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by Wendi Elizabeth Martha Scarth


Photoshop Elements 
Understand Layers


This is a Photoshop Elements Tutorial - Click Here!

Understand Layers
Suitable for Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor
Skill Level - Beginners Plus

Adobe Photoshop Elements Versions 14 & 15 Example

Photoshop Elements 9's Layers Palette
Photoshop Elements 10's Layers Palette
Identical For 8, 9, 10  Versions: 
Layers Drop-down List
Photoshop Elements 8's Layers Palette
Understanding Layers Photoshop Elements

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Detailed Elements Workspace Tutorial Plus The Redesigned Workspace, Palettes & Toolbar Of Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15
Please Click Here For More Information.

Understand/Organise Element’s Workspace
Layer Blending Modes Explained In Detail Here!

As well as discovering all aspects of Layers, this comprehensive Photoshop Elements tutorial will teach you how to build a simple five-layered image. To work along, you are welcome to download my Four Transparent Beer Glass Images HereUnzip the file and open the contents onto Elements’ workspace.

Please Note
This tutorial was originally written using Elements 8, and I have updated it to be compatible with Elements 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, &
15. If you have questions, you are welcome to contact me here.

How To Open The Beer Glass Images Onto Element’s Workspace
Elements 8: from the top menu, choose File and then choose Open: - or simply drag and drop the Beer Glass Images onto the workspace.
Elements 8 and 9: first open the Beer Images onto Element’s workspace, (File then Open). Then drag each Beer Image onto the workspace from the Project/Photo Bin, As Illustrated Here.
Elements 11, 12, 13, 14, & 15’s images can also be dragged and dropped onto the workspace via the Project/Photo Bin. As Illustrated Here.

Understanding Layers is fundamental to being able to produce sophisticated work within Photoshop. They are the most essential feature it offers, and once the basics are understood - getting started is quite straight forward. After you have worked with Layers a few times, the more advanced features - such as Layer Masks, Layer Groups and Adjustment Layers, will fall into place.

Printing Note
You may find it helpful to print this tutorial. 

Layer Notes
For most simple image retouches and corrections, you do not have to add any Layers; however, it is generally a good habit to simply duplicate the Layer (by right-clicking the Layer in the Layers palette and choosing Duplicate from the subsequent drop-down list), before applying actions such as the photograph correction commands. By applying any changes to the Duplicated Layer, you will always preserve the original image on its own Layer. And when you intend to do more complex work; such as add elements to the image - create photo compositions; or add text and other effects - it is good practise to utilise Layers for these tasks.

What Is A Layer?
When creating Layers, each Layer that you add begins as a transparent sheet over the Background Layer; as you add brush strokes, vector objects or text - you cover up parts of the Background Layer. Transparent parts allow you to see through to underlying Layers.  You can stack up multiple Layers to create whatever effect you like - such as artistic compositions, collages - or complex illustrations.

The following Vector Illustration Of My Dog Sacha Has Over 800 Layers

Opening Multiple Photographs - Tip
Rather than choosing File and Open, you may find it easier to drag the Start Images onto Elements’ workspace, as illustrated below.

Elements 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 students: layer your Beer Glass Images by dragging the Beer Glass 3 Image from the Project/Photo Bin onto Element’s workspace. If you cannot see the Project Bin, from the top menu, choose Window then click a tick before Project/Photo Bin. Alternatively, click the icon at the bottom of the workspace.

Photoshop Elements 14 & 15 Screen Capture

Beer Glass 3

Then drag Beer Glasses 1, 2 and 4 onto Beer Glass 3 - as illustrated below.

Your layered image is now ready to work with.

Elements 9 Example

Elements 10 Example

Elements 14 Workspace Example

Elements 15 Workspace Example

Display Layers Palette - All Elements Versions
Layers are one of the most important and useful aspects of Elements, and it is worth taking a little time to get to know their basic principles. If you cannot see your Layers Palette, from the top menu, choose Window then click a tick before Layers, as illustrated below. 

