Please review our updated Terms of Use and Privacy & Cookies Policy before continuing to use our website.

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. The layers feature in PicMonkey is simply a way of displaying the objects (photos, text, graphics, background color)  you’ve placed in a design or photo so you can manipulate them more easily.

TheLayers palette is a visual display of all the objects in your image.

In this tutorial we’ll show you how to use the Layers palette while creating a design that has gorgeous depth and a hip gradient look. Watch the video, or if you like to go at your own pace, we’ve described all the steps below.

Quick steps for controlling layers while you design in PicMonkey:

  1. Open an image in the editor or add any object to the canvas and the Layers palette will open. If you close the Layers palette, 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 palette.

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

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

Now that you’ve got the quick steps, let’s go into further detail.

Open your image in the editor

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 palette 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 Convert to layer, 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 pink-to-orange 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, and then choose Basic, which contains geometric shapes. Click a square, and it appears on your image and in your Layers palette. 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. 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 Graphics palette.

Manipulate text layers

Tip: use the eraser in the Text palette to erase where text overlaps with the photo subject, and it appears 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 palette. In the Layers palette, use the down arrow to move 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.

Apply effects to specific layers

Here’s a nifty feature we hope you’ll go nuts with: you can apply anything to anything in New 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?

Apply effects to grouped layers

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.

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

Life saving feature for mind-changers: Revert

To undo edits you made to graphics (or images you added as a graphic) or text, click “More options” at the bottom of the Text palette or the Graphic palette, then click Revert from the dropdown list. Remember that Hub, PicMonkey’s super smart storage solution, preserves layers automatically so you can revert a layer anytime, even when it’s in an image you left in Hub long ago. Extra useful: Use Revert to get back to the original version of a photo that you made tons of edits to (provided you didn’t flatten it).

Final tips

Ordering layers lets you choose which design elements (layers) appear to be in front of other ones, and which should appear behind. Use the arrows at the top of the layers palette to change the layer 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 right of the Layers palette.

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.

A PicMonkey subscription opens up a world of creativity.

As PicMonkey's content director, Cooper says her goal is to make words happen good. She's been spearheading PicMonkey editorial since day one, relying on insights from her years working at Microsoft, other startups, and producing television programs for PBS and NBC.