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How to create a composite layer in Photoshop

First published on Ka of Isis 140328

There is no need to copy or merge layers or flatten a Photoshop file to apply identical effects and filters to different layers. Working with composite layers within the same Photoshop file, a non-destructive workflow keeps everything together. Consider an image built with three separate layers (and maybe a few more that are not to be affected):


Fig. Layer 3


Fig. Layer 2


Fig. Layer 1

Method 1

1a. Hide all layers that are not to be affected.

1b. Activate one of the interesting layers by clicking on it.

1c. Apply the following key combination:


A merged copy of all visible files will be created in the Layers panel.


Fig. The new layer with copies of Layer 1, Layer 2, and Layer 3 merged. The original layers are left unaffected.


The Layers panel with the new, merged layer.

1d. Now, apply any effects and filters to the new layer.

Method 2

2a. Create a new (empty) layer topmost in the Layers panel.

2b. Activate the new layer.

2c. Command-click on all the layers that are to be merged, to make those layers active, too.

2d. Apply the following key combination:


The new layer will be indicated with (merged) in the name. The original layers are left untouched.

2e. Now, apply any effects and filters to the new layer.

PC-users: Whenever the Command-key is called for on a Macintosh, you use the Control-key.

Credit: Hats off to Colin Smith for these tips.