I have been studying graphic design, illustration, color theory, etc, for the better part of 2 years now, including going on PDSTutsPlus, and it strikes me that higher level designers use multiple layers in Photoshop for example, of the same text layer, while beginners try to cram all their text effects on one layer and call it a day.

This is a gross simplification, but it stems from me feeling like I'm banging my head trying to answer a specific question: how does the designer know to add more layers? What's a better question I should be asking myself?

To clarify, some of the designs look incredibly flat, like they're using one layer, but when I create a two-layer piece, it either looks incredibly flat or amateur and garishly rendered. here's an example of a piece I think looks great, but if I tried creating something similar, it would look flat:http://dribbble.com/shots/1338030-VIKHOUSE-Logo?list=tags&tag=logo

I get there's a 'practice' element here, but any tips or recommended pieces of literature on layering text/layer effects?

4 Answers 4


The goal should be to have as few non-reversible edits as possible. By not using enough layers, you're keeping your work from being flexible down the line.

If you need to add a new element to a composition, use a new layer.

If you need to modify part of an element, try to use a new layer with a blend-mode and/or layer mask.

If you must change the pixel-data of an element (transforms, destructive-filters, etc.), copy the layer and use the new one.

In your example of the Vikhouse logo, I would use Illustrator. If I were to use Photoshop, however, each element would be its own layer.

  • thanks for the answer. You brought up a tangential point-- I prefer PS to illustrator, but why the love for Illustrator? Does it give text a different 'look'?
    – GPP
    Dec 8, 2013 at 2:21
  • 2
    @GPP I'd also use Illustrator for that. My general philosophy is: "anything that can be vector should be vector". There's no question, that logo should be vector (as should most logos). It doesn't give text a different look, it's just that vector art has more advantages (infinitely scale-able being one of the biggest). I work in the printing industry where vector artwork is always preferred. If someone gives me a raster logo, I'm likely to ask the client if it's okay that I vectorize it to make my job easier.
    – JohnB
    Dec 8, 2013 at 2:47
  • I agree with John — anything that you can represent as a vector shape or layer should be vector. It follows my same point about flexibility. It's far easier to adjust a curve than to try draw a new smooth boundary. Dec 8, 2013 at 4:19
  • sure, I like vectors too, but I find Photoshop's paths/shape layers to be just as convenient/effective for me. Again, this is tangential to the main question, but as far as text goes, I'll convert the text in PS to a shape layer or work path if needs be.
    – GPP
    Dec 8, 2013 at 5:04
  • 1
    Well, I don't want to say, "you're doing it wrong," but Photoshop cannot compete with a dedicated vector toolkit. As for your question about literature, I mostly learned PS from Deke McClelland's Photoshop Bible way back in the day. It reads like a very verbose manual. Dec 8, 2013 at 6:26


The main reason for multiple layers is efficiency. For example, with the sample that you have given. From bottom to top I would have a layer for;

-the background

-the text

-copyright symbol

-the bottom line/headband of the helmet.

-the body of the helmet in the lighter tone (the full width in the lighter tone, not just the lighter half. This ensures that there will be no forgotten space between this layer and the darker tone that will be on the layer above it, it also gives freedom to adjust the darker tone without having to spend time adjusting other layers to suit a simple change).

-A layer for the shadow/dark half of the helmet

-Left horn (then duplicate the left horn and flip it horizontally for the right horn)

-The right horn (The reason for not having the horns on the same layer is that it gives freedom to adjust the spacing between them efficiently).

Having several layers makes editing a faster process, for several reasons. Personally I make extra layers to add detail to a layer that I am already happy with, be that shadows/highlights/intricate design squiggles that would be easy to mess up and therefore ruin my layer if I did not already have a duplicate.

Layers are a prime example of it's better to have too many than too little - you can always delete them later and it's worth it for the efficiency and freedom.


Add layers to logically separate chunks of your project. Like others have said, it will keep flexibility for the future if you ever need to modify or reformat your work.

However, as a person that works with other designers Photoshop files on a regular basis, please, please, PLEASE organize and label your layers! Use Layer Groups wherever appropriate. too.

Future you will thank past you for doing this too.


Ehm, well, here is the silly explanation? ... I add layers for two reasons:

  • When I am happy with a bit I have done, and to make sure I do not mess that part up (by overworking it), I copy and lock
  • When I start with other elements, colours, shapes.

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