Fix It In Photoshop | A Beginners Guide To Layers

David Coultham

This article is a beginner’s guide to the Photoshop Layers Tab. Whether you are working on a single-layer or have a multi-layer project, you will find hints and tips to help you with the most commonly used tasks that Photographers need. 

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Video | Beginners Guide To Photoshop Layers

A Glossary of the Layers Tab

Filter Commands: If you have a workspace with multiple layers, you can use these Filters to help you find a specific layer. In Photoshop, the only limit on the number of layers you can have; is the memory in your computer to manage the size of your Photoshop project. 

Blend Mode: Enables you to creatively control how different layers blend.

Lock Commands: Enable you to lock and unlock specific layers and layer types to respectively disable and enable editing on those layers.

Layer Visibility: Enables you to switch the visibility of Layers on and off. This is useful because it means you can leave layers in your project but selectively display them. 

Layer Opacity: The Opacity adjustment controls how see-through the selected Layer is. The Fill adjustment controls the projection when using Blend Modes. 

Layers: Indicates the layer stack with the uppermost representing the top layer.

Locked Layer: The padlock symbol indicates if a layer is locked.

Command Panel: Enables you to add layer types, delete layers, and add folders to group layers together.

How To Create A New Layer

To create a new Layer in Photoshop, head over to the Command Panel at the bottom of the Layers Tab. The Add New Layer icon (illustrated above) creates a basic blank layer which you can then start working on with raster graphics, vectors and/or text. 

NOTE: If you are working with vectors or text, then Photoshop automatically creates a new layer when you use the respective tool; Text Tool, Ellipse, Rectangle, etc. For example, if you use the Text Tool, Photoshop places the text on its own layer right above the layer you were last working on in the Layer Tab.

The Add New Layer icon also doubles up as a Duplicate Layer function. Simply select the Layer you want to duplicate and drag it onto the Create New Layer icon. Photoshop duplicates the Layer and designates it with the text <Layer Name> ‘copy’, so that you can differentiate it from the original Layer.

How To Delete A Layer

To delete a Layer in Photoshop, have the Layer that you want to delete selected. Then, head to the Command Panel at the bottom of the Layers Tab. The Delete Layer icon (illustrated above) permanently deletes the Layer you had selected.

Hiding And Revealing Layers

To the left of each Layer in the Layers Tab is a little eye icon. Layers are revealed by default, but you can hide them or reveal them by clicking the eye icon to toggle between either hidden or revealed. 

Renaming A Layer

If you have a larger project, it can be quite useful to give Layers their own unique names. This helps you navigate around the Layers tab area, especially if you come back and work on a historical project. 

To change the text you just select the Layer you want to rename from the Layers Tab. Then double-click on the text, change its name, and then press Enter/Return to commit the change. Note, to reiterate that, you have to physically click on the text and not elsewhere on the Layer.

Reordering Layers In The Stack

To move a Layer in the Layer stack; e.g., if you want to change the order of appearance of a multi-layer project. Firstly, select the Layer you want to move, then click, drag, and drop it to its new position.

Selecting Multiple Layers

Press and hold the Command key (on a Mac) or Control key (on a PC). Now you can select multiple Layers from the Layers Tab by left-clicking them in the normal way! 

Unlocking & Locking Layers

Each Layer in your project can be locked and unlocked. Locking Layers is a great way to protect a Layer from accidental edits. Also, by default, the Background Layer is always locked. Therefore, if you want to edit the Background Layer you need to unlock it first.

Locked layers have a padlock symbol to the right of the Layer. With a Layer selected, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Layer > Lock Layer’, alternatively you can use the short-code Command / (on a Mac) or Control / (on a PC). You can also use the Lock Commands section of the Layers Panel. This enables you to selectively lock specific attributes 

NOTE: You can also left-click directly on the padlock symbol area to lock and unlock layers.

Grouping Layers Into Folders

With multiple Layers selected, you can click the Group icon from the Command Panel and they will automatically group into a Folder.  

Alternatively, you can create a Folder using the Group icon,  and then drag and drop Layers into that Folder. This method also works in reverse to remove Layers from your Folders, i.e., drag and drop them from the Folder and back onto the Layers stack.

Grouping Layers is a great way to organize your projects, but also, if you want to apply an Effect to multiple Layers at the same time, you can first group the Layers, and then apply an Effect to the Group.

Selecting / Moving Several Layers At Once

From the Layers Tab area, select your first Layer as normal using a mouse click. Then, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard as you hover over and click successive Layers in your project.

How To Duplicate A Layer

The Add New Layer icon also doubles up as a Duplicate Layer function. Select the Layer you want to duplicate and drag it onto the icon. Photoshop will then duplicate the Layer and designate it with the text <Layer Name> ‘copy’, so that you can differentiate it from your original Layer.

Merging & Flattening Layers

Merging layers in Photoshop combines several selected Layers into one layer. Whereas, Flattening layers will reduce all the Layers in a project down to a single background layer. By flattening or merging Layers you can free up processing resources, and reduce the file size of your projects.


STEP 1: Firstly, select the Layers in the Layers Tab that you want to Merge down to one Layer. To do this, select the first layer by clicking it, then use Command-click (on a Mac) or Control-click (on a PC); to select subsequent Layers.

STEP 2: Head up to the Application Bar and choose ‘Layers > Merge’.

As an alternative method, you can select the visibility of any Layers that you don’t want to Merge to off. Head up to the Application Bar and choose ‘Layers >Merge Visible’ to only apply the Merge function to the visible Layers.


To completely Flatten a project to a single background layer, head to the Application Bar, and choose ‘Layers >Flatten Image’.

Changing The Layer Thumbnail Size

You can choose whether to have Small, Medium, or Large thumbnails displayed in the Layers Tab. You can even choose to have no thumbnails displayed if that suits your workflow. To do this, right-click in the blank area underneath your Background Layer, and a pop-up window appears giving you each of the thumbnail options.

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