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Merging Documents in Photoshop CS2

Placing images while maintaining layer integrity By Dave Nagel
I get this question all the time: "How do I merge two documents in Photoshop while maintaining the layer structures of the original documents?" Prior to Photoshop CS2, this wasn't a pleasant prospect. You could export layers as individual files, then automate the copy/paste process to bring all of them together, but that wasn't really feasible in most cases. Now, in Photoshop CS2, the options are greatly expanded, making the process both flexible and easy.

There are two new features in Photoshop CS2 that make the merging documents a truly viable possibility, one in which you can not only merge the documents into a single file, but also maintain the integrity of your layers. These are expanded options for the "Place" command and the new ability to select multiple layers in a document simultaneously.

Method 1: Placing files as Smart Objects
Prior to Photoshop CS2, it was not possible to place certain types of files into an existing document. Now, however, any type of document that can be opened by Photoshop can be imported into a new file while maintaining the contents of the original document. It does this by converting placed images to Smart Objects during the import process. Here's how it works.

1. Open your base image.

2. Choose File > Place, and select the image you want to place. In my case, this is an image that will add a lighted window effect to my scene. When the object is initially place, you're given the object of transforming it. When you have the placed document positioned and scaled correctly, hit the Return key on your keyboard to commit it.

3. Now the placed document becomes a Smart Object, represented by a special icon in the Layers palette, seen below.

This appears to be a flat element, but, in fact, all of the aspects of the original document are maintained, and you can make modifications to them by double-clicking the Smart Object in the Layers palette or by choosing Layer > Smart Objects > Edit Contents. The image below shows the Smart Object after I double-click it, allowing me to make changes to layer visibility, layer effects, filters, adjustment layers, etc.

But this is only one possibility. There are two others that you might want to use, depending on your workflow preferences.

Method 2: Duplicating layers
The second method available for merging documents is based on Photoshop's new ability to select all layers in a document simultaneously. I've heard over and over that this is the favorite new feature with so many users, and this is just another reason for that acclaim. And there's a number of ways to do it. Here's one of them.

1. Open your base image, plus the image or images that you want to merge into your base image.

2. Select one of the multi-layered images, and then select all of the layers in that image. You can do this by Shift-clicking layers to select multiple or by typing Option-Command-A (Mac) or Alt-Control-A (Windows).

3. Now choose Layer > Duplicate Layers. In the dialog that pops up, set the target of the duplication to your base file (or to a new file, if you prefer).

This placed all of the selected layers into the base document, with the original layer structure maintained and easily accessible for further editing.

Then simply repeat the duplication step for all of the documents you wish to merge into your base document.

Method 3: Grouping and duplicating
It's also easier now to create groups of layers in Photoshop, then duplicate those groups and bring them into a new document or a base document. This is similar to the first method, but it provides for better organization, allowing you to visualize easily the elements that came from different documents. Here's how this one works.

1. As before, open you base image and any images you wish to merge into this base image.

2. Go to one of your merge documents, and select all of its layers, as before.

3. Now type Command-G (Mac) or Control-G (Windows) to convert all of these layers (including groups of layers) into a new group. Alternatively, you can also group layers and layer groups by choosing Layer > Group Layers or by clicking the flyaway menu in the Layers palette and choosing "New Group from Layers" from the list of available options.

4. Finally, choose Layer > Duplicate Group. In the dialog that pops up, select the base image to which you want to send the duplicated group.

And here's the result, with the duplicated layers tucked neatly away in their own folder above the background layer in my base image.

Simply repeat this process for each of the images you'd like to merge.

Now, of course, this entire process can be automated for merging large numbers of files easily. I'll show you how to handle this in our next tutorial on merging documents, along with some preset actions to take the burden off you.

But for now, that's it. If you have any more questions, you can visit me in DMN's Adobe Photoshop forum by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:adobe photoshop, merging documents, combining images, placing files

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