Layers started out as little more than their name implies — sheets of pixels that you could edit and transform independently of each other. But over time, layers have become increasingly more sophisticated. Since the feature was introduced in Version 3, every major release of Photoshop has witnessed some kind of fantastic, and occasionally frustrating, layer enhancement. Photoshop 4 forced you to embrace the feature by creating a new layer every time you imported an image; but it also rewarded you with floating adjustment layers that let you correct colors without permanently affecting a single pixel (see Chapter 17). Photoshop 5 witnessed the birth of layer effects, which included editable drop shadows, glows, and edge bevels (see Chapter 14). Now comes Photoshop 6, which permits you to bundle and color-code layers into logical clusters (this chapter), blend color channels independently of each other (Chapter 13), and even add vector-based lines and shapes (Chapter 14), not to mention object-oriented text (Chapter 15).
In fact, in a long line of layer-boosting champions, Photoshop 6 bears the standard with more gusto than any release since Version 3. Mind you, there's still room for improvement. For example, one day I hope to see Photoshop integrate parametric effects, in which filters such as Unsharp Mask and Motion Blur are fully editable, interactive, and interchangeable, on the order of Adobe's full-motion editor, After Effects. But in the meantime, Photoshop 6's layers provide us with more freedom and flexibility than we've ever had before.
For those of your who are wondering what I'm talking about, permit me to back up for a moment. The first and foremost benefit of layers is that they add versatility. Because each layer in a composition is altogether independent of other layers, you can change your mind on a moment's notice. Consider Figure 12-1. Here I've compiled the ingredients
In This Chapter
Creating and cloning layers
Floating the background layer
Bringing layers forward and backward
Using the Matting commands
Converting layers to selections
Making drop shadows, halos, and spotlights
Combining layers using links and sets
Moving, scaling, and rotating layers
Aligning layers to guides and each other
Using the measure tool
Selecting the Lock Transparency option
Working with layer masks
Creating clipping groups
for a very bad day at the doctor's office. Each of the bits and pieces of hardware are located on a separate layer, all of which float above the surface of the background X-ray. Although the pixels from the hardware blend with the X-ray and with each other, I can easily reposition and modify them as the mood strikes me. Photoshop automatically reblends the pixels on the fly.
To show what I mean, I've repositioned and transformed every single layer in the second example in Figure 12-1. The MO cartridge is smaller and rotated, the mess of chords hangs up instead of down, and the lock and key are just plain skewed. I can also exchange the order of the layers, merge layers, and adjust their translucency until I keel over from sheer alternative overload.
Layers make it harder to make mistakes, they make it easier to make changes, and they expand your range of options. More than anything else, they permit you to restructure a composition and examine how it was put together after you assemble it. Layers can be very challenging to use or relatively simple. But whatever you do, don't shy away. If a layer might help, there's no reason not to add one.
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