How to Unmerge Layers in Photoshop in Two Simple Ways

By Timothy Brauning on April 04, 2022

Photoshop is an excellent tool for manipulating photos and creating graphics. One of the key elements of creating complex compositions includes the use of layers. These individual elements make up a single image, so learning to unmerge layers in Photoshop is a must!

For example, with a photo, you might have one layer for each person in the shot, one layer for their clothes, or one layer for the background

All these layers can be edited individually.

But sometimes, you may want to merge layers together. Or you may regret merging them and want to unmerge them again. 

This article explains how to do both of those things in two simple ways.

How to unmerge layers in Photoshop

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Table of Contents

What is merging layers and how do you do it?

Before we get into unmerging layers, I want you to understand what a layer is and how to merge layers in Photoshop.

 A layer is one level of an image that contains elements for a photo or design. Elements can be a shape, text, or an element from another photo, etc. 

There are several ways to merge layers in Photoshop. One way is to select the layers you want to merge and then go to the Layer > Merge Layers menu. Another way is to use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + E (Cmd + E on a Mac).

When you merge layers, the layers are combined into a single layer. The order of the layers is important - the top layer will be on top of the merged layer, and the bottom layer will be underneath.

If you have layers with transparency, they will be merged together using the default blend mode (usually Normal). You can change the blend mode by selecting a different one from the menu at the top of the Layers panel.

Merging layers is a great way to combine multiple images into a single image, or to merge different parts of an image together. You can also use the layer merge commands to flatten an image (combine all the layers into a single layer).

When can learning how to unmerge layers in Photoshop come in handy?

So, why do photographers or graphic designers (or anyone else) need to learn how to unmerge layers in Photoshop?

Since Photoshop allows you to edit elements of an image separately. This means that you can change the saturation on one layer and the brightness on another without affecting the other.

Imagine if you spent weeks editing your photos and then suddenly realized that you wanted to change the color of an element in every single photo. 

That would be so time-consuming, right? (Not to mention infuriating!)

With layers and layer masks, it's much easier just to select and change one layer instead of editing each photo individually.

There are two primary situations where unmerging layers in Photoshop can be useful.

  • First, you may want to remove a layer of text or graphics from an image background so that you can move it around independently or use it on a different background.
  • Second, when you send jpeg images to clients – perhaps for approval before using them in their design project. They may not be able to open the layered PSD file. 

However, if you save the PSD file as two separate jpegs (one containing the text, one without), they'll have everything they need in order to approve designs. 

A step-by-step guide on how to unmerge layers in Photoshop

I will show you two simple methods on how to unmerge layers in Photoshop.

THE FIRST METHOD


If you recently merged layers, you can undo your changes by using CTRL + Z on a PC or CMD + Z on a Mac or by clicking Edit->Undo Merge Visible.

You can also undo your last action using Edit > Undo, but the keyboard shortcut is faster if you want to undo it several times in a row.

THE SECOND METHOD

Another way on how to unmerge layers in Photoshop is by using the History Panel. 

Go to Window > History or press Ctrl+Alt+Z shortcut keys in Windows or Cmd+Option+Z in Mac OS to open the History panel. 

The History panel shows a list of all the actions performed by you.

So, it will have a snapshot of the document as it looks at each step before your edits. You can click on any of these previous steps to revert back to that state.

Go to the bottom of that list, and click on the last action performed before merging your layers.

Now inside the history panel, you will find a list of recent adjustments. Scroll through until you see the merge visible adjustment.

For example, if you have merged two layers named "Layer 1" and "Layer 2", then either of these actions will be displayed at the bottom of the history panel:

Merged Layers 1 and 2 into a group

Merged Layers 1 or 2 into a group

When you click on any of these actions, Photoshop will undo that action and restore your layers to their previous state before they were merged.

That's it. Now you know how to unmerge layers in Photoshop.

If you want to learn all the ins and out of Photoshop, as well as more tips and tricks, check out our Photoshop blog.

Check out our live, online classes if you want to become an expert with our hands-on instructor-led courses.

To conclude:

Congratulations! You're now an expert in Photoshop layers. 

Whether you made a mistake or needed to unmerge layers, this little tutorial will hopefully save you time and help you figure out this feature of Adobe Photoshop. 

And while layers may seem complicated the first time you use them, you can get there. 

The more you practice, the better you'll get.

Hopefully, this simple tutorial made learning how to unmerge layers in Photoshop much, much easier

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