Useful settings for the layers panel in Photoshop

In this lesson we will look at some simple, but perhaps unfamiliar ways to customize the panel of layers so as to free it from unnecessary, unwanted elements and make it as convenient as possible for your use.

In this tutorial, I’ll work in a version of Photoshop CC, but my tips will work for later versions of the program.

Below is the image that is currently open on my screen (portrait of a girl with a wreath on her hair, taken from Shutterstock photobank):

Image opened in the program Photoshop CC.

Resize thumbnail preview

If we look at the layers panel, we will see the original image placed on the Background layer. We understand that it is placed on the background layer, because the program displays the contents of the layer using a preview thumbnail:

Thumbnail preview layer on the layers panel

We can change the size of the thumbnail preview depending on what we need. On large thumbnails, it’s easier for us to view the contents of each layer, while small thumbnails don’t clutter up the layers panel so much. One way to change the thumbnail preview layer is associated with the layers panel menu. Click the small menu icon located in the upper right corner of the layers panel:

Push on badge menu

Then from the list that appears, select “Panel Options” (Panel Options):

Select the item “Panel Options”

This action will open a dialog box. “Panel Options”, where at the very top you will see a section with a choice of thumbnail size. We can choose small, medium or large thumbnails, represented by three different image icons, or we can choose the word “Remove selection” (None), if you do not want to see preview thumbnails on the screen at all. As for me, I prefer to see large thumbnails with layer content on the screen, so I’ll choose a large thumbnail size by clicking on the largest of the three icons:

Choose a large preview thumbnail size

Next, I click OK to exit the dialog box. “Panel Options”, and now the layers panel shows us the largest size of preview layer thumbnails possible:

On large thumbnails, it’s easier for us to view the contents of the layer, but they take up too much space.

Another way to change the size of thumbnails is to simply right-click on the empty area under the bottommost layer on the layers panel and select the necessary parameter from the menu that appears – “Small Thumbnails” (Small), “Medium miniatures” (Medium), Large miniatures » (Large) or “Without thumbnails” (No Thumbnails). Note that although this method is faster, you may not have an empty space under the bottom layer due to the large number of layers on the panel. In this case, to change the size of thumbnails, you need to use the first method (select the “Panel settings” item from the main menu of the layers panel):

Right-click on the layers panel below the background layer to resize thumbnails.

Disable adding layer masks to the default program

While large preview thumbnails more clearly display the contents of our layers, layer-mask thumbnails often simply clutter up the layers panel, especially for corrective layers and fill layers. By default, every time we add a new adjustment layer or a fill layer, the program in turn adds a layer mask to it in case we need to work only with a specific area of ​​the image. For example, we need to add a correction layer to brighten someone’s eyes or whiteness of the teeth, and in this case, applying a layer mask will help us focus our efforts on a specific area of ​​the image.

In other cases, quite often, we want the adjustment layer or fill layer to be applied to the entire image. This means that we do not need the layer mask, and its thumbnail on the layers panel will only take up extra space. In my case, I added a correction layer. “Levels” (Levels) to match the brightness and contrast of the image as a whole. I don’t need a layer mask for the adjustment layer, but Photoshop added it anyway, which makes the layers panel look cluttered. I can’t even see the name of my adjustment layer, as the mask thumbnail closes it from view:

Large thumbnail previews of layers are useful, but thumbnails of masks are not always

Many users prefer to turn off the addition of layer masks by default for both the adjustment layer and the fill layer, and add the layer mask manually when required. If you do not know what the difference is between the adjustment layer and the fill layer, let’s click on the icon “Create a new adjustment layer or fill layer” (New Fill or Adjustment Layer) at the bottom of the layers panel:

Click on the icon “Create a new adjustment layer or a fill layer”

The first three layers in the list are the fill layers: Colour (Solid Color), Gradient (Gradient), Pattern (Pattern). Everything below is the adjustment layer:

Fill Layers: Color, Gradient and Pattern

In order to disable the addition of the default layer-masks for three layers of the fill, once again click on the menu icon in the upper right corner of the layers panel and select from the list “Panel Options”, as we did before. Then, at the bottom of the dialog “Panel Options” uncheck the option “Use default masks for fill layers” (Use Default Masks on Fill Layers):

Remove the checkmark from the parameter “Use default masks for layers of fill”

In order to disable the addition of layer masks for adjustment layers, we need to switch from the layers panel to the panel “Correction” (Adjustments panel). Click the menu icon in the upper right corner of the Correction panel:

Click on the menu icon of the Correction panel

In the menu that appears on the screen, we can see the parameter “Add default mask” (Add Mask by Default). A check mark next to the name of the parameter indicates that the parameter is currently available to us. Click on a parameter to disable it:

Click the “Add default mask” option to disable it.

And now, the next time after adding a correction layer or a fill layer, the layer mask will not appear, and more importantly, the layer panel will not contain unwanted layer mask thumbnails that take up too much free space on the layer panel:

Add another adjustment layer “Levels”, this time without a layer mask

We can easily add a layer mask for the adjustment layer as needed manually by clicking on the icon “Add layer mask” (Add Layer Mask), located at the bottom of the layers panel:

Add a layer mask to the “Levels” adjustment layer manually

Of course, the miniature of the mask layer that appears at the same time will take place on the panel, but in this case it is our conscious choice, not the automatic action of the program:

Thumbnail layer masks appeared, but this is our conscious choice, not the automatic action of the program

Disable the automatic addition of the word “Copy” to the name of the copied layer

The last advantage when setting up the layers panel is that we can tell Photoshop not to add the word “copy” to the duplicate layer name. By default, whenever we copy a layer, the program adds the word “copy” to the end of its name. The situation worsens even more when we start making copies of layers that have already been copied, since the names are too confusing and not informative: “Layer 1 copy 2” (Layer 1 copy 2), “Layer 1 copy 3” (Layer 1 copy 3 “) etc.

Is the numerous repetition of the word “copy” really useful for us? Probably no.

In order to disable the automatic addition of the word “copy”, click on the icon of the menu of the layers panel again and select the item from the list that appears “Panel Options”. Next, at the bottom of the “Panel Options” dialog box, remove the tick from the “Add word“ copy ”to copied layers and groups” (Add “copy” to Copied Layers and Groups):

We remove the tick from the parameter “Add the word“ copy ”to the copied layers and groups”

After disabling this option, the next time when creating a duplicate layer, the word “copy” in the layer name will not appear:

Changing the name of layers is still desirable, but at least now the layers panel does not look so cluttered.

And here we are done! We briefly reviewed some simple ways to customize the layers panel so as to free it from unnecessary elements and make it as convenient as possible for our work! To learn other lessons on working with layers and other elements of Photoshop, visit our “Basics of Photoshop” section! Or skip to follow-up lessons that may interest you!

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