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14 Layers tips you won't want to miss

Added on Thursday 22nd of May 2008 07:14 am EST
Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3
Operating Systems:
Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

If you’re going to become proficient in Photoshop, you’ll need to master layers. Layers are an integral part of all Photoshop editing, and you’ll limit your possibilities without them. That’s why we’ve compiled a plethora of tips and tricks to help you become a more proficient layer user.

Face it; you can’t do much in Photoshop without using layers. But creating multi-layered documents is just the first phase in grasping the possibilities layers give you. Don’t forget adjustment layers, layers styles, and layer masks. Aside from needing to understand what they’re for, you need to know how to apply them quickly. Whether you’re new to Photoshop or have been using it for years, you can benefit from tips and tricks that help you perform these tasks quicker. So here, in no particular order, are layers palette tips to guide your way.

Tip #1: Control layer stacking order
Whenever you create a new layer in the Layers palette, Photoshop places the new layer directly above the currently selected layer. But what if you want that new layer to go below the selected layer? Easy! Just press and hold [command] ([Ctrl] in Windows) and click the Create A New Layer button at the base of the Layers palette. Photoshop positions the new layer below the active layer (unless it’s the Background layer).

Tip #2: Select a specific layer quickly
When working on a multi-layer document, even with good layer management, your Layers palette can grow quite long. But when you want to edit pixels, you need to select the right layer first. Forget about scrolling down a long Layers palette list to find your layer; use this shortcut instead. First, select the Move tool from the Tools palette. Press [Ctrl] (Right-click in Windows) and then click on an image area to display a contextual menu like the one shown in Figure A. This menu lists all the layers that have pixel information in the area you clicked. If a layer doesn’t have any pixel data there, the layer name won’t show up in the menu.


Trick #3: Auto-Select a layer
As we discussed in Tip #2, it can be time consuming to find the layer in the Layers palette that you wish to edit. This is a simple task with the Auto-Select option. First, select the Move tool and then select the Auto-Select option in the tool options bar, as shown in Figure B. Now click in the image and notice that Photoshop automatically selects that layer in the Layers palette.
            One caveat: Photoshop will select the top-most layer that is within the layer bounds you click in. So if your file has three layers and they all span the full layer bounds, Auto-Select will always select the top layer.


Trick #4: Preserve transparent pixels
When you want to edit a layer that has transparent pixels, you probably want to keep those pixels transparent. Don’t fuss around making a selection to do this. Instead, simply select the layer and then click the Lock Transparent Pixels button in the Layers palette, as shown in Figure C.
               While we’re on the topic of locking layers, the other layer locking options, from left to right, are Lock Image Pixels, which disable any further editing to that layer, Lock Layer Position, which will prevent you from moving the layer or transforming it, and the Lock All button, which will perform all three tasks.


Trick #5: Disable a layer mask quickly
When you’re working with layer masks, you might want to turn off a mask temporarily, but you don’t want to discard the mask that you put so much effort into creating. There’s an easy workaround; press [shift] and click the layer mask thumbnail to turn off its visibility. A big red X will span across the layer mask thumbnail indicating that it’s disabled. To turn it back on, [shift]-click the layer mask thumbnail again.

Trick #6: Copy layer masks from one layer to another
When creating complex photomontages, you may find you have to apply the same layer mask to multiple layers. Rather than re-creating the mask, you can save time by copying it. This is easy to do in CS2/CS3; simply press [option] ([Alt] in Windows) and click and drag the layer mask thumbnail from one layer to another. Photoshop copies the layer mask to the othe...

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