How to Use Layers in Digital Painting: A Complete Walk-through

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What does it mean to paint with layers? It means that we will be able from now on, to put everything on different layers. And therefore, if I wanted to put some background color on this outline, I could go way outside the lines, and delete what I don’t need, without worrying about deleting my lines. It also means that further in my drawing, if I realized that the lines are too present, I could simply put the opacity a little bit lower, therefore helping me to actually build the illustration, without the lines gradually.

This is super powerful, and will change your way to draw forever. Hi guys, this is David from Paintable. This tutorial is meant for people that just began to actually learn about digital painting. It’s a wrap up about what layers can do, and what you can find on the layer panel. In this video, I want to show you a little bit more about layers, and what we can do with them. Now as a rule of thumb, it’s important to know that each layer can be moved up and down and that even though something looks like it’s in front of you, it can actually be not in front of the layer stack, which is the layer that you will see into your layer panel right here.

So as an example here, you can see that the person here, the red character, which looks in front here, is actually not in front. He is at the back of our other characters. And that’s only because the layer that he is with, is actually the third one into the layer stack. You see we have five layers on top of each other, and the red one is not on top. A good way to imagine this is to imagine them on top of each other, like this. Even though when you look at them, they’re actually side by side, each of their layer is on top of each other. if I want this later to be on top of everything, I will have to just simply click on it, and drag it to the top. And now, it is in front of everything. Now if you’re not new to digital painting, you probably already know this concept. But if you’re new to digital painting, maybe if you come from the traditional background of artists, this will change your life. This is super powerful. And before I show you a little bit more how to actually apply it to your own painting, let me go through the layer panel and show you all the tools that are actually available for you.

So first of all, the layer panel should be open when you open Photoshop. If it’s not, you will find it in Window, and you simply have to go to Layers. Once you click on it, this layer panel here would open. Now there are a lot of tools that we don’t really need all of them. But I always think that to know exactly the tools that are in front of us, will just open the doors to more creativity. So I will just explain everything and tell you exactly how it works, and from there, it’s going to be easier for us afterwards to decide which tools are important for us. So if you look at the top bar of the layer panel, you will have a “Kind”–and this is a search engine. If you click on it, it’s going to give a drop down menu which will give you the Name, Effect, Mode, Attribute, and Color, and each of them, if you choose Name, let’s say, and if you type something in here like “1”, it’s gonna tell me that I have one layer that has a No.1 on it.

Basically it’s going to search my layers for me. And the same thing will go with Effects. It will go by Effects, Mode, Attribute, or Color. I’ll put it back on Kind, and with Kind, it’s going to give you all those buttons. And basically those buttons represent different aspects that the layer can do. This one is for the images, this one is for the adjustment layers, this one for the text, and each time I click on it, it’s going to show me the ones that are here. Obviously I don’t have text, so I’ll just click Layer so far. This is not important to remember.

This is just a good to know. The stuff that is under this is going to be way more important. Now if I click on one layer, you’ll see that now it’s going to be available for me all those effects. And the first that is in front of you here in the drop-down menu, is the Blending Mode, which is super important to know. The Blending Mode are those modes that will give transparency and effects to your layers. Let me give you an example. So here I have all my layers stacked, and I have my first layer selected. And now, the blending mode is in normal, which means that everything that is going to be on it, is going to be opaque. But as soon as I change it, and I’m going to put first to Multiply, you’ll see that now, some transparency will appear.

So now, everything that is under it will be visible. And the Multiply acts a different way than the Color Burn, acts a different way than the Lighting, acts a different way than the Overlay. They all act differently. And each of them can be used for a specific area of your illustration. I will not go into details in this video. But it’s important to remember that all those option can be used while painting, and will help you achieve specific things. I will put it back on normal for now, and put it back in the middle. By its side, I have the Opacity. Now the opacity will do the transparency as well, but keep it with the blending mode that I have. So right now I have a normal blending mode, If I put down the opacity, let’s say to around 50, you’re gonna see it’s going to show 50% transparency. So whatever is going to be under it is going to be transparent to 50%.

