Photoshop Basics: Layers Part 3 – Merging and Flattening

If you haven’t read through the Layers Tutorial Part 1 and Part 2, I would recommend starting there!

In this tutorial, we are going to talk about merging and flattening layers and some of the different options available.  I will go through the options I use when working on portraits.

Merge Visible

This is the simplest to understand!  This command simply merges all your visible layers (where the eye icon is turned on) into one layer.  Here is what our Layers palette looks like with all our layers:

Layers before merging

Let’s say we are done working with those layers and we want to merge all the changes we made into one layer instead of having 4 layers.  You can Merge Visible (since all these layers are visible, as indicated by the eyeball to the left of each) using one of the following ways:

  • Right click on one of the layers in the Layers palette and choose “Merge Visible”

Merge visible

  • In the ‘Layer’ menu at the top, there is a “Merge Visible” option
  • Use the shortcut Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + E

Merging takes the effects of all your layers and merges them into one new pixel layer:

Single layer

If you use the Merge Visible command and you have layers that are hidden, Photoshop will leave those layers there since it is only “merging visible” –  get it?!?! 

So if you start with this…

Invisible layer

… and do the Merge Visible command, you will end up with this…

Merge with invisible layer



The Flatten command is very similar to Merge Visible.  It basically flattens your image, or merges all your layers into one.  The only difference is that if you go to flatten your image and you have hidden layers, it will ask you if you want to “Discard hidden layers?”

Discard hidden layers

If you say “OK,” it will get rid of your hidden layer(s) upon flattening and leave you with one layer.  If you say “Cancel,” it will keep your hidden layer and merge the rest, exactly the same as the Merge Visible command did.

The Flatten Image command is available by doing one of the following:

  • Right click on a layer and choose Flatten Image
  • Go to the ‘Layer’ menu at the top and choose Flatten Image
  • The keyboard shortcut Alt + Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + F


Merge Down

The Merge Down command lets you merge a layer with the pixel layer directly beneath it.  It is available by doing one of the following:

  • Right click on the layer you want to merge down and choose Merge Down
  • In the Layers palette, highlight the layer you want to merge down, go to the ‘Layer’ menu at the top and choose Merge Down
  • Highlight the layer you want to merge down and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + E

Merge down

Merge Layers

Is there really another option?!  Yes!!  I don’t think I’ve ever used this option, but I might as well mention it since we are on the topic.  Who knows, you may find it handy one day!  You can highlight multiple layers by holding down your Ctrl/Cmd key and selecting the ones you want to merge (or you can hold your Shift key to select multiple layers).  You can then use the Merge Layers command, which will merge just the layers you have selected.

The Merge Layers command is available by doing one of the following, after highlighting the layers you want merged:

  • Right click on one of the layers and select Merge Layers
  • Go to the ‘Layers’ menu and select Merge Layers
  • The keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + E (this is actually the same shortcut as Merge Down)

Merging/flattening cuts down on the total file size of the document, so unless I need the layers available to edit or tweak at a later time, I always make sure to flatten my files before saving them.  Just one more way to save a little hard drive space! 

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9 Responses to Photoshop Basics: Layers Part 3 – Merging and Flattening

  1. darnell says:

    What merge would you suggest when doing T-shirt designs ?

    • Angie says:

      If you’re working on something with layers, when you are finished with your design/file, you will have to flatten all the layers before saving your file. Hope that helps.

  2. Patri says:

    Thank you for this explanation. Very easy to understand!! :)

  3. Roz Eve says:

    Thank you so much I’m trying to market and print a test copy of my book and this explains the difference between merge and flatten in a clear and very helpful logical manner. Thank you so much. It should solve the problem of a colour shift for me.

  4. Shumi says:

    Well explained and well organized tutorial for the photoshop professionals.

  5. L.Kuo says:

    You are awesome! I stumbled across this by accident, and you make it so plain and simple. I was confused with merge visible, when you were talking about “hidden layers” and then you gave a visual example. Thank you! Bookmarking your site!

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