer at a time for moving click on the first layer and shift click on the additional layers. To link these layers together so they can never be accidentally moved separately from each other, select all the layers you want to link and right click your mouse. In the list that appears select link layers. You will see link icons appear in all the layers that are linked together. To unlink them, select the ones you want to unlink holding the shift key down as you click on them, right click the mouse and select unlink layers. The link icon will now disappear.


You can change the opacity of the layers individually by using the opacity slider. Notice I have reduced the opacity of the yellow layer to 50% so now you can see through the yellow disc in the image. You will notice there is also a slider called Fill that if you experiment appears to do the same thing but I'll talk about the Fill slider further down this page.


To the left of the opacity slider there is a drop down box for blending modes. This changes how the layers are blended together. The names are not particularly instinctive so it really is a matter of getting used to experimenting them to see what they do. The ones I use most are multiply which is the one I selected for the yellow layer above although it is not highlighted in this image. It works as if the colour on that layer was actually on a transparent film so other colours will show through but where white is the background colour there is no change. Black is totally unaffected in the multiply blending mode. Screen is the opposite to multiply and white on the layer is totally unaffected. Where black is the background colour the colour on the screened layer will remain the same but otherwise the colour is subtracted from whatever is beneath it so generally it has a lightening effect. Overlay is the third one I use a lot with a gradient fill layer to intensify an image underneath. I will discuss this blending mode more in another tutorial. For now, play around with them and see what you get.


Layer masks -

Now we get on to some of the more complicated applications. These are immensely useful because they allow you to remove or fade out sections of your layer without effecting the whole layer and without destroying any of the layer either. You can disable or enable them once you have created one or delete it entirely if you no longer need it. To create a layer mask for a layer first select the layer to make it active. Now click on the add layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers pallet. It is the 3rd from the left and looks like a gray rectangle with a pale disc in it. A white thumbnail will appear next to the thumbnail of your image on the active layer. White is the colour that shows there is no mask present. You colour the areas you want masked in black for 100% masking or shades of gray for transparent masking. to do this, click your mouse on the white layer mask thumbnail. Select your brush and initially use black paint. Now paint on the image. Don't worry, you won't get black lines on the image where you paint but anything on that layer that you paint over will disappear. To make it re-appear you can paint it back in white. If you use the fill bucket to fill the whole mask black the layer will seem to disappear entirely. Now you can bring it back in stages by painting white on it. Magic. You don't need to stick with the paint brush either. The gradient fill works well as I have shown in the Yellow layer. You might also use one of the marquee tools and the fill bucket to mask off areas as I have done on the Violet layer. Notice where the black areas are in the layer mask thumbnails and how they correspond to the image. You can also drag these layer masks around with the move tool to re-position them but first you have to unlock them from their layer by clicking on the link icon that appears between the layer thumbnail and its layer mask thumbnail.


layer stylesRight clicking your mouse on a layer mask icon brings up various options including disable or enable the layer mask. When a layer mask is disabled it will have a red cross through it.


Layer Effects -

These are effects you can add to you layers individually such as drop shadows, glow effects and 3D effects such as bevel and emboss. To apply one to a layer first select the layer you want to affect. Now click on the little fancy 'f' icon at the bottom of the layers pallet 2nd from the left (it looks like 'fx' in cs3). This will bring up a list of options. If you want to apply more than one you can do this all in one hit as which ever you click on will bring up the same dialogue window. See image below. I have added a drop shadow and am adjusting a bevel and emboss effect on the yellow layer. You will see there are the same options as in the original list down the left hand side of the dialogue window and there is a little tick by the drop shadow to say I have that one already selected. You can use the sliders to adjust control how the effect will be applied. Notice there is an icon under Shading that looks like a disc with a cross in it. This allows you to control where the light is coming from. Next to it is a box saying Use global Light. This is checked by default. This means that whenever you apply a layer effect in this image, no matter which layer you are on, it will keep the same light direction throughout. If you change it on one it will change in all of the layer effects. This is good because you would not normally have light coming from different directions in an image. If you uncheck this box it will allow you to set the light source individually for each effect.

Fill slider - Remember I said I would talk about the fill slider when I mentioned the opacity slider? Well in most instances it does the same thing as the opacity slider except when there is a layer style in effect. Now if you use the fill slider to control the opacity it only changes the opacity of the coloured pixels in the layer and has no effect on the layer style. If you were to us the opacity slider instead it would change both the pixels in the image and the layer effect. So, for arguments sake, looking at the image below, if you reduced the opacity on this yellow layer both the yellow disk, the shadow and the bevel effect would be faded equally together. If instead you reduced the fill slider the yellow disk would fade out but the shadow and bevel effect would stay just as strong.




Notice how the settings I have selected have affected the image in that layer. To apply the same settings to all layers right click on the layer with the layer effect in place and select Copy Layer Style. Now click on the layer you want to apply it to, right click and select paste layer style. In older versions of Photoshop you used to be able to drag the layer styles from one layer to the next to copy them but that just removes it from one layer and places it on the next layer in cs2.


for further information on using layers check back in a few days or alternatively here is an index of other tutorials involving the use of layers.

Adjustment Layers

Blur - Applying Gaussian blur

Frames - Adding frames to your image

Quick selections using threshold in an adjustment layer

Sharpening - Selective sharpening using a layer mask


Recommended Further Reading for Photoshop


Return to introduction & contents page

"A-Z of Digital Editing"




Contact Sally Jane

Tel. 07956 448690

e-mail - Images@sally-jane.com