And whatever I’m going to put on this layer, if I paint on top of this layer, with let’s say, the same color, everything is going to be transparent as well. Now under this, we will have the Lock. Now the lock will have four buttons. The first one will allow you to paint only on whatever is on the layer, when you click on that button. So when I click on that button, I only have the character’s silhouette here, which means that if I take some paint, I will be only able to paint on the silhouette of that character.

And that’s really important to remember because sometimes you will have to paint, let’s say a character like this, which will be in front of the background. And you want to make sure that you stay inside the boundaries. And by clicking on that, it will allow you to not go outside. If I had not clicked on it, then I’ll be able to actually paint on everything else. The second one will do the opposite. Now I won’t be able to paint on this layer.

The only thing that I will be able to do is to move the layer around. But if I take my brush, it will show a little circle with a bar on it, telling me that I can’t paint on it. And that can be really powerful as well if you finish something on a layer, and you want to keep that figure, and you want to make sure that you don’t mess it up by painting on it, something that you didn’t want to do. To lock it will actually stop you from doing it, but you will be able to actually move it. So let’s say here, I finished my character, but I still want to be able to move it to a certain area, then I’ll be able to. But if I want to paint on that gray character here, and by mistake, I won’t be able to paint on this one.

The third one here is gonna do even the opposite. This time, I will not able to move it. But I will be able to paint on the layer. Now combined with the other one here, I will now be able to just paint on this layer, but I won’t be able to move it as well. And the last one, which is just a little lock, will simply lock the layer. And now you can’t move it, you can’t paint on it. Basically, you can’t do anything. So if you finished a layer and you really don’t want to mess it up, you can click on the lock here. And therefore, it’s going to be saved, and you won’t have to worry about it. Now to the right you will have the field, which on the first look, looks like it’s actually acting like the opacity. But in fact, this is a little bit different.

The field will only have affects on the layer, and will not have effects on the effects that you put on the layer. Which I won’t go through in this video, because this seems a little bit more advanced. But I will go through all the rest just tell you exactly where is everything. So at the bottom here, you would have a series of other buttons. The first one is the link. And for the link, you need to have two layers selected.

To select the layers, you simply have to click on Command on each of the layers, and they will get selected. And if I click on the link now, there will be a little link that will appear now, which means that now when I move one I’m actually moving the three of them. And to unlink it, I simply have to click on the link again. To the right of this one, you will have the effects. There’s a multitude of effects that you can add on your layers, which I won’t go into details in this video. You can also access this by double clicking on the layer which will bring the layer style and we’ll have all the effects that you could have under it. To the right of this we will have the mask. And the mask is really really important in digital painting, because they allow you to actually create without destroying anything. So if I click on the mask, it’s going to add a little mask here and therefore i’ll be able to paint with black and mask it.

To the right we’ll have the adjustment layers which are really powerful tool when it comes to do post production on our illustrations. To the right of this we will have the groups. What the group will do is help us making a little bit of order into the layer stack. So let’s say I would have those five layers if I want to actually put them in a group, I would click on the group, then take the five layers. By clicking on shift, I can select multiple layers, and then click and drag them into the group and now i can close and open the group.

And that way, I’ll have a smaller stack of layers. And to the right of this obviously I have the button to add some more layers, and the garbage or the bin, which allows me to take the layers and just delete them as I go. And that’s it for this tutorial guys! Don’t forget to like, share, or comment below this video. And if you really want to take your digital painting to the next level, come check out the Academy, where we offer in-depth tutorials, step by step lessons, exercises, live workshops, premium resources, and a world-class community of inspired digital painters like yourself, ready to help you and support whenever you need it. You just have to click on the link below this video, or on the bottom to find more. And until next time, Happy Painting!.

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