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Adobe Photoshop Basics
Lesson 5e: Moving, Copying & Transforming Layers

Once we begin to work with layers, the next tool that becomes essential is the Move tool. The keyboard shortcut for the Move tool is V. You can also switch to the move tool temporarily when almost any other tool is active by holding down the Ctrl/Command key. The exceptions are the Pen tool and the Hand tool in Photoshop 5.x, plus the Slice and Shape tools in Photoshop 6.0. (Continued below...)

Adobe Photoshop Basics
Read This First!
Course Outline
Photoshop 5.x Layer Palette
Photoshop 6.x Layer Palette
Important Layer Info
• Move, Copy, Transform Layers
Advanced Layer Features

Interactive Classroom
Visit the forum to post your questions and comments.
-Get Help with Lesson 5

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The move tool, as you would expect, is used when you need to move the contents of a layer, but it is also used for selecting layers and copying layers. As with all the tools we've been learning about, there are a few key combinations that modify the behavior of the Move tool:

  • Holding down the Shift key with the move tool constrains your movements to straight lines or 45 degree angles.
  • Holding down the Alt/Option key creates a copy of the layer and moves it at the same time.
  • You can combine these modifier keys to copy the layer and constrain movements at the same time.

You can also manipulate the contents of a layer with the Free Transform command. This command works just like it does for selections, so review that section if your memory needs refreshing. When you are in free transform mode, a bounding box appears around the layer contents and you can move, scale, rotate, skew, distort, and flip the layer contents by using the mouse and keyboard combinations. When layers are linked, your transformations will be applied to all linked layers, although only the active layer will have the bounding box around it in Photoshop 5.x. Transformations can also be applied numerically using the Edit > Transform submenu. Please take some time to experiment with layer transformations on your own.

In Photoshop 5.x, if you double click on the move tool's toolbox button, the option palette will display the move tool options. The Pixel Doubling option doubles the size of the pixels in the preview window only when the move tool is being used. This results in faster drawing of the screen. Unless you find the move tool noticeably slow, you should not need to use this option. The Auto Select Layer option allows you to change active layers by clicking in the document with the move tool rather than going to the layers palette. Some people find this convenient, and others find it a nuisance, I suggest you experiment with it to find out your preference.

Notes for Version 6.0

In Photoshop 6.0, the move tool options appear on the options bar. The pixel doubling option from Photoshop 5.x was removed, but the Auto Select Layer option is still available. In addition, there is an option to show a bounding box on the active layer. This makes the auto select option much more useful, because you can see exactly which layer is active, even if your layers palette is hidden. It also makes it very easy to switch into free transform mode, just by moving the cursor to one of the handles and invoking a transformation. When you switch into free transform mode, you'll notice the bounding box turns from a dotted line to solid, and your options bar offers input fields for applying numeric transformations. To apply transformations and exit free transform mode, double click inside the bounding box, press Enter on your numeric keypad, or press the check mark on the options bar. To exit free transform mode without applying transformations, press Esc on the keyboard or the X on the options bar.

In Photoshop 6, you'll also notice some additional buttons on the options bar for the move tool. These will be grayed out unless you have 2 more more layers linked. These buttons allow you to align and distribute linked layers and they work just like the Align and Distribute Layer menu commands in Photoshop 5 which are discussed later.

If the move tool is active and you right/control click in a layer, you will get a pop-up menu that allows you to choose from a menu of all layers that have pixels under the point where your cursor was clicked. Experiment with this shortcut on the sample file from the last lesson by right/control clicking various areas in the document. Of course, this is only useful if you've named your layers logically, so it's a good idea to get in the habit of naming your layers.

Here's some additional layer selection shortcuts:

  • Alt right click/Control Option click selects the top-most layer under the cursor
  • Holding Alt/Option and hitting the left and right [bracket] keys allows you to cycle through the layers. The left bracket key [ moves down through the layers, and the right bracket key ] moves up.
  • Alt/Option Shift [ selects the bottom layer.
  • Alt/Option Shift ] selects the top layer.

These commands are also available from the Layer > Arrange submenu.

The move tool can also be used to copy layers from one document to another by dragging and dropping. Simply dragging one layer from one document to another will copy that layer into the other document in the position where you release the mouse button. To copy a layer to another document and have it centered, hold down the Shift key as you drag and drop. This works at all times, with one exception: if the two documents have the exact same dimensions, holding the shift key while dragging the layer will put the copied layer in the exact same position that it was in in the document you're dragging it from.

This brings me to a nifty tip that actually has nothing to do with layers or the move tool. If you are in the new document dialog box and you want your new document to be the same dimensions as another document that is currently open, you can go to the window menu and choose the open document and the numbers in the new document dialog will adjust themselves automatically! This handy little trick works in the image size and canvas size dialog boxes too. Try it out!

OK now, back to layers and the move tool... you can also copy layers between documents by dragging and dropping them from the layers palette onto another document window. However, if you want to copy several layers at the same time, you must link the layers and then drag and drop them from one document window to another using the move tool. You cannot drag & drop linked layers from the layers palette.

Notes for Version 6.0
Photoshop 6.0 has a new feature called layer sets. With layer sets you can group several layers into a set to reduce clutter in the layer palettes and manipulate several layers at once. It's similar to layer linking, but much more powerful because you can have multiple layer sets. Layer sets are beyond the scope of this course, but you can learn more about them beginning on page 213 of your User Guide, or from the online Help file.

That's just one of the situations when you may want to link layers. Other times you will need to link layers are when you want to merge several layers together. This is done through the Merge Linked command on the Layers menu. The keyboard shortcut to merge linked layers is Ctrl/Command E.

You will also want to link layers when you need to align and distribute them. This allows you to adjust the position of layers in relation to other layers. To learn more about the Layer Align and Distribute commands, see my overview on Layer Alignment. The overview was written for Photoshop 5.5, but it applies versions 5.0 and 6.0 just the same. The only difference in Photoshop 6.0 is that they can be accessed much more easily via the buttons on the options bar instead of navigating through submenus of the Layer menu.

Next > Advanced Layer Features

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