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This is the heart of Photoshop. The Photoshop file format has a layered structure. Simply put: each document is composed of many image layers on top of each other. This enables each part of the final ‘composite’ image to be changed independently of the others. The composite image in the document window is a flattened view of all of these separate layers.

Interface 11.png

Bottom of palette

The bottom of the Layers Pallet contain a set of icons that are used for creating items within the layer stack.

Interface 12.png


Two layers linked will move unison. Useful for web design, interface design etc. To a digital painter this is not really useful.

Layer effects

Activates layer effects from a menu. These are pre-made effects such as: drop shadow, inner glow, emboss etc. These are useful for web design, interface design etc. In this course this is not only not important but actively discouraged. Layer effects are inflexible and not suited to picture construction.


Creates a mask. A mask is a non-destructive way or erasing the contents of a layer. This is vital to digital painters and compositors. A mask is often twinned with a selection in the following manner: after a selection is made the mask button is pressed, the subsequent mask being derived from the selection. More in the [[Selection to Mask

Adjustment layers

Creates an adjustment layer. Adjustment layers are non-destructive versions of the Adjustments that can be found in the Image / Adjust menu. These are very useful, however the only useful ones are Curves and Hue Saturation.


Create a group. A group is a collection of layers which can then be switched off and on separately to the rest of the layer stack. In a complex file you are probably going to need to color these through the contextual menu near the Layer Visibility icon. A Layer Group can also be masked. This enable 'double masking' which is very useful for moving masked objects behind other object that lie on their background layer.

I find the easiest way to create these is to make a selection of layers and then select New Group from Layers from the #Menu.


Create a layer (or Option Shift N).


Deletes selected layers.

Top of palette

Interface 14.png

At the top of the Layers Pallet there are some controls that govern the properties of selected layers.


For locking various aspects of the layers. We often need to lock the transparency of a layer when we are painting on it.

Blend Mode

Sets the blend mode of the layer. Vital. Some Blend Modes are very, very, very, very useful.


This set the transparency value of the layer. Surprisingly, we hardly every need to change this value. If you need to make something lighter then use Curves, if you need to make it transparent then add a grey to a mask.


We never, ever need to change this value. What is the difference between this and Opacity? Google it.


A few (but not many) interesting commands, e.g. select a bunch of layers and the New Group from Layers.

Tip: One major trouble that people are always having is not knowing where they are in the Layer Pallet. They might be busy painting away on one layer, really thinking that they are in another layer or be painting in the Layer Mask by accident. Do not be fooled by what you see in the Document window. Always be aware of where you are in the Layer Pallet.

Layer Palette keystrokes

These are the most important Layer Pallet keystrokes to know:

New layer (with dialogue) Command Shift N
New layer (without dialogue) Command Shift Option N
Duplicate layer Command J
Duplicate layer into another document Right Click then Duplicate Layer from contextual menu then select destination.
Merge layers Select layers then Command E
Make new layer from merged layer stack Copy all into clipboard: Command A then Command Shift C, then paste: Command V