Layers, Selections & Combining Images

— Select to download ZiP file —

The use of Layers is the fundamental method used in Photoshop to design and edit an image. Each element of your design can exist on its own layer, allowing for independent adjustments as desired.

Layers are controlled using the Layers panel (Window>Layers). You may find that having this panel open at all times to be very beneficial.

Each document can only have one Background which will always be displayed fully opaque. A background is not required as long as there is at least one layer. You can use as many layers as you want.

  • When Creating a New Document:
    • By choosing Background Contents: White or Background Color, the bottom most tier will be named Background and have an opaque base with a Lock icon denoting it is fixed in place.
    • By choosing Background Contents: Transparent, there will appear Layer 1 with a checkerboard pattern denoting it is transparent. This layer is not fixed.
  • To Create a Layer:
    1. Show the Layerspanel
      • Either:
        1. Select drop down menu from arrow tab in upper right-hand corner of panel
        2. Choose New Layer (Ctrl-Shift-N/Cmd-Shift-N)
          • A dialog box will appear allowing you to name layer, set blending mode and adjust opacity, and apply clipping mask if needed.
      • Or:
        1. Select the background or an existing layer
        2. Click the New Layerbutton at the bottom of the panel
          • The new layer will be set to 100% and a blending mode of Normal
          • It will appear above the the selected layer
  • To Duplicate Layer or Layer Group:
    • Do one of the following:
      • Click a layer, then press Ctrl-J/Cmd-J
      • Drag a layer or group to the New Layer button on the bottom of the panel.
      • Select a layer or group right-click/ctrl-click and select Duplicate Layer
  • To Convert the Background into a layer:
    • Do either of the following:
      • Alt-double-click/Option-double-click the Background in the Layers panel
      • Double-click the Background in the Layers panel to open New Layer dialog to name, set blending mode and opacity, and designate color.
  • To Select Layers:
    • Via the Layers panel
      • Select a layer thumbnail, name or area to the right of the layer or group
      • Select multiple layers by clicking on the first layer and Shift-click the last of a consecutive list of layers, or Ctrl-click/Cmd-click individual layers to add or remove from selection.
      • Select all the layers (but not the Background) choose Select>All Layers (Ctrl-Alt-A/Cmd-Opt-A)
      • Select all the layers of a similar kind right-click/Ctrl-click desired kind and choose Select Similar Layers.
    • Via the Move (V) tool
      • Choose the Movetool (V)
        • Right-click/Ctrl-click in the document window on non-transparent pixels and choose a layer or group listed in the context menu (Ctrl-right-click/Cmd-Ctrl-click with any other tool).
      • Check Auto-Select on the Options Bar, choose Group or Layer, then click on any visible pixels in the document window. This will not select the Background.
  • To Re-stack Layers:
    • Drag layer or group name on the panel upward or downward and release when horizontal line appears in desired location.
    • The Background must be converted to a Layer before it can be moved or other layers can be put underneath.
  • Working with Layer Groups:
    To organize layers in the panel you can create labeled groups. These groups can be edited, locked, transformed or moved as needed. These Groups can be nestled into other groups five levels deep. Also a layer mask applied to the group effects all the layers within.

    1. From Existing Layers
      • Select a layer, then Shift-click or Ctrl-click/Cmd-click tow or more other.
      • Do either of the following:
        • Press Ctrl-G/Cmd-G
        • From the Layers panel menu, select New Group from Layers, name as desired, click OK.
        • Optional: To add other layers to the group simply drag them over the group listing and release when the drop-zone border appears.
    2. Create a Group, then Add Layers
      • Do either of the following:
        • To create a group without settings, click the layer above which you want the group, click New Group button at bottom of layer panel.
        • For settings Alt-click/OPtion-click the New Group button or choose from the panel menu: New Group. You can set the Name, Color or Opacity.
        • Drag layers into the new group listing; releasing

        Click arrow head to expand or collapse a group.

