Exploring the Layer's Panel for Digital Scrapbookers

Exploring the Layers Palette

Hi, Barbara here coming to you with the next topic in our month long series on digital scrapbooking basics, the Layers Palette. If you’ve been using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you’re familiar with it, but it’s possible there are gems hidden in there that you’ve not even discovered yet! The Layers Palette exists in both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements and is at the heart of all of your digital scrapbooking pages. There is so much that you can do and there are so many effects you can achieve within the Layers Palette if you just know where to look. I thought I’d highlight some of the basics and point out a few things so you can experiment and play.


First off, what is the Layers Palette you ask? Well, as its name suggests, the Layers Palette is where all of your layers are housed. Anything you do with your document’s layers you’ll do within this palette. When you look at the Layers Palette you’ll see all of the papers, elements, photos, shadows, text, etc. that you’ve put together to create your scrapbook pages.


By default you can see the Layers Palette, but if for some reason you can’t see it, go to Windows > Layers. (I’m on a Mac, it may be slightly different on a PC.) You can also toggle the Layers Palette on and off by pressing F7.


This is what the Layers Palette looks like:


Digital Scrapbooking Basics


A Review


When you look at the Layers Palette you can see how layers are lying on top of one another. Looking from the bottom and moving up in my sample image, first you’ll see a layer called KD Sup Epoxy Button. Ignore that, its’ on my page but you can’t see that button in my preview, I just included it because I wanted you to see all of the buttons available to you in the Layers Palette. So, the first layer that applies to the section of my page that you can see is the doily shadow. On top of that shadow is the doily itself. The shadow is underneath the doily because the shadow appears underneath the doily. On top of the doily you’ll see a blue and white tab. In the Layers Palette you’ll see a “tab” layer. Moving up you’ll see a warped shadow for the Hello World circle tag, then the tag itself, then finally the blue flower. As you can see, the elements of my page are stacked in the Layers Palette in the order in which they are laid on the paper. For instance, if I were to move the “flower” layer beneath the doily and its drop shadow layers, you wouldn’t see the flower at all because it would be obscured by the doily.


The Eyeball Icon


Notice the little eyeball icon to the left of each of the layers? The eyeball icon determines whether or not a particular layer is visible. It’s a toggle button. Click on it. When you click on it and the eyeball disappears and the layer will disappear. When you click on it and the eyeball appears, voila, you can see the layer.


Naming Layers


If you look at the layers in my example, you can see I’ve given them a name (tab, doily, shadow, etc.). When you’re working in a document with lots of layers (complex scrapbook pages can easily have over a hundred layers), it’s helpful to give the layers a descriptive name. In CS6 when you pull a new item onto your page or create a new layer it’s just called “Layer #” and when you’re looking for a particular layer that doesn’t help much. You can rename a layer by double clicking on the layer name, typing a new name and then hitting enter/return.


Here’s a quick overview of some of the effects you can achieve and things that you can do in the Layers Palette:


First, looking at the bottom of the Layers Palette you’ll see a number of buttons. FYI, in previous versions of Photoshop and I believe in Elements these buttons may be in a different location. I’m showing you how they appear in CS6, but rest assured you can do these same things in previous versions of Photoshop and in Elements as well.


I use the buttons on the bottom of the Layers Palette the most often so I’ll discuss those first.



1. Link Layers


Click the button that looks like a link in a chain and you can link layers together when you’ve got more than one layer selected. Linked Layers will move together. One example of when I link layers is when I’ve duplicated a photo and applied a blend mode, I’ll link those photo layers on my scrapbook page so I don’t accidentally move one and not the other.


2. Layer Style (Effects)


This button looks like a “fx” and is the button you’ll click to choose your settings for things like drop shadows, bevels, etc. See image below to see the items that can be set with this button. To access the Layer Style you can click on the “fx” button. You can also double click on the layer thumbnail or you can also choose Layer > Layer Style.




