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Bair Art Edition's Tutorial on:
Adjusting Color & Exposure
In Adobe Photoshop


How to Merge Layers


You may wonder why this topic receives it's own section, that means you either know all there is to merging techniques, or you know very little and don't see how powerful it can be.

Setting the Background

Unlocking the background is an important step. The background cannot be moved unless it is redefined as a layer. This is done by double-clicking on it. You can still name it background if you want, but the default name that Photoshop tries to assign it is "layer 0".

Once the background is redefined as a layer, not only can you set layers below it, you can also acheive transparency through it. Normally, with a background, if you erase the background, or increase the canvas size, what shows through is the background color on the color palette, whatever that is.



This info may not directly pertain to merging, but knowing how to redefine the background will save some merging headaches.

Merging Down

Often you will want to combine two layers into one, so that adjustment you make (which aren't layer adjustments) will apply to both of them. Caution: once layers are merged, there is no going back!! the two are inseperably connected (at least they are very hard to separate).

If you want to have a layer to play around with, and still maintain the original layers, read Merging Visible, below. Other reasons for merging two layers is to set a vector-based item or a style.

Vector-based items include shapes (lines, circles, etc.) drawn in Photoshop, and type. Each of these items is made of vectors, and is only rasterized when you are not working on its layer. As a vector image as opposed to a bitmap, or rasterized image, some tools cannot be effectively applied to it.

In that case, you can create a new layer (second icon from the right on bottom of layer palette), which will be transparent by default. Place it below the vector layer and select Merge Down.

Merge down is found by selecting Layer/ Merge Down, or by clicking on the arrow in the upper right-hand corner of the Layer Palette and selecting it:


The keyboard command is command - E for Mac's, and ctrl - E for PC Users.

Merging Visible

The simple Merge Visible does not keep the layer separate, that is an advanced technique I've described below this section.

Merging visible is just what it says, all vivible layers (those with "eyecons" showing) are merged into one complete layer, which is now inseperable.

Merge Visible is found in the same place as Merge Down. It can be done through keyboard commands as well: command - shift - E for Mac users, ctrl - shift - E for PC users. Important tip: option-clicking (alt-clicking for PC users) on any layer's "eyecon" will hide all other layers. Repeating that step will show all layer again. This is useful when you only want to merge a few of the layers, it allows you to hide the majority of them rather quickly.

It also helps in seeing how far you've come in making adjustments if you have many layers over the background image - you can toggle on and off all of the work you've done.


Merge Visible - Advanced

This is the best way to merge. You will be making an entirely new layer that consists of all of the other layers that are visible.

You can merge all visible layers onto an existing layer, but you will then lose the solidarity of that particular layer. Instead, you should create a new layer, which will be blank and transparent by default.

With this new layer selected, and preferably on top of the stack (I'll tell you why in a second), hold down the option (alt key for PC users), while selecting Merge Visible. This copies all the other layers and merges their information onto the new layer.

This layer should most often be on the top of the stack, especially if there are adjustment layers. This is because all visible layers, including adjustment layers are merged into the new layer without being lost. If you make this new, merged layer and it wasn't above the adjustment layers, but rather resides below them, it will be receiving those adjustments twice!

Once because the adjustments are now part of the new layer, and twice because they are under the adjustment layers still!

With this new merged layer you are able to make adjustments to the all of the merged layers at once, or copy the layer and have the benefit of copying all layers together without flattening.


These are the sections of this module:


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- Stephen Bair, Utah Wedding Photographer, Bountiful Utah Wedding Photography

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