Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How To Use Layer Comps in Photoshop

Ever since CS, Photoshop has had a feature called “Layer Comps”, which is largely underutilized by designers. The concept of the Layer Comps is very simple, it’s just a quick way to take a “snapshot” of which layers are turned on and which layers are turned off in your document. Think “compositions”. Some Adobe Photoshop files get to be VERY complicated in terms of number of layers, and it can be useful and efficient to be able to jump back and forth between different “states” of your document.


The Layer Comps palette certainly doesn’t replace the Layers palette, but simplifies it when working with a file with different versions. Take for instance, a mockup for several different pages of a web site. Some elements may stay the same from page to page (e.g. header, navigation…), while much of it changes (e.g. text, photos…). Turning off 15 layers and turning on a different 15 just to flip between pages can be tedious and a waste of time. Instead, you can do it once, create a Layer Comp, then always be able to flip back to that set at any time.


To create a new layer comp, open the palette (Window > Layer Comps) and simply click the little “page” icon in the bottom of the Layer Comps palette while you have the document in the state that you need. Then turn on and off the necessary layers to get to your other versions, clicking the page icon for each version as it is set. Just like you would a regular layer, naming them right away will keep you organized and avoid confusion.

I recommend “finishing” your design, at least in terms of organization, before starting to set up your layer comps. If you start moving around layer order or adding/deleting layers it will “break” your layer comps, meaning that the snapshot you took no longer applies to the organization of the layers. It’s not a huge deal, you can always right-click the layer comp and choose “Update Layer Comp”, but it can get annoying and the feature isn’t very useful if you keep breaking them.

Besides the obvious benefits of saving time switching between versions, Photoshop comes built in with some scripts that utilize layer comps to save you even more time.

layer comps scripts

File > Scripts > Layer Comps to Files…

This automatically switch between your layer comp versions and export the files. A dialog box will give you options for file format and quality settings.

layer comps scripts

Have you ever used Layer Comps before? What for? Did you find them useful?

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See Also
Photoshop Tutorial