Importance of layers in Photoshop

If you have just started learning Photoshop, you might be confused about layers.  What is a layer in Photoshop, why is it so important, what is non-destructive editing everyone talks about in Photoshop?

What are layers?

In Photoshop, layers are transparent sheets stacked upon each other. You can edit different images into an individual layer. And because layers are transparent. You can see all the images that you have opened in different layers.

For example, you want to edit a gown. You open an image of a black gown in a layer (layer 1). And you want to change the color of that gown. To do that, you will add another layer (layer 2) on top of the original one and change the gown’s color from black to white. In the third step, you want to add sleeves. So now you will add another layer (layer 3) on top of the last two and add sleeves. Now you have three different layers. And if after doing all the changes, you realize that you do not like the color of the gown and want to change it back to black or try another color. To change it back to black you can switch off/ delete the 2nd layer. And if you want to try another color, you can go to that layer (layer 2) and do the changes directly without touching or affecting the other two layers (layer 1 and 3).

Now imagine if there are no layers/ you are not using layers in Photoshop. Again you would open the image of the gown and change its color and add the sleeves to the same image. After doing all the work, you want to change the gown’s color to black again. It would be almost impossible. The only way you can do that is by using the undo key. It would also undo the added sleeves that you need.

I have given you a small example. Now imagine the number of layers digital artists use for their paintings or image manipulations. They use many layers and go back, again and again, to make changes to individual layers. That would have been impossible without the use of layers.

Importance of layer

1. Helps in non-destructive editing

Layers in Photoshop helps in editing in a non-destructive way. You can always go back to the original unedited image. You can add up to 100 layers in Photoshop.

2. Arranging layer according to you

Layers allow us to arrange them according to your liking. If you want, you can switch these from the last one to the top one and stack them according to your liking.

3. You can duplicate a particular layer.

You can duplicate a layer; it saves the work of doing the same thing again.  Duplicating a layer increases the intensity of the effects/filters. It is great when using effects like blur or Gaussian blur.

4. Making direct changes in a layer.

If you are using layers, it can help you to easily edit a particular part of an image without affecting another part of an image.

Types of Layers

There are five types of layers –

  • Image layer
  • Shape layers
  • Adjustment layer
  • Fill layer
  • Text layer

1. Image layer

Whenever we talk about layers. In general, we are talking about the image layer. It is the layer in which we open our images.

2. Shape layer

Whenever you draw any shape from the shape tools on a layer. As soon as you draw a shape, a new layer is created automatically on top of the original layer (you see a small shape icon) that tells this is a shape layer. There are a lot of shape options and also a custom shape tool. The best part about it is that these shapes are vector-based it means that they won’t pixelate or degrade if you zoom them.

3. Adjustment layers

There are 19 Adjustment layer

  • Color fill
  • Gradient
  • Pattern
  • Brightness
  • Levels
  • Curves
  • Exposure
  • Vibrance
  • Hue/saturation
  • Selective color
  • Threshold
  • Gradient map
  • Invert
  • Color lookup
  • Black and white
  • Channel mixer
  • Posterize
  • Photo filter
  • Black and white

With adjustment layers, you can make changes without affecting the image itself on which you want to make the changes. You can increase or decrease brightness/hue /saturation. You can switch on/off the adjustment layer any time you want or make changes to it. You can scale up or down the opacity of the layer, add blend mode options.

4. Fill layer

With the fill layer, you can select (any selection tool) any area of an image and color it. Again just like the adjustment layer, the fill layer is completely separate from the original layer and can be deleted or changed at any time. You have the option of solid, gradient, or pattern fill.

5. Text layer

Any time you select a text tool to type a text layer opens up automatically. There are different fonts option, character options. You can increase or decrease the size of the text, add a color scale. It is also vector-based and will not lose its quality when scaled up or down.

All these layers can be duplicated, merged, deleted, or rearranged.

What is Layer mask?

Whenever you add an adjustment layer, you automatically open the layer mask with it. And in case you want to add a layer mask to a normal layer, there is an option on the bottom of the layer panel.  Click on the circle (half grey and half white), and a layer mask will open beside the image layer. It helps in showing/hiding the parts of a layer.

What is a Background layer in Photoshop?

The background layer is the first layer in Photoshop which is always locked and becomes the original layer with the image when saved into jpeg, png.

When we first open a document in Photoshop, a white background layer opens in the layer panel. The background layer is the first layer in Photoshop which is always locked and becomes the original layer with the image when saved into jpeg, png.

It is a solid background and can be turned into a transparent one like other layers. The layer and its contents cannot be moved unless converted to a normal layer by changing its name. You can also turn any layer into a background layer.


This is the basic about layers you need to know before starting. I hope it was helpful. Want to learn Photoshop for free? Read this article about where beginners can learn it for free –

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