Potentially Useful Photoshop Tip #1

I rarely read manuals. I realize my productivity could be drastically improved if I studied the tips and tricks related to the things I use in my everyday work. But instead, I end up happily discovering time-savers as I go along. Sometimes years after using the same application over and over.

Such was the case a few months ago, when I discovered how to unlink one specific layer from a group of linked layers in Photoshop. The scenario is this: you have several layers linked together, allowing the group to be moved around as one unit. Very handy. But there are times when I want to move one of those layers independently, without unlinking the rest of the group. Until I found the trick for this, I’d have to unlink all of the layers, move the one layer I wanted to, then re-link everything back together. Yikes.
Unlinking one layerTo unlink a single layer from the group — without disturbing the rest of the linked layers, just option-click the little brush icon of the selected layer (the same spot where the chain link icon shows up). This will unlink only the selected layer, leaving the others still linked. Now you can move that selected layer independently, relinking it later if you wish (I’m assuming this is alt-click for Windows users).
I can’t tell you how excited I was to accidentally discover this. Many of you may be reading, thinking, “geez, that’s the first tip I learned”. And because of that, I’m sure there are hundreds more waiting to be discovered. Maybe it’ll be years before I find them all, or maybe I should start reading manuals. In either case, I thought I’d share this one for all my fellow non-manual-reading bretheren.


  1. Jason says:

    Not knowing how to do this has driven me crazy. Thanks for the tip.
    I can confirm that alt-click does produce this result in Windows.

  2. Eks says:

    At the risk of being insolent; I thought this was pretty obvious.

  3. James says:

    who reads manuals?

  4. JD says:

    That’s a handy tip. Thanks.
    Btw, Do you subscribe to Creative Bits?
    I have picked up quite a few useful tips from their blog. It’s a great blog.

  5. lincoln says:

    You’ll often find that cntr+click offers many hidden powers within adobe’s lineup of software. Try it out with photoshop or after effects, etc.

  6. foamcow says:

    Handy tip… I’ve used Photoshop for years and never even thought of doing that!
    I tend to put all the layers into a layerset to start with. Then they can be moved about by selecting the layerset. Since the layers don’t then need to be linked it’s simple to move them individually too!
    It also keeps the work more organised… much more “standards” style I think.

  7. Dave S. says:

    I’ve always just selected a layer other than the one I want to unlink, clicked the link icon of the layer I DO want to unlink, move it, and then relink it to the bunch of linked layers.
    Makes more sense in practice than in explaining it, but it works just as well. Option+Click saves a few steps though.

  8. There are…manuals?

  9. paul says:

    Very Cool! What a time saver. Thanks.

  10. andrew says:

    (just for clarify’s sake) To relink the unlinked layer into a preexisting group of linked layers you’ll need to invert the process: select one of the remaining linked layers, then option (alt) click the unlinked layer’s brush icon. This will re-integrate the layer into a group of linked layers.

  11. Thanks for the tip! I was working in Photoshop yesterday and thought that there was a way to do this. Like you, and apparently many others, manuals are just too boring. Really, who buys a video game, gets home, and says, “GIVE ME THE MANUAL! I WANT TO READ IT!”? No one…I hope. We always figure out the controls by playing the game. Hands-on experience is always more interesting and fun than reading manuals. But, now that you mention it, I probably need to pick up a Photoshop book, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything else like this…

  12. Mike S. says:

    I’m with you Dan, the only tricks and tips I find are from reading sites like yours or self-discovery. I’d rather be playing with the program than reading the manual.
    That being said, this is a fantastic tip. Something I’ve been frustrated with for a while but hadn’t done anything about. Thank you.

  13. Dan Rubin says:

    Great timesaver Dan! I’ve always used the same method Dave mentioned, but this makes much more sense.
    Andrew: Relinking doesn’t require the option (alt) key, it works just as if you wanted to link an unlinked layer to a group of linked layers (select one of the linked layers, then click the unlinked layer).

  14. jordan says:

    That trick won’t work anymore; the layers palette is redesigned in CS2. It works a lot better, but they removed the ability to do the cutout-select on the current layer (ctrl+click). Still, it’s a large improvement…

  15. Yannick L. says:

    Thanks Dan! I didn’t know about that.

  16. Dimitry says:

    but they removed the ability to do the cutout-select on the current layer (ctrl+click). Still, it’s a large improvement…
    You can still Ctrl+Click just not on the layer itself, click on the square preview image of the layer.
    Kinda annoying, but not something I can’t get used to.

  17. Mike W says:

    Awesome tip, I’ve had the same problem in the past and just gave up on linking images all together. Now there’s renewed hope!
    This is almost as good as the time I figured out ImageReady would do all my slicing for me… before it was just another one of those applications I never used.