My Other On-line Layers/Blending Mode Tutorials
Blend Modes Explained - (With Mini Tutorials) Here! - Beginner
Create Fill Layers And Fill Them With A Choice Of Solid Colour, Pattern Or A Gradient

The following topics are demonstrated in this lesson:

Mask Layers
The Lock Tab - Beginner
Linking Layers - Beginner
Deleting Layers - Beginner
Additional Panels - Beginner
Unlocking Layers - Beginner
Renaming Layers - Beginner
Duplicating Layers - Beginner
Deactivate A Layer - Beginner
Applying Pattern Fills - Beginner
Toggle Layer Visibility - Beginner
Creating A New Layer - Beginner
A Layers Lesson - Beginners Plus
Changing Layer Orders - Beginner
Change The Blend Mode - Beginner
Lowering Layer Opacities - Beginner
Applying Solid Colour Fills - Beginner
Expand The Layers Palette - Beginner
Utilise A Clipping Mask - Intermediate
Simplify (Rasterise) A Layer - Beginner
Accessing The Layers Palette - Beginner
Changing Layer Blending Modes - Beginner
Merge (Visible) - Or Flatten Layers - Beginner
Quickly Scroll/Change Blending Modes - Beginner
Applying Layer Styles - For Example Drop Shadows - Beginner
Create New Fill Or Adjustment (Non-destructive) Layers - Intermediate

Layers Palette - The Basics (Background Layers And Unlocking Layers)

Layers Palette In Newer Photoshop Elements Editor Versions
The Layers Palette may look a little different in newer Photoshop Element versions - for example, the icons are situated at the top of the palette instead of the bottom. However, all Elements Layers work in very similar ways. For example, the Opacity slider and Blend Modes are positioned at the top of the Layers Palette in all Photoshop Elements versions and work in identical manners.

    PSE 15 PSE 9

When you open a photograph onto Elements workspace the image has a single Layer, and the Layer is usually named Background. The tiny padlock (highlighted below), indicates the Layer is Locked. A Locked Layer means you cannot remove its background, or apply certain commands. 

To Unlock the Layer, double-left-click the Background Layer, and from the subsequent New Layer dialogue box, click OK.  (There’s no need to name this New Layer, unless you wish to).

An alternative way to Unlock a Layer is, from the top menu: choose Layer then choose New then choose Layer from background. (Click OK to the subsequent New Layer dialogue box).

Layer has been unlocked
(No Padlock)

Quickly Unlock A Layer
To quickly Unlock a Locked Layer: press and hold the Alt key, and simultaneously
double-left-click the Background Layer. The Layer’s name will immediately change from Background to Layer 0. (Note: You don’t need to Unlock the Layers in this lesson). 

Duplicate A Layer
For most
simple image retouches and corrections, you do not have to add any Layers. However, it is generally good practise to Duplicate the Layer by left-clicking and dragging it over the following Create a new layer icon. (Or by right-clicking the Layer and selecting Duplicate Layer). By applying changes to the Duplicated Layer, you’ll preserve the original image - on its own Layer - this is known as Non Destructive Layer Editing. If you intend to do complex work such as add elements to the image, create photo compositions, or add text and other effects - it is much better in the long run, to utilise separate Layers for those tasks.

  Duplicate a Layer Layer had been Duplicated

A Layer doesn’t need to be Unlocked before Duplicating.

Each new Layer begins as a transparent sheet over the background. As you add Brush Strokes, Vector/Raster Objects, or Text - you cover up parts of the Background Layer. Transparent parts allow you to see through to underlying Layers, and transparency is represented by a chessboard effect. 

You can stack Multiple Layers to create whatever effect you like - such as artistic compositions, photographic collages, or complex illustrations. 

Layers Tutorial For Beginners
In the following tutorial, I demonstrate how to a create a five-layered image; I then show how easy it is to drag the Layers thereby creating different stacking orders. Amongst other edits, I demonstrate how to alter the Layer’s Opacity and Blending Modes, and how to apply Layer Styles - for example, Drop Shadows and Bevels.

Utilising The Layers Palette: Tutorial Begins
Open the Beer Glass Start Images onto Elements’ workspace.

Workspace Warnings
If your images become tabbed together, separate them by dragging their top menu-bars away from each other. In addition, don’t let them snap onto the orange horizontal bar that runs along the top of your workspace: if this happens, unsnap them by dragging them away from it, and reposition them separately on Elements’ workspace.

Now, from the top menu, choose File then choose New - (Ctrl/Cmd then N). In the subsequent New dialogue box, enter the following Transparent settings, then click OK.

PSE 14 & 15 Example

Versions 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 - Tile Your Images
From the top menu of Elements, choose Window then click Images then click Tile.

PSE 15

Then from the left-side Toolbar, activate the Move Tool

And left-click and hold, then (one at a time) drag the four Transparent Beer Glasses onto the Transparent Image you opened in Chapter 2. After they have been transferred to the Transparent Image, to save PC resources, close the original Beer Glasses by clicking their top-right X’s

Then centralise the four-layered image by snapping it to Orange Vertical Line.

