Selecting and Moving Layer Content

The Move tool is used to move, transform, align and distribute layer elements. We'll cover all of these functions over the next three lectures. In this lecture you'll see how to reposition layer content. Before that, making selections based on a layer's opacity will be covered.

Selecting Layer Opacity

Making selections based on a layer's opacity is a very useful function. Once selected, pixels can be copied, moved, or the selection marquee can be used with another layer's contents.

We covered various selection methods in the Selections module but will add a new method here that relies on a layer's opacity values.

selections based on layer opacity

In the image shown above, the two elements were on the same transparent layer. It's clear that the star image is selected but it looks like only the centre part of the gradient has been selected. Actually, Photoshop will only display a selection border around pixels that are more than 50% opaque; however, the pixels outside the border are still selected.

Move Tool

Move tool The Move tool is what is used to move layer content. When used on a layer with no selections, it will reposition all the objects on that layer. If a selection has been made, only the selected pixels will be moved. Let's try out this new selection method and the Move tool in a practice exercise.

Practice Exercise: Selecting Layer Opacity and Using the Move Tool

  1. Open a new document that is 400x300 with a white background. Name it layers_practice2.psd.
  2. Insert a new layer by holding down the Alt (Option) key and clicking on the Layers palette's New Layer button. In the New Layer dialog, name the layer Circles and click OK.
  3. Set a foreground colour other than white.
  4. Choose the Elliptical Marquee tool. Set the Feather option to 0 and enable Anti-aliased in the Tool Options bar.
  5. Create a circular selection in the left side of the image on the Circles layer.
  6. Fill it with the foreground colour by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Backspace (Cmd-Delete).

first circle made

  1. Change the Feather value to 20 and create a circular selection on the right side of the image. You may get a message saying: "Warning: No pixels are more than 50% selected. The selection edges will not be visible." This refers to the fact that Photoshop won't display a selection border unless pixels are more than 50% opaque. With feathering applied, this will reduce the opacity of the selected area to a value below the 50% threshold. If you get this warning, you can click OK and ignore it or you can make the diameter of your selection wider to prevent the message from displaying.
  2. Fill the selection with the foreground colour.

second circle created

  1. Remove the selection by pressing Ctrl-D (Cmd-D) and reset the Feather value back to 0.
  2. Select the Move tool, click anywhere on the Circles layer and drag. Both circles should move as one unit.
  3. Hold down the Alt (Option) key and click on the Circles layer in the Layers palette. There should be a selection border around both circles unless you chose to the warning message mentioned above. If your gradient circle doesn't have a border, don't worry about it.
  4. Using the Move tool again, click inside a selection border and drag to shift the layer content around. This confirms that even the partially transparent pixels not included within the selection border are indeed selected.
  5. Switch back to the Marquee tool and remove the selection by using the keyboard shortcut or simply by clicking in the image.
  6. Make a selection around the left circle using the Elliptical Marquee tool.

left circle selected with Elliptical Marquee tool

  1. Switch back to the Move tool. Click and drag the selected circle. Notice how it moves independently of the right circle. You'll also notice that the selection border snaps to the edges of the object. This is normal.
  2. With the left object still selected, press one of the keyboard's directional arrow keys a few times. This will nudge the selected pixels one pixel at a time. You can nudge the entire contents of a layer even if no selection is made, providing the Move tool is the active tool.
  3. Enable the Move tool's Auto Select Layer option. What this does is sets the tool so it doesn't just act on the active layer. It will apply to the topmost layer that has pixels at the point where you click. Now try clicking and dragging away from the circles. You'll get a message saying that the Background layer is locked and can't be moved. Disable the Auto Select Layer option.
  4. Enable the Bounding Box option. You image should display a bounding box with handles around the selection. The handles can be used to scale, rotate and apply other transformations to the selected areas. You can still move the selection too. The Bounding Box option will apply to the entire layer's content if no selection is present.

Move tool's bounding box option

  1. Transformations are applied by clicking on the Commit button in the Tool Options bar. To cancel a transformation, click the Cancel button. Since you haven't begun transforming the circle, those buttons aren't displayed. Simply clicking on another tool will remove the bounding box.
  2. Save your file.

Selecting and Moving Layer Content Summary

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