If you have read any PS tutorials at all you have, most likely, heard two terms pitched back and forth… a destructive edit vs. a non-destructive edit. The terms themselves are sort of general and if you are new to PS it’s not always apparent what they are referring to. So, in the spirit of #SharingItForward I going to try to demystify this for you guys and show you some ways around the pitfalls.
Oh Crap… I just destroyed my original…
When Photoshop was a baby, it worked like this… you opened an image. You made your edits, cropped your image, saved it and closed it. You opened the next image. You made your edits and as artists usually do, you changed your mind on how it should be edited and decided you like this new edit better… So you go back to the first image, open it…Oh crap… You saved over the original file and now your original no longer exists and you can’t undo what you did and you are now stuck with the first edit. What you have just experienced is a destructive edit….
Thankfully, Photoshop is no longer a baby. It’s all grown up and it is more responsible for its actions! HA! There is a whole set of editing tools that allows you to apply edits to your image and still keep your original intact! Now… it is important to note the old set of tools are still there. The key is knowing which ones destroy pixel data and which ones do not. To be honest there are still times when I want to apply a destructive edit. Have you ever tried to merge a bunch of layers and when you do some of the layer effects disappear? This happens a lot when you use a 50% grey layer for dodge and burning. (Learn more about this technique here… thank you Howard Pinskey). Once you merge that 50% grey layer with another layer, you lose the blending mode and the whole thing turns grey. So there will be times you need a work around and that might involve a destructive editing technique.
Which tools are non-destructive?
Without going into a lot of detail on how to use each of the tools, I just want to give you a general overview what tools are considered non-destructive and where to find them so you don’t get confused which one is which… The Photoshop developers thankfully put these tool sets far enough apart that you have to go out of your way to choose them. The “Destructive” editing tools can be found on the drop down tool bar across the top. Their sibling… the “Non-Destructive” editing tools, are right at your fingertips under and/or over the layers palate. When I refer to non-destructive tools, I’m talking primarily about using the adjustment layers palate. In order get to this set you click on the little black/white circle at the bottom of the layers palate and the menu will pop up… If you use this set and you change your mind? All you have to do is double-click on the adjustment layer and the settings pallet for that layer will open up. You can change your mind as often as you like. 🙂
There are two other non-destructive tools I use all the time. One is Smart-Objects and the other is “Merge to Top”.
I love this addition to Photoshop. If you have never heard of this before I’m about to make your whole week… When you are working on a layout and you cut out an object and bring it over to your layout, if you are like me, you bring the object in, size it down, move it around, size it back up, change your mind and size it back down… Your object has just turned into blurry mush. Why is that? When you take an object and size it down, you are actually deleting pixel information (i.e. a destructive edit). You go from 300 px X 300 px image down to a 30 px X 30 px image and that effectively deletes pixels. You don’t need that much pixel information for the smaller version. Then.. you go to size it back up and the information is gone. Then the software “fills in the missing pixels” and thus… the blurry mess. There is another way! Smart objects! When you bring in your object from your original file, before you do anything convert it to a smart object. This ‘links” your object to the original full resolution file sitting on your hard drive . So now, you can size up and down and all around and never lose any pixel information! Best. Tool. Ever. You can find this tool by clicking on the drop down menu on the layers pallet and choose “Convert to Smart Object”
How do I merge layers without losing all the original layers?
The last non-destructive editing technique I use all the time is “Merge to Top”. I actually get this question a lot. How do I merge layers without losing all the original layers? “Merge to top” is an action that takes all the layers that are set to visible (the little eye icon next to the layer) and merges them into one snapshot, placing it on top of everything and leaving the original layers intact. It is important to note, it will only merge the layers that are visible. So if you have a need to merge layers but you don’t want some layers included? Just turn the them off and then “Merge to Top”. Now, as far as I know there is only a hotkey version of this action. Which is why I think so many PS users don’t know about it or use it. I searched the internet for the long hand version and I just can’t find it… Here is how you run the action… for a Mac it is Shift+Command+Option+E and for a PC it is.. Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E.
Update: One of the #SharingItForward community members messaged me and revealed another method for applying “Merge to Top”. Click on the little arrow drop down menu on the top right of the layers palate and select “Merge Visible Layers” while holding down the Alt key! It is the same action as Shift+Command+Option+E! Thank you Kathy Webby of AlexaStudios!
Welcome to non-destructive editing! Now go forth and create without fear!
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