Let me preface this by saying my fellow designers here at PMG are stellar digital organizers. They’re legit. But if you’ve ever worked within a creative team, you probably understand the frustration of opening a messy Photoshop file and searching for the right layer until you finally find it hidden under some mask with a name like “Rectangle 1 copy.” You probably also feel the same elation I feel when I open a file, and the layers are beautifully organized and labeled. You make your changes in record time, hit command+S and move on with your day.
However, keeping Photoshop layers organized can be taxing. It’s easy to open up the software and start clicking away, making layers without even realizing they’re being made. To make matters worse, it’s harder to retrace your steps and clean up your file after you’ve already designed it to pixel perfection. It’s like cleaning up your desktop after a month of ignoring it. You end up just making a new folder named something like “BEAST” or “AGGGHHHH” to dump everything into. I advise against doing this. Start clean and organize as you build. Your co-workers will thank you, and team workflow will undoubtedly improve.
Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when wrangling in your layers:
1. Leave no layer unnamed. Type layers are easy, and they name themselves as soon as you type them. But vector shapes from Illustrator import as “Vector Smart Object” and if you don’t take the time to label them (which is literally 2 seconds), you’ll end up with a bunch of layers named “Vector Smart Object 2, 3, 4,” and higher. It’s a heated mess. Additionally, masks and shades pile up and are better managed when they’re labeled correctly.
2. Groups are your friends. This file is a web page design. Most of the layers are type, shapes, or vector smart objects so here I don’t play with a lot of masks or shading techniques. However, when doing so it’s best to group all those layers in a folder and name it something relevant and simple like “object shade.”
One of the most convenient layers to group together are all those making up a CTA. Here we have the “Meet the Team” button grouped together so whenever we need to move it around the canvas or adjust the button style, we can find and manage it easily.
In this example, I’ve grouped all layers pertaining to each person pictured into their own folder labeled with their names. For easier browsing, I’ve added all three team member’s folders into one big folder labeled “Team Details.”
3. Order your layers within the layer panel. In this Photoshop file, I’ve organized 100 layers (or I dunno, like a million) into 11 easily navigated groups that I even color-coded for visual separation. Oooohh colors! The first group consists of rectangular shapes I use as measurement blocks since Photoshop does not yet allow users to grab more than one ruler at a time (tips around this are more than welcome, readers!) I usually keep this group hidden when not in use. From there, we move down the document in order starting with the top NavBar elements and ending with the Footer. This just makes sense. Plus, you’ll find that shapes and elements won’t be hidden under mystery layers when everything is organized by order.
4. Delete unused layers. We try so many different things when working on the design of a project. I often have several layers turned off when I choose a different direction for the design. Instead of housing a bunch of turned off, unused layers, go ahead and delete them if you’re not using them. If you want to keep those miscellaneous designs as options, group them together and label them as “people design option” or something to indicate that these elements aren’t part of the final design. This will clean up your document, and not have your co-workers wondering what the importance of this random circle cluster is in the middle. The answer is there is none, it was a silly design idea I just made up so Chris looked like he was under water. I deleted it.
Bonus tip! Use Adjustment Layers when changing the look of a layer. Instead of editing the layer directly, choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > chosen adjustment…
Photoshop applies the adjustment as a clipping mask to one layer, multiple layers, or the entire document. This will allow you to play with the appearance of the layer instead of harming the original layer.
There are countless tips and shortcuts within Photoshop to enhance workflow. These are only a few fast practices to adopt based on personal experience. If you have any additional tips or preferences, feel free to reach out. We love learning. And a super big thanks for reading all the way to the end!