  • To Rename a Layer Group:
    • Double-click layer or group name in Layer panel.
    • Edit name as desired.
    • Then click outside name area.
  • To Delete Layers:
    • Do one of the following:
      • In the Layers panel select a group. Click the Delete Layer button at bottom of panel. Select Yes if an alert appears. Or Alt-click/Option-click the Delete Layer button to avoid alert.
      • Select layer to delete and press Backspace/Delete key.
  • To Delete or Disband Layer Groups:
    • Do one of the following:
      • In the Layers panel select a group. Click the Delete Layer button at bottom of panel. In the dialog box select Group Only to disband group but save layers or Group and Contents to delete everything. To toss everything without a dialog Alt-click/Option-click the Delete Layer button.
      • Right-click/Ctrl-click a group and choose Delete Group from context menu, then select Group Only or Group and Contents.
      • To disband a layer group without deleting its contents, click the group, then press Ctrl-Shift-G/Cmd-Shift-G.
  • Hiding and showing layers:
    • In the Layers panel, do any of the following:
      • Select the EYE-con in the visibility column.
      • Drag up or down the column to hide/show multiple layers
  • Moving layer manually:
    • In the Layers panel, do one for the following:
      • Select a layer
      • Shift-click or Ctrl-click/Cmd-click multiple layers
      • Click on a group
    • Choose the Move tool (V) or hold down V for temporary use.
      • If moving a whole group. check Auto-Select on Option bar and choose Group
      • If moving a layer in a group, check Auto-Select and choose Layer
    • Drag tool through document window to position layer(s) as desired.
      To nudge selected layer(s) one pixel at a time choose Move  tool (V) and then use the arrow keys. Press Shift-arrow to move by 10 screen pixels at at time.
      Press Alt-Arrow/Option-arrow to duplicate layer.
  • Playing with the Layers panel options:
    You can adjust opacity or blending modes on each layer to effect how they interact with the layers below.

    • Click a layer or group and do any of the folowing:
      • Choose a blending mode form the menu on the top left of the panel.
      • Change the opacity percentage using the scrubby slider or direct entry.
  • To Lock a Layer or Group:
    • Do any of the following:
      • Select Lock Image Pixels button (brush) to keep pixels from being edited – contents can still be moved.
      • Select Lock Position (4-point cross) to lock the location of the layer – contents can still be edited.
      • Select Lock All (lock) to prevent layer from being moved or edited – also good for groups.

      A white lock will appear in layer name when first two options are selected.
      A dark lock will appear for third option.

  • Thumbnail options for the Layers panel:
    • Right-click/Control-click layer thumbnail and choose one of the following:
      • Change thumbnail size or select No Thumbnail (not advised)
        • Clip Thumbnails to Layer Bounds shows opaque pixels in layer – for use when layer content is small in relation to document size.
        • Clip Thumbnails to Document Bounds shows the all the layer – for use when content is large or to show location in relation to other layers.

      To assign a color to denote the visibility column right-click/Ctrl-click in the column and choose a color. This may help in organizing and categorize similar layers.

  • Merging Layers:
    Merge Down, Merge Layers and Merge Visiblecan be applied during the editing process to reduce file size and general clutter.

    • Do one of the following:
      1. Click the upper layer of the set of layers you want to merge. You can select the Background but not a group.
      2. Ctrl-click/Cmd-click nonconsecutive layers.
      3. Click a group. You can not merge a group with another group.
    • Do either of the following:
      1. Right-click/Ctrl-click selected layer, choose Merge Down; select multiple layers, choose Merge Layers; select a group, choose Merge Group
      2. Press Ctrl-E/Cmd-E

      If underlying layer(s) contain layer mask an alert will appear; click Preserve or Apply as desired.

  • Merge only Visible Layers:
    Make sure only layers you wish to merge are visible.

    • Right-click/Ctrl-click one of the visible layers and choose Merge Visible (Ctrl-Shift-E/Cmd-Shift-E).
    • All previously editable features of a layer will no longer be available once merged. This includes type, adjustments or effects.
  • To Copy and Merge Layers:
    • Do either of the following:
      • Ctrl-click/Cmd-click layers you want copied and merged. Hold down Alt/Option while choosing Merge Layers from the panel menu. The new layer will contain the words (merged).
      • To copy and merge currently visible layers, hold down Alt/Option while choosing Merge Visible.

      Instead of merging or flattening layers, you can group them into Smart Object layers which allow for editing (see PGs 314-316).

  • Flattening Layers:
    • To save a flattened copy of a file:
      • Choose File>Save As (Ctrl-Shift-S/Cmd-Shift-S)
      • In the Save Asdialog do the following:
        1. Change the file name
        2. Choose a location
        3. Uncheck Layers (As a Copy will do this automatically)
        4. Choose a file format
        5. Click Save.
      • The original document will remain open while the copy will be saved to disk.
      • File>Scripts>Export Layers to Files will create individual files for each layer.
    • To flatten layers:
      • Select any layer and select Flatten Image from panel menu
      • Or Right-click/Ctrl-click and choose Flatten Image.