Your Layers Palette and Workspace will now resemble the following.

PSE 15

You will notice your Layers Palette now displays Four Beer Glass Layers, and the Transparent Document’s Layer. If you cannot see all of your Layers, elongate the Layers Palette by left-clicking and dragging the following area upwards.

PSE 15

You will notice the Transparent Layer, (Layer 1), is at the foot of the Layers Stack. Being at the foot of the Layers Stack means the Transparent Layer 1, and whatever it may contain, will display below (or behind) the rest of the Layers, (the Beer Glasses). To demonstrate this, left-click to highlight the Transparent Layer 1 - as illustrated below. 

Highlighting the Layer makes it the Active Layer, and subsequent Filters or Commands will be applied to just that Layer). 

Now, press your Keyboard’s D Key to set the default Foreground and Background Colour Swatches - (Black and White). 

Then press, and hold your Alt/Option key. Now, tap your Backspace Key. (Layer then New Fill Layer then Solid Colour). You have just filled the Transparent Layer 1 with the Foreground colour, and because it’s at the bottom of the Layers Stack, the black appears to be placed behind the Beer Glass Layers - as illustrated below.


6/ Reposition Layers
Now, in the Layers Palette: left-click and hold over the Black Layer 1. Then drag it above the Layer above it, (Layer 1); and release your mouse button - as illustrated below.

Congratulations, you have just repositioned the Black Layer 1.

You will notice the Beer Glass on the Layer below the Black Layer has disappeared. This is because the Beer Glass Layer has now been placed below the Black Layer, and as a result, it can no longer be seen. (It is now behind the Black Layer).

If you left-click and drag the Black Layer to the top of the Layers Stack - the Black Layer will be positioned above the rest of the Layers - and will prevent all Layers beneath it from being viewed - as illustrated below.

8/ Opacity
Now, to display the Layers beneath the Black Layer: (still working on the Black Layer);
left-click and grab the Layers Opacity slider, then drag it to the left. You are looking to reduce the Opacity so revealing the Beer Glass Layers beneath the Black Layer: - play with the slider to see how different levels of Opacity alter the Black Layer’s appearance. 

You can set the Opacity anywhere from 0% to 100% - I lowered mine to 67%.


Change The Opacity Using The Arrow Keys Tip
To quickly change the Opacity setting, first, click over the Opacity slider, and ensure it is highlighted, as illustrated below.

Then, whilst the Opacity setting remains highlighted; immediately tap your Keyboard’s Upwards-facing or Downwards-facing Arrow Key.


Layers Lesson Continued

Return the Black Layer’s Opacity to 100%.

9/ Blending Modes
To the left of the Opacity slider you will see a tab named Normal. This is referring to your Layer’s Blending Modes. Click the tiny arrow next to Normal, (as illustrated below-left), to reveal a drop-down list. The drop-down list displays your choice of Blending Modes; Normal has no effect whatsoever. Normal is therefore the default Blending Mode.


(What Are Blending Modes? 
A Complete List of Blending Modes - And Their Effects, Plus Two Exercises Can Be Found Here)

Return the Black Layer’s Opacity to 100% by dragging the Opacity slider all the way to the right.

Blending Modes alter an image’s pixels depending on the Blending Mode and the image beneath it. For example, if you activate the Black Layer, then click open the list of Blending Modes and change the Blending Mode from Normal to Saturation - your image would change to the following. 


Experiment with different Blending Modes to see how they change your image, Blending Modes can be excellent when applied in conjunction with Background Removal Tools and various Commands. Additionally, reducing the Layer’s Opacity further changes your Layer’s appearance.

Quickly Scroll Through And Change The Blending Modes
To scroll through, and quickly change the Blending Modes; first left-click to highlight any Blend Mode.

Then, whilst the Blending Mode remains highlighted, tap any of the following Keyboard Arrow Keys.

10/ Delete Layers
-click the Black Layer, and from the subsequent drop-down list click Delete Layer.

Alternatively, left-click and hold: then drag your Layer over the following Delete Layer rubbish bin icon.

For a quicker result, first ensure the Black Layer is active, then click the Bin Icon and reply Yes to the subsequent Delete Layer warning box.


11/ Create A New Layer
Now, ensure the very Top Layer is active, as illustrated below-left: then click the Create a new layer icon found at the foot of the Layers Palette. This creates a Transparent Layer at the top of the Layers Stack - as illustrated below-right.

