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For some reason, no one ever wants to be a beginner. It is as if some shame is attached to not inherently knowing the basics, even if you have never done something before. Many students in the Photoshop courses that I teach online assume they aren't beginners, and they jump into courses that are over their heads, for fear of the stigma of being a beginner. But everyone at one time or another is a beginner, and even savvy users sometimes learn from going over the basics.
Working with Layers starts with understanding some basics about layers, what they do, and how to locate all the functions. In this chapter we explore the Layers palette, see how all the basic layer functions are situated in the Layers palette and menus, learn how to create layers, apply layer functions, and use viewing preferences. We'll run through a hands-on no-knowledge-necessary example of using layers and see some of what layers can do. This chapter will help make sure we are all starting off with the same basic understanding of and familiarity with layers. With that introduction under our belt, we can look forward to applying layers to images.
Please note that although this book will look at many tools and features, it will focus on the explanation and exploration of using layers. Photoshop Help can provide more depth or information about tools and their applications not provided by the text of this book. To find Photoshop Help, click Photoshop's Help menu and choose Photoshop Help, or press Command+/ or Ctrl+/ (Mac or PC).
What Is a Layer?
Images are usually considered to be two dimensional. That is, when images get printed on a piece of paper or displayed on a screen, they have a height and width only. Although there may be an appearance of depth, there is no actual depth. The images are flat, and they lack that third dimension.
Whenever you view images fresh from a digital camera, the image is flat and two dimensional on your screen. This is true, even though the color image is actually stored as separate red, green, and blue (RGB) grayscale components in the file (see Figure 1.1). The components of your RGB image are combined by the computer when the image is displayed, and the result is a two-dimensional color image rendered on your computer screen in full color. That is, several components (in this case the red, green, and blue light components) are combined to produce the color result.
In a similar way, multiple layers can combine and still result in a two-dimensional image. Layers act as additions to your image that overlay one another as you add them to the layer stack (see Figure 1.2). These additions are full color as opposed to the grayscale RGB components. When an image with layers is displayed in Photoshop (or Elements and other programs that can recognize images stored with layers) the result is still a two-dimensional image made from a composite of the layers (see Figure 1.3). Each individual layer stores complete RGB color that combines in two dimensions, as if you were looking down through the layers from the top of the layer stack.
Adobe called the virtual stacking of images "layers" because they act like a layered stack of transparent images. New image content is added to the original image and creates adjustments contained in distinct layers, building on changes over the original image content. Layer additions make change happen without changing the content below the new layer, and that is known as "nondestructive" editing: pixels from the original layers are virtually, rather than actually, altered. This ability to make additions to the image in layers keeps changes and alterations more fluid and movable, allowing you to finesse and sculpt the image result without "destroying" original image information.
Let's take a quick look at what this means in Photoshop by making a change to an image and experimenting a little with the advantages offered by layers first hand.
During Try It Now exercises, refrain from exploring palettes and images and taking detours from the steps as you are working through the exercise. I know it is easy to get distracted by shiny things. Clicking here or there during the steps may easily cause the step-by-step procedures to fail if you don't know what you are doing or how to return to the exact state of the image before your distraction/ exploration. Explore after you've achieved success with the steps the first time. If it doesn't work the first time, give it a second try!
Try It Now
1. You could use any flattened image for this exercise, but open Sample_ 1.psd on the CD included with the book (see Figure 1.3).
2. Choose the Paint Brush tool from the Tool palette, or press B on your keyboard to select the Paint Brush tool.
3. Set your Brush options to a 100 percent hard brush, 20 pixels in diameter. Be sure the Flow and Opacity are 100 percent and the Mode for the brush is Normal (see Figure 1.4).
4. Create a new layer in the image. To do this choose Layer>New>Layer from the Layers menu at the top of the Photoshop program screen. The New Layer dialog will appear. Change the Name from Layer 1 to MyName, and click OK, leaving the rest of the defaults as is. A new layer will appear in the Layers palette, named MyName. (If the Layers palette is not showing on your screen, choose Layers from the Window menu. You will see a thumbnail, or smaller view, of Sample_1.psd in the Layers palette.)
