Layers provide flexibility within Photoshop, allowing you to play around with an image’s individual elements and create a more compelling composition. However, if you’re getting bogged down with too many layers, you might want to combine them into more manageable groups. Learning how to merge layers in Photoshop can simplify your workflow and speed up the editing process. You can also use this technique to flatten all of your layers into one single layer, which is helpful in the final stages of a project.
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Merging Layers Using the Options Menu
Within Photoshop’s layers panel, you can right-click on any layer to see a long list of options. These include “Merge Layers”, “Merge Visible”, and “Flatten Image”. Before right-clicking, you should select the layers that you wish to merge. There’s no limit to the number of layers you can select.
If you’ve only selected one layer, the “Merge Layers” option will change to “Merge Down”. This means your selected layer will merge with the layer below it on the panel. In addition, your newly merged layer will take the bottom layer’s name.
Use Shift-click or Ctrl-click to highlight multiple layers in the panel. Clicking on “Merge Layers” will combine them into one layer, while keeping the top layer’s name.
Another way to merge multiple layers is by using the “Merge Visible” option. This will merge any layers that are currently visible (i.e. with the “eye” icon enabled). You can hide any layers that you don’t wish to merge by unchecking their eye icons first. If you press Alt while clicking on “Merge Visible”, it will merge the layers into an entirely new group, while preserving the original layers as well.
Finally, choosing “Flatten Image” will merge any visible layers in the panel. Layers that are not visible will be discarded. This is usually one of the last steps of a project, allowing you to save your final image file as one fixed layer.
Remember, once you’ve merged layers and saved your project, you cannot undo it. If you’re unsure whether merging certain layers is the right course of action, you should save a copy of your Photoshop project beforehand.
Linking Layers (Without Merging Them)
So, now you know how to merge layers in Photoshop, but how do you avoid the aforementioned merging issue? To start, you can “link” layers before committing to a merge. It’s possible to unlink the layers at any time, but while they are linked, any adjustments you make to one layer will affect the entire group. This option can also be found by right-clicking on the layers panel.
Meanwhile, the “Group From Layers…” option organizes your layers into separate sections, so you can work on one section at a time without getting overwhelmed with the larger project. You can right-click on the layers panel to find this option, or highlight the desired layers and drag them to the folder icon (found at the bottom of the layers panel).