How to Copy Selected Content in Photoshop

How to Copy Selected Content in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop offers multiple ways to copy/paste content in the same or any other document. In the recent versions, Copy command works to copy entire layer/layer group. However, sometimes you will want to copy only one part of the layer or image what is possible using selection and Copy command. To copy only selected content can be sometimes tricky in case that you are not familiar how copy works with selection and what is the difference between Copy and Copy Merged.

the difference between copy and copy merged
The difference between Copy and Copy Merged commands. Both examples above have same layer count and order. In addition, both examples have exactly same selection and exactly same layer active in the Layers panel. However, content copied to the clipboard is not the same because Copy command will copy only pixels inside selection on active layer while Copy Merged will copy flattened version of all layers merged inside selection.

In this tutorial, I will explain to you how to successfully copy to the clipboard only custom selected area in Adobe Photoshop.

How Copy command works with and without selection active

As already mentioned, Copy command works just fine to copy any layer or layer group. Select the layer/layer group in the Layers panel then copy them to the clipboard using Edit > Copy or Ctrl/Cmd + C keyboard shortcut. However, this command is changing behavior when there is an active selection in Photoshop.

Copy content inside selection

If you have active selection Copy command will copy desired content only when the proper layer is selected in the Layers panel. Otherwise, you can get wrong content copied or it may seem to you that nothing is copied to the clipboard.

Here are the steps to copy content inside selection:
  • Use any technique to create your selection.
  • In the Layers panel select layer with content which you want to copy.
  • Go to Edit > Copy or press Ctrl/Cmd + C.
  • Paste your content in the same or any other open document using Edit > Paste or Ctrl/Cmd + V. And by the way, your content is in the computer clipboard and you can paste in some other application. 
Copy selection on active layer in Photoshop
Here is example of using Copy command with active selection. Note that layer with patch (Layer 1) and adjustments layers (Curves and Black & White) are ignored because Copy command is copying pixels inside selection limited to layer which is selected or active in the Layers panel.

Easy isn't it? Yes, it is and it should be easy. However, sometimes it can be tricky to copy desired content inside selection because, for example, you want to copy content with an adjustment applied but adjustment layer is above the layer with the image and copied content is not picking your adjustment.

Copy merged content inside selection 

There is a solution to problem when you want to copy merged content. The tricky part is to use Copy Merged instead of Copy command even if it is available to you. Here are the steps:
  • Use any selection technique to create your selection.
  • Go to Edit > Copy Merged or use keyboard shortcut Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + V. Note: you do not have to worry about Layers panel and which layer is selected, the content will be copied even without any layer selected. Copy Merged will copy merged layers inside selection regardless of layer count and layer type.
  • Paste the content in the same or some other open Photoshop document or anywhere else because copied content will be in your computer clipboard.
Example of using Copy Merged with active selection in Photoshop
Here is example of using Copy Merged with active selection. Content on the bottom most layer which is selected/active is color image. Copied content is black and white because adjustments layers above the image. Copy Merged command will copy merged content inside selection what includes all visible layers in the Layers panel. When using Copy Merged command there is no difference which layer is selected/active in the Layers panel, merged content will be copied even without any layer selected.

Product used in this tutorial:
Adobe Photoshop 20.0.5



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