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Your Quick Guide to Layers in Photoshop

Last updated on May 28, 2024 by Brenda Barron

Do you want to make editing your photographs easier? Then one of the main tools you’ll need to learn how to use is Photoshop.

Adobe Photoshop is a piece of software that makes transforming your images incredibly simple. Whether you want to remove blemishes from a model, increase the contrast in your pictures, or even completely change the color of a background, you can do it all with Photoshop. The fundamental feature of Photoshop, and the thing that makes many of the most fantastic adjustments possible – is layers.

So, what are layers in photoshop?

That’s what we’re here to discuss. In this article, you’ll discover:

  • What Photoshop layers do
  • What adjustment layers are
  • How opacity and blending work with layers
  • What layer masks are
  • The special types of layers in Photoshop and what they do

If you don’t have it yet, you can get Photoshop from Adobe’s site here.

What Are Layers in Photoshop?

Adobe, the company responsible for Photoshop, describes the layers as similar to sheets of stacked acetate. Because you can see through each transparent area in a sheet to the layers below, you can make in-depth adjustments to your image.

As you explore different guides to Photoshop layers, you’ll learn how to use these components to transform your images, add text to a photo, or even create stylized effects.

You’ll find the layers panel located on the bottom right of your workspace in the Photoshop app. If the tool isn’t there when you load the software, click on Window> Layers.

A brightly colored bird with a tiger's head Photoshopped onto it

Adjustment Layers in Photoshop

Any good guide to Photoshop layers needs to cover one of the most valuable layers types of them all – adjustment layers. Adjustment layers are exact copies of your photo, where you can adjust an image without harming the original picture.

If you adjust the original image with a brush or the curves levels tool, it can degrade the quality slightly. However, with adjustment layers in Photoshop, you can make multiple dramatic changes without harming image integrity.

There are adjustments available for everything from brightness and contrast, to levels, curves, exposure, color, saturation and more. If you like, you can add a new adjustment layer for every edit.

Opacity and Blending Layers in Photoshop

Another thing to note in our basic guide to Photoshop layers is that the way you merge your layers together can affect the appearance of your images. Opacity and blending are the tools available to deliver basic blending solutions. For instance, opacity simply dials the translucence of your layer up or down. If your opacity is set to 0%, then your sheet will be completely transparent. On the other hand, if you turn the opacity up to 100%, the layer will be opaque. You can use settings like this to create effects like reflections and blurs in your images.

Blending is the other method available for merging two layers. There are various blend modes available. Some determine the difference in luminosity between layers, while some affect color. You’ll need to experiment for a while to really get familiar with blurring.

A book open in the sky, with a river landscape contained within

Using Layer Masks in Photoshop

One particularly useful feature of the layers in Photoshop is the “layer mask.” This is a copy of the original image where parts of a photo can be blocked out. Sometimes, professionals use layer masks to assist with the removal of blemishes in pictures, or replace the background of a picture.

In a layer mask, you copy your original image, then remove parts of that photo using a special tool. The areas that you black out will reveal the layer below, affecting the depth of certain parts of your image, or changing its appearance.

Special Types of Layers in Photoshop

Finally, there are also special types of layers that have begun to appear in the newer versions of Photoshop. For instance, if you want to create a unique video for a commercial customer, you can now add a “video” layer to your Photoshop environment. There’s also a 3D layer in Photoshop that can be used for those who are invested in 3D printing.

As new versions of Photoshop continue to be released, you may find yourself looking for a guide to Photoshop layers that addresses specific areas. For now, hopefully, our basic guide will help you to understand this crucial feature.

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