An image of chairs that has been edited using adjustment layers.


How to use adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop.

Discover how adjustment layers can quickly give your entire image a whole new look.

What are adjustment layers?

Adjustment layers are a special type of layer that manipulate the color and tone of the layers beneath them. An edited image may have dozens of these layers by the time you’re done. Here’s what they can help you accomplish:

An image of a person that has been edited using a color balance adjustment layer.

Fine-tune your photography.

Apply an adjustment layer to make the color balance of a photograph match your vision.

An example of the Select and Mask workspace feature being used on an image of plates with food.

Be selective.

If you only want to change one portion of your image, open the Select and Mask workspace to paint a mask onto the adjustment layer. Paint in the Add mode to affect the areas you paint with your adjustment or in the Subtract mode to hide areas from your adjustment.

An example of an adjustment layer being copied and used on a different layer.

Unify your look.

If you like the look of the image adjustments you’ve made to one picture, copy and paste the layer to other images to apply the same adjustments and create a consistent tone.

An example of an adjustment layer being used on a photo of a carnival ride.

Modify your adjustments.

Alter the settings of your adjustment layer whenever you want. Change the intensity of the effect by reducing or increasing the layer’s opacity, or hide your layers to reveal the original, unaltered image underneath.

Duplicate images of a child playing in a ball pit.

Make nondestructive edits.

When you use layers to edit in Photoshop, each change you make to your original image, whether it’s airbrushing, dropping in some text, or adding an object, lives on its own level of your project. At any time you can reveal the original, unaltered image underneath. This process is known as nondestructive editing.

How to add a new adjustment layer.

You can find adjustment layers in the Layer panel. To create one, click the New Fill or New Adjustment Layer icon, or select Layer › New Adjustment Layer. This will bring up the Adjustments panel, where you can choose from a wide variety of different preset adjustments, including:

Brightness and contrast

Increase or decrease Brightness to lighten or darken the pixels in your image. Increase the Contrast in your image to make the light pixels lighter and the dark pixels darker.

Highlight and shadow levels

Choose Levels to adjust the tonal range of your image. Move the sliders under the graph to add black to shadows or white to highlights.

Color intensity

Enhance or decrease the colors in your image with a Vibrance adjustment layer.

Hue and saturation

Alter the hue of one or all of the colors in your image, or make the colors more or less saturated. Color saturation can have a big effect on your image’s tone.

Black and white

Turn a color image to black and white, then adjust the contrast between the two to achieve a unique look.

Precise highlight and shadow control

Use a Curves adjustment to make more complex changes to your image’s tonal range by setting control points on a graph representing highlights and shadows.

How to control which layers your adjustments affect.

You can modify your adjustment layer so it applies only to the layer immediately beneath it.

1. Click it:

In the Adjustments panel, click the icon for the adjustment you want to use.

2. Clip it:

Right-click the adjustment layer and select Create Clipping Mask.

3. Apply it:

Click the icon again to apply the adjustment to just the layer beneath it in the Layers panel.

An example of an adjustment layer added as a clipping mask on a photo of a roller skater.

How to apply an adjustment to a selection within a layer.

If you want your adjustments to affect only one portion of your image, you can apply them selectively using a layer mask.

1. Select it:

Choose an adjustment icon from the Adjustments panel.

2. Create it:

Create a new adjustment layer.

3. Brush it:

Each new layer includes an adjustment mask. Double-click the thumbnail for the layer in the Layers panel to view the mask, which will be all white. Use the Brush tool to paint black onto the portions of the mask where you don’t want the adjustment to apply. When you’re done, the adjustment layer will affect only the areas of the mask that are still white.

4. View it:

To see how your image looks with and without adjustments, click the Toggle Layer Visibility icon in the Properties panel.

Adobe Photoshop

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Go beyond adjustment layers with these Photoshop tutorials.

Add more tools to your workflow and discover how to take your artwork further.

An example of a gradient map applied to a photo of a person's hand.

Change your colorscape.

Download a set of six gradient maps, then learn how to use them to make your color palette more vibrant.


Transform photos with gradient maps

A composite image featuring a person.

Create a composite.

Use blending modes to create composites, collages, double exposures, and other creative combinations.


Explore how to overlay images

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