Selecting Layers Automatically

The Move tool has had an Auto Select Layer option going back a number of releases. When elected, it does what it says on the package: It enables the Move tool to automatically select the layer, provided that the pixels under the pointer have more than 50% opacity. However, it's a much underused option and possibly rightly so because it can land you in deep water by moving content that you didn't mean to move—especially if you happen to be working in full screen mode when you might not discover the erroneous move well into the editing session. Ouch!

Here are three alternatives that are safer to use and almost as quick, though they require you to learn keyboard shortcuts. The first alternative is to select the Move tool (M), hold down Ctrl (Windows), ^ (Mac OS), and then click a 50% opaque pixel. The second alternative is to Right-click (Windows), Ctrl-click (Mac OS) the content and choose the layer from the contextual menu. The third alternative doesn't require you to select the Move tool or make a choice from the contextual menu but requires you to hold down more keys: Ctrl+Alt+Right-click (Windows), ^+Opt+Ctrl-click (Mac OS).

What happens in fact when you use the last alternative is that the contextual menu is still being used, but because you have hidden it by holding down Alt (Windows), Opt (Mac OS) and said OK to the first named layer on the menu (usually the one under the pointer) by clicking, it feels like an alternative method. Whatever happens under the hood, it still is probably the most versatile method because you don't have to select the Move tool or make a choice in the contextual menu.

Moving layers up and down the stack is a common requirement when you're editing images. However, moving them in tandem in the past required that you put them into sets, or groups as they are now called, before you could move them together. Now all that's required is to select the layers, move them up or down the stack with the pointer, and drop them below or above a layer.

To move the layer above the currently selected layer, you can press Ctrl+] (Windows), (Mac OS).To move the layer below the currently active layer, press Ctrl+[ (Windows), ^ + [ (Mac OS). To move a layer to the top or the bottom of a stack, add the Shift key to the preceding key combination. Of course, these keyboard shortcuts do not allow you to move a layer below the Background layer.

Linking layers allows you to apply commands simultaneously to more than one layer or group. After they're linked, you can move, align and distribute, and transform (though not warp) layer content as if it were a single object.

Although the effect is similar to selecting multiple layers, which you couldn't do prior to this version of Photoshop, the effect differs in as much as the links remain in force even when the layers have been deselected.

You gain other benefits from linking layers and sets. When you select one of the linked layers, all the layers in the chain are automatically selected, whereas with selecting you have to reselect each layer again. Having linked layers makes it easy to reselect the same set of layers repeatedly by just selecting one layer. You can also create sets of linked layers. For example, link layers one, three, five and create another linked set from two, four, six, and so forth. Unfortunately, just in case you try to search for such indications, you'll find no visual clues to tell you that a layer belongs in set x or y.

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