Design & UX
By Jennifer Farley

Speed Up Your Photoshop Work With Layer Shortcuts

By Jennifer Farley

The Layers palette or panel is one of the most important in Photoshop. It’s where you isolate your artwork and is the key to non-destructive editing. By learning some keyboard shortcuts to select and move your layers you can speed up your work enormously. With one hand on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse, here’s a bunch of shortcuts that can help you save time and prevents the need to go back and forth to the main Photoshop menu.

Shortcuts for common layer commands

To create a new layer press Shift-Ctrl-N (Mac) or Shift+Ctrl+N (PC).

To create a new layer using a selection (layer via copy), press Ctrl + J (Mac and PC).

To group layers, press Ctrl + G, to ungroup them press Shift + Ctrl + G.

To merge all layers, press Ctrl + E, to merge all visible layers, press Shift + Ctrl + E.


Shortcuts for selecting layers

To select several layers at a time, select the first layer and then press Option-Shift-[ (Mac) or  Alt+Shift+[ (PC) to select layers below the first one, or Option-Shift-] (Mac) or Alt+Shift+] to select layers above it. This lets you select one layer at a time. Simply type the keyboard shortcut again to select an additional layer above or beneath.


To select the layer below the current layer, press Option-[ or Alt+[

To select the layer above the current layer, press Option-] or Alt+]

To select the top layer in your Layers panel, press Option-. or  Alt+. — to clarify that’s Option or Alt plus the period/full stop key.
To select the bottom layer, press Option-, or Alt+,


To select all the layers between the currently active layer and the top layer, press Option-Shift-. or Alt+Shift+. — Option or Alt plus Shift and the period/full stop key.

To select all the layers between the currently active layer and the bottom layer, press Option-Shift-, or Alt+Shift+, — Option or Alt plus Shift and the comma key.

To select every layer except the locked Background layer, press ⌘-Option-A or Ctrl+Alt+A. Note that If you’ve already unlocked the Background layer, it will be selected too.


Shortcuts for moving layers

Bring to the Front: To move the current layer to the top of the layer stack, press Shift-⌘-] or Shift+Ctrl+] .

Send To Back: To move it to the bottom of the layer stack, press Shift-⌘-[ or Shift+Ctrl+[

Bring Forward: To move the current layer up one slot in your layer stack, press ⌘-] or  Ctrl+] .

Send Backward: To move it down one slot, press ⌘-[ or Ctrl+[ .

And there you have it. There are quite a few shortcuts there and the only way to remember them is to make a conscious effort to use them and practice them but with time they become second nature and can really help to speed up your work flow in Photoshop.

  • puddwud

    Good article and though I knew some of these there are several that are new to me. Should be saving a chunk of time due to this.
    One thing though. In CS4 on the Mac the New Layer shortcut is Shift-Cmd-N and not Shift-Ctrl-N. Shift-Cmd-N brings up a dialog box so you can name your layer on creation. Make the shortcut Shift-Opt-Cmd-N and the layer is just created automatically with a generic name.

  • A nice little trick is to click on the eye icon (used to toggle layer visibility on/off) of a layer while pressing the ALT key. It turns off visibility of all layers except the one that’s clicked on. Do it again and it sets visibility of all layers back to their previous state.
    When retouching, I use it often to check only the background layer (that I always keep with an untouched copy of the original image).

    In fact, you can ALT-click on different layers one after the other to switch the visibile layer. All layers are set back to their original visibility only when you click a second time on the same eye icon .

    Hope someone finds that useful, too.


  • Ryszard

    Really nice article I found some unexplored for me shortcuts thanks.
    Worth to add
    cmd+alt+shift+E – Stamp visible merging all visible layers in a copy above selected layer.
    cmd click on new layer icon in layers palette – creates new layer below selected layer.

  • Hi Puddwudd, Michael and Ryszard. Thanks all for the extra shortcuts and tips, much appreciated : )

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