The Lan­guage of Lay­ers

It may take time, but learn­ing to use Pho­to­shop’s layer sys­tem is the key to un­lock­ing the soft­ware’s ver­sa­til­ity

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1 The lay­ers sys­tem

Right up there with the His­tory func­tion in my Most Use­ful Fea­tures of Pho­to­shop for Artists list is the whole con­cept of lay­ers. In the same way that tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tors will use sev­eral sheets of ac­etate in a sin­gle shot, paint­ing dif­fer­ent parts of your pic­ture on dif­fer­ent lay­ers en­ables them to be edited sep­a­rately while still be­ing view­able as a whole.

2 Cre­at­ing lay­ers

In most de­fault view­ing modes, the Lay­ers win­dow will be vis­i­ble and ei­ther at­tached to the right side of the screen or float­ing around some­where. You can use Win­dow>Lay­ers to tog­gle it on and off. New doc­u­ments will just have a back­ground layer, but click­ing the drop­down menu at the top right will give you a range of op­tions, such as Cre­ate, Du­pli­cate and Merge.

3 Lock­ing lay­ers

Some­times when paint­ing, I’ll need to add a gra­di­ent to an area with­out chang­ing its edges, and that’s when Layer Lock­ing comes in handy. By click­ing the small che­quer­board icon in the Lay­ers win­dow, any translu­cent ar­eas will be un­af­fected by the tools, re­main­ing clear. You can freely brush with­out chang­ing the all-im­por­tant sil­hou­ette of what you’re paint­ing.

4 Group­ing

Com­plex as­sign­ments can lead to Pho­to­shop files with over 100 lay­ers, and when that hap­pens you want to stay or­gan­ised. Hold­ing down Ctrl or Cmd en­ables you to click and high­light mul­ti­ple lay­ers at once. Then go to New Group From Lay­ers in the drop-down menu. You’re then asked to name the group. Now those lay­ers will move to­gether and be ed­itable as a group by high­light­ing the group folder in­stead of the in­di­vid­ual layer for what­ever paint­ing ac­tion you’re us­ing.

5 Ad­just the Opac­ity

Another use­ful func­tion of lay­ers is the abil­ity to con­trol their trans­parency. Up in the right cor­ner of the Lay­ers win­dow is a drop-down slider la­belled Opac­ity, which en­ables you do just that. This comes in handy for a va­ri­ety of ef­fects, such as cre­at­ing sheer cloth­ing, smoke and light beams.

6 Backup saves

I like to cre­ate mul­ti­ple save files for each im­age, in case one be­comes cor­rupted or if I make some huge mis­take and save be­fore re­al­is­ing it. This way I al­ways have sev­eral ver­sions that are, at most, only a few hours less de­vel­oped than what I was just work­ing on. When this hap­pens, I’ll of­ten open an older save file, delete the of­fend­ing layer, and drag my re­place­ment from the old file (or a com­pletely dif­fer­ent il­lus­tra­tion) over into the Lay­ers win­dow in my most re­cent it­er­a­tion.

New brush strokes won’t break es­tab­lished edges while layer is locked

Drag to another Pho­to­shop file

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