10 Reasons You NEED to use Adjustment Layers in Photoshop

10 reasons you need to use adjustment layers instead of duplicate layers when editing in Photoshop

1. Duplicating the background doubles file size. Using an adjustment layer does not. This makes for smaller files and uses less computer memory.

2. When you duplicate the background layer, you create pixels that can cover other layers. When you use an adjustment layer, it works like adding a piece of glass. Adjustment layers play well with other layers as they are transparent. They do not hide layers underneath.

3. Once you edit a duplicate layer your changes are permanent. Sure you can adjust opacity or add a mask.  But you cannot reopen and adjust the actual adjustment (such as curves, hue/saturation, etc). You can with an adjustment layer.

4. Adjustment layers come with built in masks.  This saves you a few extra clicks.

5. You can make presets for your favorite adjustment layers.  You can use these on image after image.

6. Adobe thought adjustment layers were so important, they dedicated their own panel to them in CS4.

7. You can make Solid Color, Gradient, and Pattern Layers as adjustments.

8. You can adjust Brightness/Contrast, Levels, Curves, Exposure, Vibrance, Hue/Saturation, Color Balance, Black & Whites, Photo Filters, and Channel Mixers with an adjustment layer.

9. You can do an Invert, Posterize, Threshold, Gradient Map and even selective color as an adjustment layer.

10. MCP Photoshop Actions are built with adjustment layers and built in masks.  So if you own any MCP actions or watch my videos, you likely already know how to use them.

Screen shot 2009-12-19 at 10.02.22 PM

So what is stopping you?  If you love adjustment layers as much as I do, please share your favorite adjustment layer tips or reasons you use them in the comments.

* There are times when you need pixel information for retouching and extracting. At this time you may need to use a duplicate layer. My rule is only duplicate a layer when you absolutely have to.

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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  1. 3


    These are all great reasons! I couldn’t work without using adjustment layers!

    Another great thing about adjustment layers is (similar to #5 above), you can copy the layer onto another photo. If you have two similarly-shot photos that need to have the same adjustment done, you can do them at the same time by adjusting the one and then just dragging and dropping that adjustment layer over to the other one!

  2. 5


    I use a specific adjustment layer you taught me in your Working With Curves training class, and that is adding a midtone boost using the curves adjustment layer. By boosting the curve a little, it makes for more pleasing skin tones as it brightens those areas really nicely.

  3. 6


    Love the built-in masks on the adjustment layers. . .it makes it simple to mask back a skin tone, or anything in the pic you don’t want “adjusted.” VERY SIMPLE! :-)

  4. 10


    An adjustment layer “tip” that I learned is: open a curves adjustment layer than click “OK” without making any changes. Change the layer blend mode to “soft light” and opacity to 15~40% for a saturation and contrast boost!

  5. 11


    Another thing to keep in mind is something a Photoshop teacher taught me in a class I took: if you make your edits directly on your original layer, you are basically destroying pixels to do so. By adding an adjustment layer and editing that way, you are able to change your photo without damaging it, therefore maintaining the highest level of quality for your image possible!

  6. 12


    Hey Jodi…I’ve been a fan of MCP actions for a while now…love them. …but have been still using CS3..think it’s worth upgrading? Guess I’m going to need to sometime :)

  7. 13


    Okay… I use duplicate layers a lot. I mean A LOT! Could you do a post on when you *should* use duplicate layers?

    For example, I use a duplicate layer when I’m using Noiseware so that I can adjust the opacity of it. I use a duplicate layer when healing so that I can adjust the opacity. I use a duplicate layer when cloning – could I use an adjustment layer then instead?

  8. 15

    Kim says

    Thank you so much for your knowledge! You save me so much time, as well as increase my creativity!!! You are wonderful!


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