Photoshop 411

Layers and Other Basic Operations

Arizona Mom recently asked in her BlogFrog Community whether someone would be willing to put together a Photoshop tutorial, and I was happy and excited to oblige. This tutorial should be helpful across the board; no matter if you are using Photoshop Elements, Photoshop CS3 or CS4. Just for the record I am using Photoshop CS3.

Layers are without a doubt the single most important feature of Photoshop, so important that they have their own layers palette in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Layers also have their own menu at the top of the screen. You can add layers, delete layers, duplicate layers, add effects to layers, and other infinite possibilities that I can’t even wrap my mind around. To put it simply, layers are objects (photos, shapes, text, brushstrokes) stacked one on top of another.

Let’s get started by opening a new document. Under the file menu select New.

A box will pop up for you to choose the dimensions of your document. For our purposes here today I have chosen a standard 8.5x11 size. Note: My resolution is set to a very high 600. It is not necessary to create all documents with this high of a resolution, 200 to 300 in adequate in most situations, but that is just how I roll!

After choosing your document size and clicking
OK, your screen should look like this.

To the right is layers palette, which you will begin to see is indispensable. At the top is the layers menu. I will admit that I don’t use the layers menu too often. I am more likely to use keyboard shortcuts and the commands on the layers palette to accomplish the same tasks that are available under the layers menu. The background layer is automatically added upon creation of your document.

Now let’s add a photo to the document. Under the file menu select Place and select the photo you wish to use in the document.

As you can see in the layers palette a new layer, your photo, has been added and is highlighted because it is the active layer. Use the handlebars to resize you photo as desired.

How about some text? Why not?! Click on the T button on the left hand tool bar to create a text box. Drag box to desired size and type in text. Again a layer has been added to the layer palette.

The document now has a background layer and two other layers. I am a slave to layer effects, so let’s add a drop shadow to our text layer. Make sure your text layer is highlighted and click on the
fx button on the bottom of the layers palette, choose drop shadow and click OK.

The order that your layers are listed on your layers palette is important. Whatever layer listed first, is the top layer and so on. Look what happens when I switch around my text layer and photo layer.

Which I’ll now switch back because it wouldn’t make any sense to keep it that way!

A layer also is not active if it is not highlighted, meaning it can’t be moved or modified. To activate a layer simply click on it in the layers palette.

There you have it, the 411 on Photoshop layers. I am from the school that believes every element in your design should have it’s own layer. It makes for much easier modification down the road. Too many layers? Never! Once you learn to use them, you’ll see that layers are your friends!

Jamie H  – (January 21, 2010 at 9:16 AM)  

Thanks for the tutorial. I can definitely translate it for Gimp.

Lolli  – (January 21, 2010 at 9:33 AM)  

Great tips! Once you understand how layers work and WHY you should use them, I agree--they are wonderful!

Mama M.  – (January 21, 2010 at 11:24 AM)  

Awesome! Finally...maybe I can understand this whole "layer" bit!!

Jessica Crozier  – (January 21, 2010 at 3:17 PM)  

Thanks for posting at AZ Mamma's!! I'm excited to try this out tonight!

Rachel  – (January 27, 2010 at 5:54 PM)  

Thank you so much! I've been lost at trying to start using layers!

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