As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Learn photoshop layers easily:- Easy tutorial for working with layers and manipulating them

Get The Book

Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures

“Learn photoshop layers easily” is part of my Photoshop book “Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures”, which is more revised and covers more concepts than the online tutorials, feel free to check out the bookby visiting my Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures Book Page.

Layers are an important part of Photoshop. They are one of two features that makes it comfortable to create and edit pictures in Photoshop (Besides the selection tool. Which we will cover in the next lesson). In this lesson, I will teach you a wide range of of layer options. I will focus only on the basics of photoshop layers right now. But I will write another lesson that explain the more advanced options of layers in the future
Photoshop layers has’t changed at all since forever in photoshop, so whatever you are using one of the latest versions of Photoshop like CS5, CS6, CC, or even CS7(which doesn’t exist). Or even an old version like Photoshop 6 or 7. All these instructions will apply to your version.

What is the definition of layers?

Think of each layers as an independent picture. Photoshop creates the the final picture you are working on by pilling up all the pictures/layers on each other. For example, Take a look at the following sheep picture. Each element in the picture is drawn in a separate layer, the sky is in its own layer, so is the meadow, and the grass, the sheep, and the sun~
This is the sheep image that we are going to use to help you learn Photoshop layers.
The final sheep image is made by putting all the layers one over the other, like that:-
Click on the picture to view it in full sizePhotoshop Layers Demonstration of The Sheep Picture
Simpler drawing programs like Microsoft Paint don’t have layers. So it is safe to say that in Paint, the picture consists of only one layer. Which makes it very hard to create many things that are easy to create using Photoshop or any other program that has layers. 

Working with Photoshop layers

Now you understand how layers work. It is time to explain how to work with them. Like how to create, delete and arrange layers, plus a few other things. I will focus on how to do that from the layers panel. But all these things can be done from the layer menu in the main menu as well.

The layers panel


The Layers Panel. Is where you work with layer, this is where you will create, arrange, and delete  photoshop layers. There are many other things that can be done with layers here as well.
~If you can’e see the layers panel, choose Window > Layers from the main menu to display the panel.~

To change the layer you are drawing on

Simply click on the layer in the layers panel, and draw on your canvas, anything you draw by then will be added to the layer you selected

To change the size of the thumbnail of the layers. 

  • Click on the triangle at the corner of the layers panel
The Layers-Paneloptions-Menu-Button
  • Select Panel Options from the menu
  • The layer panel options appears, where you can select one of the four options sizes for the thumbnail of the layer. You can either have no thumbnail. Small, medium, or big one. Then click ok.
To create a new layer 
  • Click on the create new layer button in the layers panel
New Layer Button In The Layers Panel
  • A new layer will appear in the layers panel above your current layer.
To arrange layers in the layers panel
Sometimes you want a certain layer to be above another, you probably created a new layer, and it was not where you wanted it to be. Or you are experiencing with different kinds of effects. Rearranging photoshop layers is easy, all you have to do is:–
  • Click on the layer you want to change its place. And keep holding the mouse bottom
  • Drag the layer up or down where you want it to be. Photoshop will mark where the new layer will be after you release the mouse button, like you see in the following picture:-

Drag Layer To Change Its Place In The Layers Panel

If you found it a bit hard to place your layer where you want it, you can change the size of the layer thumbnail like I explained above. 
Delete layers
Sometimes you create some layers and end up not using them at all. And sometimes you realise that a layer you worked on is totally unnecessary. You can easily delete a layer by:-
  • Selecting the layer you want to delete from the layers panel
  • Pressing the delete button at the bottom of the panel
Delete Layer Button In The Layers Panel
Renaming layers from the layers panel
  • Double click the name of layer you want to rename. Make sure you don’t click outside the name of the layer, which opens the blending options dialog.
  • Type the new name of the layer that you want
  • Press Enter, and the layer name will be changed~
Renaming Layer In The Layers Panel

Layer properties dialog. Changing the name and colour photoshop layers

The layer properties dialog allows you to change the name and colour of the selected layer. Choosing colours for your layers is a helpful feature that makes it easier to organize your workflow, this is specially useful when you have a lot of layers in your picture. 
  • To display the layer properties dialog, simply right-click on the layer you want to change its name or colour. Then select “Layer Properties” from the context menu
Layer Properties In The Drop Down Menu
  • The Layer Properties dialog appears.
Layer-Properties Dialog
  • Now feel free to rename your layer and select a colour for it. Here is how the layer panel looks like after I chose a colour for all the layers in the sheep picture
 Colored Layers In The Layers Panel
Hide and show layer
You can hide any layer at any time, this is useful to see the picture without one of the objects of it. To hide a layer, simple click on the eye icon besides the thumbnail of the layer, as shown here:-
Show And Hide Layers Demonstration
  • To display the layer again, click again where the eye icon was. Here is the cute sheep picture after hiding the sheep from it:-
The Sheep Picture After Hiding The Sheep

Your old friends are here as well, fill, opacity and blending mores applies to Photoshop layers as well

You may now have realised why I focused on these features in the first few lessons. It is because they are available in more than one place in Photoshop. Which means that if you became used to working with them, you will be able to use them in more than a way. And right away, without having to explain much to you~
The good thing about layers blending modes is that you can change them however you want, and if you don’t like a certain blending mode, you can change it to another without any problem.
Let’s start playing by changing the fill of the Sheep layers which turned them into ghosts~
The Sheep Turned Into Ghosts After I changed The Opacity Of The Layer That Contains Them
  • Here, I changed the blending more of the grass layer to linear light, making it so bright. Which made the picture so cheerful.
Applying Linear Light Blending Mode To The Grass Layer
  • Then I changed it into difference, which made them look so dark
Applying Difference Blending Mode To The Grass Layer
Changing the blending mode of layers is one of my favourite tricks that I always use when I edit and create pictures. In the examples section at the end of the tutorial, I will show you a few more ways how to use that.

