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Tools & Tips

10 Things You Didn't Know About Photoshop Layers

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You might be surprised what you don't know about Photoshop's Layers Panel. In this tutorial, we will share 10 incredibly useful layer editing and management techniques that most Photoshop users probably aren't aware of. These tips cover several features including Fill Opacity, Multi-level Masking and Smart Objects, Adjustment Layers, Keyboard Shortcuts, Advanced Blending options, Layers panel options, and so much more. Let's get started!


1. Fill Opacity

Fill Opacity can reduce the opacity of the content of a layer without reducing the visibility of its layer styles. For styles such as Gradient Overlay it is best to assign a blend mode like Overlay to keep the see-through effect.

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See-through effect with Fill Opacity set to 0%

2. Layer Group Shortcuts

Try using the following keyboard shortcuts whenever you have several Layer Groups and Nested Groups to work more efficiently:

  • Command/Control click on top level Layer Group arrows to open/close all top level Layer Groups
  • Alt click on Layer Group arrows to open/close all Nested Layer Groups
  • Command/Control - Alt click on on top level Layer Group arrows to open/close all top level Layer Groups and all Nested Layer Groups.
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Use shortcuts to save time finding your layers

3. Multi-Level Masking

Did you know that you can use several Layer Masks on the same layer? To be exact you can use up to 11 Pixel Masks and another 11 Vector Masks by using Layer Groups with masks applied to them. That is 22 masks, and you haven't even started creating Smart Objects. Of course you probably never need that many masks for the same layer, although you might find it useful to separate different parts of your mask. In this example the inside and outside of the phone booth has been saved into two separate masks.

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Multi-level masking using masks on Layer Groups

4. Quick Select Layers

You can use Command/Control for Auto-Selecting layers with the Move tool plus you can even make lasso selections with this technique.

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Auto-Select feature for the Move tool can be accessed through keyboard shortcuts

5. Limit Adjustment Layers

Using Normal blend mode for Layer Groups can limit the effect of Adjustment Layers to the contents of the Layer Group.

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Black & White Adjustment Layer limited to a Layer Group

6. Masking Layer Styles

Use Advanced Blending Options to mask parts of the original image when Layer Styles are applied to a layer.

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Advanced Blending options for hiding Layer Styles together with the layer with masking

7. Nested Smart Objects

Smart Objects are essential elements of a non-destructive workflow in Photoshop. Apart from saving the original resolution of layers they can also be used for grouping elements together and avoiding clutter in the Layers panel.

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Using Nested Smart Objects to avoid clutter in the Layers panel

8. Removing Background With Blending Options

Have you ever tried using the Blend if options in the Layer Style dialog box? You might have tried it already, but did you know you can use Alt while dragging the arrows below the slider to divide the arrowhead and smoothen the effect of the blending?

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Smoothen the Blending by dividing the arrowheads for Blend if options

9. Blend Clipped Layers as Group

Another useful Advanced Blending option, which allows you to use separate Blend modes for layers in a Clipping Mask.

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Advanced Blending techniques for Clipping Masks

10. Clip Thumbnails to Layer Bounds

Options for the Thumbnails in the Layers panel can be easily customized at any time. Use Clip Thumbnails to Layer Bounds if you want to see only the layers' content for each layer's thumbnail or use Clip Thumbnails to Document Bounds if you want to see the whole canvas.

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Thumbnail options for the Layers panel
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