95. Convert a Background Layer to a Regular Layer and Vice Versa
Before You Begin
91 About Layers and the Layers Palette
92 Create a New Image Layer
97 Erase Part of a Layer
Photoshop Elements automatically makes the first layer in a new image the Background layer, and it is fully locked. This means you cannot change its blend mode or opacity, or move it up in the layer stack. In addition, you cannot make any of its pixels transparent. If you want to do any of these things (for example, if you have a nice photograph of the Lincoln Memorial up close, want to remove the pixels from around Lincoln and place him on another background), you won't be able to do that until you convert the Background layer into a regular layer. Conversely (assuming that your image no longer has a Background layer), you can make any regular image layer (one that contains raster data and not vector data such as shapes and text) the Background layer. You might do this, for example, to lock that layer against certain accidental changes.
Select Layer to Convert
Open an image in the Editor in Standard Edit mode and save it in Photoshop (*.psd) format. In the Layers palette, select the layer you want to convert. To convert the Background layer, select it; to make a regular layer a Background layer (again, assuming that the image doesn't already have one), select it instead.
When you convert another layer to the Background layer, the Editor automatically fills in any transparent portions of that layer with the current background color (shown in the swatch at the bottom of the Toolbox). Therefore, you should select the desired background color before converting a layer to the Background layer. See 113 Select a Color to Work With for information on setting the background color.
If you just want to lock the transparency, opacity, blend mode, and other attributes of a layer, you don't have to convert it to a Background layer, which must also occupy the lowest position in the layer stack. See 91 About Layers and the Layers Palette.
To convert a regular image layer to the Background layer, select Layer, New, Background from Layer from the menu bar. The current image layer is renamed Background, placed at the bottom of the layer stack, and locked fully. Notice that the lock symbol appears next to the Background layer on the Layers palette.
If you are converting the Background layer to an image layer, select Layer, New, Layer from Background from the menu bar. The New Layer dialog box appears; type a Name, adjust other settings as desired, and then click OK. See 92 Create a New Image Layer for more information about using the New Layer dialog box.
View the Result
When you're satisfied with the image, save the PSD file. Then merge the layers together and resave the result in JPEG or TIFF format, leaving your PSD image unflattened so that you can return at a later time and make different adjustments if you want.
To quickly convert a Background layer to an image layer, double-click the Background layer in the Layers palette and type a new name for the layer.
If you flatten the layers of an image, all the layers are merged together into a Background layer.
For this example, I wanted to place Lincoln on a new background. I worked on the background first, pasting in a flag, positioning it an angle, and adding a red, white, blue layer style to the layer below. When I was satisfied with the background, it was time to move Mr. Lincoln. I converted the Background layer into a regular layer, naming it Lincoln, then moved him to the top of the layer stack. Of course, he now blocked everything, but it was easy to remove his all-white background and make it transparent, allowing his new background to shine through.