Layers are the backbone of any Photoshop project and understanding how to use and create a new layer in Photoshop will improve your editing. Each layer contains the files and adjustments in your project, whether it’s an image, adjustments, text, fills, or shapes. In a lot of cases, a new layer is created automatically with various processes, but in other cases, you will need to create one yourself.

Let’s see how you can improve your workflow by creating new layers and organizing them to work efficiently and non-destructively.

How To Create A Layer In Photoshop

To create a new transparent layer in Photoshop, click the new layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Alternatively, go to Layer > New > Layer and click OK to create a new layer. You can also press Command + Option + Shift + N (Mac) or Control + Alt + Shift + N (Win) to make a new layer.

The most basic way is done when you head to the menu at the top and click Layer > New > Layer. 

In the window that comes up, you can name the layer, assign it a color label, and change the mode or opacity if you need to. Click OK when you’re done.

If you don’t need to set any specific settings, you can immediately add a new layer from the Layers panel by clicking the Create a new layer icon at the bottom of the panel.

This will immediately add a new layer, which you will see in the panel above the active layer.

Keyboard Shortcuts For Creating New Layers

The easiest way to add a new layer is to use the shortcut Control + Shift + N (Win) or Command + Shift + N (Mac). The New Layer window will pop up, where you can adjust the settings and name the layer, then click OK. The layer will appear in your Layers panel.

If you don’t need to set any settings, you can skip the New Layer window by using Control + Alt + Shift + N (Win) or Command + Option + Shift +N (Mac). This will immediately create a new layer, which you’ll see in the Layers Panel.

How To Add An Image To A Layer In Photoshop

There are different ways you can work with images and layers in Photoshop. You can add an image to an existing layer or add an image as a new layer.

Dragging and dropping an image from your files to a Photoshop document will add the image as a new layer. You’ll see the image as a new layer in the Layers panel, with the layer’s name automatically matching the file name of the image.

Otherwise, if you’d like to add an image to an existing layer, first head to the Layers panel to ensure the layer you’d like to add the image to is the active layer.

Then, head to File > Place Embedded to add the image to the selected layer.

The image will appear on the layer. In the layers panel, you’ll see the thumbnail for the active layer now features the image, and the layer name has changed to the file name of the image.

Other Types Of Layers In Photoshop

There are a few different types of layers you’ll likely encounter in Photoshop. Each works differently than your standard layer, and it’s important to know the purpose of each.

1. Adjustment Layers

Adjustment Layers allow you to edit different objects in your project, such as images, non-destructively. This means that the changes you make will not be permanent; you can simply delete the layer to undo them.

For instance, if you’d like to make some adjustments to the contrast of an image, you can head to Layer > New Adjustment Layer and select one of the options shown.

To make those adjustments to a specific layer, head to the Layers Panel, where the Adjustment Layer now sits above your active layer.

The Adjustment Layer will affect all of the layers below it in the stack. You can select which layers are affected by this adjustment by dragging the Adjustment Layer to change its position and target a specific layer.

The nice thing about adjustment layers is that you can simply delete them if you decide you don’t want that adjustment in the end. To delete an Adjustment Layer, right-click or Control + click on the layer and select Delete Layer.

2. Fill Layers

Fill layers fill or cover part of your project to add a color or pattern. These layers include color fill layers, gradient layers, and pattern layers.

To add a Fill Layer, head to Layer > New Fill Layer and select the type of fill layer you want. 

For demonstration purposes, let’s go with Gradient. When you select the type of fill layer you’d like to add, the New Layer window will appear. You can name your layer here and click OK.

Another window will appear for the Gradient fill, allowing you to edit your gradient. Click to choose any color combinations you’d like from the options or select your own. You can even set part of the gradient to transparent if you want to add a transparent effect to your project.

You can also set the Style, which will determine your gradient’s direction, by clicking on the drop-down arrow and selecting one of the options.

Like with the adjustment layers, the fill will cover all of the layers that sit below it in the layer stack. To move the fill layer around, head to the Layers Panel and drag it up or down in the stack. Because I want the fill to act as my background, I’ll leave it at the bottom of the stack, and the rest of the elements will sit on top of it.

3. Shape Layers

Shape Layers appear whenever you add a new shape to your project. Each shape gets its own layer, which will help you keep them all organized.

To add a shape to your project, click the shape icon from the toolbar on the left.

You can click and hold this icon to select a shape from the different options.

Once you’ve added a shape or two to your project, you’ll see the shapes represented by their own layers in the Layers Panel.

By clicking any of the shape layers, you can go back to work with your shapes whenever you’d like, moving them and changing their sizes and colors as needed.

4. Text Layers

Whenever you add any text to your project, the text will automatically create a Text Layer in the Layers panel. By clicking this layer at any time, you can go back to your text and edit the location, size, color, and text itself.

To create a text layer, simply click the text icon on the left.

Click an area in your project, and a text box will appear.

A new text layer will be created in the Layers panel.

You can click to return to this layer and edit your text whenever you need to.

How To Manage Layers Within The Layers Panel

To manage and organize your layers, you can head to the Layers panel. 

If you can’t see the Layers panel, head to Window > Layers.

In the Layers panel, you can organize your layers and edit some settings. An easy trick to keep track of your layers is to order them correctly in the stack. Naturally, layers at the top of the Layers Panel will sit above the layers at the bottom of the panel. Click and drag them up or down to move their order in the stack.

You can rename any layers by double-clicking their names and typing in the text box.

You can also group layers in the Layers panel. Grouping layers will add them all to a specific group which can help you stay organized and keep track of similar layers. For instance, maybe it would help you to group all of the shapes in your project together. To do this, head to the Layers panel and hold Control (Win) or Command (Mac) while clicking the layers you’d like to group. Selected layers become lighter gray.

Right-click or control + click one of the selected layers, then choose Group From Layers in the options.

In the Group from Layers window, you can name your layer group and click OK.


Grouped layers will appear in the Layers panel as a folder. Click the down arrow to view the layers in a group.

Understanding how to use layers in Photoshop is an essential part of using the program. Just remember that when one layer is above another in the Layers Panel, the uppermost layer will appear in front of your background layer in the project. To help you better understand the use of layers in a real project, check out my beginner’s guide to Photoshop here!