5. Use the brush to write your name quickly in script right across the image by clicking and dragging the brush right on the image (see Figure 1.5). Your attempt at writing your name will come out on the MyName layer in the Layers palette.
6. Choose the Move tool by pressing V on your keyboard. Check the Options bar and be sure the Auto-Select box is not checked.
7. Click and drag on the image in a circle.
8. Press Command+E/Ctrl+E (Mac/Windows). This will merge the MyName layer with the Background.
9. Choose the Move tool by pressing V on your keyboard. The settings should be the same as in step 6.
10. Click and drag on the image in a circle.
What should happen is that your name should move around the image without affecting the original background. You can move the signature wherever you want. Though we won't go this far right now, you could distort, rotate, and resize the signature without directly affecting the image below, as it remains in its own layer. If you shut off the view for the MyName layer (click the eye icon to the left of the layer in the Layers palette), you see the original image with no change. This is the core of nondestructive editing: image changes remain isolated from the original layer. But now let's be a little more destructive and see what happens without layers to compare the difference.
You'll find you can't move the signature. This is a layer property of the Background-it is locked and will not move. You have to double-click the layer in the Layers palette (right on the thumbnail), and that will convert the Background to a layer (accept the defaults in the New Layer dialog that appears by clicking OK). Once you do that and try to drag the signature again, you'll drag the whole image. If you try to shut off the view you shut off the whole image. All parts of the image, at this point, have combined. In essence, that is Layers in a nutshell: you have separation between the correction and the result, and you can separate them at any time. This ends up being a huge advantage in editing your images. Layering allows you to work on distinct image areas while retaining new image information separately in new layers and original information in the Background below. This ability to retain original image information while building in changes separately is known as nondestructive editing; you retain the original image information undisturbed as you make changes by adding image layers. Each change is incorporated as if it were made on a transparent sheet over your image that can be removed or reordered. The layers are stored separately in the working image file and when saved to layer-friendly formats (TIFF, PSD, PDF). During editing, layer content can be viewed and managed using the Layers palette (see Figure 1.6).
Create layers as needed, for infinite adjustments to your images, and store them with the image. When needed, copy layers within the current image and to other images. At any time, they can be adjusted and revisited for further changes. Each layer is a distinct visual object that can fill the entire image plane, though the visibility of individual layers and layer content is affected by layer properties such as Mode, Opacity, Masking, Clipping, and Visibility. These give the user flexibility in incorporating layer content.
Whereas the basic functionality of layers simply allows you to keep image content and changes separate, the separation allows you the advantage of customizing how image areas combine. Control gives you advantages that allow you to achieve results that would otherwise be impossible or extremely difficult in an image without layer capabilities. Each of these capabilities will be explored through the examples and exercises in this book.
Layer Palettes and Menus
One of the keys to making use of layers is using layer functions. The bulk of the layer functions are found between the Layers palette, the Layers palette menu, the Layer menu, and Layer Style dialog.
NOTE: Menus are listings of functions and features by name that can be selected with a click. These menus may be on the main program menu bar, but they may also be attached to palettes or other menus as submenus. Palettes (and dialogs) differ from menus in that they are floating windows that may have buttons or other graphical interface options that go beyond just a listing of features by name.
The Layers palette (see Figure 1.7) is really a command center for controlling layer views and how layers combine. Open the Layers palette by choosing Layers from the Windows menu.
Simple buttons on the palette allow you to access many powerful features at a click. For example, you can toggle the visibility for individual layers on or off, add effects, create new layers, duplicate layers, and delete them. Other button features allow you to lock layer transparency, color and transparency, position, or the entire content of the layer (transparency, color, and position). For a listing of Layers palette features see Table 1.1.
Photoshop's Layers palette menu and the program's Layer menu share much of the same functionality, with a few exceptions depending on the current editing task. Both menus are context sensitive, meaning that available functions appear depending on what features can logically be applied. Options are grayed out when not available. Although functions on the menus represent many of the same things, accessing those functions in different ways may affect how layers are created and handled in the image.
