Ctrl-clicking Layers in Photoshop

Kevin asked for more details about “Ctrl-clicking” layers in Photoshop, so here’s a quickie.

Ctrl-clicking (Command-click for Mac users) a layer allows you to create a selection based on the pixels in that layer. Here’s an example of a multi-layered Photoshop file:

When you ctrl-click Layer 3 (the arrow layer) in the Layer Palette, you create a selection (shown by the dotted lines) based on what the layer contains:

So likewise, ctrl-clicking Layer 2 in the Layer Palette creates a heart-shaped selection:

And similar to many other “selection” functions, if you Shift-Ctrl-Click more than one layer in the Layer Palette, the selections will be added together. Shift-Ctrl-Clicking the arrow layer creates selections of both the heart and arrow shapes:

Creating selections in this way preserves transparency. In this example, I have a layer with a shape created with the airbrush tool, where the outer edges are transparent. I ctrl-click that layer to create a selection:

I create a new layer (and turn off the original layer for demo purposes) with the selection still available:

I select the paint bucket tool and a different color, and click in the selection. The transparency of the edges is preserved!

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  • http://www.dotpeter.dk dotpeter

    Nice. Is it possible to select multiple layers simultaneously to copy to another open document. I know about duplicating one layer and copying one layer at a time, but sometimes I have a lot of layers I’d like to copy :)

  • http://www.fokjou.nl/ OReason

    dotpeter, you can put all your layers in a ‘layer set’ (looks like folder in your layers-pallete) and drag that ‘layer set’ to your other document. Note: older version of Photoshop don’t have ‘layer sets’. (afaik)

  • Photoshop Mama

    Layer Sets are great but if your version of Photoshop does not support this feature, you can simply select the Move Tool, highlight one of the layers you want to drag, link all the other layers you desire to go with the highlighted layer and drag from the current Canvas window into the new document window. All linked layers will show up in the new doc.

  • http://diigital.com cranial-bore

    ..similarly you could link the layers (click in the space near the little eye icon in the layers pallet) and just drag one across.
    I think that would be slightly quicker than putting each layer into a set.

    While we are talking about ctrl clicking layers – you can also control click a layer with the move tool, on the canvas and the layer owning the pixel that you click will become active (provided it is more opaque than any layers under it).
    Quite handy when you have a big list of layers.

  • danut

    Is it possible to select multiple layers simultaneously to copy to another open document. But i have to use Ctrl A to select everytinh befor to paste in another layer.
    I know about duplicating one layer and copying one layer at a time.

  • http://www.irishstu.com/ irishstu

    If you drag from the canvas, all the linked layers will be copied. If you drag from the layers palette, then only the layer you’ve selected will be copied.

  • http://www.kenzey.com Farooqaaa

    Great and Easy Tutorial :P

  • kangster

    danut, the article mentions this, but try adding shift, alt, and shift-alt to the ctrl-click on different layers. This will let you add (+), remove from (-) or find the intersection (X) of each layer selection.

  • xboxdad

    LayerSets ROCK what a timesaver!! Thank YOU!!!