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Why Layers?

     [The Ctrl-J shortcut for duplicating a layer or selection contents to a new layer is disabled in Elements 2. Use Layer > New > Layer via Copy instead.]
If you’ve never used an application that allowed you to create layers, you probably don’t know what the advantages are in having them.
     Aside from the minor attraction of being able to keep your image organized by putting each element on its own separate labeled layer, the overwhelming advantage of layers is that they allow you to segregate your edits. I’ll demonstrate what this means in the following lesson. If you are a true beginner, this tutorial will also show you quite a few basic things about Element’s tools.
     I’ll start with a simple, combination of drawn shapes, and then I’ll move on to a photograph.
     Start by choosing File > New. Make your new document approximately five by five inches, any resolution, with a white background.
     Choose the elliptical marquee tool from the toolbox. It’s hidden behind the rectangular marquee tool, in the upper left corner of the toolbox.
     Drag in the document to create a selection. Press the Shift key as you drag to make the selection a perfect circle. Press the spacebar (while still pressing both the left mouse button, and the Shift key) to reposition your selection as you drag, if necessary.
     Once you have your selection, any size, though a 2-3 inch diameter will be best, it needs to be filled with color. I clicked on the red swatch in the upper left corner of the Swatches palette to make that my foreground color. I then chose Edit > Fill and chose Foreground from the menu.
     You can also press Alt-Backspace to fill a selection with the current foreground color. 

Choose Select > Deselect, or press Ctrl-D to deselect all. I now have a red circle on a white background on the background layer. Your Layers palette now looks like this.
layers palette with only background layer
Note the padlock icon that the cursor is pointing to. All new documents are created with one, background layer. Unlike regular layers, this background layer does not allow transparency, and cannot be moved.
     However, it is a simple matter to turn the layer into a ‘regular,’ unlocked layer. Just double-click the layer, and give it a new name in the dialog box that appears. Or, simply click OK, and accept Adobe’s default name of Layer 0.
      Now, suppose I want to add a black, rectangular outline around my red circle to frame it.
     I would choose the rectangular marquee tool in the toolbox, and drag my marquee in the image. Note that you can move an active selection outline after you’ve created it by having a selection tool chosen in the toolbox, and then positioning the cursor within the selection outline. The cursor will then look like this.
move selection outline
Drag with the cursor within the selection outline to reposition it.
     You can also use the arrow keys to nudge a selection outline one pixel at a time (or hold down Shift while using the arrow keys to move it ten pixels at a click), so long as you have a selection tool chosen in the toolbox. The selection tools are the marquees, the lassos, and the magic wand.
     With the rectangular selection active, and in position, I clicked the default colors box in the bottom left corner of the toolbox.
default colors box
This makes black the foreground color. I then chose Edit > Stroke. The current foreground color shows up as the chosen stroke color in the dialog box. If you want to choose a different color, click on the color box, which the cursor is pointing to in the illustration above, and the color picker will appear.
     Once you have chosen the color, and width that you want, click OK, and the selection outline will be painted in that color and width.
     Press Ctrl-D, or choose Select > Deselect to deselect the outline.

I now have a black outline around my red circle, all on a white background, and all on the one background layer.
     What happens if I notice that my outline is not properly aligned ? How can I correct it ? As you can see, the frame needs to be moved just a little bit to the right.
misaligned frame
Since the frame is on the same layer as the circle, it would be a real nuisance to select the black outline, delete it, and then recreate it.
     If I had created the outline on its own layer, on the other hand, moving it would be a simple matter of dragging with the move tool or nudging with the arrow keys.
     Since I haven’t done very many edits, I still have the option of stepping back in the History palette, and starting over again.
     However, had I done more than my allotted history steps (as chosen in Edit > Preferences > General), that option would no longer exist. When you consider that each click with the clone tool, each selection, deselection, or brush click is a history state, it’s very easy to exceed the number of history states you have allowed yourself (the default is 20) and no longer have the option of redoing things.
     Okay, so I’ll step backwards to where I dragged the rectangular marquee outline, but before I stroked it, and I’ll do it right this time.
step back in the History palette