Looking for a way to combine layers in Photoshop? Depending on your motivation for doing so, you may want to merge or group them. Let’s take a look at some of your options.
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Too Many Layers?
Layers are extremely useful when you’re creating or editing images in Photoshop, but there are times when you may want to merge two or more layers into one.
For instance, you may want to post your final creation on your blog – and that generally requires a flattened, or single-layer, file. Or, your project may have many layers that you don’t plan on ever changing again. In this latter case, you may want to merge those layers to reduce file size or make your list of layers more manageable.
Caution: Once you save and close a Photoshop document with merged layers, you won’t be able to get your original layers back. So, it’s always a good idea to save a copy of your document as a PSD file before you merge, just in case.
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When merging layers in Photoshop, you have several options. These options are found within the Layer menu on Photoshop’s main tool bar. However, the available choices may alter slightly, depending on the situation.
For instance, you may just want to merge a few layers together. One easy way to do this is to hold down the CTRL key and click on all of the layers you want to merge. When doing this, each of the selected layers will be highlighted in the Layers panel. Now, you can either select Merge Layers from the Layer menu or hit CTRL+E on your keyboard to transform these multiple layers into one.
Alternatively, maybe you want to merge everything except for a few layers. In this case, you can just hide the layers that you don’t want to merge, and choose the Merge Visible option.
Another common thing you may want to do is merge two adjacent layers together. As long as the bottom layer is a pixel-based (raster) layer, you can just select the top layer by itself and choose Merge Down from the Layer menu. If the bottom layer isn’t pixel-based, this option will not appear.
The most drastic option is to merge all of the layers together, so that the result is a single-layered image. If no layers are hidden, you can do this by choosing the Merge Visible option. You can also choose Flatten Image if you want your single resulting layer to also be transformed into a locked background layer. If you take this route, definitely save a copy of your project first.
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Group vs. Merge
If the reason you’re considering merging layers is because you’re looking for a quick method to modify several layers at once, you may want to consider grouping the layers instead. This is also a good strategy to use when you want to organize your Layers panel better.
To group any number of layers, hold down the CTRL key and select the layers you want to include in the group. Then, you can either choose Group Layers from the Layer menu or use the CTRL+G keyboard shortcut.
Once you do this, you’ll see the new group in your Layers panel, along with a toggle that allows you to expand or collapse the group. Any action applied to the group will affect all of the layers in that group. You can rename the group by double-clicking on its current name and typing in a new one.
Grouping doesn’t replace flattening – which is extremely useful when you’re converting PSD files to other types, such as JPG and PNG, which are more easily shared – and it doesn’t help with the file size problems that come up when you have a document with a ton of layers. But, grouping does offer several other benefits:
Your original layers do not disappear when grouping. You still have the option of selecting each one individually to edit.
In a group, each layer’s type remains unchanged. On the other hand, if you merge layers, you end up with one pixel-based layer. This isn’t so great if your original layers contained text, shapes, or other vector elements, since you won’t be able to easily edit those elements any longer.
You can always ungroup a collection of layers, or move layers in and out of the group.
In short, if you can accomplish what you want to do by grouping instead of merging, grouping is definitely the more flexible option.
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One Final Tip:
Get into the habit of using the Save As command rather than just Save, no matter what type of work you’re doing. Even though this may take a few extra moments, using Save As will make it more unlikely that you’ll accidentally save a file with merged layers over a file with all layers still intact. Trust me, that’s a Photoshop nightmare you definitely want to avoid.