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  • Working with layers in Photoshop

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  • In this tutorial we’ll learn how to work effectively with layers and how to mange them for your workflow. So let’s start.

    Layers come in many flavors, all of which have their own special purpose:

    Image layers. These layers are pixel-based and you’ll work with them all the time. If you open a photo or add a new, empty layer and paint on it you’ve got yourself an Image layer.

    Type layers. In Photoshop, text isn’t made from pixels, so it gets its own special kind of layer. Anytime you grab the Type tool and start pecking away, Photoshop automatically creates a Type layer.

    Shape layers. These layers are vector-based meaning they’re not made from pixels. Not only can you create useful shapes quickly with these, but you can also resize them without losing quality and change their fill color by double-clicking their layer thumbnails or using CS6’s new Fill and Stroke settings in the Options bar. Photoshop creates a Shape layer automatically anytime you use a shape tool.

    Fill layers. When it comes to changing or adding color to an image, these layers are your best friends. They let you fill a layer with a solid color, gradient, or pattern, which comes in handy when you want to create new backgrounds or fill a selection with color. Just like Shape layers, you can double-click a Fill layer’s thumbnail to change its color anytime. The next time you’re tempted to add an empty layer and fill it with color , try using one of these layers instead.

    Adjustment layers. These ever-so-useful layers let you apply color and brightness changes to all the layers underneath them, but the changes actually happen on the Adjustment layer. For example, if you want to change a color image to black and white, you can use a Black & White Adjustment layer and the color removal happens on its own layer, leaving the original unharmed. These layers don’t contain any pixels, just instructions that tell Photoshop what changes you want to make. You can access these handy helpers in the Adjustments panel on the right side of the Photoshop window (if you don’t see it,choose Window>Adjustments), via the Adjustment layer menu at the bottom of the Layers panel (it looks like a half-black/half-white circle), or in the Layer menu (choose Layer >New Adjustment layer).

    Smart Objects. Adobe refers to this kind of layer as a container, though “miracle layer” is a better description. Smart Objects let you work with files that weren’t created with Photoshop, like Raw and vector files. The best thing about Smart Object is that you can swap and resize its content without trashing its quality (as long as you don’t exceed the file’s original pixel dimensions,unless it’s a vector).

    Video layers. New in the standard version of CS6 is the ability to import, edit, and export video (previously, these options were available only in the Extended version). You can use Photoshop to edit and apply custom color effects and filters to individual video frames as easily as you can any other layer type.

    3D layers. In the Extended version of Photoshop, you can import 3D files into their own special layers, which is helpful if you want to create 3D objects or paint them.

    Layers Panel

    No matter what kinds of layers your document contains, the one that’s most important to you at any given time is the active layer. You can tell which layer is active by peeking at the Layers panel, where Photoshop highlights it in blue. (To open the Layers panel, click its tab in the panel dock on the right side of your screen, or choose Window>Layers.) The next edit you make will affect only that layer.

    In the Layers panel, Photoshop highlights the currently active layer in blue, as shown above (the exact color of blue depends on the color theme you’re using). Each layer has its own little preview of what the layer contains, called a layer thumbnail (circled). (To make layer thumbnails bigger so they’re easier to see, open the panel menu labeled here and then choose Panel Options. The resulting dialog box includes a list of thumbnail sizes to choose from. Alternatively, in CS6 you can Ctrl-click or right-click the layer thumbnail and choose a size from the resulting shortcut menu.)

    Activating Layers

    About the easiest thing you’ll ever do in Photoshop is activate a layer,just mouse over to the Layers panel and click the layer you want to work on. However, just because this process is easy doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. As you learned in the last section, whatever you’re doing in Photoshop affects only the currently active layer. As your document gets more complex and your Layers panel starts to grow (and it will), it can be hard to figure out which layer each part of the image lives on.

