In my opinion, the absolute best feature of photo editing software like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements (PSE) and Paintshop Pro is the Layers Palette. Working with layers gives you so much flexibilty to try different elements on your layout design without accidentally ruining another area of it.
So for those who are just getting used to layers in their life, here’s Ten Top Tips to help you love your layers (note: this is PSE oriented but the principles are the same for all editing software, you just need to translate the appropriate function names and locations).
10 Top Tips for Working with Layers
- Always make a copy of your original layer before modifying it. Then if you don’t like the way it’s turned out you can discard it and easily start again on another copy of the original.
- To create a new empty layer, click on the New Layer icon at the top left of the layers palette. A new layer will appear immediately above the layer you currently have active.
- To duplicate a layer, activate the layer by clicking on it in the layers palette and drag to the New Layer icon at the top left of the palette
- View and hide your layers by clicking on the Eye icon beside the layer thumbnail in the layers pallet. This is handy if you’re trying to decide on the merits of different elements on your layout. You can just toggle their visibility and invisibility so you can easily compare the look of different options.
- Use the Layers Styles and Effects palette (usually above the Layers Palette to apply different styles (eg drop shadow, bevel) or effects (eg. Photographic effects to convert your photo to sepia or to a coloured tint).
- If you want to rotate a layer but not the entire image make sure you use the layers command section at the bottom of the Image>Rotate menu.
- Group layers that go together (eg. photo, matt, frame and accent) consecutively in the layers palette (just click on the layers and drag them up and down). Then you can easily select all of them with the Shift key and link them together by clicking on the little chain link icon at the top of the layers palette. If you do this then you can change the position and size of all these elements together and maintain your proportions easily.
- Keep each individual element on a separate layer. Each time you drag a new element into your layout PSE will automatically put it on a new layer. But if you create your own elements (eg. using the Select tool to make a journal box which you can fill with colour before adding your text) make sure you do so on a new layer. That means you can move them about the page and resize them without affecting other elements.
- Try creating your own backgrounds by placing two different backgrounds on top of each other in the layers palette. Then with the top one active , click on the blending modes pop up menu (top left of the layers palette) and play with the different options in the menu. You can create some really cool effects this way. Don’t forget you can reduce the opacity as well to control how much of the top layer dominates the overall effect. I am enjoying playing with blending using photos over a background paper such as in my Independence layout.
- If you’re going to adjust colour and/or contrast use an Adjustment Layer. Activate the layer you want toadjust (click on it in the layers palette), then click on the black and white circle icon next to the New layer icon at the top of the layers palette. Select the type of adjustment you want to make (eg. hue/saturation) then make your adjustment in the adjustment layer. This will take effect on the layer underneath. But the beaut part about doing your adjustments this way is that your adjustment settings are saved and you can easily change them even after you’ve saved and reloaded the file.
So you can see how powerful a tool the layers palette is. There are plenty more wonderful things you can do with your layers once you get started playing. I’m sure that many of you have your own particular favourite tips that I haven’t covered here. Please feel free to add your own favourite Layer tips in the comments section.
And lastly I’d like to talk about flattening layers. Frankly I’m not a big fan of this. I know it reduces the size of the file for storage but it also removes any flexibility to go back and change it later. A perfect example is the Always Best Friends layout that I submitted to Scrapbooking Memories. In a fit of madness I flattened the image before printing (don’t ask me why) and then saved the flattened image. All my beautiful layers were lost forever. Then when I wanted to offer the template that I had made as a freebie I had to recreate it from scratch because the original was buried in the layers of my layout and gone for ever (also breaking Rule No. 1). As everyone knows, there is nothing like consequences to make you learn a lesson.
So what I would suggest is before saving your file for the very last time, you do a bit of housekeeping and drag any layers that you really don’t need into the Trash Can at the top of the Layers Palette. These may be backgound layers and elements that you dragged into your layout to see how they would look and hidden using the Eye icon beside the layer or have placed under another layer so you can’t see them. Cleaning out these unwanted layers will reduce the size of your file for storage. Always save the file in its native format (eg. .PSD for PSE and Photoshop). Then you can reduce the size to 72dpi and save another copy for the web or email as a .JPG.
Then if you want to modify your layout at a later date all your lovely layers will be there waiting for you.