How to Use Adjustment Layers in Photoshop CS6 - dummies

How to Use Adjustment Layers in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

An adjustment layer is a special kind of layer used mostly for color correction. What’s great about Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite 6 and the adjustment layers in is that you can apply that color correction without permanently affecting any of your layers. Adjustment layers apply the correction to all the layers below them, without affecting any of the layers above them.

Because the color correction actually resides on a layer, you can edit, delete, duplicate, merge, or rearrange the adjustment layer at any time. None of this harms your image because it takes place above the image on an adjustment layer.

Photoshop has 16 kinds of adjustment layers, and you can use as many as your heart desires. The adjustments offered are the same adjustments you find on the Image→Adjustments menu. Here’s how to create an adjustment layer:

  1. Open an image of your choice.

    Because you’re applying an adjustment layer, you may want to use an image that’s in need of some color correction. You don’t need to convert your background into a layer.

  2. Choose Layer→New Adjustment Layer. From the submenu, choose your desired adjustment. In the New Layer dialog box, name the layer (if you want), leave the other options at their defaults, and click OK.

    You can also just click the Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose an adjustment from the drop-down panel that appears.

    The dialog box pertaining to your adjustment appears in the Adjustments panel. The adjustment layer also appears in the Layers panel. The adjustment layer icon and a thumbnail appear on the adjustment layer. The thumbnail represents a layer mask.

  3. Make the necessary corrections and then click OK.

Although adjustment layers still have their own panel, it is now only used for selecting an adjustment layer. To edit of specify settings, the adjustment layers now share the Properties panel with Masks. Choose Window→Adjustments and Window→Properties to bring up both panels. In the Adjustments panel, click an icon to apply one of the adjustments, or choose an adjustment from the Adjustments panels menu.

The dialog box pertaining to your adjustment appears within the Properties panel. Here you can also select a preset for the chosen adjustment. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with the Properties panels:

  • Click the clip icon (square with the down-pointing arrow icon) to toggle between having the adjustment layer affect all layers (unselected) or just the layer directly below the adjustment (selected).

  • Click the eye icon to toggle visibility of the adjustment layer.

  • Click the eye and curved arrow icon to view a previous state.

  • Click the curved arrow to reset the default settings for the adjustment layer.

  • Click the Trash icon to delete the adjustment layer.

  • Access the panel menu toreset an adjustment, save, load and delete presets, or close the panel. The Auto-Select Parameter option automatically selects the text field in the panel so that you can start typing your desired value immediately. You can also change your Auto options.


In the example, the layer mask is white, so the adjustment shows up full strength over the image. You can also apply an adjustment layer to a selected portion of your image by painting on your layer mask. Like with regular layers, you can also adjust the opacity, fill, and blending modes of an adjustment layer.

If you want to view your image without the adjustment, click the eye icon in the left column of the Layers panel to hide the adjustment layer. To delete the adjustment layer, simply drag it to the Trash icon in the Layers panel, or choose Delete→Layer from the Layer menu or the Layers panel options menu.