Today’s Question: I’ve tried to add a colored border around a photo in Photoshop by using the Canvas Size command. But this adds the color around the Background image layer. Is there a way to get this space added as a separate layer?
Tim’s Quick Answer: The key here is to make sure that the Background image layer is converted to a normal image layer. This will enable you to enlarge the canvas without actually adding pixels to the Background layer. You can then add any color you’d like as a border by adding a layer below the original Background image layer.
More Detail: A Background image layer in Photoshop is really just a “normal” layer with special attributes (which I suppose causes it to not be a normal layer at all). In part this means that the Background layer is locked, so that it can’t be moved and you can’t place other layers below it. By converting the Background image layer to a normal layer you’ll have greater flexibility, including the ability to add canvas area without adding pixels to the Background image layer.
To convert the Background image layer to a normal layer, you can simply double-click the thumbnail for the Background image layer on the Layers panel. In the New Layer dialog you can then enter a new name for this layer (the default will be “Layer 0”) and click OK to apply the change.
At this point if you use the Canvas Size command (found on the Image menu) to change the overall size of your image document canvas without actually resizing the existing pixel layers. Any canvas space you add will be empty space without any actual pixels in that area. Photoshop presents those “empty” areas using a checkerboard pattern, so you can tell which areas have pixels and which don’t.
You can then add a layer below the original Background image layer. For one thing, an existing layer can be dragged into position on the Layers panel. You can also add a new pixel layer below the original Background image layer if you prefer. Simply click on the thumbnail for the original Background image layer to make it active.
Then hold the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on Macintosh while clicking on the “Create a New Layer” button (the blank sheet of paper icon) at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will create a new layer below the original Background image layer, and you can fill that layer with any color you’d like to produce the intended border effect separate from the original Background image layer.