Adobe Photoshop - Layer Basics

This guide will teach you about opening multiple images, adding layers to an image, and modifying attributes of those layers.


Layers are the most basic tool in photoshop. They are used to combine multiple images into a single file so you can manipulate images simultaneously.

Opening Multiple Documents in Separate Tabs

  1. Under the File menu, select Open or Open in Bridge.
  2. Click the first image. 
  3. To add multiple images:
  4. Click Open or press Return or Enter to open the images in Photoshop.

Layering Images from Open Tabs

  1. Select tab to move image from. 
  2. Using the Move tool (V), click and drag image to the top of another tab, bringing that image to the foreground.
  3. Continue to drag image over the top of the new image.
  4. Release when image is in desired place, or press Shift prior to releasing the image to center it on the new image.

Background Limitations

When an image is first opened in Photoshop, it can be seen as a Background in the Layers panel. This type of layer has some limitations. Background layers cannot:

To Change the Background into a Layer:

  1. Select the Background from the Layers panel.
  2. Double click or right click on the Background to bring up the New Layer dialogue box.
  3. Press Okay.

A shortcut to avoid the New Layer dialogue box is to hold the Alt key while double clicking the Background in the Layers panel.

Change Stacking Order

  1. Select Layer to be rearranged from the Layers panel.
  2. Click and drag layer to new location in the stacking order.

Deleting Layers

  1. Select the layer to be removed. 
  2. Press the Delete key on the keyboard, or click and drag the layer to the trash can icon in the lower right corner of the Layers panel.

Toggling Visibility of Layers

Layers can be hidden to get a view of the layer underneath. To Hide and show a layer, click to the left of the image preview in the Layers panel. If the layer is currently showing, an eye icon will be in that location. If the layer is hidden, an empty box will be in the eye icon’s place.

Renaming Layers

  1. To rename a layer, double click on its name in the Layers panel
  2. Type in name that layer should have.
  3. Press the Return or Enter key on the keyboard, or click off of that layer.

Converting Layers into Smart Objects

Smart objects are layers which retain the quality of the original image, so they are able to be resized and transformed without concern.

To Convert a Layer into a Smart Object:

  1. Right click on the layer to be changed, or select Layer, then Smart Objects from the menu bar.
  2. Select Convert to Smart Object.

Changing Layer Opacity

Layer Opacity changes how see-through an image is. 100% Opacity means the image can’t be seen through at all.

  1. Select the Layer to modify from the Layers panel.
  2. Using the Opacity option in the Layers panel, modify the opacity. 

Changing View of Transparent Layer

To get a more realistic view of how a transparent layer would look, the Transparency setting can be modified to remove the checkerboard pattern.

To Toggle On/Off the Transparency Grid:

  1. Select Photoshop, then Preferences for Mac, or Edit then Preferences for Windows.
  2. Choose Transparency & Gamut
  3. Under Transparency Settings, change Grid Size to None using the drop down menu to remove the grid. Choose Medium to return the grid to its default size. 
  4. Press OK to return to editing in Photoshop.

If you need further assistance please contact the Information Technology Help Desk at 920-424-3020 or