New Layers are always applied above an active Layer.


Now you have created your New Layer, it is time to Fill it with a Pattern. Therefore, from the top menu, choose Edit then choose Fill Layer. From the subsequent Fill Layer dialogue box, set the following attributes, then scroll the Custom Pattern thumbnails, and
double-left-click to set the Pattern of your choice - then click OK.

 Click open Pattern choices

Because the Pattern Layer is at the top of the Layers Stack, your image will be completely filled with grass, (or your choice of Pattern), as illustrated below.

13/ Display The Beer Glasses By Changing The Blend Mode
To blend the Beer Glasses with the Grass Pattern, change the Blending Mode to Overlay, and leave the Opacity unchanged.


Change the Blend Mode back to Normal, and ensure the Opacity is set to 100%, as illustrated below. Then drag the Grass Pattern Layer to the bottom of the Layer Stack.

Then from the left-side Toolbar, activate the Move Tool .

Now, activate a Beer Glass Layer in the Layers Palette: and working directly with the corresponding Beer Glass on your workspace, left-click and drag it to a different position - as illustrated below.  


Continue repositioning the remaining three Bear Glasses to you liking. After you have repositioned the Beer Glasses, (and have set a Blending Mode of your choice), you are ready for the next step.

To deactivate an Active Layer, left-click over the grey workspace.

Blending Modes
The following example demonstrates what happens when I change Beer Glasses’ Blending Modes. I changed the first Beer Glass’s Blending Mode to Difference which changed its colours to purple and green: the second has been changed to Hard Light: the third is unchanged (it remains set to Normal). The fourth Beer Glass’s Blending Mode has been changed to Luminosity. However, bear in mind, images will always react uniquely. Remember,
Blending Modes react to the Layer that is beneath the targeted Layer.

Tip: Variation Blending Modes
Another way of displaying the grass through the Beer Glasses is to change the Beer Glasses’ Blending Modes to Hard Light: alternatively, change them to Blending Modes that suit your image’s pixels.


15/ Rename Layers
To rename a Layer: double-left-click the oblong tab highlighted in red below-left. After its present name has been highlighted; clear it with your cursor, then type in a new name, as illustrated below-right. To complete the name-change, press your Enter/Return Key


When you have successfully highlighted and renamed all Layers, you have completed this renaming step.

16/ Apply Layer Styles
To apply a Drop Shadow to a Beer Glass Layer, first left-click to highlight (activate) a Layer of your choice. 

Now, you have two choices. Choice Number One: first ensure that you can see the Effects tab by clicking a tick before Effects - as illustrated below.

Then from the Effects panel, click Drop Shadows.


Then double-left-click a Drop Shadow of your choice, (there are two to choose from), as illustrated below-left. Then click Apply to commit the change.


17/ Layer FX: Drop Shadow Choice Number Two
Alternatively, (and for more Drop Shadow control): from the top menu, choose Layer then choose Layer Style then choose Style Settings. From the subsequent Style Settings dialogue box, click a tick before Drop Shadow and adjust the settings by moving the Size, Distance and Opacity sliders to the left or to the right. (Drag the Lighting Angle dial to an angle of your choice, then click OK).

Change The Drop Shadow’s Colour
To change the Drop Shadow’s colour from Black to a colour of your choice, click the tiny black swatch, highlighted below: and from the subsequent Select shadow colour dialogue box, click over a colour of your choice, then click OK.


After you have applied your Layer Style, the effected Layer will display the following FX icon.

To change, edit or remove the Style: double-left-click the FX icon highlighted below, and you will see the Style Settings dialogue. You can now remove, edit or apply another Style to your image.

18/ Merge Visible - Or Flatten - Layers
Prior to Merging, or Flattening your Layers, you have the option of saving your image with its Layers intact - this is important if you wish to edit your Layers at a later date. To save your Layered document as a .psd file; from the top menu, choose File then choose Save as, as demonstrated in my on-line tutorial

Only after you are completely happy with your Layered work: from the top menu, choose Layer then choose Merge Visible. Your Layers will then be Merged together as one Layer, and they will no longer be editable. Choosing Flatten Image crunches all Layers into one Background Layer. Flattening or Merging Visible your Layers results in smaller file sizes, subsequently saving precious PC resources. If you have Merged Visible your Layers, your Layers Palette will resemble the following.

If you have selected Flatten Image, your Layers Palette will be Flattened into a Background Layer - as illustrated below.

