Toolbar Box Ten: Layers

Layers IconsLayers: The Basics, The Floating Window and The Window Menu
 
The Basics: Whenever I hear reluctance and frustration in the voice of an artist who has just begun to learn to use layers, I feel a pang of sympathy. I remember what a trial it was trying to figure it all out on my own. That is why I am going to do my best to make this tutorial as simple and concise as I am able, in the hopes that getting used to this terrific tool will be fun and not an unpleasant chore for you. First I'll give you some facts about the Layers Floating Window (which, from now on I will just refer to as the Layers Window). After you've read The Basics, you may wish to move on to the Step-by-Step Tutorial.
 
Let's get started... Open a Shi-Painter drawing canvas making sure that you tick the "animation" box when you select the canvas size.
 
At any given time you have the option of working on separate levels or layers. Think of it as a stack of transparencies - clear plastic sheets that you can see through until they are painted over. In Shi-Painter the names of your layers are 0, 1, 2, 3, and 41. There are many uses for layer capabilities in graphics software. Probably the most common asset is the ability to work on sections of a drawing without disturbing other areas. Here's what the Layers Window looks like when you open it by clicking on the bottom box of the Toolbar. (Remember: It can be resized and repositioned.)
 
Layers Window The Floating Window: Take some time to navigate through the Layers Window. Notice the small boxes along the right side? Try clicking on them. When the circle inside the box changes to a diagonal line, that layer is inactive. You can't see what's in it and you can't draw in it until you turn it back on by clicking in the box again. If you attempt to draw in the selected layer when it is inactive, as in the example, nothing will happen.
 
When you start a drawing, unless you specify otherwise, it will always be Layer0 you are working in. Find Layer0 in the example. See how it is outlined in red? That is the indicator for the selected layer, the one in which you are working. When you make a mark on the canvas, it is being recorded in the selected layer, as long as it's active. If you are going to draw your background on a separate layer, you will usually use this layer because it is at the bottom of the layers. That means that anything drawn on layers above it will block out what can be seen on Layer0. In the same way, anything drawn on Layer4 will block out what is drawn directly underneath it in all layers. If you're using line art, you will want it to be on Layer4 so that it stays above everything else. Layer4 is on top. Remember, it's like a stack of clear pages; 4 is on top, 3 under 4, 2 under 3, 1 under 2, and 0 under 1.
 
Now, notice the long box to the right of the layer name. Normally it is black and says 100%. Try putting your cursor inside the black area and sliding. The number will change according to the percentage of opacity you have picked. When the slider is all the way to the right it's at 100% opaque. So, if you have filled that layer with an opaque color you will not be able to see anything underneath it. Move the slider to 50% opacity and you will be able to see through the layer, somewhat, to whatever is in the layers below it. Move the slider all the way to the left and the layer becomes entirely transparent. When you save your drawing, the program saves the image with the layer opacities as they are set at the time of uploading the image for posting.
 
Layers PreviewTwo options for manipulating the Layer rows are Shift and Merge. If you want to change the position of a layer in the stack, you can drag an entire row to a different position in the stack. A small window will open asking if you wish to shift or merge layers. If you just want to put it in a different order, click on shift. The other option is for merging two layers together. Artists who use layers a lot in their drawings will constantly be merging elements that they have been working on separately. This allows you to then create new layers without using as much memory to operate the program. Just remember that when you merge two layers together the image on the upper layer has visual dominance over the lower one.
 
The Window Menu: Items in the Menu are Add Layer, Delete Layer, Visible Layers Merge, Property and Use Preview.
 
Layers MenuIf you need a new layer all you have to do is click on Add Layer. To delete a layer make certain you have the one you want to get rid of selected. A window will open asking if you want to delete the specified layer. Click "Yes". (You can retrieve deleted layers by using the "Undo" option.)
 
Sometimes you may want to merge more than two layers together but not all of them. In that instance, make the layers you don't want to merge inactive by clicking on the circle to the right of that layer's row. Now, select "Visible Layers Merge". All the visible layers will now be in the topmost layer of the group that you just merged. Click in the deactivated layer to reopen it.
 
Properties 1Properties 2When you click on "Property" a small window will open, like the ones to the left. It gives you some choices in a drop-down menu for the selected layer. They are: Normal, Multiply and Reverse. (In Photoshop these are known as "Modes".) Multiply does an interesting thing. It darkens and makes an image transparent, except for the darkest areas. The only thing I know of that it is used for is if someone has a line drawing they want to color. If you put the drawing in the top layer and set it to Multiply you can then color on a layer underneath it and still see the black lines in the drawing. Reverse mode changes all the colors to their opposite so you get something that looks like a color negative. I have never found a use for it, but you might.
 
Layers Preview

Probably the most confusing part about using layers is keeping track of which one you are currently working in. It's very easy to lose track of that. Since you can select a layer to work in either by clicking on a layer in the Layer Window or cycle clicking through the layer numbers in the bottom box of the Toolbar, it becomes even easier to get confused. I suggest that you make a habit of choosing the layer you're working in one way or the other and don't use both options. Also, remind yourself to check regularly that you are working in the right layer. You can quickly check what each layer contains by choosing the "Use Previews" option in the Layers Window Menu. Pass your cursor over the left side of each layer row (where the layer numbers are) and a small window opens over each one to show the content (as illustrated above).
 
Okay. That's it for the layers application in Shi-Painter. This is a good way to learn a little bit about layers and get comfortable with them before you begin using a more complicated layers application like Photoshop .
 
1 The default number of layers is 5, but you can add more. If you do so, take regular screen capture saves (with your PrintScreen key) especially if you're using a Mac. I have heard that the program can become unstable with high layer usage.