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Foundations of Adobe Photoshop CC

Lesson 22 of 36

Use Opacity with Layers

Dave Cross

Foundations of Adobe Photoshop CC

Dave Cross

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Lesson Info

22. Use Opacity with Layers

Lesson Info

Use Opacity with Layers

So first of all, let's continue our discussion talking about layers. So in this image, as you can see, I've just opened it, I just didn't bother doing that so you can see it 'cause by now, you know it's File, Open and you open a file, yay! So it opens and, as always, it has that layer that's called Background. That's just the way it happens by default. And I will remind you that, don't be fooled by the little padlock symbol on there, which implies it's locked, because it's not. It's only locked for moving. So I could take a paintbrush and paint right on top of it, but that would not be a good idea. So I want to, for example, add a little graphic element to the top of this image. So that suggests that, do I want to put it on the background layer? No, I want to make a layer and put it on there. So click on the Add New Layer button, which is the way to get a blank layer. And I will point out once again that there's always at least two or three different ways to do the same thing. So I wen...

t and clicked on a button to add a new layer, I could have also gone to the Layer menu and said New Layer, and there's even a keyboard shortcut to do it. So it doesn't matter how you get there, the key thing is make sure that you, A, add a new layer, and then whatever you go to next, that it appears on that layer. Now, by default, when you add a new layer, as I've done here, that layer is active, so it means whatever I do next will happen on that layer. But if I happen to decide to try and do something on the background and then went to do my next step, even though I've added a blank layer, the new element won't appear on there because it's not active. So that's part of that checklist idea is always making sure, wait, am I on the right layer because you can't, I mean you can always undo it. So for example, if I took some tool, I'll just use this one that makes a little shape we'll talk about more in a second, so I just add it and then, oops, I'm on the wrong layer. Well, at that point, I'll have to undo and then do it again, which is not terrible, but from a time wasting perspective, I'd rather just do it right the first time than always be going oops and undo and do it over again. So at least you have that backup plan where you can use the shortcut undo, Command or Control + Z or go to the Edit menu and undo, and then realize I actually need to be on this layer, and now I can add this graphic element. Okay, so I'm gonna just talk about this for a second. It's not a really key tool, but it's important to know that down here, there's a whole series of these things called Shape Tools, Rectangle, Elliptical, and so on, and one of the more interesting ones is called the Custom Shape tool. And when you pop up this picker up here on the Options bar, there are a whole bunch of built-in shapes that are available. And these are just little graphical elements that Adobe has provided. Any time you see, in Photoshop, a little symbol like this, looks kind of a gear, it's like a settings option. So this tells me that there are lots of other shapes. So what I did at some point a while ago is I clicked on this little thing that said All, so it basically loaded every single shape that Adobe provides, which is quite a few. But because you can never have enough, (laughs) I also went and went on the internet and did a Google search and said free Photoshop shapes and found 4,000 options or something. I was actually looking for some specific brushes that were, or shapes that were to do with musical stuff. So I have somewhere down here, oh, here's the Elvis head and the jukebox and record and all these other shapes. So these are all ones that I found somewhere for free. So all different shapes. And basically, the idea behind these, instead of you trying to create or draw something, you just say, I'm gonna just use this one. Now, remember, one of our concepts is whenever you go to use a tool, you wanna look up in the Options bar to see the settings for this tool. Some of them, it's very, very important you do that because before you use the tool, you have to pick the right setting, 'cause otherwise, once you've done something, again, you'll get, if you get something that's incorrect, you'll have to once again undo and start over again. So in this case, all I'm really checking is to say, yeah, the mode is normal, opacity is 100%, and this is the shape I want, okay, good. Now, the other thing, when we'll talk about this in later segments is you also have to, at some point, choose color. So right now, if you look down, the very, very bottom left-hand corner of my toolbox, you'll see there's a black and white square, and we'll talk about this in more detail later, but the top color is considered your foreground color, which means whatever you're doing with any tool that uses color, that will be the color you'll use. Now, you can always change it afterwards, but for now, it's set on black. I would like to, instead, use some other color. And now, since my foreground color is now red, that means when I go to use this tool, that's the color that this shape will take initially. We also talked previously about the modifier keys and one of them was the Shift key always acts as a constraint. So if I just click and drag, this shape will be any old orientation that I want. But I want it to be nice and constrained, so I hold down the Shift key, you see it automatically pops. Even doesn't matter if I'm not even moving my mouse in a nice diagonal manner, it doesn't matter because it's going to keep it nice and constrained. And when I let go, now I have this graphical element sitting on that layer. Those are just pixels, so the reason I added a blank layer is because I was, in effect, painting, even though I didn't take a paintbrush-type tool, the act of adding pixels to a layer should be considered painting, however you do it. So that will automatically mean, because I had a new layer, it put those pixels on the layer. It's important to note though that I had to add a blank layer. It wouldn't do that automatically. Some tools do automatically make a layer for you. The way this tool is set up at the moment, it didn't. So now that I've got it there, I can do things with it. We talked briefly yesterday about things like opacity. So here's something that's, a function of Photoshop that's recurring that's important to note, 'cause it's just a little time saver. When you first look at a setting like opacity, you'll see it has the number and then, to the right of that, there's this little down-pointing arrow thing, and when you click on it, it brings up this little slider. So this is the way most people discover how to change something in Photoshop is by clicking on that little downward thingy, there's probably some official name other than thingy, but I don't know what it is, and then use the triangle to go back and forth. And while that works, it's unnecessary because Photoshop has this wonderful little thing in it called scrubby sliders. And what that means is, instead of having to click to open this, you just position your mouse on top of the word, see how my mouse is suddenly changed to a little pointing finger with little arrows beside it? So now I can just change the opacity without having to go that extra click of going click, click on that thing, move it. So pretty much anywhere in Photoshop, when you see a name of something with a field, whether it's exposure or font size or anything where you would otherwise have to pull down some little menu or type something in, the scrubby slider just does it so much more quickly 'cause it just saves that extra time. The net result is the same. If you still wanna change to, you know, 60%, you can do it either way, but this is just that good habit to develop. And again, the cursor will show you. If you're uncertain if it's gonna work, position your mouse above the name beside that little field where you can change it, and you'll see, if the cursor changes, that little pointing hand with the arrows, you'll know that scrubby sliders will work. Unfortunately, scrubby sliders are a Photoshop function only. I wish every Adobe product had scrubby sliders 'cause once you get used to them, and I go into programs like Adobe Illustrator, I'm, come on, why is there no scrubby slider here? That's crazy. Anyway, so as we've talked about numerous times and it's important to remember, one of the biggest benefits of using layers is nothing's ever final, meaning here, I put the shape on there, I changed the opacity to 60-something percent, and now I leave it that way for now, but I know if I ever wanna change my mind and go back up to a hundred, I can, or lower opacity, I can 'cause it's just a setting. Nothing in here is in any way permanent. So that's that whole nature of working non-destructively is to take advantage of it, and the easiest way to be non-destructive is using layers 'cause it just happens pretty much automatically, unless you didn't make a new layer first and you painted directly on the background layer, then you would have effectively eliminated that whole non-destructiveness.