Some useful tips & tricks about layers

The lesson is officially done. But I felt that these tricks should never be omitted, and the earlier you learn them in your journey to learn Photoshop, the better.

Selecting layers quickly

Sometimes, selecting a certain layer from the layers panel can be tedious and time consuming. Specially when you have too many layers in your document to choose from. Fortunately, there is a little trick on how to choose layers quickly using the move tool. 
  • Select the move tool from the tools panel:-
The Move Tool In The Tools Panel
  • Make sure that the Auto-Select option is selected from the tool options at the top of the screen
Auto Select Option Of The Move Tool
  • Now, click on any object on the picture and Photoshop will switch to the layer of that object. Like, in our sheep picture, clicking on one of the sheep will select the sheep layer. And clicking on the sun will select the sun layer, and so on.
Also, you can Right-click on the object you want to select and Photoshop will display a list of the layers that has pixels where you clicked. This is useful when there are many adjacent pixels that belongs to more than a layer and you find it hard to select the layer you want. Like this:-
 Selectubg Layers Menu Of The Move Tool 

The layer lock modes

Lock mode is a way prevent you from accidentally modifying a certain aspect of a certain layer. If you locked one of these aspects. You won’t be able to modify that aspect until you unlock it again. This is useful when you want to protect your layers from being changed accidentally. This can also be used as a trick to edit your picture. There are 4 lock modes available to each layer, which we will take a look at below. 
The Lock Modes Of The Layers Panel
The 4 lock modes available to each layer are:-
Lock Transparent Pixels:- If you locked the transparent pixels of a certain layer (the empty pixels in the picture), you won’t be able to paint on them. And only the pixels you already painted on before will be possible to paint on until you unlock the transparent pixels again.
Let’s say I wanted to change the sheep in the pictures to be black instead of white. So I go on and lock the transparent pixels, and paint over the sheep with black:-
The Sheep Turned Black After Locking The Pixels Of The Layer That Contains Them
Locks Image Pixels:- Locking the image pixels means that you won’t be able to paint on that layer at all. The only thing you could do to the layer is to move it. Using the move tool or any other moving tool.
Lock position:- If you locked the position of a certain layer, it means that you won’t be able to move the objects inside of it using any of the moving tools. But you will be able to paint on it.
Lock All:- Lock all the modes above:- Meaning that you won’t be able to neither paint on the picture nor move the objects in it

The background layer

Have you ever wondered what is this background layer you see every time you create a new image in Photoshop? The background is a layer just like any layer except that:-
  • It can’t contain any transparent pixels. Transparent pixels simply means that there are no pixels in a certain part of the layer. Or empty pixels you could say, and that you can see the pixel of the layer below it.
  • You can’t move it, rotate it, or resize it.
  • The background layer is always at the bottom. There can’t be any other layer below it. Or… You can’t arrange it like the other layer
To put it simply, the background layer is a layer that is all locked, and can’t be unlocked using the lock buttons in the layers panel. It also can’t have transparent pixels. So unless you change the background layer into a normal layer, which is useful if you want your final picture to have transparent pixels, you can only paint on that layer and nothing else.
To change the background layer to a normal layer, do the following:-
  • Select Layer > New > Layer From Background from the main menu
Layer From Background Option
  • The new layer dialog appears. Type a name for the new layer, and then click on the OK button
New Layer Dialog
  • The background layer became a normal layer now, which can be treated just like any other layer in your Photoshop file.
To make the current selected layer a background layer, do the following:-
  • Select the layer you want to turn into background layer
  • Select Layer > New > background From layer
Background From Layer Option
  • The current layer is converted into a background layer and is placed below all the other layers

Time to play and have some fun with photoshop layers

All the tricks you learned in the blending modes lesson can be applied more easily here, I made the following penguins picture brighter by creating a new layer above it. Filling that layer with white, then changing that layer’s blending mode to Soft Light
Lighten Penguins Picture Example
I made the thread in the following picture. Which revolves around the Eiffel Tower by placing it in 3 layers, two that are below the Eiffel Tower layer, and one that is above it
Thread Revolving Around The Eiffel Tower Example
Here are how the layers were made and arranged:-
Click on the picture to view it in full size
Eiffel Tower Example Layers Demonstration
Mixing two different images using blend modes is an easy way to create a various kind of tricks, let’s say we have the following two flowers pictures:-
The First Flowers Picture
The Second Flowers Picture
We can mix the two pictures using the Lighten blending mode to create the following picture:-
The Mixed Flowers Picture
And at the end, I would like give a special thank to Wikipedia for the flowers & penguin pictures I used in this tutorial.

Would you like to learn Photoshop?

Check my Photoshop book Learn Photoshop CC With Pictures which contains a full course on how to use Photoshop in the simplest way possible.

See Also

I am an anime artist, and huge fan of digital art. I love drawing with pencils too. But I rarely do that anymore nowadays. Since some aspects of digital art can be tricky, I try my best to explain the concepts as easily as possible.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *