Photoshop layer management from Creative Do

Not long ago, I was in a forum thread discussing how difficult it can be moving layers from one document to another inside Photoshop, especially if, like me, you work with tabbed documents or more than 5 or 6 open images at a time. I frequently apply an edit to one document that I then want to apply to several others in order to coordinate them. But even if I’m working with only two documents, it’s awkward moving selected layers across tabs, and can even be difficult with tiled windows. Someone mentioned that he uses DOCO from Creative DO ( DOCO is available as a Photoshop CC extension through Adobe’s Addons site (Window> Browse Extensions Online (also Help> Browse Add-ons in CC2015, and Help> Find Plug-ins and Extensions in CC2017).

DOCO’s very modest price has been well worth it to me in time saved and for ease of use. I no longer have to either group multiple layers in order to drag them over the tab of another document—if that tab is visible—or tile the documents, which can be too many to accommodate. DOCO requires you check Enable Generator in Preferences> Plug-ins> Generator, then open it from the Window > Extensions menu once you’ve installed it. I keep it docked with other panels I want always open, but you can keep it docked or not as you please. After that, whenever one or more documents are open, opening DOCO’s panel will connect it through the Generator plug-in to recognize all your open documents. Like other panels, the panel is resizable, as are the thumbnails. A checkmark in the upper left indicates the currently selected document or documents, so some actions can be performed easily on multiple documents with one push of a button.

First step in converting a template
Using DOCO to convert from 12” square template to Landscape letter size. One layer has been copied from the source to the target and transformed to fit.
Screenshot indicated layers being copied to another document
Copying the last selected layers from the source document (the lower right cluster), into position to then transform them to fit. DOCO graphically displays that the selected layers have transferred from the active document to the target document.

The initial startup can be a bit slow on my old Mac Pro, but after that I don’t notice any significant delay when using it. If I’m drag-copying several layers at once, it can take a bit of time to complete the action, but that’s dependent on how fast your computer is and how much RAM you have. If I select the same number of layers, then drag them onto another tiled layer without using DOCO, it still takes Photoshop a considerable amount of time to make the copy, and is both more difficult to set up, and I have to drag much farther distances.

Finished template easily organized through DOCO
It was very easy to click on the target document thumbnail, drag some layers over, transform, then click back on the target’s thumbnail to bring over more layers, keeping all organized in groups that were neat and tidy.

Even better than using DOCO to adjust my templates is using DOCO to recolor individual elements to give a new lease on life to an old kit. I can open 20 objects (or more) and know that DOCO will keep track of them and provide live previews for each one. I take one element to alter with adjustment layers—for instance, changing purples to pinks, although you obviously can change a hue more radically than that. Adding adjustment layers is non-destructive, and I find that adding just a Hue/Saturation and a Brightness/Contrast layer to the object I wish to recolor is often enough. But you can experiment with any number of ways to recolor using non-destructive methods. (I have written about tinting and recoloring at some length in the Restoring Trudie Ann series of tutorials.)  You can even record a very simple action that adds a few empty adjustment layers to a document to have them ready to hold the changes.

After adjusting the settings for one object or paper, open DOCO, select the adjustment layers in the Layers panel, then drag them from that document’s thumbnail in DOCO to the next open thumbnail. Continue dragging from the thumbnail you just altered to the next thumbnail until all the open documents have the copied adjustment layers in them. Now you can work backwards, altering settings for that object’s adjustment layers, if necessary, before saving and closing it. Next click on the new “last” thumbnail to adjust and save it. You don’t have to be able to see all your tabs, remember file names, open a separate file list when you have too many tabs open, tile all your documents, or remember which documents haven’t been adjusted, since the resizable panel and thumbnails in DOCO let you easily see what you’ve done.

Using one set of adjustment layers to recolor many different files
When recoloring a group of objects, DOCO lets me ignore the cluttered document window in Photoshop and copy selected layers from one object to the next in the thumbnail pane. The selected layers remain selected as they are copied, so there’s no need to reselect them in the Layers panel.
Panel and thumbnails resize to be extremely large
The dialog above has been resized to almost the same width as my image window inside Photoshop on a 24” monitor. The scale button (lower right) hasn’t even reached the largest thumbnail size available, making it incredibly easy to see what you’re doing when working with DOCO.

While these are the two most common ways I use DOCO, you can perform even more actions on one file or multiple open files. Drag multiple documents onto the active document to merge all of them into the active document, drag selected layers from a document into a drop zone (empty thumbnail space) to create a new document with those layers copied into it, rotate documents, match the size of multiple documents to the size of the active document, close selected documents, and paste the clipboard contents to selected documents.

DOCO's panel icons
Icons at the bottom of the DOCO panel provide a number of functions that don’t require using a modifier key.

I hope this gives you some idea of how this powerful, but inexpensive, Photoshop extension panel can help with your own workflow. I don’t know how I managed without it all these years.

