7 Cool Photoshop Layer Tricks - Digital Photography School
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7 Cool Photoshop Layer Tricks

When you’re using layers in Photoshop for photo editing and composting you can speed up the process of working with them if you know these cool layer tricks.

1. Unlock the Background

Layer1

You will already know the Background of any photo is locked and you can’t do anything much with it until you unlock it. The quickest way to unlock a background layer is from inside the Layers palette. Drag the lock icon to its right and drop it in the Trash and the Background layer will be automatically converted to a regular layer.

2. One click add a Layer

Layer2

To create a new layer above the current layer click the Add New Layer icon at the foot of the Layer palette. 

To add a new layer directly below the current layer Ctrl or Command Click on that icon. Both options add a layer but without displaying the Layer dialog. 

3. Merge Everything to One Layer but Keep the Layers too

Layer3

To merge all the current layers in the document to a single layer and at the same time to keep all the layers intact below it, click the topmost layer of the document and press Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E (Command + Option + Shift + E on the Mac). In case you are curious – it’s called Stamp Visible. 

4. Select the Content on the Current Layer

Layer4

To select everything on the current layer Ctrl + Click on the layer thumbnail in the Layers palette. 

5. Copy a Layer to Another Document

To copy a layer from one document to another drag the layer from the Layers palette in one document and drop it into the other document. If you hold Shift as you drag the layer will be centered in the middle of the second document.

Layer5

6. Quick Layer Moves

To quickly move a layer up the layer stack press Command + ] and to move it down, press Command + [.

7. Instant Delete a Layer

To instantly delete a layer, click the layer and press Delete. 

Bonus Layer tip

To fill a layer or a selection with the foreground color press Alt + Backspace (Option + Delete on the Mac). Use Control + Backspace (Command + Delete on the Mac to fill the layer or selection with the Background color.

So, over to you now… what are your favorite Layer tips and tricks?

Read more from our Post Production category.

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • Chet

    Need some advice (if you have the time, that is).
    Here’s what I’m now doing :
    – copy Background layer
    – make an adjustment using Topaz plug in.
    – flatten document
    – copy Background layer
    – make a different Topaz adjustment
    – flatten document
    – copy Background layer
    – make adjustment using the clone tool (or any of many other tools)
    – flatten document.

    WHAT I’M TRYING TO GET WAY FROM IS FLATTENING THE DOCUMENT AFTER EACH MANEUVER. HOW DO I DO THIS….SAY, USING THE ABOVE EXAMPLES?
    THANKS FOR THE HELP.
    CHET

  • http://evadsti.com Dave

    Duplicate a layer with a portrait, then removing wrinkles, freckles, scars, and other blemishes in the new layer. Afterwards, drop the opacity of the new layer down so that the hint of a blemish remains, but not the full blemish. This will add some character to the person, but not make them look “botoxed”.

  • Alex.ru

    What version of Photoshop is this. I’ve bought Elements 10 for the first time a week ago.

  • http://us.fotolia.com/id/27493574 MotionAge Fotolia Photograhy by Adam Asar

    It’s actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://zamoht.deviantart.com Thomas Jergel

    Just a quick note:

    Number 6 – Quick Layer Moves.

    More specifically the square bracket keys will not necessarily work on (some) european keyboards unless temporarily and, in my opinion, clunkily set up to use an american typing language in windows.

    Either that, or you can change those particular keys in the keyboard shortcut menu, which still is a hassle for shortcuts which should be easily available from the get-go.

    It’s a shame that the keyboard shortcuts for such a popular and widely used photo editor and tool doesn’t have a full international standard.

    There is an old thread on the Adobe forums about it.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/philmlane/ PML Photo

    Chet.

    Use Tip 3 above. Duplicate your backgriund, make your Topaz adjustment on it, adjust blending mode, opacity etc, then ctrl-shift-alt-E and you get a new layer that is just the same as what you would have got had you flattened. You can then repeat the process. Hope this helps. Phil

  • Akash

    @Chet

    You can stamp the image using the Shift+Opt+CMD+E (Shift+Alt+Ctrl+E for windows) and apply the Topaz filter. Once that’s done, use it again and create a new layer with the previous Topaz adjustment. Rinse and repeat for all the filters you want to use (I’m not familiar with Topaz filters but I assume it creates a new layer with the adjustments you made using it).

    For cloning and healing you dont have to duplicate the layer or stamp them, you can do it on an empty layer which will help you keep the file size down.

    On another note, it would be helpful if you do the cloning and healing before you make contrast or color adjustments.

    Hope that helps.

  • http://www.projectwoman.com Helen Bradley

    @Alex.ru I am using Photoshop, not Photoshop Elements – the two programs are actually quite different. However most of the tips shown here will work in Elements as well – but that won’t always be the case. Photoshop has a much larger set of features than Photoshop Elements and the menus in each program aren’t always the same… Helen

  • PeterB

    When using masks on layers is there anyway of seeing them full size rather than the small box in the mask window? I’m just getting to grips with layers and I can’t understand how I managed without them in the past.