  18. JK says:

    Perfect tip … Well, instead of reading manuals it’s better to read blogs like this (and Veerle’s one at DUOH ;) and in few years I’ll dig deep into Photoshop “secrets” :D

  19. Bruno Figueiredo says:

    You don’t even have to do it on the layers pallete. Assuming you have the “Auto Select Layer” option activated, you can just shift click on the layer in the canvas.
    And if you alt click between layer dividers it the layers above only draw over the layers bellow. Very, very useful.

  20. Ian says:

    Manuals are great (even for video games, Fenocchi)!
    One thing that I struggle with is adjustment layers. How do I prevent an adjustment layer from “bleeding” all the way to the background? That is, if I only want to adjustment layer the top two layers…how do I do that?

  21. Andrew says:

    A nice find, though useless to me because my preferred medium is Microsoft Paint. As such, I am elite.

  22. andrew says:

    @Dan Rubin: D’oh ;-) And while i’m at it, a tip for closing a photoshop window: with your left big toe click the little red button (or X) in the top corner of your window while knitting a sweater for your cat and standing on your head.

  23. I laud you in your ability to resisit manuals. Personally, I’ve never read one. I even try to learn code without reading books/online tutorials. Keep it up. We are the few, the proud, the manual non-readers!

  24. Tony says:

    Thank you very much! This will definitely come in handy. If only I had the patience to look through a manual or read more about similar tips.

  25. Jeni says:

    One of my favorite (related) tricks is using command+click to select and command+shift+click to link and unlink layers with the move tool. It’s saved me more time than I care to recall (which should tell you how often I’m in Photoshop).
    Ian: You can use clipping masks (command/control + g or Layer->Create Clipping Mask) to make your adjustment layer use a mask of the layer below it. I don’t know how I’d get it to clip two layers at once, though.

  26. Very useful tip, thanks!

  27. Cool tip! I recall when you told us(me, Ethan, and whoever showed up at the gathering last thursday) about this new tip that you accidentally discovered. Speaking of not being a big manual reader, I find myself reading a lot about web and design. I have just read a very cool new feature of photoshop cs2(it may be stupid but i’d mention anyways), smart objects. It’s really cool. It’s pretty much a group of objects from and outside source. Let’s say you drag and drop a group of objects from another document into your document. Link all the layers go to Layers/Smart object and it will group all the objects just like normal group called set. The difference between smart object and a set of layers is that if you double-click on smart object group, it will bring you the original file/document which you dragged the artwork from. You apply changes to this particular document once you done you save/close and the previous document will be updated automatically. It’s pretty neat!

  28. Chris says:

    I agree with foamcow. I just put the layers in a folder (or layerset) then click the folder when you wanna move anything around — that way you can sidestep even having to click a million times to link into group.
    of course doing this you do lose some ability to freely intertwine the layers in the folder with other layers.

  29. Nathan Smith says:

    I love it when I discover serendipitous things like that. For me, it’s Fireworks mainly, but still the same idea. I found a plugin awhile back that lets you reset fill-handles and now I wonder how I ever did without.
    By the way, I see that you’re now hosted by Dreamhost. I’m not sure if you blogged about that, but would you mind filling us in on what prompted you to make the switch from your old host?

  30. Egor Kloos says:

    Hahahaha, can’t believe I didn’t figure that one out. Thanks for the tip.
    And indeed, who on gods earth reads manuals? Was there a manual? I thought that was just the International licence booklet. ;)

  31. Steven Woods says:

    Just when I get depressed about being a ‘n00b’ amongst all these giant web standards guru’s, I’m treated to the warm realisation that I knew something that Dan didn’t.
    More please! *swells chest*

  32. Rob Winters says:

    Most excelent tip. Cheers Mr Dan.

  33. Allan Rojas says:

    geez, that’s the first tip I learned…
    well, not the first really… but, errmm…
    thanks for the tip anyway ! :D

  34. Fallout75 says:

    I didn’t know you could do that either. Thanks for the tip. I hate unlinking then relinking all, such a pain.

  35. Mike says:

    I didn’t see anyone post this, but the way I’ve always unlinked a single layer from a group, is by clicking on another layer that is a member of that linked group, then clicking the link icon for the one I want out of the group. Viola!

  36. Georgia says:

    It didn’t work for me on Windows. Alt-clicking on the brush icon of the selected layer, unlinks the whole group of layers. I’m using CS. This is still handy though, I didn’t know how to unlink a whole group of layers at once.

  37. Jason G says:

    Wait until you see what happens when you opt/alt click on a layer’s “eyeball”!!!
    I live for keyboard shortcuts. I’m pretty uncoordinated, so my mouse movements are typically slow and inaccurate compared to my typing ability. I use keyboard shortcuts for almost everything I can, especially the toolbar.