"Speak No Truth" art journal page in Democracy series
“Speak No Truth” is the latest in my Democracy series. Credits: Anna Aspnes and Jen Maddocks.

Photoshop’s Merge Command

So many secret handshakes in Adobe Photoshop

Not long ago someone posted on a forum that he was having difficulty with Photoshop’s Merge command. It wasn’t behaving as he expected it to. In the course of helping the poster troubleshoot, I found myself going over the different ways the Merge command is invoked, producing very different results depending upon the state of the layers that are being merged, as well as the modifier keys we use to invoke a Merge command. I thought it might be helpful if I posted a summary here.

To avoid some of the massive confusion about these commands, which have been given a variety of names, I’m relying on the name of each command the History panel uses. The History panel produces a legal document and has to differentiate between each of the Merge commands. When it was developed, these are the names it used. These aren’t necessarily the common names people have used over time, but they are the names I think we might do well to adopt to avoid confusion. To follow along, open the History panel (Window> History) and look at the current state right after invoking one of these commands. I kept the graphic as simple as I could to avoid even more complication.

Cmd-E: Merge Down: This is the primary Merge command which merges the selected layer to the layer immediately beneath it. Layers that don’t allow you to merge a layer into them include Smart Object, Video and Adjustment layers. Vector Shape layers can’t merge into other vector Shape layers, either. However, all of these layers except Video can merge into a normal image layer, whether or not the bottom layer includes transparency. If a mask is present on the bottom layer, a popup message will ask you how you want to handle the mask.

Cmd-Shift-E: Merge Visible: This will merge all visible layers, but it will behave differently depending upon whether or not the bottom visible layer is a Background layer or not. If the bottommost layer can contain transparency (Layer 0, for instance) all the layers are merged without duplicating them into the topmost visible layer. If the bottom layer is a Background layer, it will merge all visible layers to the Background layer without first duplicating them.

Layers and History panels showing results
If the visible layers do not include a Background layer, the layers will merge without being duplicated into the topmost selected and visible layer (left). If the visible layers you’re merging include a Background layer, the visible layers will merge into the Background layer (right).

Cmd-Opt-E: Stamp Layers: Stamp is another way of saying “make a copy of the layers and merge it onto a layer.” This is not found in the Layers menu or in the Layers panel menu It is one of Adobe’s many secret handshakes. If all layers can contain transparency, it creates a copy of only the selected layers, and merges them to a new layer above the topmost selected layer. You don’t have to create a new layer first.

If the bottom selected layer is a Background layer, it merges a copy of all the selected layers to the Background layer, changing the Background layer itself, but leaving the other layers intact. This command is especially useful if you have a lot of layers, but only want to merge a very few­—rather than turning off the visibility for several layers, simply select those few you want to merge.

History and Layers panel showing command results
If your selected layers do not include a Background layer, Stamp Layers will add a new layer above the selected layers and stamp a merged copy onto that layer (left). If the selected layers do include a Background layer, the merged copy of all those layers is stamped onto the Background itself (right).
Detail from artwork showing Stamp Layers instance
This is a detail from a much larger document that had many layers. When I wanted to create a drop shadow for the two Xquizart figures, the easiest way to keep the original elements intact, but create a combined drop shadow, was to select the layers I wanted to copy with merge, and use the Stamp Layers command to place it above the original layers. I then turned off the visibility on the original layers, but if I decided at any time to change something, I still had access to them.
Layers and History panel showing instance of
This is possibly the most popular of the Merge commands. It copies, then merges, any visible layers into a new layer that it creates. The layer is placed directly above whatever layer is currently active. In typical use, you want that to be the top layer you currently have in the Layers panel, but not always.

Cmd-Opt-Shift-E:  Stamp Visible: Many people also call this command simply “Merge Visible,” but that doesn’t distinguish it from the actual Merge Visible command found in the Layers panel. This command doesn’t exist in either the Layers panel or in the Layers menu. However, if you hold down the Option/Alt key when accessing Merge Visible from the Layers panel, it will invoke the Stamp Visible command, which you can see reflected in the History panel state.

This popular, though hidden, command copies all the visible layers, merging them, and “stamps” the merged copy to a new layer above whatever layer is currently selected, even a Background layer. You don’t have to create a new empty layer with this command. It will make the layer for you. Of course, if only one layer is visible, Cmd/Ctrl-J to duplicate that layer is the better command.

I hope you find this helpful. Between the lack of menu commands and the variable ways they each behave, the commands can be frustrating. However, they’re worth memorizing. I most often use the Merge Visible and Stamp Visible commands, but there are definitely occasions where Merge Down and Stamp Layers serve my needs.

Full image for A Post-Truth World
A Post-Truth World is one in my Democracy series. When I created it, I added text at the top, then decided I wanted to run Topaz Texture Effects on the image— but without affecting the text or flattening any of the layers. I turned off the visibility on the closed Group text layer and targeted the layer beneath it before using the Stamp Visible command. Credits: itKuPiLLi, Priss, Lorie Davison, Holliewood, and many others.