Join Jan Kabili for an in-depth discussion in this video Automatically selecting layers, part of Photoshop CS4: Layers in Depth.
The most common way to select layers in Photoshop is to click on layers in the Layers panel, but that's not the only way to do it. There are also some automatic layer selection methods. As you become more proficient in Photoshop and you're looking for ways to save time, you may prefer to use these methods. To show you the Auto-Select feature of the Move tool I'm going to select the Move tool in the toolbox and then I'm going to go up to the Options bar and there I see Auto-Select. This option is disabled by default. To enable it, I'm going to click its check box and then I'm going to go to the menu to the right of it, and instead of Group, which refers to layer groups, I'm going to choose Layer.
So I'm now instructing Photoshop to automatically select a layer. How does it - now which layer to select? That depends on which object I click on in the image. So for example let's say that I would like to work on this translucent box, but I'm not sure which layer it's on. All I have to do with Auto-Select layer enabled is just click on this box and its layer is automatically selected in the Layers panel. It happens to this Shape 1 layer. And if I turn that layer on and off, you can see that that's where this translucent box really is located.
I can even select multiple layers using Auto-Select layer. To do that I'll just hold down the Shift key and click with the Move tool on these other translucent boxes and their layers are also selected automatically. Just think about what a time saver this feature could be if you were working with a file that somebody else had made for you and you weren't familiar with its layers. There will be no more guessing about which layer is which. You could just click on objects in the image and the layers would be automatically selected. But there is one big downside to using the Auto-Select layer option in the Move Tool Options bar and that is that it remains checked unless you remember to go in there and un-check it. So it can sneak up on you. Selecting a layer whenever you click on anything in the image with the Move tool. Let me show you.
Let's say I'm working in this image and I decide that I want to move this Delectables type layer here. So normally I would just click on the Delectables type layer, make sure I had the Move tool selected and then I would click anywhere in the image and drag and I would expect that the contents of the Delectables layer at this line of type here would move. But if I just happened to click over here and drag, it's not the Delectables type that moves but rather the model on which just l clicked. And the reason is that Auto-Select layer has switched me over to the Model layer here in the Layers panel. I don't like surprises like that so I usually keep Auto-Select layer unchecked in the Move Tool Options bar unless and until I specifically want to use that feature.
Another way around this problem is to use Auto-Select layer temporarily with the keyboard shortcut. That way it won't stay enabled so that you're surprised in the future. To use Auto-Select on the temporary basis, I'll move into the image and let's say that I want to select this gold piece of chocolate. I still have the Move tool selected in the toolbox and I'm going to hold down the Command key on a Mac or the Ctrl key on a Windows machine as I click on that piece of chocolate. Keep your eye on the Layers panel and you'll see that the layer that contains that chocolate is automatically selected. The best part is that once I release the Command key on the Mac or the Ctrl key on the PC, Auto-Select layer is no longer enabled. So I can use my Move tool anywhere in the image without being surprised.
Another way to use Auto-Select image is to click-and-drag over content in the image and have the layers on which that content lives be automatically selected for you in the Layers panel. I'm going to go back and check Auto-Select layer just so that you can see that it really is enabled; and then I'm going to come into the image and I could try to select these three lines of type by clicking-and-dragging. But watch what happens if I do that. That background, the pool, starts moving with me because its layer, the pool layer has now been automatically selected. So I'm going to undo and show you how to get around this problem. I'll press Command+Z on the Mac or Ctrl+Z on the PC to put the pool layer back where it goes. The secret to this technique is before you drag with Auto-Select layer you'll have to lock down any layers that are behind those that you want to select.
So in this case, I only have to lock down this one layer, the pool layer. To do that I'll make sure the pool layer is selected in the Layers panel and then I'm going to go up to the Lock icons here at the top of the Layers panel and I'm going to select the Move Lock which the second one from the right. I'll click on that and then I can see the Move Lock icon here on the pool layer, which means that if I were to come in to the image and try to move the pool layer, it just wouldn't move. So now when I have the Move tool selected and Auto-Select layer turned on, I can come in and click-and-drag over these type layers and all three of the type layers are automatically selected in the Layers panel. I'm going to de-select all layers now to show you another technique. I'll click in this blank area of the Layers panel to show you how to select similar layer types.
So let's say that I have a file with lots and lots of layers and I'd like to select all of the type layers so I could align them. To do that I only have to click on one type layer, and then I can go up to the Select menu at the top of the screen and I can choose Select Similar layers and automatically all type layers in the image are selected. Then I could do something like move those type layers and they all would move together, or I could align them by using the Alignment Options here in the Move Tool Options bar. So for example I can click this icon to right-align those three type layers. I can do the same with other kinds of layers.
Let's say I wanted to select all the pixel-based layers, I would just click on one of the pixel-based layers and go to Select and choose Similar Layers; or let's say I wanted to select all shape layers, I'll select One Shape Layer and again select Similar Layers. Using any of these automatic layer selection features can really come in handy for quickly and effortlessly selecting one or more layers to work on, but you do have to watch out for a few of the gotchas that I've shown you and use the techniques that I've described to work around them.
- Creating, selecting, and organizing layers
- Controlling layer visibility, opacity, and stacking order
- Working with type and shape layers
- Practical uses for layer blend modes
- Adding dimension with layer effects and layer styles
- Using clipping layers to shape content
- Merging and saving layers
- Introducing 3D layers, video layers, and Smart Object layers