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Working with layers

Layers offer flexibility and all sorts of creative possibilities. They also provide a sort of safety net, making it possible to work on individual aspects of an image without permanently changing the original, underlying image. You can use layers to add shapes, apply effects, change the opacity, modify the color and brightness, add new backgrounds, and just about anything else you want to do.

Every image has at least one layer. When you first open an image in Photoshop Elements, it creates a Background layer for the image. In addition to the layers you add yourself, Photoshop Elements creates layers when you perform certain tasks, including many of the Quick Fixes. Photoshop Elements also creates a separate layer when you add text or a shape to your image.

To keep your layers under control, make friends with the Layers panel. There, you can select which layer you want to work on, rearrange the order of layers, and even create web animations using layers. If the Layers panel isn't already open, choose Window > Layers to display it.

Figure 4.19

Figure 4.19 The Layers panel.

Layers appear in the image in the order they're listed in the Layers panel. The top layer in the panel is the top layer in the image. Where there is no content in a layer, you can see through it to the layers below. You can change how the layers interact with each other by changing the opacity and applying blending modes.

Creating layers

The Background layer is automatically there when you open the image. To create a new blank layer, click the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. To name it, double-click the name in the Layers panel and type a new name.

A new layer is added above the selected layer in the Layers panel.

You can copy a selection onto a new layer, too. Make the selection and then choose Layer > New > Layer Via Copy. (If you want to remove the selection from the original image, choose Layer > New > Layer Via Cut.) Photoshop Elements creates a new layer that contains only the selection, in its original position.

Modifying and arranging layers

Once a layer exists, you can select it, show it, hide it, change its position in the stacking order, lock it, copy it, or reposition it. You can also merge layers or simplify them. You cannot, however, fold, spindle, or mutilate layers in Photoshop Elements (unless you're far more creative than I am).

  • To select a layer, click it in the Layers panel. The selected layer is highlighted so you can see which layer is active. Changes you make affect only the active layer.
  • To hide a layer, click the eye icon next to it.
  • To make a layer visible, click the box so that the eye icon appears.
  • To lock all of a layer's properties, select it and then click the Lock All button at the bottom of the Layers panel.
  • To lock only the transparent areas of a layer, ensuring that no painting affects them, click the Lock Transparent Pixels icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
  • To simplify a complex layer, such as a type, shape, or gradient layer, select it and choose Layer > Simplify. You must simplify complex layers before you can apply filters to them or edit them. Note, though, that after you've simplified a layer, you can no longer use the type- or shape-editing options on them.
  • To delete a layer, select it in the Layers panel and click the Delete icon at the bottom of the panel.
  • To copy a layer to another image, open both images and then drag the layer name from the source image onto the other image window.
    Figures 4.20-4.21

    Figures 4.20-4.21 To copy a layer to another image, just drag it from the Layers panel.

  • To reposition the contents of a layer in the image, select the contents with the Move tool and then slide the layer where you want it. You can also scale a layer or otherwise transform it.
  • To change the order of layers in the Layers panel, drag them into their new positions.
  • To merge layers into a single layer, select them and choose Merge Layers from the Layers panel menu. If you want to merge all layers into a single layer, choose Layer > Flatten Image. When you merge layers, any that aren't currently visible are discarded. Keep in mind that once you've merged layers, you cannot return to the individual layers to edit them.

Opacity and blending modes

At first, no pixels are transparent in an image or in a new layer you create. But you can change that by adjusting the Opacity value.

To change the opacity of a layer, select the layer and then change the Opacity value at the top of the Layers panel.

Blending modes are similar to opacity—and, in fact, use transparency—in that they determine how the pixels in one layer interact with the pixels in the layers beneath it. Blending modes are a great way to get creative with an image.

By default, the Normal blending mode is applied to a layer. To change the blending mode, select the layer and then choose an option from the Blending Mode menu at the top of the Layers panel.

Figure 4.22

Figure 4.22 Change the opacity and blending mode to combine layers in interesting ways.

Fill and adjustment layers

Fill layers create an entire layer with a solid color, gradient, or pattern fill. Fill layers don't affect the layers below them, but you can't paint on a fill layer unless you simplify it.

Adjustment layers give you the freedom to edit and re-edit lighting, levels, and other color and tonal changes. By default, an adjustment layer affects all the layers below it. You can hide adjustment layers, revealing the original image below. Chapter 8 covers adjustment layers in detail, but you'll use them if you work with Quick Fixes, as well.

To add a fill layer or an adjustment layer, click the Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then, choose the kind of layer you want to create.

Figure 4.23

Figure 4.23 Click the Create New Fill Layer Or Adjustment Layer button to add a fill layer or adjustment layer.

Layer styles

Just as paragraph styles in a word-processing application let you apply multiple attributes to text at once, layer styles apply multiple effects to a layer. To see the predefined layer styles, click the Layer Styles button at the top of the Effects panel. To use one, select a style type from the menu, select a style, and click Apply.

Figure 4.24

Figure 4.24 Select a layer style type to see the available layer styles.

The layer style is applied to the entire layer; if you edit the layer, effects in the layer style are updated, too. For example, if you apply a drop shadow layer style, anything you add to the layer will automatically have a drop shadow, as well. Likewise, if you move the layer, the effects move with it.

Layer styles are cumulative, so you can create a complex effect by applying multiple styles to a layer. An fx icon appears next to the layer when a layer style or other effect has been applied.

To remove a layer style, select the layer and then choose Layer > Layer Style > Clear Layer Style.

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