Anatomy of the Layers Panel in Photoshop Elements 15

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

Elements 15 keeps layers controlled with a panel named, not surprisingly, the Layers panel. To display the Layers panel, choose Window → Layers in the Photo Editor in Expert mode.

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The Layers panel controls layers in your image.

The order of the layers on the Layers panel represents the order in the image. In the computer graphics world, this concept is known as the stacking order. The top layer on the panel is the top layer in your image, and so on. Depending on what you’re doing, you can work on a single layer or on multiple layers at one time. Here are some tips for working with the Layers panel:

  • Select a layer. Click a layer name or its thumbnail. Elements highlights the active layer on the panel.
  • Select multiple contiguous layers. Click your first layer and then Shift-click your last layer.
  • Select multiple noncontiguous layers. Ctrl-click (⌘-click on the Mac) your desired layers.
  • View and hide layers. To hide a layer, click the eye icon for that layer and the layer disappears. To redisplay the layer, click the blank space in the eye column. You can also hide all the layers except one by selecting your desired layer and Alt-clicking (Option-clicking on the Mac) the eye icon for that layer. Redisplay all layers by Alt-clicking (Option-clicking on the Mac) the eye icon again. Hiding all the layers except the one you want to edit can be helpful in allowing you to focus without the distraction of all the other imagery.

Only layers that are visible are printed. This can be useful if you want to have several versions of an image (each on a separate layer) for a project within the same file.

  • Select the actual element (the nontransparent pixels) on the layer. Ctrl-click (⌘-click on the Mac) the layer’s thumbnail (not the name) on the panel.
  • Create a new blank layer. Click the Create a New Layer icon at the top of the panel.
  • Create a new group. Elements now enables you to better organize your layers by incorporating layer groups. Think of a layer group as the digital version of an analog manila folder. Select your desired files and drag them into a group folder. You can expand or collapse layer groups to see or hide their contents. When collapsed, layer groups are a nice way to avoid endless scrolling in a file with many layers. Layer groups also let you apply opacity settings, blend modes, and layer styles to a group of layers at a time.

    To create a layer group, click the Create a New Group icon (the folder icon) at the top of the Layers panel. You can also select New Group from the Layers panel pop-up menu or choose Layer → New → Group. The latter two methods prompt you for a group name in addition to a few other options (similar to regular layers). You can color-code your group and specify a blend mode and opacity setting.

    The default mode is Pass Through, which lets the blend modes applied to the individual layers remain intact. If you select any other mode, that mode overrides all the layers in the group. After you create your group, drag your layers into the group folder in the Layers panel. To collapse or expand the group, click the triangle icon to the left of the folder icon. As with regular layers, you can select, duplicate, show, hide, lock, and rearrange layer groups.

    A couple other tips:

    • You can create a layer group from selected layers. Select the layers that you want to be in a group, and then select New Group from Layers from the Layers panel pop-up menu or choose Layer → New → Group from Layers. Name the group in the dialog box that appears and click OK.
    • You can merge layer groups. Select the group and select Merge Group from the Layers panel pop-up menu or choose Layer → Merge Group. You can rename your group by double-clicking the group name in the Layers panel.
  • Add a layer mask. Click the Add Layer Mask icon at the top of the panel. A layer mask enables you to selectively show and hide elements or adjustments on your layer, as well as creatively blend layers together.
  • Create an Adjustment layer. Click the Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the top of the panel. Adjustment layers are special layers that modify contrast and color in your image. You can also add fill layers — layers containing color, gradients, or patterns — by using this command.
  • Duplicate an existing layer. Drag the layer to the Create a New Layer icon at the top of the panel.
  • Rearrange layers. To move a layer to another position in the stacking order, drag the layer up or down on the Layers panel. While you drag, you see a fist icon. Release the mouse button when a highlighted line appears where you want to insert the layer.

If your image has a background, it always remains the bottommost layer. If you need to move the background, convert it to a layer by double-clicking the name on the Layers panel. Enter a name for the layer and click OK.

  • Rename a layer. When you create a new layer, Elements provides default layer names (Layer 1, Layer 2, and so on). If you want to rename a layer, double-click the layer name on the Layers panel and enter the name directly on the Layers panel.
  • Adjust the interaction between colors on layers and adjust the transparency of layers. You can use the blend modes and the opacity options at the top of the panel to mix the colors between layers and adjust the transparency of the layers.
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© istockphoto/meltonmedia Image #1779174, tomh1000 Image #1281272
This effect was created using blend modes and opacity options.
  • Link layers. Sometimes you want your layers to stay grouped as a unit to make your editing tasks easier. If so, link your layers by selecting the layers on the panel and then clicking the Link Layers icon at the top of the panel. A link icon appears to the right of each layer name. To remove the link, click the Link Layers icon again.
  • Lock layers. Select your desired layer or layers and then click one of the two lock icons at the top of the panel. The checkerboard square icon locks all transparent areas of your layers. This lock prevents you from painting or editing any transparent areas on the layers. The lock icon locks your entire layer and prevents it from being changed in any way, including moving or transforming the elements on the layer. You can, however, still make selections on the layer. To unlock the layer, simply click the icon again to toggle off the lock.

By default, the background is locked and can’t be unlocked until you convert it into a layer by choosing Layer → New → Layer from Background.

  • Delete a layer. Drag it to the trash icon.