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In Photoshop CS5 Essential Training, author Michael Ninness demonstrates how to produce the highest quality images with fantastic detail in the shortest amount of time, using a combination of Photoshop CS5, Adobe Bridge, and Camera Raw. This course shows the most efficient ways to perform common editing tasks, including noise reduction, shadow and highlight detail recovery, retouching, and combining multiple images. Along the way, Michael shares the secrets of non-destructive editing, utilizing and mastering Adobe Bridge, Camera Raw, layers, adjustment layers, blending modes, layer masks, and much more. Exercise files are included with the course.
If you watched the video about merging and rasterizing layers, you remember I said use those commands very sparingly. That's even more true about the next command I'm going to talk about. That's the Flatten command. Okay, So, I'm going to go ahead and show you how to use the Flatten command, but I want to tell you in advance that after you'll see me do that, I'm going to recommend that you don't actually ever use this command from the Layers panel. I want to teach you how it works, but then show you how to use the Flatten command as part of another feature as saving out a file. You'll see why that makes sense later on. If you take a look at the Layers panel here, you see I've got the stack of layers.
The Flatten command basically says take all the visible layers that are turned on and squish them all into a single layer and delete all the layers that are turned off. So, what you're going to end up with is a single background layer. So, rather than talking about it, let's just do it. Under the Layers panel, there is the flyout menu for the Layers panel. And at the bottom of the list, near the bottom, is Flatten Image. Notice there is no keyboard shortcut for this. You could always assign one, but by default, we don't want a keyboard shortcut here because this is a command you really want to use sparingly. I'm going to go ahead and choose the Flatten Image command. It says, "Hey, warning, are you sure you want to do this because you're going to throw away the layers that you have turned off right now." Yeah, go ahead.
Click OK. There you have it. You end up with a single background layer. Now, why would you do this? Well, if I want to take this file to some other application, say PowerPoint or Keynote or place it in Indesign or Illustrator, and I don't care about having the layers anymore. I want to save it as a JPEG or a PNG or a TIF file, or something like that, a file format that typically doesn't support layers. What people tend to do is they flatten the image and then they do a Save As and name it something else. I really don't like that technique, because it's 3 o'clock in morning. It's deadline time.
You're not thinking straight. You drank way too much Red Bull in your own jittery, and instead of doing the File > Save As, you hit your instinctive keyboard shortcut for Save, Command+S or Ctrl+S. Then you like have this dreaded horror moment because you've saved over your layered version. You flattened everything into a single layer and you did a Save. So, I typically don't recommend that you do this. It's a bad habit. I'm going to go ahead and undo this, Command+Z, Ctrl+Z, to get my layers stack back. If you want to save out a flattened version to use elsewhere outside of Photoshop, then don't use the Layers panel and flatten it and then do a Save.
Instead, just simply use the Save As command. I'm going to go to File and choose Save As. If I choose any file format other than Photoshop, so if I choose say JPEG, notice that this is going to be using the save as copy or save a copy variation of the Save As command. Notice that it's going to automatically flatten the image in the process. You see the little warning symbol comes next to the grayed out layers. I can't retain layers because JPEG doesn't support the layer file format. So, there I can give it a name, call it final or whatever, and if I were to hit Save, I'm not saving over my original layered Photoshop file.
I'm keeping that intact, but choosing the Save As command and choosing the file format other than JPEG automatically takes care of the save a copy and flatten in one step, therefore protecting my work. So, that's the recommended workflow I tell you you should use. Just to protect yourself, Flatten is really a drastic command and you really shouldn't use it all that much except as part of a Save As command.
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