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Using Layers
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Using Layers
Created by: Prof

This series of tutorials is oriented toward helping those new users of PSP 9 to learn the basics of this great graphic program. The tutorials are written to introduce the basic features, tools and palettes and build upon one another. Also, the tutorials may be used as a reference for using particular tools, palettes and features of PSP.


In the first two lessons we explored how to configure toolbars and palettes to set up a customized workspace. In this lesson we will explore how to use the Layers palette and layers to create graphics.

Purpose and Goal of this Tutorial

  • Overview of PSP Graphic and File Types
  • The Layers Palette
  • Exploring Using Layers
  • Saving and Loading Images

New Image

Begin with a New Image (Canvas)

When we begin a project and create a new image we are presented with a number of options. 'Image Dimensions' allows us to select the Width and Height, Units (pixels, inches, centimeters, millimeters), and Resolution (Pixels per Inch or Pixels per Centimeter). Also one has the option of selecting a Preset. The Default setting is a 300 x 300 pixel, Resolution of 200 Pixels per Inch.

For 'Image Characteristics' we have three image types (Raster, Vector, or Art Media), Color Depth and Color.

  •  A Raster Graphic is based upon pixels. Almost all tools and effects can be used to create a Raster Graphic. When creating a new image, selecting 'Raster Background' will set the Layers palette Background Layer to a Raster Layer.
  •  A Vector Graphic is based upon shapes and curves drawn using a mathematical function. There are specific tools used for creating Vector Graphics. Selecting 'Vector Background' for a new image will set the Layers palette Background Layer to a Vector Layer.
  •  An Art Media Graphic is a new PSP feature in version 9 which simulates real art media painting (oils, chalk, colored pencils, crayon, marker). Specific tools are used for creating Art Media Graphics. In creating a new image, selecting 'Art Media Background' will set the Layers palette Background Layer to an Art Media Layer.
  • Color Depth is based upon the number of colors used to create the graphic. The file size is determined primarily by the number of colors in a graphic (the fewer the colors the smaller the file size). (Note: For web page creation, one objective is to keep graphics as small a file size that is balanced with quality.)

    The default Color Depth, and the one used most frequently when creating graphics (though not always the one used when saving the graphic) is 16 Million Colors because this color depth allows the full set of tools, effects and features to be used in graphic creations.


Save Image

File Types

When finished creating a graphic one will save it to one's hard drive (File || Save or File || Save As). There are various file types one may use to save a graphic. However, for the beginner and often as a usual practice people will only use three basic file types, each of which has a particular color depth. Also, though covered in later tutorials, there are various ways to save graphics using wizards that will also have a bearing of file size.

  • The PSPIMAGE or PSP file type is the default or native file format for PSP. This type will save 16 Million Colors, as well as a lot of other information such as the individual layers used, selections used (and saved). This file type is also a very large file. It is also one of the best file types to use when finished creating a graphic before saving the graphic in any other file type because one then can use it to add to the graphic, and edit it. A PSPIMAGE file however can not be used on a web page.
  • The JPEG or JPG file type is one which will also save a 16 Million Color graphic. This file type is also used for web page graphics. When saving a finished graphic as a JPEG file, there will be some loss of quality though usually not noticeable because the file is compressed to make it smaller in size. One very important point to remember is that if you save a file as a JPEG and then open it up again and then save it again, you will lose more quality because of the way JPEG files are saved to a file. Using the wizard allows one to control the file size of the saved image.
  • A GIF file type only saves in a color depth of up to 256 colors. Usually though a GIF file is smaller in size than a JPEG file so when saving a finished graphic if it has complex colors save as a JPEG else save it as a GIF. A GIF file is also the only file type that can be used for animation files and for save transparent background (which can be a nice way to present logos on a web page). A GIF file also has a wizard to aide in the saving into this format.

New Raster Layer New Raster Layer
New Vector Layer New Vector Layer
New Art Media Layer (PSP 9) New Art Media Layer

The Layers Palette

When creating a new image, the Layers palette will display a 'Background' layer. Above the layer name are icon shortcuts. The first three (left to right) are for creating a new Raster Layer, a new Vector Layer, or a new Art Media Layer. (The other icon shortcuts are more advanced used of layers and include Showing Masks, Grouping Layers, Deleting Layers and Editing Selections.)

A 'Background' layer is for a single-layer palette. When you save a finished graphic e.g. in JPEG or in GIF format it will be converted to a single-layer graphic. In this example our background color is white. If you change the background color to another color and then delete this layer (use the Delete key) it will change to the new background color.


The Layer Context Menu

By right-clicking on a layer in the Layers palette, one will access the context menu as seen to the left. One can also use the menu item 'Layers' to access a similar menu which has a few more layer options.

One has a number of different types of layers one can add to the Layers palette. In addition to Raster, Vector and Art Media there are some advanced type layers (Layer Group, Mask Layer, Adjustment Layer). Some layer options will be grayed out for some layer types. As an example, the Dry and Wet Art Media Layer options work only on an Art Media layer.

As stated above, a Background layer is for a single-layer palette. Some tools and effects will only work on a "full layer". Thus, to create a "full layer" from a Background layer, right-click on it and just choose 'Promote Background Layer' from the layer context menu.

When the bottom layer is promoted to a full layer, there is a transparent layer beneath it (not seen yet). To view this feature, first choose 'Promote Background Layer'. You will see that the layer name now is 'Raster 1'. And, if you go to Edit || Clear or press the Delete key, your white or colored background will become transparent. Now all tools and effects will work on this or any "full layer".


