How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop


Locked layers ensure that you don't accidently make changes to original images or sections of your work. This is why any image you open up is locked from the get go, labeled a "background layer." Photoshop does not want you to accidentally ruin the original photo. That doesn't mean that there aren't ways to adjust locked layers, however.

Part 1
Unlocking the Background Layer

Unlocking the Background Layer on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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There is no sort of change or setting you can switch before opening an image that unlocks the background layer. Just open up the image like normal.

Unlocking the Background Layer on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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This is the long box on the right of your screen labeled layers. You'll see each layer -- starting with "Background" -- as well as a little thumbnail of the image. Next to Background there should be a small padlock icon that tells you the layer is locked. 'Troubleshooting: I don't see "Layers:" Click on "Window" in the top bar. Make sure "Layers" is checked. If it is, and the palette is still not open, click "Window" → "Workspace" → and hit "Essentials." Still struggling? Reset "Painting" and click that.[1]

Unlocking the Background Layer on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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This is perhaps the safest way to go, since it saves you a perfect original copy if anything goes wrong. For PC users, press Ctrl+J when the background layer is highlighted. For Mac users, it is Cmd+J. Your new layer will be unlocked and ready to edit. You can also click on "Layers" from the top bar, then click "Duplicate Layer."

Unlocking the Background Layer on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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Simply double-click on the title of the layer, "Background" and it will open a little box to recreate the layer. From this box, you can: Change the name Set a blending mode Color code the layer for organization Set the layer's base opacity[2]

Unlocking the Background Layer on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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In the top bar, click on "Layer"-- the right option should be near the top. Simple and easy, this also replaces your background layer with a brand new one. You will not have a spare background, just one unlocked section.

Part 2
Troubleshooting Locked and Unlocked Layers

Troubleshooting Locked and Unlocked Layers on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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Some file formats, specifically "Indexed Color," don't have full compatibility with Photoshop. Luckily, they can be quickly changed, opening up full layer control: Click on "Image" from the top bar of Photoshop. Your image must be open already. Click on "Mode". Click on "RGB Color" to temporarily set your color settings to something manageable.

Troubleshooting Locked and Unlocked Layers on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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The layer's palette has several buttons above the actual layers. Clicking on the padlock will lock whatever layer (or layers, as you can Ctrl/Cmd-Click multiple at once) you have highlighted. It will also unlock it. Note, however, that this will never work on the background layer.[3]

Troubleshooting Locked and Unlocked Layers on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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The keyboard shortcut for locking layers is Ctrl/Cmd + /. This locks and unlocks all selected layers. Mac: Cmd + / PC: Ctrl + / [4]

Troubleshooting Locked and Unlocked Layers on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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This shortcut opens everything up for editing, other than the background. Note, however, that the background layer, the one locked from the beginning, will not be affected. The shortcuts, depending on your system, are as follows: Mac: Cmd + Opt + / PC: Ctrl + Alt + / [5]

Troubleshooting Locked and Unlocked Layers on How to Unlock Layers in Photoshop

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You can actually lock certain parts of a layer for more precise editing. These buttons are all right next to the padlock button, and will display their names if you hover the mouse over them. Try out: Lock Transparent Pixels: Icon is a checkerboard. This makes it so that you can't edit over anything transparent in the layer, meaning nothing underneath the layer will be accidentally affected. Lock Image Pixels: Icon is a paintbrush. You cannot edit anything but the transparent parts of the layer. Lock Pixel Position: Icon is a crossroads. Prevents you from moving the layer at all, though you can still paint, re-color, and add text.[6]