Copy Layer Between Images


Today’s Question: When I want to add an image I’ve edited in Photoshop as a layer in another image, I can flatten the image, select all, copy, switch to the 2nd image and then past in place and it appears as a layer in the 2nd Photoshop file. When I try to drag and drop the first image onto the tab of the 2nd image nothing happens. Should this alternate method work? What am I missing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You’re just missing one last step. When you drag a layer to the tab of a different image that is open in Photoshop, the image represented by that tab will come to the front so you are able to see that image. However, you can’t simply drop the image layer on the tab. Instead, after dragging (without dropping) to the tab so that the destination image comes to the front, you can then move the mouse over that image and then drop the layer.

More Detail: The tabs used by default for all open documents in Photoshop can be very convenient for working with multiple images and switching between those images with ease. What many photographers don’t realize is that those tabs can also be helpful for copying layers between the various open images.

The key is that when you drag a layer to a tab for a document, while that document comes to the front so you can actually see it, you still need to move your mouse into the actual image area in order to drop the layer you’ve dragged. You can’t simply drop a layer on a tab in order to add the layer to the image represented by the tab.

For example, let’s assume you have added an adjustment layer to the image represented by the first tab, and you want to add that same adjustment layer (with the same settings) to the image represented by the second tab. In the first image, point your mouse at the applicable adjustment layer thumbnail on the Layers panel. Then click and drag that thumbnail toward the tab for the second image. Hover the mouse in position over that tab until the second image comes to the front, keeping the mouse button held down the entire time. Then continue dragging into the image area, and release the mouse once the pointer is over the appropriate area.

Note that if you are copying an image layer or an adjustment layer that includes a layer mask, the alignment of the layer in the destination document can be important. In that case you can also hold the Shift key on the keyboard so that when you release the mouse the layer you’re copying will be centered in the destination image.