The Layer Properties Window

When creating a new layer and you do not label or name that layer, you will get the default name of 'Raster' with a number. It is a good idea to give the layer a name so when looking at a Layers palette with many layers you can identify what layer has what painted on it.

To activate the Layer Properties Window, either double-click on the layer name or right-click on the layer in the Layers palette and select 'Properties' from the context menu. In the Name box just enter a descriptive name for this layer. (The other options in this Properties Window will be explored later.)

If you right-click on the layer and select 'Rename' you can just directly rename the layer without having the Properties window displayed.

New Image     New Raster Layer     Selection Tool

Materials Palette - Materials Box  Materials Solid Color Option     Flood Fill Tool

Let's Explore Layers

Let's now explore working with layers by creating a graphic.

Create a new image, 300 x 300 Pixels, Raster Background, white background.

Promote the Background layer to a layer: right-click on the layer in the Layers palette and select 'Promote Background layer' from the context menu.

Label this layer 'BG - White' for Background White: right-click on the layer in the Layers palette, select 'Rename' and rename to 'BG - White'.

Create a new Raster Layer (click on the 'New Raster Layer' icon in the Layers palette) and label it 'Red'.

Activate the Selection tool in the Tools toolbar and draw a rectangle in the center of the canvas.

In the Materials palette, select Red as the Foreground Color.

Activate the Flood Fill tool in the Tools toolbar and click into the selection to flood-fill it with red.


New Raster Layer

Do not deselect the rectangle selection!

Create a new top layer and label it 'Green', then in the Materials palette set the Foreground Color to Green and use the Flood Fill tool again to flood-fill the selection.

Create a new top layer, label it 'Blue' and flood-fill the selection with blue.

Now deselect: Go to Selections || Select None or press Ctrl+D.

Your Layers palette should look like the illustration on the left.

Move Tool

One of the advantages of using layers is that we are able to manipulate the objects on individual layers. At this point your canvas will have three rectangles, each with a different color, but the only one showing is the 'Blue' rectangle. So, let's move the rectangles so we can see all three of them.

  • Activate the Move tool in the Tools toolbar.
  • Move the Blue rectangle up and to the right. Have it overlap the green layer.
  • Move the Green rectangle up and to the left. Have it overlap both the blue and red layer.
  • Adjust all three layers as needed so that each color overlaps the other two and in one area overlaps both other colors.

See the illustration on the left.


Layer Visibility On  Layer Visibility Off

Moving Layers

To move a layer, place your mouse on a layer in the Layers palette, hold down the left mouse button and drag it to the position wanted. In our illustration, let's move the 'Red' layer to become the top layer.

And, to see how the rectangles are created on transparent layers, let's turn off the bottom 'BG - White' layer:

To the right of the layer name there is the 'Visibility' box. When it shows an eye, visibility is on. Clicking on the eye will turn the layer visibility off and the eye will have a red X.

When done with viewing the bottom layer as a transparent layer, turn it back on again so the white background is seen.



Opacity refers to how opaque or solid or how transparent a color or object is on a layer. Opacity can be changed from full (100%) to none (0%). To the right of the layer name and the Visibility icon there is the Opacity box.

In the Opacity box there is a slider. The default setting is 100%. One can move the slider to the left to reduce opacity by placing the mouse cursor on the slider and dragging it to the left. One can also refine the opacity value by first clicking on the slider and then using the arrow keys (left/right keys).

For our example and the illustration on the left, set all three colored rectangle layers to an opacity of 50%. You will then notice how each rectangle blends with the other colors and with the white background. Also by using this technique one can blend a top layer with a lower layer to combine images, a technique often used for combining images in photographs.

When done experimenting with the layer opacity, return all layers back to an opacity value of 100%.


Blend Modes

Blend Modes refer to how pixels from one layer blend with pixels on another layer. The default blend mode is 'Normal' in which case – unless the opacity is reduced – the colors of objects remain pure or as they were originally drawn. There is a science to how colors blend but it is not necessary to really learn this science. Just experiment with the Blend Modes and you will find in time how they tend to work. Also, not all blend modes work the same on different colors so experimentation is often the rule.

To activate the Blend Mode options click on the box to the right of the Opacity box and you will then have a context menu from which to select blend modes. One tip is that when you select a blend mode, you then can use the up and down arrows on the key board to scroll through the menu items.


Some Blend Mode Examples

The best teacher is really to just experiment. My illustrations are based upon the layers set up from top to bottom as Red, Green, Blue, BG-White. The following are just some examples to explore, and then just explore on your own.

  1. Red = Difference, Green = Normal, Blue = Normal
  2. Red = Difference, Green = Darken, Blue = Normal
  3. Red = Difference, Green = Difference, Blue = Difference
  4. Red = Lighten, Green = Luminance (L), Blue = Darken

Final Comments

Layers are used to draw graphics in parts, or parts of the whole graphic are painted on separate layers. Using layers makes it easier to edit or add to graphics as one works on parts. Saving graphics as PSPIMAGE or PSP files is useful to preserve the layers and other information and allows one to work on the graphic again and again. Finished graphics can then be saved as GIF or JPEG files which can be used on web pages.

There are a number of ways to work with layers including the context menu (right-click on a layer in the Layers palette), turning a layer on or off, setting opacity of a layer and setting the blend mode of a layer. Mastering these aspects of using layers will bring one to being able to create some very interesting, unique and complex graphics. There are other elements to using layers that are more advanced (using Blend Range as well as Blend Modes, Masks on layers, grouping layers). These advanced elements will come in time.


– Prof –