Class Description

Join Dave Cross in this beginner friendly class starting at the very basics with Adobe® Photoshop® CC. You’ll learn how to begin navigating the software and what the best practices and work habits are to approach different projects.

Dave will cover:

  • Working non destructively on your files
  • How to resize, crop, and straighten images
  • Using layers with basic layer examples
  • Adding text, color, and painting to images
  • How to retouch and adjust images using selections and masks
  • Learn how to use the tools you need to create the image you want. Dave will demonstrate using sample workflows that take you through projects from start to finish.

Don't have Adobe Photoshop yet? Get it now so you can follow along with the course!

Software Used: Adobe Photoshop CC 2017

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Adobe Stock Contributor

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Quick Notes Guide

Landscape Image for Practice Edit

Senior Portrait Missing Element for Practice Edit

Senior Portrait With Element for Practice Edit

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I really like Dave's methodical teaching style. Step by step works best for my learning processes. He also has a lovely voice to listen to during his classes, that is important if you have to listen to someone talk for any length of time. I also like the "dance" he does by explaining what he is going to do, then does it, and then comes back to explaining the choices he made and why. Very, very easy to follow him in his straight forward explanations. He increased my understanding of so many tools I use and so many I have never used. Wow! Photoshop with Dave took away a lot of "fear"! (Wish I had a "happy face" to place here!) I bought this class today because I don't think I can get along without it!

Jim Bellomo

I was so lucky to get to attend this class in person here in Seattle. I have been a fan of Dave's for years and own a number of his courses from Creative Live. When this class was announced I almost decided to skip it since it was listed as a "beginners" class but decided that it "might" be worth it. One of the reasons I wanted to take it was that I am self-taught. I had started with Photoshop 5 (not CS5 but 5) about 15 years ago (at least). I figured it I took this class I might learn a little something that would help me in my work. Well, two days later I have 18 pages of handwritten notes, a whole new way to work and it has already paid off in a huge way in my daily workflow. I bill out my hours at around $100 an hour as a graphic designer and marketing person. That means in the two days that I spent 10 hours a day taking the class and commuting to it, it cost me about $2000 in working time. But it didn't. I can guarantee that I am way ahead on this one. I l learned so much. The real world things I learned will pay off for a very long time. Within one day after the class I had already started changing my workflow to be more non-destructive and faster. Dave is an awesome teacher and I can't say enough good things about this class. Even if you think you know Photoshop, you don't. I teach it in my small world but I learned so much.


A writer and an old person (over 60), I rarely use neat exaggerations like "great" or "fantastic," and never say "awesome" in the currently fashionable manner. However, I would call this class both great and excellently planned. Cross is well-spoken and a consummate teacher with a rarely non-irritating voice. It is information packed, clearly presented, well-organized, and extremely helpful. I wish I could afford his others.