  38. Igor says:

    Well, now that you wrote this I think I figured it out some time ago, but didn’t take attention to this. Mostly because I needed to move the whole bunch of layers and I accidently clicked the box and turned the chain into the brush so I unoocked it, which wasn’t on my mind . . .
    Now I gonna think twice about what I would like to do and how

  39. Mark says:

    Thanks! …and nice tip Jason G. :)

  40. Jon Buda says:

    Great tips here. I have wasted so much time in Photoshop going the roundabout way and ending up getting stuck not being able to go back.. I guess thats what I get for never formally learning PS and all of its 1000000 features and options.
    Jason G that is a great tip. I guess I will have to start alt-clicking everything in sight now to see what happens. :)

  41. thinsoldier says:

    Too bad that Photoshop CS2 handles layer linking quite differently and there’s no longer a chain icon.

  42. Nice Paul says:

    Haven’t read all the comments but here’s another shortcut which I use to achieve to the same thing.
    Simply switch to another of the linked layers, unlink just the one layer that you were previously on (that you want to move seperately) then switch back to it. It’s now unlinked, although the rest of the linked layers remain linked.
    Rather than having to know seemingly random key combinations, this shortcut is just logical. :-)

  43. Wil says:

    If your working with a ton of layers its even easier still to create sets, to right of the new mask icon is a folder icon in your screen shot. If you click that it will create a set which you can throw all related layers into. It expands and collapses cleaning up your layer abit, making it easier to sort through and find the layer you want. On top of that you can move the entire the set, or indivual layers inside it. Try it out, you may find its even quicker and more organized then linking all the time on large layouts.

  44. Vanish says:

    If you don’t like to read manuals (yeah, that’s me too) the best thing I’ve found to get the meat without the potatoes, or stuffing as it were, is Scott Kelby’s Killer Tips books. The Photoshop CS Killer Tips book is a must read for anyone using Photoshop on a regular basis. If you haven’t taken a look at these books, do yourself a favor and check them out.
    (Yes, I’m a member of NAPP. No, I wasn’t paid for this recommendation. No, this is not an endorsement, just a helpful comment) =)

  45. XPDude says:

    Thanks for that tip. I never knew that.

  46. Tim Callahan says:

    I suggest Fireworks which I believe has easier an layer functioning than Photoshop, although Photoshop does more than Fireworks, I prefer the more simple of the two.

  47. Petr says:

    Super tip! But layer sets (groups in Photoshop CS2) are better.

  48. Alex says:

    It’s just as easy in CS2. Once you have all of your layers linked you can just click on the layer you want to unlink and then click the chain icon once it is selected. Just as easy.

  49. stucurry says:

    My favourite tip re: linked layers:
    If you want to change the properties of several text layers (like changing the font): link them; hold down Shift , keep it held down, and choose a different font from the character palette.
    If you want to specify a new font size, line-height etc for a set of text layers at the same time: link the text layers; enter the new font size; hold down Shift; and press Return.

  50. stucurry says:

    Ian (#20):
    The solution is to group your layers:
    Link the adjustment layer to the two (or whatever) layers below it, select the bottom layer of the linked layers, and hit CTRL+G (Layer > Group Linked) to see what I mean.

  51. garr says:

    Chiming in a bit late, but wondering if anyone knew about this one?
    Say you have 5 layers all visible, click the top layer’s visibility icon like you would normally, but don’t let go and instead drag down through the other layers’ visibility icons below it, all the visible ones should go away. Works for links as well, both linking and unlinking.
    Kind of a neat thing I found out recently fiddling around so if people already knew that, then oh well :O

  52. Wow! Nice tip. I will definitely purchase a Photoshop CS 2! It was a big problem for me always to ungroup many layers… Thanks for info.

  53. david says:

    Ok, really late entry..
    I have been using CS2 in last 2weeks and can confirm the layers are Sooooo much easier and more intuitive
    I was at first most upset about the missing link icon, but 2 weeks later… err link what?
    click and shift click and group and up group – and smart objects whoha these are great..
    (No I am not an Adobe affiliate. I am however a new visitor)

  54. drs18 says:

    Another really really basic tip- don’t keep your manual near your computer, keep it in the head. That way you”ll pick it up and browse new stuff everyday.
    Adobe documentation is very readable, and written to actually be a help.
    Once you start reading the manual, you’ll find youself looking forward to your time together…

  55. shane says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how you could do it any other way? :)
    I’ve been doing that for a long long time.
    I do admit though, finding new tricks is great.
    My most recent one is using layer comps. It’s not so much that I discovered it as started using it. It’s a little odd to start with but once you get the hang of them they’re great for creating multiple comps, sub-pages etc. in the same file. :)

  56. Biomech says:

    Great tip! It will be very handy for my designing and other stuff.
    Thanks alot! :)

  57. Anonymous says:

    Hi! Just discover a cool shortcut in Photoshop CS. If you have multiple files open in your photoshop, and you want to see all the files, press SHIFT + F10

  58. Andy says:

    That’s a cool tip. Cheers.

  59. Salman says:

    Good one

  60. Tania says:

    Ah, very useful, thank you.
    I clearly don’t read the manuals either. Then again, if you read the manual there would be no more surprises or random exciting discoveries… :)

  61. Shailesh says:

    Hi man,
    That was so cool….!!! i always used to unlink all of other layers.