What are layers?

Layers are found in most modern graphics editing programs, including Photoshop. They are the building blocks of any piece of work. Simple pieces may require only a few layers, perhaps even just 1 (though I would advise against it), but more complex pieces can run into 100’s of layers! The only thing limiting the number of layers you can create is your computer’s hardware!

What can they be used for?

Anything! You can add text to a new layer, pull over another image (which will automatically be given its own layer), or add flares and effects.

An example of different layer types. Original image: Spectral Space by ^TehAngelsCry
The text sits atop the image, and the black and white gradient map sits atop all of it (so it affects everything).

How do they work?

Each layer sits atop each other like a layer of glass. Completely transparent until you scribble all over it; and of course, areas which you haven’t painted on can still be seen through.

You can see here that the red paint strokes cover the areas that I have painted on,
but the other areas are transparent and you can see the layer underneath.

Moving layers

Layers are not set in stone, you can change the order however often you like by simply clicking on the layer with the left-mouse button, hold it down, and drag your layer to its new position.

The only layers which you cannot move are Background layers, a special layer type which is locked to the bottom of your layer pile. These occur when you create a new document with a set background colour, image, or pattern.

Convert a Background into a Layer

Do one of the following:

  1. Right-click the Background layer in the Layers panel (where all of your layers are on the right).
  2. Choose Layer > New > Layer From Background.

A new window then pops up asking you to rename your layer. You can change it, or leave it as Layer 0. Whatever you decide to do, click OK.

Congratulations! You’ve converted your layer from a Background to a normal layer type. You can now rearrange the layer in your list.

Convert a Layer into a Background

Any transparent pixels in the layer are converted to the background color, and the layer drops to the bottom of the layer stack.

  1. Select the layer you want to turn into a Background.
  2. Choose Layer > New > Layer From Background.

Note: You cannot create a background by giving a regular layer the name, Background—you must use the Background From Layer command.

Opacity in Layers

You can change how transparent a layer is by changing its opacity. Opacity at 100% means the layer is opaque, or solid and not transparent at all; 0% means that the image is completely transparent and will not show on the image at all. All of the values in between are your playground and alter how transparent a layer is! Each red-dot below represents a new layer.

Naturally, you cannot see anything next to the 0% layer, as it is completely invisible.

Duplicating Layers

There are endless reasons as to why you would want to duplicate a layer, but luckily there is one simple shortcut you can use to do it! Simply select the layer you wish to duplicate, and press Ctrl + J. The duplicated layer will have “Copy” added to the end of the original layer name.

The way I remember it? “Juplicate”, since the D in Duplicate can sound like a J x)

You can also right click the layer you want to duplicate and select Right Click Layer… following this option allows you to rename the layer before it’s duplicated.


  • Ssagantt
    # May 1, 2015

    You really make it seem so easy with your article… but I find this topic to be really something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complicated for me.
    I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

    • # May 5, 2015

      Keep at it Ssagantt and you’ll get there! If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help you :)

  • # October 2, 2013

    Hi. What happened to your site it keeps changing? There used to be anime graphics and resources on here. You’ll put them back up on the site?

    • # October 3, 2013

      Hehe, and I have new design idea in mind as well XD

      My resources can all be found under the Resources nav above, but I don’t plan on bringing back my anime graphics. Signatures & Wallpapers which are featured here now will only feature legitimate stock.

      • # October 3, 2013

        Ahh okay. I was hoping to see your anime graphics again. The stock images are okay I don’t really pay attention to those mostly anime/celebrity graphics. I like your signatures though.

        • # October 4, 2013

          I’m glad that I at least continue to have your support ^_^ There will be a lot more tutorials/resources in the future, so be sure to check back later!

  • # September 11, 2013

    So why won’t Photoshop delete the white area inside the frame? Why does it keep wanting to fill it with a different color instead? The reason is because Background layers don’t support transparency. After all, since the Background layer is supposed to be the background of the document, there shouldn’t be any need to see through it because there shouldn’t be anything behind it to see. The background is, after all, the background! No matter how I try, I will never be able to delete the area inside the center of the frame as long as the image remains on the Background layer. How, then, will I be able to display another photo inside the frame? Let’s leave this problem alone for the time being. We’ll come back to it a bit later.

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