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Introducton to Adobe Photoshop
What Are Layers  

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Having access to channels is pretty amazing. Using layers is even more phenomenal. It allows you to do composite and prototype work with speed and ease. It creates a playground for the imagination.

There is no one-to-one comparison to layers in the traditional graphic arts technique. Cut-and-paste and the use of tracing paper are a crude comparison. A better comparison exists in the animation industry.

Layers Palette Sample The technique used in cell animation comes close to suggesting the power of Layers.

Disney style animation scenes are created by stacking numerous layers of clear acetate sheets with artwork painted on them.

A Photoshop project can easily end up looking very similar. Look at the Layers sample to the left showing all the layers to a psd file.

An approach I use often utilizes the background layer as the negative. All of my active work is done on duplicates or other layers above the background.

One exception might be the Auto Levels (Image > Adjust > Auto Levels) command. It is a single step command which "properly adjusts" most photographic images.

The Display icon is the eye. Click on it to hide the layer. The layer becomes invisible and the eye icon also disappears.

Display Icon Sample

The Active layer is indicated by the brush icon. Click on it to lock protect the layer. The layer will be visible but not changeable and the brush icon will disappear.

The chain icon indicates the link status of a layer. A linked layers can be merged, moved in unison, and other joint actions are possible. In the above example, Background Effect is linked to Background Color. If the Background Effect is moved, Background Color will match the move.

Three Layers Palette Buttons.

Layers Buttons Sample

  • Create Layer Mask
  • Create New Layer
  • Trashcan

Create Layers Mask

  • Creates a mask over the entire layer which can then be modified for use.

Create New Layer

  • Create a new layer by clicking on the Creates New Layer icon. A new layer will be created above the active layer.
  • Create a copy of a layer by dragging it to the Create New Layer icon. A duplicate layer will be created above the original layer.
  • Create a copy of the active layer by clicking on the Create New Layer icon. A blank layer will be created above the active layer.


  • Delete a layer by dragging it to the Trashcan icon.
  • Delete an Active Layer by clicking on the Trashcan icon.

There will be some in-use Layers examples in the Real World Example Section. The next topic will be What is Fill/Paint Bucket.

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