Create Layers in Photoshop CS5 - dummies

By Jennifer Smith, Christopher Smith, Fred Gerantabee

Layers make creating composite images (images pieced together from other, individual images) easy in Photoshop Creative Suite 5, because you can separate individual elements of the composite onto their own layers. Much like creating collages by cutting pictures from magazines, you can mask out selections on one image and place them on a layer in another image.

When pixel information is on its own layer, you can move it, transform it, correct its color, or apply filters only to that layer, without disturbing pixel information on other layers.

The best way to understand how to create and use layers is to, well, create and use layers. The following steps show you how to create a new, layered image:

  1. Choose File→New to create a new document.

    The New dialog box appears.

  2. Select Default Photoshop Size from the Preset Sizes drop-down list, select the Transparent option from the Background Contents area, and then click OK.

    Because you selected the Transparent option, the image opens with an empty layer instead of a white background layer. The image appears as a checkerboard pattern, which signifies that it’s transparent.

    If you don’t like to see the default checkerboard pattern where there’s transparency, choose Edit→Preferences→Transparency and Gamut (Windows) or Photoshop→Preferences→Transparency and Gamut (Mac). In the Preferences dialog box, change the Grid Size drop-down list to None to remove the checkerboard pattern entirely. If you don’t want to remove the transparency grid, change the size of the checkerboard pattern or change the color of the checkerboard.

    When you open an existing document (say, a photograph), this image is the background layer.

  3. Create a shape on the new image.

    For example, we created a black square by using the Rectangular Marquee tool to create a square selection; we then filled the selection with black by double-clicking the Foreground color swatch, selecting black from the Color Picker, and clicking in the selection with the Paint Bucket tool (hidden under the Gradient tool).

    After you select a color, you can also use the key command Alt+Delete (Windows) or Option+Delete (Mac) to fill the selected area with color.

  4. To rename the layer, double-click the layer name (Layer 1) in the Layers panel and type a short, descriptive name.

    A good practice is to name layers based on what they contain; for this example, we named the layer we created in Step 3 the catchy name square.

  5. Create a new layer by Alt-clicking (Windows) or Option-clicking (Mac) the New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

    The New Layer dialog box appears.

  6. Give your new layer a descriptive name and then click OK.

  7. Create a shape on the new layer.

    In this example, we created a red circle using the Elliptical Marquee tool and filling the selection with red.

    The new shape can overlap the shape on the other layer.

    The circle overlaps the square.
    The circle overlaps the square.