Working with Layers in Photoshop 7

By Gary David Bouton

Dateline: June 20, 2003
Volume 1, Number 7
Earlier columns

This summer my publisher has given permission to run a chapter from my latest book, Inside Adobe Photoshop 7, as a multi-part series. You can actively participate using Photoshop, and the image files I'll supply, by clicking on the links throughout. Here's part one: I hope you'll like it enough to consider buying the book. :)

When given the choice between gooshing Pla-doh between your fingers for a few hours or helping to design the integration controls for an automated fork lift – quick, which one would you choose? There isn't a right or wrong answer here, but I was kinda hoping that you're the "gooshing" type of person. Why? Because Inside Adobe Photoshop 7 is a book on art and not forklifts, but more importantly, you can indeed learn a lot out of topographically rearranging childrens' modeling clay. There are some things you just pick up by experimenting. And if you're new to Photoshop, it just might seem like the innards to a forklift, but I'm going to make this complex image editing program fun: yes, fun for you to goof around with. I have a handsome, goofy picture on several layers just waiting for you to alter, and you will assuredly learn some Photoshop truths through your (guided) tour.

Meet Bouton's Idea of a Picnic

Click here to download (about 2 MB). Then extract the picnic.psd file and load it in Photoshop. As shown in the illustration below, here we have an alien wearing a shameless plug for a software company on its T-shirt, a duck swimming in a watch, a rockpile with a face looking on, some fruit, a gnome with a mushroom (at least he's bringing something to the picnic), and, naturally, a pest, in the form of a hovering insect. Every picnic has to have insects. The first thing we ought to do, therefore, is not to kill the insect, but instead to stash its component parts away in a Layer Set. What's a Layer Set? Read on!

Introducing Layers and Layer Sets

To understand Layer Sets, you first need to understand Photoshop layers. Photoshop layers can hold non-transparent designs or photographic elements held in place by transparency all around, so you can see the non-transparent contents of a layer underneath. With picnic.psd open in Photoshop, then press F7 to display the Layers palette and note that there are around a quatrillion layers in the image. Why oh why did author Bouton do this? So we can experiment with one item in the image without disturbing the others. Now, it does become a little confusing when you have odd ends and pieces of objects all on separate layers, so the most prudent thing to do when working on any multi-layered image is to keep components of one element in one place. Namely, a Layer Set will address the problem of keeping all the crumbs on one cookie. In the steps to follow, you will put the Bumble, its left and right wing, in a Layer Set you create.

Exercise 1: Creating and Using a Layer Set

  1. With the picnic.psd file open in Photoshop, scroll up the Layers list until you can see Right Wing, Bumble, and Left Wing titles.
  2. On the Layers palette, click on the flyout menu button (circled in the illustration below) and then choose New Layer Set from the menu. A dialog box appears. Type Bumble in the Name field and then click on OK.

  3. A tiny folder icon appears on the Layers palette list with the title Bumble. Drag the Bumble layer, the Left Wing and the Right Wing layer titles on the palette onto the folder icon. Although the bumble bee is still visible in the image window, you can now delete it, move it up or down in layer order, or make invisible all three layers with a single click. Pretty powerful stuff. Keep Photoshop and this image open; we've yet to begin messing it up.
Admittedly, organizing insect parts is not an auspicious opening to a playful tutorial. We'll correct this in the following section, where you get a true feel for the power of layers.

Changing Layers and Moving Objects

Before continuimg, choose the Move tool (on the upper-right of the toolbox; shaped like an arrow with a street intersection symbol) and make certain that the Auto Select Layer checkbox on the Options bar (upper-left of your screen) is unchecked. Of course, you can check it later. Now, as you can see, there are a lot of things wrong with this picture: the fruit has no color, the gnome looks happy even though he's a gnome, and the tree has a faucet tap on it! The gnome might benefit from some professional help, but the tap can be moved to its rightful place on the keg (we are not sure what is in the keg; we assume it's apple cider) in about two editing moves.

Exercise 2: Tapping a Keg

  1. Right-click (Macintosh: hold Ctrl and click) over the tap on the tree. The Context menu pops up and tells you that there are three layers directly under your cursor. Choose the tap and the Layers palette will highlight the tap title on the list to indicate that this is the layer which you are editing, as shown in the illustration below.

  2. With one deft move of the cursor, drag the tap to the keg. One problem here: the duck is going to get its watch wet with the tap positioned correctly. This is no problem if you understand how to link layers and move them together. And besides, who invited the duck, anyhow?
  3. Click on the QT shadow layer, and then click in the column to the left of the QuackTime layer title, as shown in the illustration below. You've connected the layers now; not in the way you collected the insect parts, but linking is good for moving things in tandem.

  4. Drag the duck-in-the-watch and its shadow to the left, to safety. Keep Photoshop open and save this image to your hard disk, to speed up the action.

The next weird item on our "let's muck it up" list is the face in the stone pile. Why isn't he smiling? Wanna make him smile? Oooops! We've run out of pixels for this month. Next month, I'll show you how to make the rock smile, and a lot of other neat tricks.

My Best,
Gary David Bouton

Gary David Bouton is an author and artist who is largely responsible for the book "Inside Adobe Photoshop 7" and wouldn't mind at all if you bought a copy . Gary hosts a thread on the Photoshop Gurus site and is the moderator of a 3D modeling forum. His guide to Caligari's free trueSpace 3D app is available online. Besides being an educator/artist/all-around-nice-guy, Gary also owns a dysfunctional ginsu knife and is frantically trying to find K-Tel's 1-800 number. "But wait, there's more..."