It is not necessary to memorize all the functions and menus; there will be layer functions you rarely use and those you will perhaps never use. Those you use frequently will become automatic and are likely already attached to shortcuts that you will learn out of habit. The graphic reference to the functions (Figure 1.7) will prove to be a handy guide if you are not very familiar with layers. What is more important than memorization is to know what type of functions are available and generally where they can be found and what type of access the program provides to those functions. That way even if you don't know the exact tool or function, you at least know where it can be located. Rolling over tools and icons on the palettes in Photoshop will reveal tool tips that name the item/function, and using these actively in the program as you edit will help you become familiar with all the functions in context.
There will be occasional mention of version-specific features in exercises (including features in newer Photoshop versions); however, in most cases if you are using an older version of the program or even Photoshop Elements, it will not have an impact on your work with images or completion of the exercises in this book or use of the book's techniques.
Types of Layers
There are several distinct types of layers that can be created in your images. All layers are visible in the Layers palette, though some (Adjustment layers, Type layers, and layer groups) are represented by icons. The types of layers are listed in Table 1.2.
The distinction between Background and normal layers is an important one. Background layers serve a distinct purpose as the base for your images while simultaneously losing a lot of the functionality of free-floating layers. Certain tools will behave differently when applied to Backgrounds and other tools cannot be applied at all. For example, the Eraser tool will erase to the Background swatch color rather than transparency as it would in other layers. You cannot apply a layer mask to the Background layer.
The above reference is just a quick look at the vast capability of layers. Handson experience with layers in realistic situations will familiarize you better with how to look at and control layer content and the advantages they provide for editing images. That is the purpose of the rest of the book. Before getting into creating your first layers, let's take a quick look at controlling what you see on the Layers palette by reviewing layer viewing preferences, and then we'll practice making a few layers.
Layer Viewing Preferences
Layer viewing preferences determine how you see thumbnails in the Layers palette. Set these preferences on the Layers palette menu. To get to the Layers palette menu, open the Layers palette; it helps to have an image open as well so you can see the differences resulting from changing the settings.
Try It Now
1. Open any image in Photoshop.
2. If your Layers palette is not already in view, choose Layers from the Window menu.
3. Click on the Layers palette menu button at the upper right of the Layers palette.
4. Choose Panel Options from the menu that appears. The Layers Panel Options dialog will appear (see Figure 1.8).
5. Choose your preference for the size of the thumbnail that you prefer to view.
Either the second or third option from the top is recommended for thumbnail viewing. This will allow you to get an idea of layer content without taking up too much of your screen. No view will prove to be completely adequate when trying to distinguish layers. Although the largest thumbnail gives the best view of the layer content, it may prove to be too large for many of the exercises in this book, as the layers will cascade off the screen. The None option will take up the least amount of screen landscape, but will make you rely entirely on layer naming, which negates the value of visual cues.
You can change this option at any time; it applies to the palette, and not to actual layer content.
Getting Started Creating Layers
There are many ways to create new layers in Photoshop, and the methods serve different purposes. Table 1.3 describes various methods and the most common techniques to execute them.
Try It Now
1. Open a new image that is 500 x 500 pixels in RGB with a transparent background.
2. Use the options in Table 1.3 to create all of the layer types.
If you take a moment and sit down in front of the computer and run down the bullet list, you can test out creating all these new layers. Of course there are reasons to create layers, but right now gain some familiarity with the basic creation methods. This will help you locate them later when you need them, and play is a great way to become familiar and comfortable with creating layers. It won't be long till we are immersed in serious layer work!
If you do go through the exercise of creating the layers, you'll notice that different layer types are created with different icons in the Layers palette. Table 1.4 shows the icons and what they mean.
At this point we have dissected enough of the Layers palette and the things that you will see there to have a reasonable orientation as to what to expect.
Excerpted from The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Layers Book by Richard Lynch Copyright © 2009 by Richard Lynch. Excerpted by permission.
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