Importing Elements and Preserving Layer Mask

When you import a layer into an existing document, Photoshop always creates a new layer and puts the contents into it. This can be a hindrance if what you want to do is insert the content into an existing layer and preserve the mask that's been applied to it. Time for a workaround:

1. Have the two document windows display side by side.

2. Select the layer into which you want to import the content.

3. Click the target document's window to display its layers in the Layers palette.

4. To center the content in the target document, drag the source layer tile into the target document window. To place it approximately, select the layer and then use the Move tool (M) to click in the source window and drag and drop into the target window.

5. The incoming layer should now be sitting above the target layer. Reposition the content with the Move tool so that it sits exactly where you want it, because after the next step you won't be able to move it.

TIP You can create a safety net by generating a snapshot in the History palette and return to this state if required, provided the document hasn't been closed.

6. Press Ctrl+E (Windows), (Mac OS) and choose Preserve from the pop-up dialog box.

Photoshop merges the layer and preserves the mask. Unless you have a pressing need to import the data into an existing layer, it's always a good idea not to merge layers and to keep them separate for as long as possible for the flexibility separate layers can provide.

Photoshop CS Mastery

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