Photoshop Basics: Layers Part 2 – Adjustment vs. Pixel Layers

If you haven’t read Layers Tutorial Part 1, I would recommend starting there.

In this tutorial, we will look at the difference in adjustment layers and pixel layers.  Ok, here we go!

You can create a new Adjustment layer by clicking on the half black/half white icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.  There are several different Adjustment Layers to choose from.

Adjustment layer options

I will cover the different types of adjustment layers in another post, but they all have one thing in common.  Adjustment Layers contain adjustment data rather than actual pixels.  These layers affect the appearance of the tones and colors of our image underneath, but since they are layers, they do not actually alter the image underneath.  I kind of think of adjustment layers as pieces of acrylic that produce special effects when you look through them.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s choose the Black & White adjustment layer.  Here is what our Layers palette looks like…

Layers palette w adj layer

Our original photo is still the background layer, and it is untouched.  But here is what our image looks like before and after the Black & White adjustment layer:


The Black & White adjustment layer is just that – a layer that provides the adjustment information; in this case, a black and white adjustment.  So the effect of our ‘acrylic’ in this case (to follow our analogy) was to turn our photo Black & White.  This is the data that this Black & White adjustment layer actually holds, viewable in the Adjustments palette:

Adjustment palette

In contrast, a pixel layer is actually a layer of pixels (you could have guessed that, right?!).  If, for instance, you duplicated the background of your image, you would be creating a pixel layer. 

Pixel layer

I think of this as taking your layer of acrylic and painting on it with your paintbrush.  If you did that, you would cover up your layers underneath.  That’s what pixel layers do.  In contrast, the adjustment layer just changes the interpretation of the layers underneath.

Next up, Merging and Flattening your layers!

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2 Responses to Photoshop Basics: Layers Part 2 – Adjustment vs. Pixel Layers

  1. Sherry says:

    This is awesome! I’ve been floundering around, just not understanding. Thanks for explaining and breaking it down for us.

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