19/ Additional Commands
At the top-right corner of the Layers Palette, you will notice the following tiny black triangle. If you click it, you will see the following drop-down list that includes commands that can further edit your Layers.

If you right-click over any Layer, (depending on the type of Layer), you will see one of the following drop-down lists.

     Right-click Un Merged Layers Right-click Flattened (Background) Layer

20/ Toggle Layer Visibility
There will be times when you need to temporarily hide your Layer’s Visibility if you want to see another Layer clearly, for example. To do this, click the following Layer Visibility eye icon, and the contents of that Layer will then be hidden - as illustrated below. 
To return the Layer’s Visibility, click back the eye icon. 



clicking the Visuality Eye icon displays the following drop-down list.

21/ Linking Layers
To apply an effect, or a filter to more than one Layer, press Ctrl and hold. Then left-click to highlight two or more Layers. Now, release your mouse button, and click the following chain link icon.

    Ctrl-click to highlght the Layers 

Your Layers have now been linked together. All Linked Layers will be represented by the following chain link icons. 

22/ (Non-destructive) - New Fill Or Adjustment Layers
An Adjustment Layer applies colour and tonal adjustments to your image without permanently changing pixel values. For example, rather than making a Levels or Brightness/Contrast adjustment directly to your image, you can create a Levels or a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer. The colour and tone adjustments are stored in the Adjustment Layer and apply to all Layers below it. You can discard your changes and restore the original image at any time. To create an Adjustment or Fill Layer, click the following icon, and click your choice from the drop-down menu.


If you save your work as a
PSD File, Adjustment Layers can then be reopened and edited at any time.

23/ The Lock Tab

The Lock Transparent Pixels tab confines editing to the opaque portions of the Layer.
Clicking the Lock Transparent Pixels tab prevents modification of the Layer’s pixels using the Painting Tools.

24/ Clipping Masks 

Please Note
A Clipping Mask is not the same as a Clipping Path and is not the same type of
Masking that is available in Elements 9/10. 

A Clipping Mask lets you use the content of a Layer to Mask the Layers above it. The Masking is determined by the content of the Bottom, or Base Layer. The non-transparent content of the Base Layer clips (reveals) the content of the Layers above it in the Clipping Mask. All other content in the Clipped Layers is Masked out. You can use multiple Layers in a Clipping Mask, but they must be successive Layers. The name of the Bottom Layer in the Mask is underlined, and the thumbnails for the overlying Layers are indented: the overlying Layers display a Clipping Mask icon.

To create a Clipping Mask, arrange the Layers so the Base/Bottom Layer is below the Layer you wish to Mask. Now, hold down your Alt Key, and then position your cursor over the line that divides the Bottom/Base Layer and the Layer above it, and when the cursor changes to a symbol of two overlapping circles, left-click


Your Layers will then display the following Clipping Mask arrow - as illustrated below.

To release a Clipping Mask: from the top menu, choose Layer then choose Release Clipping Mask - Ctrl then G.
An alternative way of creating a Clipping Mask is from the top menu, choosing Layer then choosing Create Clipping Mask - Ctrl - G.

25/ Simplifying A Layer (Rasterise)
Before applying effects or commands to Vector Text or Objects, the Text or Object needs to be Rasterised first. In Photoshop Elements, this is known as Simplifying the Layer. To Simplify a Layer: right-click the Layer, and from the subsequent drop-down list, choose Simplify Layer.

When you are happy with your work:
from the top menu, choose Layer then choose Flatten Image. Congratulations, your work is complete and is ready to save.

27/ Masks Photoshop
Elements 9/10 Only
When you select part of an image, the area that is not selected is “masked” or protected from editing. Consequently, when you create a mask, you isolate and protect areas of an image as you apply colour changes, filters, or other effects to the rest of the image. You can also use masks for complex image editing such as gradually applying colour or filter effects to an image. To add a mask layer to your Layer, click the Add layer mask button - below left. You will notice your layer now has an oblong mask channel, indicated below right. 

My Comprehensive Tutorial Here Explains/Demonstrates Mask Layers In Detail


Painting Masks
Press your Keyboard’s D Key to set the default Black and White Foreground and Background Colour Swatches. Then activate the Brush Tool, and begin painting a mask onto your image. The golden rule to remember when masking is, Painting with Black removes pixels, and painting with White brings them back.

Now you are familiar with Elements’ Layers, there’s nothing stopping you from expanding your creativeness and producing any type of work: from simple Layered Images to sophisticated multi-imaged artwork and designs.

Wendi E M Scarth. 
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