Photoshop. Simplified.
Lesson #Three

Photoshop Layers

About Photoshop layers

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Photoshop layers are sort of like sheets of transparency paper. You can see through transparent layers to the layers below. You move a layer to position the content within the image. You can also change the opacity of a layer or erase parts of a layer to make content transparent. Layers can be used to perform tasks such as compositing multiple images, making adjustments to an image or adding text to an image. You can apply a layer style to add a special effect such as a border or drop shadow.

Organizing Photoshop layers

Photoshop's Layers Panel

Photoshop's Layers Panel

When a new image is opened to Photoshop, it has a single layer. The number of additional layers you can add to an image is limited only by your computer’s memory.

You work with layers in the Layers Panel. Layer groups help you organize layers by allowing you to arrange your layers to reduce clutter in the Layers panel. You can nest groups within other groups. You can also use groups to simultaneously apply effects and masks to multiple layers.

A: Layers Panel Menu
B: Blending Mode
C: Opacity
D: Group
E: Layer
F: Collapse / Expand Layer Styles
G: Layer Effect
H: Layer Thumbnail



You can duplicate layers within an image.

  • Select a layer by left clicking on it in the Layers panel then do either of the following

    • Drag the layer or group to the Create a New Layer button .

    • Choose Duplicate Layer from the Layers menu or the Layers panel menu. Enter a name for the layer and click OK.

Photoshop layers for non-destructive editing

As we learned in lesson two, Photoshop is a pixel-based editor. As an image is worked on, it makes changes to its pixels. This is called "destructive editing" because it alters the image's original information. 

Some layers don’t contain any apparent content. An adjustment layer can contain color or tonal adjustments that affect the layers below it. Rather than editing the original image pixels directly, you should make your edits to adjustment layers and leave the underlying pixels unchanged.


An adjustment layer applies color or tonal adjustments to your image without permanently altering original pixel values. Rather than making a Levels adjustment directly to your image, you can create a Levels adjustment layer. The color and tonal adjustments are stored in the adjustment layer and apply to the layers beneath it.  You can discard the adjustment layer and restore the original image at any time.

Adjustment layers have many of the same characteristics as other layers. You can change their blending mode or adjust their opacity, and you can group them to apply the adjustment to specific layers. Likewise, you can turn their visibility on and off to apply or preview the effect.

Create a New Adjustment Layer Panel

Because adjustment layers contain adjustment data rather than pixels, they increase file size far less than standard pixel layers. If you are working with an unusually large file, however, you may want to reduce file size by merging adjustment layers into pixel layers.

Adjustment and fill layers have the same opacity and blending mode options as image layers. You can rearrange, delete, hide, and duplicate them just as you do image layers.

Create an adjustment layer

  • Do either of the following:

    • Click the New Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel then choose an adjustment layer type.

    • Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer then choose an option.

    • You can also utilize the Create Adjustment Layer Icons, located above the Layer Panel. 

Smart Objects

A special type of layer, termed a Smart Object, contains one or more layers of content. You can transform (scale or reshape) a Smart Object without directly editing image pixels. You can even edit the Smart Object as a separate image after placing it in a Photoshop image.

Photoshop layer styles

The Layer Styles Panel allows you to easily add effects to a layer.

You can apply different styles or effects to each layer such as drop shadows, bevels, borders (stroke) and more.  You can apply multiple styles to a single layer. 

Too add an style to a layer

  • Double click on the layer in the Layers Panel. 

  • Click on the Add Layer Styles button, then choose your effect.



    You're now a layer genius! Use your image from the previous assignment. Duplicate the background layer and add an adjustment layer. Save it as a .TIFF and include the layers Then email the file to


    Got a question? Ask Jason using the form below. 

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