How To Add An Image To An Existing Layer In Photoshop

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You won’t get very far in your Photoshop projects if you can’t figure out how to add any images. Although it may not be immediately obvious how to do this, there are four simple ways to add an image as a new layer in any Photoshop project.

Video Tutorial

Option 1: Drag & Drop An Image Into Your Project

The easiest way to add an image to an existing layer or Photoshop project is to drag and drop it from your computer.

Step 1: Drag An Image And Drop It Into Photoshop

Start by locating the image you want to add from your computer. With your image selected, drag and drop it into your open Photoshop project.

Your image will be placed onto your canvas and appear as a new layer in the Layers Panel.

Step 2: Scale And Reposition The Image

At this point, you can scale or reposition the image to suit your needs. If you want to resize the image to fit the canvas, rotate it, or transform it in other ways, first ensure the Move Tool (V) is active.

Then, activate the Transform Tool by pressing Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac). You can now resize the image as you’d like using the transform box handles.

Step 3: Press Enter To Confirm The Changes

Once you’re happy, press the Enter Key on your keyboard or click on the checkmark in the Options Bar. Your image will now be placed above your existing image on its own layer.

Option 2: Copy & Paste An Image Into A Project

The second option you have is to simply copy and paste. This works best for images you already have opened in Photoshop, but are between two different projects.

Step 1: Copy The Image Layer

With the image you want to copy selected, go up to Edit > Copy or press Control + C (Win) or Command + C (Mac).

Step 2: Paste The Image Layer Into The Photoshop Document

Switching documents to your other project, go to Edit > Paste or press Control + V (Win) or Command + V (Mac).

Step 3: Resize And Position The Image Layer

Your copied image will be pasted into your other project as a new layer. With the Move Tool (V), you can scale and reposition it into a more fitting location.

Now, you can choose to keep the images separate or merge them into one. In most cases, it’s best to leave them on separate layers so you have more adjustment options later on.

Step 4: Merge The Layers (Optional)

However, if you are set on merging your layers, you can do so by pressing Control + E (Win) or Command + E (Mac).

Note: If you want to organize the Layers Panel and avoid merging the layers, you can group the layers or link the layers.

Option 3: Place Embedded In Photoshop

The final method you can use is through the Menu path. This method allows you to locate and open an image from your Hard Drive.

Step 1: Go To File > Place Embedded

First, open the document you want to add the image to. Then, go to File > Place Embedded.

Step 2: Locate The Image On Your Hard Drive And Click Place

Next, locate the image file on your device, select it, and click Place at the bottom of the panel.

Step 3: Position And Scale The Image (Optional)

You can now resize and reposition the image if needed. First, activate the Move Tool (V) from the Toolbar and then the Transform Tool by pressing Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac). You can use the transform box to position and resize the image.

Press Enter to confirm the changes.

How To Add An Image Inside Of An Existing Layer Using A Smart Object

Another option for adding an image to an existing layer is using a smart object. As I’ve outlined in this post, smart objects create a “container” for your layers to be added into. On the surface, you only see the smart objects, but you can edit all the layers inside individually when you open the smart object.

Let’s start by using either the drag & drop or copy & paste option outlined previously to bring an image into this already-created project. Now, there are two images on two separate layers.

Next, Shift-Click between the layers you want to combine to highlight them. Then right-click on the layers and select Convert To Smart Object.

Your layers will then be combined into one single layer, with a smart object icon in the corner of the layer thumbnail.

On the surface, this looks a lot like when you merge two layers. However, by double-clicking on the smart object layer thumbnail, a new window opens to reveal the smart object’s contents.

Now, you can see the two images from before on two separate layers. That’s because, inside the smart object, they remain untouched and can still be edited individually.

For example, you could reposition one image within the smart object to make a change in your original project. By pressing Control + S (Win) or Command + S (Mac) to save changes within the smart object, it will update in the initial project.

Adjusted layer within the expanded smart object.

How To Place An Image Inside Of Another Layer With Clipping Masks

Depending on the type of effect you’re trying to create, you may way to place one image inside the shape of another. In this case, merging two different layers won’t work. Instead, you need to use something called a clipping mask.

For example, let’s say you have an existing triangle on one layer that you want to add an image into. By following the steps discussed previously, bring your desired image into your project, placing the image layer above the existing shape layer.

Now, rather than combining the layers or creating a smart object, you’ll have to clip the image layer to the shape. By right-clicking on the image layer and selecting Create Clipping Mask, the image will only be visible inside the shape layer.

The process of adding an image to an existing layer in Photoshop is relatively straightforward, and there are options for editing destructively and non-destructively.  In most situations, it’s best to simply leave your images on separate layers so you have the option to edit them individually. If the organization is a concern or you want to edit multiple layers at once, then smart objects, groups, or linked layers offer an effective option instead.

Happy Photoshopping!

Brendan 🙂

Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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