In this tutorial you will find a basic description of how to use the layers palette and layers in Photoshop. When I first learned photoshop it was this area that took me the longest to understand! Part 1 covers the basics of new layer properties, the effect different tools have on individual layers and layer order, and how these are displayed on the canvas. The illustrations in this tutorial are basic but are just to illustrate the basic processes.
Open a new document, 800 x 600 pixels, 72dpi in rgb with a white background. This creates a document in the layers palette with the background (or the white layer) locked. To open the layers palette go to Window > Layers or F7.
If you want to work with a transparent background right from the start you would choose this in the new document window. That way you start with a transparent ‘layer 1’ or effectively a completely blank canvas. The transparency is symbolized by the white and grey squares both on the canvas and in the layers palette.
Going back to the canvas that you created in step 1. You will notice that the background layer is locked, but you can’t use the normal unlock padlock if you wish to edit the layer – you will see this is greyed out.
To unlock this type of layer, you can simply double click on the layer in the layers palette. A pop up box will ask about naming the layer, but if you just click ‘ok’ in this instance you will see it becomes layer 0.
You can now use features on this background layer such as show / hide visibility which you can activate and deactivate by clicking the eye icon to the left of the layer. When this is deactivated, there is nothing there which is why the canvas will change to display transparency.
With the layer visibility turned back on, try some of the tools highlighted below on this first layer, you will notice that you can now move this white layer around with the move tool and edit it with the Marquee, Lasso, Magic Wand, Paint Brush, Clone Stamp, Eraser and Paint Bucket.
These tools all select all or part of the layer or add to it in some way. You will notice that whatever you add will become a part of the layer as sown in the layers palette in the image below.
If you use the paint brush on this layer for example, the white background and the paint brush marks are all one, you can’t separate them.
Moving further down the tools palette you will find a range of tools that automatically create a new layer when you use them. These are the Pen tool, the Type tool and the Shape tool.
Click on the shape tool and choose the rectangle. When you click and draw with this on the canvas, you will notice a new layer appear in the layers palette.
This new layer is automatically separated from the background. You can use the move tool in the tools palette to select the rectangle and move it to a new position without it affecting the background layer.
If you now use the type tool, you will notice a new layer appear above the shape tool. Again this can be moved independently.
These type of vector layers, stay editable, you can go back to them and change the colour of the rectangle by clicking on the coloured area in the layers palette or change the type of font by clicking on it’s layer and selecting the text with the type tool. This differs from the tools used in step 5. you can’t change the colour of the initial paint brush drawing that was added to the background layer.
If you want to make the paintbrush tool editable you will have to use it on a separate layer, so that once you’ve created the brush line you can move it or edit it independently.
You can do this by going to Layer > New Layer, by using the keyboard shortcut Shift + Ctrl + N (Shift + Apple + N for macs) or by clicking on the add layer icon to the left of the bin at the bottom of the layers palette. This will create a new layer above whichever layer you had selected at the time.
With this new layer selected use the brush tool once more. If you now use the move tool you will see that you can move it around separately from the other layers.
You should now have 4 layers in the layers palette, the background layer, a rectangular shape, some type and a new brush layer. The layers palette also reflects what order the elements are in on the canvas. Just like the order in the layers palette, the background is at the bottom with the latest brush layer on top.
To change the order of these you can simply click and drag the layers in the layers palette. The image below shows the effect of moving the bottom layer to the top.
You will see now the other layers are hidden as the new top layer covers most of the canvas.
You can see the other layers on the canvas by clicking on the eye icon on the top layer.
There is no longer a layer which covers the complete canvas, which is why the other items are now displayed on a transparent background.