Digital Scrapbooking: Understanding Layers in Photoshop Elements

by | Design & Technique, Sponsors & Giveaways | 10 comments

This is a guest post from Melissa Shanhun of

Help with Photoshop Elements Layers walker 500

Big Walker, created with A New Chapter mini kit by Sugarplum Paperie included in Digi Scrap from Scratch

Layers, image courtesy of Adobe

Layers. This one word stops many would-be digi scrappers in their tracks.

But, I’d argue that layers are almost the best part of digital scrapbooking (SPOILER ALERT: the best part is the Undo button!)

But what are layers?

First, the classic Adobe definition…

Layers are like stacked, transparent sheets of glass on which you can paint images. You can see through the transparent areas of a layer to the layers below. You can work on each layer independently, experimenting to create the effect you want.

So, a layer is simply one image that can be stacked on top of another one.

Let’s think about a paper scrapbook page.

There’s the background paper at the bottom, then the photos, embellishments and other items are stacked on top. Before you glue them down, you can move these around and rearrange the order of the layers.

Image that instead of items on your work table, each item is one layer in Photoshop Elements layers panel.

That is it! The concept of layers is that simple.

In our example, you’d see the paper at the bottom, then the photo, then, say, a ribbon or flowers. Each layer stacks on top of the previous one.

How do layers work in Photoshop Elements?

In Photoshop Elements, you can click and drag your layers around, resize them and even add other special effects. Photoshop Elements’ layers panel is a powerful tool that allows you to get creative with your supplies and photos.

Watch this video, as I explain the practical aspects of working with layers, for scrapbookers. I also show you how to:

Move your layers in the layer stack so that you can see them. Just like you can’t see a button that has slipped underneath a photo in real life, you need to be sure to stack your layers carefully in the layers panel.

Make your layer icons big enough to be useful. Do you want to be able to tell which photo is which in the layers panel? Here’s how to stop squinting and see what’s what on your page.


About the Author
Melissa_Shanhun_2013Melissa Shanhun is a 30-something who lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband and three little ones. Melissa’s been teaching Photoshop Elements skills to hundreds of women over the past four years, through countless articles, and dozens of online classes and in-person workshops. She is known for making the tech stuff simple, so everyone can use it to make their scrapbooking productive. Melissa loves using technology to document her life and has several hundred layouts to show for it. Melissa is happiest creating, whether with watercolour, paper and ink, software or scrapbook supplies.

You can learn with Melissa at

Did you find this post helpful?

We believe simple is not how your page looks, but how your scrapbooking hobby works. We have a free workshop called SPARKED and it is the best way to learn more about Simple Scrapper and start creating consistently.


  1. Courtney

    I don’t know why, but layers have always made sense to me. The part I didn’t understand was how to make my new layer be on top.

  2. Kimberly

    Breaking it all down into layers and layering was hard for me to understand, at first. I’m not sure why it was difficult to wrap my brain around it. But, by keeping the goal in mind, aka ‘something really pretty!’, allows me to keep learning.

  3. Roberta

    I think I understand the basics of layering. My question is why do my layers seem to move around in the layers panel. I try to put in a new layer but it moves when I don’t want it too. Maybe I’m pressing a command I don’t mean to….(you probably need more info to diagnose the problem but I don’t know what I’m doing to make them move).

    Thank you for the chance. I’d love to take the class.

    • Melissa Shanhun

      Roberta, perhaps it’s got to do when what layer you have selected when you create the new later. Just be sure that you have the topmost layer selected when you create a new layer.

      It’s easy to accidentally click your mouse on another layer, then the new layer goes there instead of the top of the stack.

      In full PS they actually turn off autoselect layers for that very reason. (By default you can’t click to select a layer, you have to select it from the layers panel).

      Hope that helps, but feel free to let me know if I’ve misunderstood.

      🙂 Melissa

  4. Valerie Williams

    Interesting to learn how to resize your layers icons. Would love to win a seat in you class.

  5. Libby Wiers

    Any help I can get will be a bonus, so getting to take this new class would be added help. Thanks for this explanation of layers, I think I understand that part better now.
    Now I need to go to the lesson on getting photos and supplies into PSE for better organization.

  6. Ami Pilon

    Would be fun to participate.

  7. Peggy Merton

    I would love to win a seat in your class! Layers are the key to making great scrapbook pages and adding something extra to photos. I am anxious to learn more and improve my skills.

  8. Gab

    Thanks for the chance to win. I’d love to learn how to digi scrap. It actually scares me!

  9. glenys

    That was a great lesson Melissa! I would love to take your Big Picture Class!



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