  • Malcolm Sutton

    The screenshots show that Photoshop is being used instead PSE but a new user may not notice. It would be useful if it was stated whether the trick works in PSE or Gimp etc. I wonder what percentage of readers use PS at £500 compared with PSE at £60.

  • Nathan Horton

    Regarding Tip #1 “Unlock the Background,” you can also double click the layer and hit “Enter.”

  • Alex.ru

    Thank you Helen and Malcolm. Yes I’m a new user of Photoshop Elements. So I need time to practice on that one before I decide if I need to buy a lot more expensive Photoshop.

  • http://zamoht.deviantart.com Thomas Jergel

    @Peterb:

    To view the mask full size, you can hold ALT and Left-click on the B&W layer mask itself. :)

  • PeterB

    @Thomas Jergel

    Thanks for the tip Thomas. A follow on question is can this be done whilst seeing another layer. For example to more accurately match up the mask to the image you are trying to adjust

  • http://www.projectwoman.com Helen Bradley

    @Malcolm Sutton (and other readers), if you’re curious as to what those DPS readers who answer polls use to process their images, check out this post:

    http://digital-photography-school.com/the-most-popular-post-production-software-poll-results

    Executive Summary: Lightroom is the most popular by a long shot, then Photoshop then Photoshop Elements et al….

    Helen

  • Malcolm Sutton

    Thanks for your comment and the link Helen. I understand, rightly or wrongly, that PS is for graphic artists, lightroom is good for batch processing and PSE has sufficient tools for photo processing. Sorry I didn’t answer the poll. It would have been another point for PSE!

  • http://www.projectwoman.com Helen Bradley

    @malcolm sutton.. next time perhaps!

    Lightroom is great for anyone who comes home from a shoot with anything over around 100 photos, personally I used to process in PS but switched quickly to Lightroom as the first stop for all my post processing because it is so much easier to use for photos. But I use PS when I need to do pixel editing or collage/montage. PSE is a great post processing program particularly versions from 9 onward when layer masks were added.

    Helen

  • http://www.okinawaphotographytours.com Chris G. Rose

    All of your tutorials are great but I always look forward to reading about post production. I own a photography tour company in Japan and my photo editing classes are always inspired from this website. Thank you for posting great articles and I look forward to reading the next one.
    Chris

  • http://3otiko.blogspot.gr/ Foinikas

    Good tips.
    Tip No1. I think that double click on the layer from the layer palette is even faster to unlock the background.
    Another always necessary action is to dublicate the first layer -or any that someone wants. Ctrl+J -for pc- is the shortcut.

  • Darryl

    Hi there, can somebody tell me why you would want to unlock your background layer as suggested in the 1st tip – I have always read that you should NOT work on your original……..isn’t Control +J easier….and safer?

  • Faith Inman

    Right now I’m in the process of using the magnetic lasso tool to select a part of an image. Next, I plan to use Command Q to eliminate any white spaces that may be left in my background. My question is, how do I get rid of the background once I’ve selected everything I would like?

Some older comments

  • Faith Inman

    March 6, 2013 02:46 am

    Right now I'm in the process of using the magnetic lasso tool to select a part of an image. Next, I plan to use Command Q to eliminate any white spaces that may be left in my background. My question is, how do I get rid of the background once I've selected everything I would like?

  • Darryl

    January 25, 2013 07:07 pm

    Hi there, can somebody tell me why you would want to unlock your background layer as suggested in the 1st tip - I have always read that you should NOT work on your original........isn't Control +J easier....and safer?

  • Foinikas

    December 17, 2012 09:11 am

    Good tips.
    Tip No1. I think that double click on the layer from the layer palette is even faster to unlock the background.
    Another always necessary action is to dublicate the first layer -or any that someone wants. Ctrl+J -for pc- is the shortcut.

  • Chris G. Rose

    August 7, 2012 07:08 pm

    All of your tutorials are great but I always look forward to reading about post production. I own a photography tour company in Japan and my photo editing classes are always inspired from this website. Thank you for posting great articles and I look forward to reading the next one.
    Chris

  • Helen Bradley

    August 7, 2012 06:42 am

    @malcolm sutton.. next time perhaps!

    Lightroom is great for anyone who comes home from a shoot with anything over around 100 photos, personally I used to process in PS but switched quickly to Lightroom as the first stop for all my post processing because it is so much easier to use for photos. But I use PS when I need to do pixel editing or collage/montage. PSE is a great post processing program particularly versions from 9 onward when layer masks were added.

    Helen

  • Malcolm Sutton

    August 7, 2012 05:46 am

    Thanks for your comment and the link Helen. I understand, rightly or wrongly, that PS is for graphic artists, lightroom is good for batch processing and PSE has sufficient tools for photo processing. Sorry I didn't answer the poll. It would have been another point for PSE!

