How-To-Convert-The-Background-Layer-Into-A-Normal-Layer-Photoshop
* Updated in January 2017 to reflect changes in the Background Layer in Photoshop CC *

A question that comes up fairly regularly in Photoshop class is; “why can’t I move the Background layer ?” The background layer is the bottom-most layer in the Layers panel. When you import or open an image from a digital camera or scanner, the image is automatically placed on the Background layer.

Photograph With Background Layer - Photoshop

When you look at it in the layers panel, you can see a little lock beside the name. This gives the impression that you should just be able to simply uncheck the layer lock and then it will behave in the same way as other layers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work.

Let’s have a brief look at how the Background layer is different to the other layers and why you can’t move it. There are actually several things that you can’t do to a Background, here they are:

One. You can’t move the contents of the Background layer.
On normal layers, you can select an object on a layer with the Move tool, and then drag that object anywhere you want on the canvas. The Background layer is locked into place.

Two. You can’t change the stacking order of the Background layer in the layers panel.
If you have more than one layer in your Photoshop image and try to rearrange the stacking order of the layers by clicking and dragging in the Layers panel, you’ll see that the Background layer is locked in place.

Three. You can’t change the Blending Mode or Opacity of the Background layer.
In fact, all options on the Layer panel are greyed out, meaning you can’t make any changes.

All layer options are greyed out

Four. If you delete or erase part of this Background layer, it will not show transparency as you would see on other layers.
Instead, the deleted part will appear in a Fill colour of your choice. Below, I’ve made a rectangular selection around the man’s face. If I hit Backspace (Windows) or Delete (Mac), you will see the Fill dialog box opens. From there you can choose how we want to fill the selection area. On a normal layer, this dialog box would not appear and you would just make a transparent hole where the selection is.

Deleting a selection on a background layer Selection of background deleted

How do I make the Background layer into a normal layer in Photoshop?

Well, luckily it is extremely easy. To unlock the Background layer and do with it wherever you want;

  1. Double-click on the name (literally double-click on the word Background) in the Layers panel. The New Layer dialog opens.
  2. By default Photoshop offers you Layer 0 as a new name – simply accept this or type in a new name for your Background layer.
  3. Then click OK.

New Layer Dialog

There is another way to change the Background layer into a normal layer in Photoshop CC. If you attempt to move the contents of the Background layer with the Move tool, the following dialog will appear. From here you can choose Convert to Normal Layer. This will instantly convert your layer and automatically name it Layer 0.

Photoshop Warning Background Layer

I hope you found this helpful. I’d be really grateful if you would share it, thank you! 🙂

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