Layer Images: How to Use Layers in Your Designs and Photo Editing

Make the image on the left into the design on the right. Magico!

Layers are your best friend, whether you’re using sophisticated techniques to kick out a high end look, or you just want a better way to edit a simple image. A layer isn’t a photo editor effect, and you might not even call it a tool. To layer images simply means to organize the arrangement of objects (photos, text, graphics, background color) you've placed in a design or photo, so that you can manipulate them more easily.

In this tutorial we’ll show you how to use PicMonkey's Layers panel while creating a design that has gorgeous depth and a hip gradient look. Take a peek at our quick steps below, or keep scrolling for the complete walkthrough.

Quick steps for controlling layers while you design in PicMonkey:

  1. Open an image in PicMonkey or add any object to the canvas and the Layers panel will open. If you close the Layers panel, click the stacked-squares icon in the bottom toolbar to open it again.

  2. Any new text or graphic layers that you add will appear in the panel.

  3. Reorder layers by using the up and down arrows in the panel.

  4. Group or merge layers together to edit them at the same time.

Now that you’ve got the quick steps, let's dive into the deets behind learning how to layer images like a pro.

Open your image in PicMonkey

Click Create new at the top of the homepage, then choose the place where the image you want to edit is stored, and click the image to open it in the editor.

The Layers panel should open automatically, next to your image. If it doesn’t, or if you close it and you want to open it again, the Layers icon is in the bottom toolbar (it looks like a stack of square pancakes). That little patch of rectilinear goodness is going to keep all your stuff organized, but right now it’s only showing one layer: your image, which is also its own background. (Inception!) You can separate your image from the background by clicking the padlock icon, which can be useful if you need to change the canvas size, and move the image around to find the best placement. (Not an essential step for this project.)

Create a gradient layer

To get the a gradient (also called a color transition), we need to create another layer by adding a square graphic that stretches to the perimeter of the image. Click Graphics in the side tabs on the left (shapes icon), and then choose Basic, which contains geometric shapes. Click a square, and it appears on your image and in your Layers panel. Drag the corner handles of the rectangle to stretch it to the perimeter of your design.

From the side tabs of the editor, click Effects (magic wand icon), then choose Gradient from the menu. Choose your two hues and adjust the Direction and the Fade sliders (we did 180° and 20%, respectively). Click Apply. To make your original image visible through the gradient, make sure you have the layer selected, and adjust the Fade slider in the Graphic Tools menu.

Manipulate text layers

Tip: use the eraser in the Text Tools menu to erase where text overlaps with the photo subject, and it will appear to be behind her.

Click Text in the side tabs of the editor and click Add text at the top of the menu. Type your text in the text box that appears over your image. To get the look for the “Go” text we have in this design, change the blend mode to Multiply and adjust the Fade slider in the Text Tools menu. In the Layers panel, select and drag the “go” text layer under the gradient layer, so it appears behind it. Add more text, and it will be shown in its own layer. Your panel is fillin' up!

Apply effects to specific and grouped layers

Here’s a nifty feature we hope you’ll go nuts with: you can apply anything to anything in PicMonkey. So anything in the Effects tab is fair game for any layer (text, an image, a graphic) in your design. From the Effects tab, add the Moonlight effect to your original layer (the photo of the athlete in this design).

To blur the “go” text layer a bit, select the layer and click Effects (the wand icon) from the side tabs on the left. Choose Soften from the menu, and apply it to the text layer. Subliminal, right?

To make changes to several layers, group them by hitting CMD+G (CTRL+G for Windows) on your keyboard, then selecting several layers. We applied the Pink Fog effect to the entire image, for this design (notice in the image above that "Run," "The," and "World" have been grouped together in the top layer on the Layers panel.

That’s it: a deceptively simple design made possible by befriending the awesome Layers panel. Now, for more tips…

Final tips for truly mastering how to layer photos

  • Undo/Redo live on the bottom toolbar (and are featured in every tutorial image above). They make your life much easier if you make a mistake or don't like a look and need to revert (or even, revert your revert).

  • Ordering layers lets you choose which design elements (layers) appear to be in front of other ones, and which should appear behind. Select and drag layers in the Layers panel to change their order.

  • Duplicate a layer (or layer group) by clicking Command/Windows + D, and clicking the layer. Some like to duplicate a layer and experiment with a bunch of different looks, so they can choose the winner without having to click “undo” a bajillion times.

  • Delete a layer by selecting it, and clicking the garbage can icon in the lower left of the editing menu.

  • Select several layers (multi-select) by pressing your Shift key before selecting them in the Layers palette or directly in the design. They’ll remain as distinct layers after you’ve applied changes to them.

  • Flatten layers by clicking the Flatten button in the lower left corner of the palette. This combines all the layers into one flat image, and you won’t be able to make changes to individual layers afterwards.

  • Make a layer show through text or a shape. Select a layer containing text or a shape, then click Textures. Click Add your own texture and choose any image you want. Bam! You’ve got a mask.

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This article was written by PicMonkey Staff, a multicellular organism of hive-minded sub-parts who just wanna get you the ideas and information you crave, so you can make powerful images that level up your business.