Woah, it has been a while since our last Photoshop Basics Tutorial! If you need a refresher on the Layers series, check out part 1 (Introduction to Layers) and part 2 (Touring the Layers Panel) by clicking on the links.
Part 3 of the Layers series for beginners is all about the Background layer.
First things first, open up an image in your Adobe Photoshop.
This is a hand-drawn-then-digitised vector of a hydrangea flower that I was working on for an art print.
Now, take a look at the Layers Panel. It should only contain one layer (your image) and the layer has been automatically named Background by the programme.
Photoshop names the bottommost layer – which tends to be the first thing you opened up, be it an empty canvas or an image – Background as it serves as the new document’s background. A document can only have one Background layer and every additional new layer that is added will appear above the Background layer.
As the Background layer is intended to be the base of your document, there are a few things you are prevented from doing with it.
#1: The stacking order of the Background layer cannot be changed.
As you can see, I have added my bird vector to the current document. Likewise, add a new image into your existing document. The bird vector was automatically named “Layer 1” by Photoshop.
I would like to move the bird slightly behind the hydrangea flower, for it to be partially hidden. In order to do so, I need to rearrange the stacking order of the layers in the Layers Panel.
If you recall from the previous tutorials, changing the order of the layers is super easy; just click, hold, and drag the desired layer on top or below another layer in the panel. Now, try to move your Layer 1 below your Background layer.
Impossible, right? This is because the Background layer is locked. As I mentioned from the start, the Background layer is meant to be the background/base of the document, thus Photoshop does not allow any layers to be below it.
#2: The contents of the Background layer cannot be moved or altered.
Another thing we cannot do with a Background layer is move the contents around, or alter its blending mode or opacity. Using the Move tool and with the Background layer selected in the Layers Panel, try clicking and dragging your image around the document. Ping! A dialog box just popped up!
As the small lock icon of your Background layer signifies, this layer is locked and immovable.
#3: The Background layer does not support transparency.
Simply because it is the base image and thus, there is no logical need (in Photoshop’s mind) to see anything behind it. There will be no checkered-box preview in your Layers Panel for the Background layer.
Don’t worry, all is not lost if you want to play around with the Background layer!
You just need to convert the Background layer into a normal regular layer. By doing so, you can freely move and alter that very layer like regular layers. There are two simple ways:
Simple Way #1: Go to the Layer menu and select Layer > New > Layer from Background.
A New Layer dialog box will pop up and you can now enter a new name for the soon-to-be-gone-Background layer. You will notice that the default name given by Photoshop is “Layer 0”.
Simple Way #2: Double-click the Background layer in the Layers Panel.
The same dialog box will pop up and there you have it, you have converted the Background layer into a regular layer!
In case you were wondering, you can also convert a regular layer into a Background layer. After selecting the layer, go to the Layer > New > Background from Layer.
You will immediately see your new Background layer at the bottom of the stack in the Layers Panel and if you had any transparent pixels in that layer, the pixels will have now been converted to your background colour. It is that simple!
That was a quick tutorial, wasn’t it? I hope this tutorial cleared up any confusion you may have had while working with layers in Photoshop.