Situation: I have two or more objects, I want to align one to the other (say top border).

Problem: Sometimes the align feature aligns the "wrong" object, that is to say, I want it to align object B to object A, yet it aligns object A to object B instead.

I've been baffled by this for a while now, there seems to be no apparent logic on how to select which one is the leading object. I select them in the layers panel using CTRL, but no matter what I select first, it always aligns by the same logic.

3 Answers 3


An oldie but still very valid. I was wondering this myself. I would always link the two layers together with the chainlink button at the bottom of the layers palette. Then, select your key layer and align as you wish. The target layer will align to the key layer. Then you have to unlink the layers. This can be a chore, right?

So...If you select your target layer, then CTRL click on the thumbnail of the key layer, you can align the same way. You'll get a selection of the key layer so you'll have to CTRL+D to deselect it.

Hope this helps! Jimbo


I don't think there is any "key object" logic in Photoshop. Perhaps I'm wrong.

The align options use the entire area around all selected objects. So if you imagine a bounding box surrounding the selected objects, that's where things get aligned to.


If object A is further left than object B and you click align left, then everything is aligned to the left edge of object A.

If object B is further right than object A and you click align right, then everything is aligned to the right edge of object B.

If object B is above (location not stacking order) object A and you click align top, then everything is aligned to the top edge of object B.

and so on.....

This lack of key object logic, and the complete absence of any distribute spacing options, makes alignment within Photoshop not as versatile as other applications. In many instances, that means you need to align, then move objects into position after you've aligned them.

  • Thanks for the insight. At least now I know the logic. In my case I would have to move the slave object so it is below the master object, if I want to align top. Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 17:41
  • I should point out that the only exception to my answer is a default "background layer". Background layers don't move so everything aligns to them as if the background layer is the key object. But I'm unaware of any way to lock or otherwise set any other layer as a key object - if you lock another layer, the align options aren't available.
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 17:43
  • 1
    You can align to a selection
    – Cai
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 16:42

You can align with a kind of pseudo key-object behaviour by aligning with a selection (well, it's not really "pseudo" at all, except that the key "object" is a selection rather than an object or layer or whatever)... Simply make a selection, enable the Move Tool and select the layer(s) you want to align... and align away:

enter image description here

You can of course simply make a selection around the layer you want to align to.

As far as I can tell this works on all kinds of layers.

Note, this is on CS6; I don't have CC to test there but I'd assume the behaviour is the same.


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