  • Helen Bradley

    August 7, 2012 04:52 am

    @Malcolm Sutton (and other readers), if you're curious as to what those DPS readers who answer polls use to process their images, check out this post:

    http://digital-photography-school.com/the-most-popular-post-production-software-poll-results

    Executive Summary: Lightroom is the most popular by a long shot, then Photoshop then Photoshop Elements et al....

    Helen

  • PeterB

    August 4, 2012 05:34 pm

    @Thomas Jergel

    Thanks for the tip Thomas. A follow on question is can this be done whilst seeing another layer. For example to more accurately match up the mask to the image you are trying to adjust

  • Thomas Jergel

    August 4, 2012 06:58 am

    @Peterb:

    To view the mask full size, you can hold ALT and Left-click on the B&W layer mask itself. :)

  • Alex.ru

    August 3, 2012 05:02 am

    Thank you Helen and Malcolm. Yes I'm a new user of Photoshop Elements. So I need time to practice on that one before I decide if I need to buy a lot more expensive Photoshop.

  • Nathan Horton

    August 3, 2012 04:43 am

    Regarding Tip #1 "Unlock the Background," you can also double click the layer and hit "Enter."

  • Malcolm Sutton

    August 3, 2012 03:58 am

    The screenshots show that Photoshop is being used instead PSE but a new user may not notice. It would be useful if it was stated whether the trick works in PSE or Gimp etc. I wonder what percentage of readers use PS at £500 compared with PSE at £60.

  • PeterB

    August 3, 2012 01:53 am

    When using masks on layers is there anyway of seeing them full size rather than the small box in the mask window? I'm just getting to grips with layers and I can't understand how I managed without them in the past.

  • Helen Bradley

    August 3, 2012 12:14 am

    @Alex.ru I am using Photoshop, not Photoshop Elements - the two programs are actually quite different. However most of the tips shown here will work in Elements as well - but that won't always be the case. Photoshop has a much larger set of features than Photoshop Elements and the menus in each program aren't always the same... Helen

  • Akash

    August 2, 2012 12:29 am

    @Chet

    You can stamp the image using the Shift+Opt+CMD+E (Shift+Alt+Ctrl+E for windows) and apply the Topaz filter. Once that's done, use it again and create a new layer with the previous Topaz adjustment. Rinse and repeat for all the filters you want to use (I'm not familiar with Topaz filters but I assume it creates a new layer with the adjustments you made using it).

    For cloning and healing you dont have to duplicate the layer or stamp them, you can do it on an empty layer which will help you keep the file size down.

    On another note, it would be helpful if you do the cloning and healing before you make contrast or color adjustments.

    Hope that helps.

  • PML Photo

    August 1, 2012 11:33 pm

    Chet.

    Use Tip 3 above. Duplicate your backgriund, make your Topaz adjustment on it, adjust blending mode, opacity etc, then ctrl-shift-alt-E and you get a new layer that is just the same as what you would have got had you flattened. You can then repeat the process. Hope this helps. Phil

  • Thomas Jergel

    August 1, 2012 01:37 pm

    Just a quick note:

    Number 6 - Quick Layer Moves.

    More specifically the square bracket keys will not necessarily work on (some) european keyboards unless temporarily and, in my opinion, clunkily set up to use an american typing language in windows.

    Either that, or you can change those particular keys in the keyboard shortcut menu, which still is a hassle for shortcuts which should be easily available from the get-go.

    It's a shame that the keyboard shortcuts for such a popular and widely used photo editor and tool doesn't have a full international standard.

    There is an old thread on the Adobe forums about it.

  • MotionAge Fotolia Photograhy by Adam Asar

    August 1, 2012 09:55 am

    It's actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Alex.ru

    August 1, 2012 06:51 am

    What version of Photoshop is this. I've bought Elements 10 for the first time a week ago.

  • Dave

    August 1, 2012 04:23 am

    Duplicate a layer with a portrait, then removing wrinkles, freckles, scars, and other blemishes in the new layer. Afterwards, drop the opacity of the new layer down so that the hint of a blemish remains, but not the full blemish. This will add some character to the person, but not make them look "botoxed".

  • Chet

    August 1, 2012 02:51 am

    Need some advice (if you have the time, that is).
    Here's what I'm now doing :
    - copy Background layer
    - make an adjustment using Topaz plug in.
    - flatten document
    - copy Background layer
    - make a different Topaz adjustment
    - flatten document
    - copy Background layer
    - make adjustment using the clone tool (or any of many other tools)
    - flatten document.

    WHAT I'M TRYING TO GET WAY FROM IS FLATTENING THE DOCUMENT AFTER EACH MANEUVER. HOW DO I DO THIS....SAY, USING THE ABOVE EXAMPLES?
    THANKS FOR THE HELP.
    CHET

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