Layers and Masks 1 – The Layers Palette

For this guide you need to have Photoshop open with an image and be able to see the ‘Layers’ palette.

Layers Palette

Layers Palette

If you can’t find the layers palette, go to the ‘windows’ tab and select layers.

Now you can see it, so let me explain the different parts of the window… we will look at each aspect in greater detail later.


  1. Mask – this button creates a mask for the selected layer, it won’t work with just one layer
  2. Adjustment layer – this button will create another layer for the sole purpose of adjusting levels, curves etc.
  3. New layer – this button will create a new (blank) layer or you can drag one of your layers onto it to duplicate it

There is only one layer here called ‘background’. It is locked and you cannot create a mask, but you can duplicate it. Try duplicating your layer by dragging the thumb image onto button 3 (New layer button).


4. Normal – this is the way we want the layer to mix or interact with the layer below it.
5. Opacity – this is the strength of the top layer
6. Eyeball – this is a way of turning the top layer on or off.

Try these tools on your palette, what do you notice?

You should notice that there is not much effect when you toggle the buttons… why?

Because both your layers are exactly the same.

Where it says ‘Normal’ try running through the different blending settings. This can be done with your mouse wheel. Try to study each setting and work out why it is having a different effect. Why is ‘Multiply’ so called? Why is ‘Screen’ so called? Notice that you can adjust the strength of the top layer with two sliders: ‘opacity’ and ‘fill’.

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