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Photoshop Basics

Want to know how to edit images? This guide shows you resources and steps in editing images from cropping to color adjustments.

Layers

This page covers instructions on performing the following:

  • Adding layers

  • Grouping layers
  • Adding a layer mask
  • Merging layers
  • Using transparency
  • Using gradients

Adding Layers

Think of layers in Photoshop like adding another page. The difference is that the layers are placed over the same position or section, kind of like a stacked pile of papers. But, in using layers, you can change transparency, effects, add text and do numerous other things. The greatest advantage is that you can move the layers anywhere you want on your canvas. In essence, you are creating a canvas with stacked images that can be situated anywhere using various features to achieve the look you want.

Adding a Layer in a Photoshop is actually quite simple. Notice your 'Layers' menu to the right. To add a layer, click on the 'Create a New Layer' button:

Layers menu is shown with the sixth Create a New Layer button highlighted.

You can add as many layers as you want by clicking this button over and over again. Photoshop will give it the default name such as 'Layer 1'. To rename the layer, double-click over the name in the layers menu and retitle it. Multiple layers can be used by having several images, with each image on one layer.

Tip: When using layers, it is important to keep them unlocked. In other words, if you want to move your layer around, it cannot have the lock image next to it as seen here in 'Background'. The 'Background' layer is always the original file that serves as the background. To unlock this layer, simply double-click over the name area of 'Background'. In case you do not want a layer to move, you will want to purposely lock a layer. To do this, select a layer and click on the lock icon next to the 'Fill' option in the layers menu.

Grouping Layers

If you use multiple layers and want them grouped into categories, you can do this in Photoshop by grouping layers.

To group layers, add a Group folder by clicking on the 'Create a new group' button in the Layers menu:

Layers menu is shown with the fifth Create a new group button selected.

Once you click this button, a new Group folder will appear in your Layers menu:

Layers menu is shown with a new group created and named Group 1 by default

To rename the group, simply double-click over the name and type a new name. To group layers, simply select a layer, hold down your mouse and drag the layer into the group folder.

Adding a Layer Mask

Layer masks allow you to edit a layer without effecting the original image. For example, you want to create a gradient on a layer, but you do not want to effect the layer. You can do this with layer masks.

To add a layer mask, click on the 'Add Layer Mask' button in the Layers menu:

Layers menu is shown with layer 1 selected and the third Add layer mask button highlighted

To select the layer mask, click on the layer mask thumbnail as shown here:

Layers menu is shown with layer 1 mask thumbnail selected and located right next to layer 1 thumbnail

Tip: To make sure you are editing the layer mask without effecting the original layer, make sure the link button right next to the layer mask is selected as seen here. If it is not linked, the link button will not be visible.

If you ever want to delete a layer mask, simply have the layer mask selected, right-click and click on 'Delete Layer Mask'.

Merging Layers

Merging layers can be used if you want to merge more than one layer so that you can work on it as one layer. This is a tool you should be careful with because once you merge layers and close your file, this cannot be undone. Merge layers when you are certain you want to do this. This can also be a tool to use if you want to merge layers to make blending easier.

To merge layers, select at least two layers in the Layers menu. Then click on the drop-down menu to the right and select 'Merge Layers':

Layers menu is shown with layer 1 and layer 2 selected  Right hand drop down menu is selected on layers menu and merge layers is selected from drop down menu 

Once the layers are merged, it will be converted into one layer:

Layers menu is shown with layer 1 and layer 2 merged into one layer named layer 1

Using Transparency

Transparency is the most used tool when using multiple layers. This allows multiple layers to be visible on one canvas.

To change transparency, select a layer and click on or enter a number in the percentage bar of the 'Opacity' option:

Layers menu is shown with layer 1 selected and the opacity setting set to 100% and highlighted near the top right.

Tip: Want to change how it blends with other layers? Select the layer, click on the 'Blending Mode' menu and change from Normal to Multiple, Lighten, Screen, etc. by clicking on any of the options listed.

Layers menu is shown depicting the Blending Mode Drop down menu on the left of the opacity setting.

Using Gradients

Using gradients gives you blending options that you can use with multiple layers. This is good for blending edges of images on layers so that they look like they are blending in with one another.

To add a gradient, you will need to first add a layer mask. To add a layer mask, click on the layer and click on the 'Add Layer Mask' button:

Layers menu is shown with layer 1 selected and the third Add layer mask button highlighted   Layers menu is shown with layer 1 mask thumbnail selected and located right next to layer 1 thumbnail

Select the layer mask and make sure the link button is present (link image in between the layer mask and layer). From there, select your gradient tool:

Gradient tool is shown in the vertical menu located on the left side of the screen

Select your options from the gradient menu at the top of your screen. You can select the gradient style, gradient type, blending mode, opacity and many other options:

Gradient menu opens on the top horizontal toolbar with different gradient settings

Once you have your settings selected, hold down your mouse over an area of the layer mask in your file and drag to the right, left, top or bottom. The best way to use gradients is to become familiar with your gradient settings and play with the many different options. Over time, you will learn your preferences.