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Layers 101
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Layers 101 - Basics and
the Layer Palette
Created by: Kawliga

In this tutorial we hope to cover the basic features of layers and will be explaining some of the many functions that using layers has to offer.

What are Layers?

A layer is an individual level of an image. Think of it as a transparent sheet. In a multi-layered image, these sheets are placed in a stack. When you apply paint to a layer, it is like covering one of these sheets. Some layers are completely covered in paint; others contain unpainted areas. The areas you haven’t covered remain transparent, and you can see the layer underneath. You can add and delete layers, rearrange their order, and blend their pixels in a variety of ways.

The Layer Palette

We will start by getting familiar with the layer palette.

The layer palette contains the controls used when working with layers and provides quick access to many of the commands and options in the Layers menu and the Layer Properties dialog box. Unlike the menu and dialog box, the palette allows you to change the options for all the layers in an image simultaneously.

If the layer palette is not visible, there are several ways to display it:
  • Press "L".
  • Click the "View/Hide Layer Palette" button on the toolbar – this is the red and blue button located next to the help button.
  • Go to View || Toolbars, and in the Toolbars dialog box, check "Layer Palette".
  • Right-click on any palette or bar and choose "Layer Palette" from the pop-up menu.
Open a new image, 100x100, Background = white.
You will see that there is already one layer in the layer palette.

You will also see that this layer is named "Background" and that it is colored white.

Now open another new image, 150x100, Background = transparent.
You will now see that in the layer palette, this layer is named "Layer1" and that the layer is transparent.

Now close this image. You should now be left with the white image.

Let's create a new layer. As with anything, there are several ways to add a layer:
  • Clicking the "Add New Layer" button in the layer palette.
  • Right-clicking a layer button and choosing "New" from the pop-up menu.
  • Going to Layers || New.

With the second and third option, you have to choose between "New Raster Layer", "New Vector Layer", and "New Adjustment Layer". More about these layer types below.

Since we are working with the layer palette in this tutorial, please click the "Add New Layer" button in the layer palette which looks like pieces of paper.

When you click on this button, you get a "Layer Properties" window. This properties window allows you to select and edit the attributes of individual layers. Click on OK for now. You will see the added layer as "Layer1".

If you quickly want to add a new layer, hold down the Shift key when you click the "Add New Layer" button. You will notice that this bypasses the property dialog box.

In the layer palette on the left, you can see three different layer types above the background layer:

  • "Layer1" is a raster layer;
  • "Layer2" is a vector layer. Whenever you use the vector feature of PSP, the vector objects are placed in vector layers;
  • "Brigthness/Contrast" is an adjustment layer. You can choose between a variety of color adjustments for that layer type. Each kind of adjustment layer will get its own icon.
The button next to the "Add New Layer" button is the "Delete Layer" button. It looks like a trashcan. Click on this button now, and click on "Yes" to verify you really want to delete this layer. We should now be back to "Background" and "Layer1" only.
Right-clicking on a layer button in the layer palette gives you this menu. With this menu, you can add a new layer, duplicate the current layer, delete the current layer, change the properties of the layer, and view and merge layers.

With the last option of this pop-up menu, you can promote a vector layer to a raster layer; this option is only available when right-clicking on a vector layer. When right-clicking on a background layer, you'll get the option "Promote to Layer" here, when right-clicking on a raster layer, the option is deactivated.

Click on "Duplicate". In the layer palette, you can now see "Copy of Layer1", "Layer1" and "Background".

Now right-click again, this time choose "Delete". Notice that you are not asked to verify whether or not you want the layer deleted. If you accidentally choose "Delete", however, you can always undo that action.

Before we illustrate the next features, make sure "Layer1" is active and select the Flood Fill tool. Fill the layer with any color other than white.
The next feature we will discuss is the "Layer Visibility Toggle" button. This button is located next to the layer name in the layer palette.

When a layer is visible, its "Visibility" button shows a little pair of glasses.

When a layer is not visible, its "Visibility" button shows these little glasses crossed out.

Press the "Layer Visibility Toggle" button next to "Layer1". Notice that the image is now white. And you will also notice the "Visibility" button has changed to the non-visibility status.

Press the "Visibility" button again. You will see that your color has returned.

The "Visibility" toggle is a very useful tool when you want to work on a layer but don't want other layers to interfere with what you are working on.

And, when using the "Save Copy As" function, only the visible layers will be compressed into your graphic. It is also used when merging visible layers, but we will cover that later on.

The next feature of the layer palette is the "Layer Opacity" slider.

This one is really useful. It is often used when creating those pale color background that you see often. What happens when you start sliding down is that the layer you are on starts reducing in opacity.


It is useful for adjusting coloring, superimposing one graphic over another, etc. As you can see on the left, by reducing the layer opacity from 100 down to 35 we have created different shades of blue.

For the first image with the dark blue, the opacity slider was at 100, for the second image it was on 65, and for the third image the opacity slider was down to 35.

Experiment with your own filled color. With black you will create several shades of grey, with red, various shades of red/pink.

These are the main features of the layer palette, have fun experimenting with them.

Just a couple of notes on using layers:

  • Always name your layers. This saves confusion when you have a lot of layers.
  • You can view what is in a layer by placing the cursor over the layer name in the layer palette. This will show a thumbnail of the layer and allows you to view it without activating it. This is very handy with multiple layers and lets you easily identify the layer that you want.
  • When you have something on a layer, it is automatically selected. Say you add text to a layer and you deselect it. You can add a drop shadow or bevel the text without selecting it. By its nature, a layer is selected unless you make a specific selection of parts of the layer.
  • The background layer will show the opacity slider as non-active. To activate this opacity slider, you can do one of two things:
    1. You can right-click on the "Background" button in the layer palette and choose "Promote to Layer" from the pop-up menu. With this option, you will have nothing under your background layer. To correct this, just add a new layer, name it Background and drag it under the new layer.
    2. You can also right-click on the "Background" button and choose "Duplicate" from the pop-up menu. With this option, the bottom layer will still have the background on it. You can either fill this layer with the color of your choice, or you can clear it (Edit || Clear)

If you want to know more about layers, continue on to Layers II!