3. Layer Mask


This button looks like a white square with a black circle in the middle. This is where you create a Layer Mask. Layer Masks are used to make nondestructive edits to a layer.


4. Fill or Adjustment Layer


The fill  or adjustment layer icon looks like a circle that is half white and half black. You can use adjustment layers to make non-destructive changes to either the layer you are applying it to (if you clip the fill/adjustment layer to a layer) or to everything in a document beneath the layer you are applying your fill/adjustment to. This may sound a bit confusing when you’re starting out, but as you play around with it it’ll all make sense. I’ll show you the items you can adjust with this button.


Fill or Adjustment Layer


5. Group Layers


This button looks like a file folder. As the title suggests, this is where you can group layers. Grouping layers is an organizational thing. In my example above, I grouped the entire cluster (doily, tab, circle tag, flower and their shadows) so that I could move the cluster at one time, or remove the cluster entirely. Again, it’s an organizational thing and is available in full Photoshop but I don’t believe it is supported in Elements.


6. Create New Layer


The create new layer button looks like a folded piece of paper. Click on this button when you want to create a new blank layer.


7. Delete Layer


This button looks like a trash can. Click this button when you have a layer (or multiple layers) highlighted and you want to delete it/them. Pretty self-explanatory, right?!


NOW, for the three rows of buttons on top of the Layers Palette.


Layer Palette Buttons Top

The Bottom Row of Buttons


1. Lock


You can lock a number of items with these buttons: (i) transparent pixels, (ii) image pixels, (iii) lock position, and (iv) lock all. Jennifer Flaherty wrote a blog post at Scrapaneers a couple of weeks ago in which she discussed locking pixels to recolor PNG stamps. You can check out her post here and see how it’s used.


2. Fill


This is where you set a layer’s fill opacity. The fill opacity is different than opacity. For instance, if you were to have a shape with a drop shadow, in Photoshop you can lower that shape’s FILL OPACITY to 0% and while the shape itself will disappear, it’s layer style will still appear. (An example of when I use this is when I’ll have created a shape with a stroke effect – a white border for instance. I’ll lower the shape’s fill opacity to 0 and the shape itself will disappear but the white border will still show.)


You can either enter the opacity percentage in the box or use the scrubby slider to set the fill opacity percentage.


The Middle Row of Buttons


1. Blend Modes


The blend mode defaults to a “NORMAL” setting. This is where you can choose a blend mode to determine how the highlighted layer will react with the layers beneath it. See the image below to see the available blend mode options. There is so much that can be talked about with blend modes, but for our purposes I’ll just show you the choices.


Tiffany Tillman offers an awesome Guide to Blending class devoted entirely to mastering the blend modes. I’ve taken it and it was so helpful! Judie B., another Peer here at Scrapaneers, wrote a blog post a while back about expanding your digital stash using creative blending. You can read that post here.


Layers Palette Blend Modes


2. Opacity


This is where you set the opacity for a layer. This is different than fill opacity. If you were to set the opacity of a layer to 0%, both the layer and the style applied to that layer will also disappear.


You can either enter the percentage in the box or use the scrubby slider to set the opacity percentage. You can also press a number for a preset percentage (for example, press 2 for 20% opacity, press 3 for 30% opacity).


The Top Row of Buttons


1. Kind


This is where you can sort and view only certain types of layers at a time, dependent on the setting you choose. You can choose attributes based on: (i) Kind, (ii) Name, (iii) Effect, (iv) Mode, and (v) Color.


Well, that’s it. Whew! There’s more to the Layers Palette that initially meets the eye, right?! If you’re new to Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, give yourself some time to play around with all of these buttons and settings. You’ll be amazed at the effects you can achieve!


If you have any questions, definitely ask them in the comments below. There’s a lot that happens in the Layers Palette and I just barely skimmed the surface. I or any of the other Peers here at Scrapaneers would love to answer your questions!

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