What Are Advantages and What Penalties of Photoshop Layers

Layers in Photoshop are one of building blocks and most powerful features. As anything else in this World, layers have their advantages and off course penalties. Good news is that layers in Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements) brings to us much more advantages then penalties, actually there is only one penalty you should bear in mind and that’s file or image size.

Advantages of using Photoshop Layers
Every layer in Photoshop is independent image so you can work on it independently of other layers in composition. Manipulation with layer does not have end list: one can duplicate, move, rotate, scale… layer, control opacity, blend with other layers using blending modes, group it with other layers in composition, apply non-destructive adjustments, convert it to Smart Object and apply non-destructive filters, move it or duplicate to another image, export and save, save as layer comp (appearance, position, visibility and layer style) and so on.. To not forget one of the biggest advantages of Photoshop Layers: you can edit them at any time even after saving and re-opening image in Photoshop after one day, week or year. Photoshop Layers can be edited and after 10 or 20 years if needed, so working with layers gives you maximum flexibility. Another big advantage is that most (actually all I am using: Illustrator, InDesign, Captivate) Adobe software’s supports PSD format and layered images.

Penalties of Photoshop Layers
One can say that some page layout software’s you can find on internet does not supports layered images but most of them in the same time supports PSD or TIFF format which can save layered images so you can edit them and update. To mention some software’s that supports PSD and TIFF images: MS Word (if you wonder, MS Word can import linked TIFF layered image), LibreOffice (yes you can import and edit PSD), Corel Draw, GIMP.. I noticed that PSD format becomes standard for images and every day more and more software’s supports this format which is preferred, recommended and best to save pixel based images. So conclusion is that disadvantage or penalty of using Photoshop Layers with other non-Adobe software’s is about (sooner or later) to become advantage.

The only penalty you should be aware of when working with layers is image size. While working with layers, Photoshop saves them in computer memory and on your hard drive. Every computer in this world is limited with memory and hard drive space so try to limit number of layers and skip conversion to Smart Object if you really do not need it because Smart Object can significantly increase size of layer. One layer or image (every layer is independent image) when converted to Smart Object is in computer memory (and hard drive) and other in LAYERS palette and image composition.

Another way to decrease file size is to flatten image but you will lost all layers and flexibility to edit them, change or even delete.

Status bar informations
So you need to monitor and control file size. Status bar at bottom is very handy to monitor file size, click arrow (only arrow at bottom, status bar) to expand list with available options then click Document Sizes. Two numbers will appear separated with slash (/). First number shows you approximately, not exactly file size if you flatten image and second number shows you layered image size, as it is currently and again approximately not exactly size if you save and reopen layered image. Note: those sizes do not show you exact space file will occupy on hard drive, size on hard drive will be different and depends and how you save image: with maximum compatibility or without.

Info panel
Another way to monitor file size is to keep INFO panel open. INFO panel also shows you up file or document size and it looks like: DOC: 2,82M/30,8M where letter M stands for megabytes, and if image is smaller than 1 megabyte it shows letter K which stands for kilobytes.

That’s my short overview of Photoshop Layers advantages and penalties where I spend more time explaining penalties because as mentioned it is endless list with layers possibilities and one can write book listing all advantages and on other hand there is only one penalty in my opinion. What you think? Do you save layered images and if not why?

In post I listed some non-Adobe software’s which I used or try but that’s not end of list, if you are using some software not mentioned please leave comment because as mentioned PSD becomes standard for image editing and every day more and more software’s supports this incredible useful format.

Last thing is and advice: use Adobe software’s if you have it installed or you can afford because they are best in almost any covered area and so close connected not only with PSD file format. On the other hand if you can not afford or you are collaborating with others which use other software check if that software supports PSD format before you flatten image and lose all flexibility and advantages of Photoshop Layers.

Photoshop / Layer basics

Product used in this tutorial: Adobe Photoshop CS5


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