    If you want, you can make Photoshop guess which layer an object is on: Press V to activate the Move tool, head up to the Options bar at the top of your screen, turn on the Auto-Select checkbox, and then choose Layer from the pop-up menu to its right. After that, when you click an object in the document, Photoshop activates the layer it thinks that object is on (it’ll do this next time you use the Move tool, too, unless you turn off the Auto-Select option).

    The program may or may not guess right, and it really works only if your layers don’t completely cover each other up. If you’ve got a document full of isolated objects—ones without backgrounds—on different layers, give this feature a shot. But if you’re working on a multilayered collage, forget it. For that reason, you’ll probably want to leave Auto-Select turned off.

    Filtering layers

    If your list of layers is really long, you’ll have to scroll through the Layers panel to find the ones you want to activate. However, in CS6 you can make Photoshop hide layers based on conditions you specify using the new row of filtering controls at the top of the Layers panel. You tell Photoshop which layers you want to view, and it temporarily hides the rest in the Layers panel (though the content of those layers is still visible in your document). To filter layers, you pick an option from the pop-up menu in the upper left of the Layers panel, and then use the controls to the menu’s right to refine your search.

    Here are your options:

    Kind. This is what the pop-up menu is set to unless you change it. This option lets you tell Photoshop what type of layers you want to see. Use the buttons to this menu’s right to have Photoshop display only the Image, Adjustment, Type,Shape layers or Smart Objects. For example, to see only the Type layers—so you can activate them all and change their fonts, say—make sure the pop-up menu is set to Kind (it should be unless you’ve changed it) and then click the T button to its right, and Photoshop hides all the layers in the Layers panel except the Type layers .You can also click more than one button to see more than one kind of layer—like the Type and Shape layers, say.

    Name. If you’ve given your layers meaningful names, choose this option from the pop-up menu and a search field appears to the menu’s right. Enter some text (it’s not case-sensitive) and Photoshop displays only the layers whose names include what you entered. You don’t need to press Return/Enter—Photoshop begins filtering layers as soon as you start typing.

    If your image has more than one layer, you can use CS6’s new layer-filtering feature to view layers that match specific conditions that you set. (The little switch on the right turns red when you have layer filtering turned on.)Layer filtering is extremely helpful when you’ve got a lot of layers and you need to find, say, all the Type layers. Once you’ve isolated them in the Layers panel, activating them is a snap: just choose Select>All Layers and Photoshop highlights them all.

    Effect. This option lets you filter layers based on layer styles. For example,to see all the layers that have a drop shadow, choose this option and then choose Drop Shadow from the pop-up menu that appears to this menu’s right.

    Mode. To filter layers based on their blend modes , pick this option and then choose the blend mode you’re after from the pop-up menu that appears on the right.

    Attribute. When you pick this option, a pop-up menu appears that lets you filter layers based on whether or not they’re visible, empty, locked or linked to other layers, clipped to other layers , include a pixel- or vector-based layer mask ,include effects ,or use advanced blending options.

    Color. If you’ve color-coded your layers, you can use this option to view layers labeled with a certain color. For example, if you applied a red label to all the layers you used to fix skin imperfections in a portrait, choose this option and then pick Red from the pop-up menu that appears to its right and Photoshop displays only those layers.

    After you’ve filtered the layers so that only the ones you’re interested in are visible,you can quickly activate all the visible ones—save for a locked Background layer—by choosing Select>All Layers. You can work with filtered layers just like any other layers, delete them, change their stacking order, and so on. Your filter remains in effect until you turn it off or close the document (Photoshop doesn’t save your layer filter settings when you save the document).

    When you’re ready to see all the layers again, Alt+click the little red switch near the top right of the Layers panel; it turns gray to let you know it’s turned off. Photoshop reveals all your layers and then sets the filtering controls to their factory settings so you can use them again.

    I hope these helped you for understanding the basics of layers and become familiar with the new features in CS6. More to come. Have fun!

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