      Any transparent areas of the image will now be white.

Marquee Selection Tools

  • Creating layer-based selections
    • To Select a Layer
      • On the Layers Panel do either
        • Click on a layer (or Background) then choose Select>All (Ctrl-A/Cmd-A). A marque will surround entire layer.
        • To select only the nontransparent areas, Ctrl-click/Cmd-click the layer thumbnail, or right-click/Ctl-click layer thumbnail and choose Select Pixels.
  • Using the Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee tools:
    • To create a rectangular or elliptical selection:
      • Click a layer
      • Choose Rectangular Marqueeor Elliptical Marquee tool (M or Shift-M).
        • Optional: To soften edges of selection, select Options>Feather (adjust value greater then 0).
        • For a smooth ellipse select Options>Anti-Alias
      • Drag diagonally.
        • Shift drag will create a perfect square or circle.
        • To Add to the selection – shift-drag.
        • To subtract Alt-drag/Option-drag
      • Optional: Use Options Bar sub-menu icons: New selection, Add to selection, Subtract from selection, Intersect with selection.
      • To move marquee while drawing, keep mouse button down, hold down Space-bar and drag.
      • To move marquee after releasing the mouse, drag inside with selection tool or use Arrow keys to move one pixel at a time.
    • To create a selection using a fixed ratio:
      • Choose a Rectangular or Ellipse Marquee tool
      • On the Options bar, from the Style menu, choose Fixed Ratio, then enter Width and Height values.
      • Click the two-way arrow icon to switch current values.
    • To create a selection of specific dimensions:
      • Choose a Rectangular or Ellipse Marquee tool
      • On the Options bar, from the Style menu, choose Fixed Size, then enter Width and Heightvalues.
        • Use (px) to denote pixel unit of measurement.
      • Click on the image.
  • Using the lasso tool
    • To create a free-form selection:
      • Click a layer
      • Choose the Lasso tool (L or Shift-L)
      • Drag around the desired object.
      • Release the mouse to join selection.
        • To Add to the selection – Shift-drag.
        • To Subtract from the selection – Alt-drag/Option-drag.
      • Optional: Use Option Bar sub-menu icons: New selection, Add to selection, Subtract from selection, Intersect with selection.
      • To make a straight selection with the Lasso tool, Alt-click/Ooption-click while still holding the mouse button down.
    • To create a straight-edged selection
      • Click a layer
      • Choose the Polygonal tool (L or Shift-L)
      • Click to create points. To create horizontal or vertical edges hold down Shift as you click.
      • To join the ends of the selection, do either of the following:
        • Click the starting point when you see a small circle next to the pointer.
        • Ctrl-click/Cmd-click anywhere on the document.
      • To make a free-form segment, Alt-drag/Option-drag. Release to resume.
      • To erase the last point created. press Backspace/Delete key.
  • Using the Quick Selection tool
    • Choose the Quick Selection tool (W or Shift-W)
    • On the Options bar:
      • Click the New Selection button to deselect any existing selections (Ctrl-D/Cmd-D)
      • Check Auto-Enhance for improved edge detection
    • From the Brush picker, choose a Diameterfor the area to select.
      • To change any Brush tool diameter via the keyboard:
        • Press [ key to decrease size
        • Press ] key to increase size
      • Using keystroke shortcuts: Alt-right-click-drag/Ctrl-Option-drag left or right
    • Drag within area to select. The selection will expand to the next significant color/shade level change detected.
      • Do any of the following to alter selection:
        • To Enlarge, click or drag in an adjacent area to be included.
        • To Subtract, Alt-Drag/Option-drag in area to be excluded.
    • Optional: Use Options Bar sub-menu icons: New selection, Add to selection, Subtract from selection, Intersect with selection.
    • Use the Options bar Sample All Layers check box to include all the layers in the selection process.
  • Using the Magic Wand tool
    • Click layers
    • Choose Magic Wand tool (W or Shift-W)
    • On the Optionsbar:
      • Check Anti-alias to produce smooth edge transitions.
      • Check Contiguous to limit pixel selection to those connected and related to the first pixel selected or Uncheck to select unconnected yet similar areas anywhere in the document.
      • Choose a Tolerance tool to determine range of color selection.
      • Use the Options bar Sample All Layers check box to include all the layers in the selection process.
    • Click a color in the image.
      • To refine selection:
        • To Add, Shift-click in area to be included.
        • To Subtract, Alt/Option-click in area to be excluded.
    • Optional: Use Options Bar sub-menu icons: New selection, Add to selection, Subtract from selection, Intersect with selection.
  • Using the Color Range command
    For this command to be used to best advantage select flat areas of color/shade. Since this command will select within all the layers of a document it may be advisable to hide undesired layers during the selection process.

