How to unlock layers in Photoshop

Table of contents:

How to unlock layers in Photoshop
How to unlock layers in Photoshop

Locking layers ensures that you don't accidentally make edits to the original images or sections of your workspace. This is the reason why any image you open is locked from the start and named “Background”. Photoshop doesn't want you to accidentally edit the original image. However, that doesn't mean that there isn't a way to edit locked layers.


Part 1 of 2: unlock a background layer

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 1

Step 1. Open your image normally in Photoshop

There are no adjustments or changes that you must make before opening an image that is locked as a background layer. All you have to do is open the image normally.

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 2

Step 2. Click the locked object in the Layers section

This is a long window that sits to the right of the screen in which the layers are named. There you will find all the layers (going from the background) as well as a small preview of the image. Next to the background, you'll normally see a small padlock icon that tells you the layer is locked.

  • Troubleshoot layers not showing issue:

    click on Window in the options bar at the top of the page. Make sure the Layers feature is checked. If so, but the palette is still not visible, click WindowWorkspace → and tick Essentials (default). If despite this the problem persists, close the pallet Color and reset it by clicking its option from the Workspace context menu.

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 3

Step 3. Duplicate the layer

Click on the layer and press Ctrl Where Cmd + J to create another unlocked version of the initial image. This may be the best way to go, as it allows you to always have the original image available in case of mishandling. If you are working on a computer that is running Windows, press Ctrl + J when the background layer is selected. On the other hand, Mac users should press Cmd + J. So your new layer will be unlocked and ready to edit.

  • You also have the possibility to click on the menu Layer at the top of the page, then select Duplicate layer.
Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 4

Step 4. Unlock and rename the layer

To do this, right click on the background layer. Just double click on the name of the Background layer and a small window will open and allow you to rename the layer. From the latter, you have the possibility to:

  • rename the layer
  • set blend mode
  • define the organization color of the layer
  • adjust the opacity of the layer
Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 5

Step 5. Create a new layer

To do this, click on the menu Layer and select New, then choose Layer from background. This simple command will allow you to easily replace your background image with a brand new one. This will give you a new unlocked layer.

Part 2 of 2: fix issues with locking and unlocking layers

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 6

Step 1. Check the colors

If you can't manipulate the layers or add new ones, check the color settings right away. There are some file formats, especially those that are color indexed, that are not fully compatible with Photoshop. Fortunately, you have the option of changing them quickly. To do this, proceed like this:

  • click on the menu Picture at the top of the Photoshop window. Make sure your image is already open,
  • then click on Fashion,
  • click on RGB color in order to temporarily adjust your color settings into something handy.
Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 7

Step 2. Lock the layer again

To do this, click on the little padlock that is in the layers section. The latter presents several options that are above your current layer. Clicking on the padlock will lock all the layers (you can select more than one by holding the Ctrl or Cmd key and clicking on the layers) that you have selected. This same action also enables them to be unlocked. Be aware, however, that this will never have an effect on the background layer.

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 8

Step 3. Use keyboard shortcuts

You have the option of making use of keyboard shortcuts to quickly unlock and lock layers. The keyboard shortcut for locking layers is Ctrl Where Cmd + /. This command unlocks and locks all layers.

  • On Mac:

    Cmd + /

  • On Windows:

    Ctrl + /

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 9

Step 4. Unlock all layers except the background one

To do this, press Ctrl Where Cmd + Alt Where Opt + /. This shortcut makes all layers editable except the background layer. Be aware, however, that the latter (the layer that is locked from the start) will not be affected. Depending on the operating system, the shortcuts are as follows:

  • Mac:

    Cmd + Opt + /

  • Windows:

    Ctrl + alt = "Image" + /

Unlock Layers in Photoshop Step 10

Step 5. Lock a portion of a layer

By doing this, you have the option of locking certain parts of a layer in order to make more precise edits. The buttons that will allow you to do this are right next to the padlock and when you point them with the mouse you will see their names.

  • Lock transparent pixels:

    this icon is represented by a checkerboard. This allows you to make edits to any transparent pixel on a layer. This means that nothing under the layer can accidentally be affected.

  • Lock image pixels:

    this icon is represented by a brush. This implies that you cannot modify anything on the image, except the transparent parts of the layer.

  • Lock position:

    this icon is represented by a cross. It prevents you from moving the entire layer, although you still have the option to add text to it, recolor it, or paint it.


  • If the pallet Layers is not visible in your workspace, so click on the menu Window at the top of the page and select Layers.

Popular by topic