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Layers are the building blocks of a Photoshop file. Layers give you the flexibility to make changes to artwork that's isolated on its own layer without affecting the artwork on other layers. In this movie, I'll talk about what layers are and the benefits of making liberal use of layers in your Photoshop files. To visualize what layers are, you might think of several flat panes of glass. Imagine that you've put a bit of paint on each pane of glass and then you've stacked all the panes of glass one on top of the other. Where the panes at the top are transparent, you would be able to see down to what was on the glass below, but where there was paint on a pane of glass, you wouldn't be able to see through to it to the panes of glass below.
Layers work just like that. Also in this analogy, if you took one of those panes of glass and change the painting on it, but not on the others, it wouldn't directly affect what was on all the other panes of glass and the same is true of layers. You see what I mean, as we look through this layered file in Photoshop. Make sure that your Layers panel is open. If it's not, go to the Window menu at the top of the screen and choose Layers. If you would like your icons in your Layers panel to be big like mine are here, then you can go to the Layers panel menu right here and choose Panel Options.
In the Panel Options dialog, I selected the large thumbnail here and I also selected Layer Bounds so that each thumbnail only shows me what's on a particular layer, not the entire document and I will click OK. So let's take a look at what is on the individual layers in this file. This is what I do actually whenever I open a file that I get from someone else so that I can deconstruct what's on each layer. Each of the bars in the Layers panel represents a layer in the document and you'll notice to the left of each layer bar is an Eye icon. If you click on the Eye icon next to a layer, it turns off temporarily the content of that layer.
So the best way to go about de- constructing a Photoshop file is to make each layer temporarily invisible as you keep your eye on the document. In that way, you can see what's on each layer. So here I can see that only the NO.5 text is on the logo layer. If I move down to the cup layer, the only thing that seems to be there is the cup. On the tin layer, I have got not only this tin, but also that glow behind it and the text that's on the tin and down to the design layer, which is the pattern on the background and finally, the Background layer.
When I turn the Background layer on and off you can see that it is fully covered with brown paint, but that when it's off, there is a grey and white checkerboard. That gray and white checkerboard represents transparency in Photoshop. So that means that at the bottom of this stack of layers, there is nothing. There is just transparency. I will turn that Background layer back on. By the way, if you wanted to see just what was on a particular layer, another way to go about that is to hold down your Option key on a Mac or your Alt key on a PC, as you click on one of these Eye icons. So if I do that on the tin layer, everything else turns off temporarily so I can see just what's on the tin layer.
That's also a useful technique when you are trying to understand what's on the layers in a file. I will turn the other layers back on by Option or Alt clicking again on the Eye icon. The most important thing to know about layers is that you have to select a layer before you can do something to the artwork on that layer. For example, let's say that I wanted to take the tin and move it over a little. I would have to select the layer on which the tin lives, which is this layer right here, before I could move its content. So I am going to click on the tin layer and I am careful to just click in the blank empty space and that selects the layer.
It turns blue as a visual cue that this is a selected layer. Now I could come in, for example, and get my Move tool and if I click-and-drag anywhere in the image, all of the content of that layer moves. I am going to press Command+Z, that's Ctrl+Z on a PC to put that tin right back where it was before I moved it. There is another way to select layers and that's the Auto-Select feature. That's an option in the Options bar when you have the Move tool selected. You will see it right here. It says Auto-Select. Sometimes this comes in handy because what it allows you to do is this.
With Auto-Select checked, if I come into the image and I click on an object, say this cup, keep your eye on the Layers panel and you will see that the cup lives on is automatically selected and now I could do whatever I wanted to this layer. Or say I wanted to work on the tin then I would click on the tin and that would become automatically selected. Two things about the Auto-Select feature. The first is I strongly urge you to turn it off when you are not using it, because if you leave it checked you could be surprised. For example, if I were working on this tin and I just happened to move my mouse up here and click, that would automatically take me to another layer and that can be a surprise and not always very helpful.
So I do turn off Auto- Select when I am done with it. Another thing about Auto-Select is this. You need to understand how it works if you have content in the same place on several different layers. For example, if I go right here on top of the No. 5, I have content on lots of layers here. I have content on the logo layer, on the cup layer, maybe on the design layer right here, as well as on thebackground layer. So if I click right here, Photoshop automatically selects the top layer on which there is content right under my cursor, in this case the logo layer.
But what if I really wanted to select something beneath that? Then I would hold down the Ctrl key on a Mac or right-click on a PC and click and that would give me a small menu that listed all the layers that have content at that particular point. So if I was really after the background layer I could click on that and it would select the background layer in the Layers panel. So I do want to stress that the real benefit of using layers is that you can isolate separate pieces of artwork from the rest of the file and that means that you have a lot more flexibility and creative freedom to work with one part of your document without directly impacting the rest of the file.
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