    • Click a layer
    • Choose Select>Color Range.
    • If you are currently using a selection tool, right-click/Ctrl-click in the document to view context menu, select Color Range
    • When Color Range dialog appears:
      • Choose from Selectmenu to constrain selection:
        • Sampled Colors (select color area on image with the Color Range eyedropper)
        • Preset Range (Reds, Yellows etc.)
        • Luminosity Range (Highlights,  Midtones, or Shadows)
    • To add more colors or shades Shift-click in document or preview, or Alt-click/Option-click to remove.
    • To adjust range move Fuzziness slider right to expand, and left to narrow the range.
    • Choose a Selection Previewoption:
      • None (as in no preview)
      • Grayscale – larger version of preview
      • Black Matte – selection against a black background.
      • White Matte – selection against a white background.
    • Click OK – if low level of color is selected an alert dialog will appear – read it and continue.
  • Refining selection edges
    To fine tune the selection using five dynamic preview options.

    • Create a selection and make sure you have a selection tool.
    • In the Options bar select Refine Edge. (Ctrl-Alt-R/Cmd-Opt-R) or right-click/Ctrl -click to bring up context menu – select Refine Edge
    • Check Preview (P) Adjust zoom (Ctrl-click/Cmd-click) up to 300% to view pixel edges closely.
    • Change the appearance of the preview selection by choosing a preview icon button near bottom of Refine Edgedialog.
      • Standard – normal marquee display
      • Quick Mask – good to detect missed pixels
      • Black Matte – good when working with white or very lightly colored edge pixels
      • White Matte – good for working with highly defined, solid or dark edge pixels
      • Mask– preview similar to Color Range grayscale  preview
        • Flip through the Description menu just below the to find out more about what each setting does.

    Edge Options:

    • Smooth – to ease small bumps or jagged areas
    • Feather – to soften boarder pixels
    • Contract/Expand – to shrink/enlarge selection by specified percentage.
    • Radius – increase the width of the border to include small details.
    • Contrast – increase the contrast of the border pixels to produce a crisper edge.
  • Deselecting selected pixels
    • Click inside marquee with any selection tool except Quick Selection
    • Press Ctrl/D/Cmd-D
    • Right-click/Ctrl-click and choose Deselect
      • To reselect last selection:
        • Ctrl-Shift-D/Cmd-Shift-D
    • To delete selected pixels
      • Press Backspace/Delete key
      • Press Ctrl-X/Cmd-X – to Cut to Clipboard
      • Choose Edit>Clear
  • Hiding and showing selection marque
    Sometimes you will want to work with an image without the hypnotic marching ants.

    • Press Ctrl-H/Cmd-H or choose View>Extras
    • You may need to choose View>Show>Selection Edges
  • Swapping and intersecting selections
    • With any selection tool chosen, right-click/Ctrl-click image and choose Select Inverse
    • With any other tool press Ctrl-Shift-I/Cmd-Shift-I (or Select>Inverse)

    Reverse selections with the same commands or shortcut.


  • Using the Clone Source panel
    To retouch, for collage, or video editing. You can clone within a single document, between layers or other documents

    • To use Clone Stamp tool and the Clone Source panel
      • Open document(s) for image source
      • Choose Clone Stamp tool (S or Shift-S)In Option bar, choose a Soft Round brush, a Mode, an Opacity level, a Flow percentage, and check Aligned
      • Display Clone Source panel – by default first source is selected.
        • Check Show Overlay and Auto Hide, set Opacity to 35% to preview source as you clone.
      • In the document you are to clone to, create a new layer.
      • Click in the document you are to clone from, on Option bar Samplemenu choose part of document from which to clone.
        • Current Layer, Current & Below – select the desired source layer(s) in document.
        • All Layers – will clone all layers without need for selecting any of them.
      • Alt-click/Option-click on source document in desired area to set clone source – the document & layer name will be displayed when the first clone source button is selected.
      • If you are cloning to another document select it now.
      • Move the pointer over the image without clicking will display the clone source image.
      • Place pointer over desired work area and Click to establish cloned image.
    • To clone form a new source, select the next source button, and repeat the above steps.
    • Continue to reselect up to five different sources as needed.
    • Clone sources will not save in a document but will be active as long as the document remains open.