How Lightroom Handles Layered Photoshop Files

Happy Monday, everybody – hope you had an awesome Easter weekend. πŸ™‚ Today we’re answering a question I get asked a lot on my Lightroom tour, which is essentially this:

Q. If I take an image from Lightroom over to Photoshop, and in Photoshop I add a bunch of layers, what happens to those layers when I take that file back to Lightroom? Does it flatten the layers? Is there ever a way to get them back if I need to?

A. When the file comes back to Lightroom, those layers are actually still there and fully intact. However, since Lightroom doesn’t have a Layers features, what you see in Lightroom is a composite image β€” as if the image was flattened (but again it’s not). Here’s a quick tutorial on the process from scratch:

STEP ONE: Here’s our original shot in Lightroom (I positioned the lights so I could add some text in the center). I press Command-E (PC: Ctrl-E) to take this image from Lightroom over to Photoshop to add my type layers.

STEP TWO: Here’s that same image over in Photoshop where I’ve added six layers (five Type layers and another layer for sharpening and other Photoshop tweaks). Now that I’m done with my Photoshop edits, to take the image back to Lightroom I simply do two things:

  1. Save the file.
  2. Close the file.

STEP THREE: Here’s the image back in Lightroom, and you can see down in the filmstrip β€” this Photoshop Edited file is the first thumbnail from the left (it’s a .psd file), and the 2nd thumbnail image is the original image without layers. They both appear to be flattened images.

STEP FOUR: The way to re-open that layered file in Photoshop with all its layers visible is to click on the .psd file (the first thumbnail β€” the one with the type), and then press Command-E (PC: Ctrl-E) to take to back to Photoshop. When you do this, the dialog box you see above will appear, asking if you want to ‘Edit a copy with Lightroom Adjustments’ (if you choose this option, it ignores the layers and will open in Photoshop as a flattened image). Same with “Edit a Copy” β€” however, if you choose “Edit Original” (as shown here), it will open that .psd copy you make earlier and any layers that were there when you saved the file in Photoshop and took it back to Lightroom will still be there.

Above: Here’s that .psd reopened in Photoshop (by choosing Edit Original), and you can see all the layers are still there.

NOTE: This is the one and only time I choose the option “Edit Original” β€” Β When I’m reopening a copy of a file that I know has layers.

Hope you found that helpful. πŸ™‚

Best,

-Scott

Author: Scott Kelby

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Editor of "Lightroom magazine"; Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books. You can learn more about Scott at http://scottkelby.com

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20 Comments

  1. awsome!, here’s the answer Ive been looking for so long!! .. Thank you!

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  2. Scott — very helpful, as always. I love these tips!

    Small point: in Step 4, it sounds like you’re saying “Edit a Copy” ignores layers and opens in PS as a flattened image.

    On my system (Win10, LR Classic CC 7.3), “Edit a Copy” opens a .psd file in PS with all its layers intact (same as “Edit Original”). The diff betw “Edit a Copy” and “Edit Original” seems to be that “Edit Original” updates the original .psd file in LR, whereas “Edit a Copy” creates a new, additional .psd file in LR.

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  3. What about any changes made in LR after step 3? Will ‘Edit Original’ be still available and if so what will happen to these changes?

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    • Edit original is always available to non-raw photos. The best way to understand what happens is to do a simple test on your own. Start with a raw photo, send copy to Photoshop with Lightroom adjustments. Edit in Photoshop, add some layers, go to File > Save, then Close. Return to Lightroom, send to Photoshop, choose Edit Original. Repeat until you see how it works.

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    • In your scenario the changes won’t carry across to Photoshop if you select “edit original.”

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      • Thx Adam, that’s what i thought.
        Anyways, as Rob suggested, will do saome testing on my own.. but have no possibility for now… soon πŸ™‚

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  4. Thx Scott. Why did you sharpen in PS and not LR?

    (Separate Q in relation to PS – Why don’t they use the PS Spot Removal tool in LR – different article)

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    • If I go to Photoshop I do the sharpening there because it’s easier to see the effects of the sharpen. As for the Spot Removal tool – the one in Lightroom absolutely stinks! The one in Photoshop is awesome! πŸ™‚

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  5. You left out a cool part:
    If you tweak that Photoshop file in lightroom – then reopen it in PS (step 4) and make changes and save – the lightroom tweaks are still applied to the re-edited image in Lightroom. Great if you find a mis-spelled word, for instance.

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    • Exactly. If you choose “Edit Original”. That’s why the caption says “Lightroom adjustments will not be visible” (i.e. as long as you work on the image in PS) instead of something like “Lightroom adjustments will be lost”.

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  6. It makes sense now.

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  7. Is there a possibility to (de-)activate Photoshop-Layers directly in LR like you can do in inDesign?

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    • There is not (inDesign does lots of awesome things I wish PS and LR would do, too). πŸ™‚

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  8. Thanks for this tip Scott – I’ve always been a big confused what to do in this situation.

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  9. Q: LR dialogue box in preferences says that “….saving to PSD can be less efficient with respect to metadata updates. In PS you need to edit the preferences to “Maximize Compatibility” otherwise there a possibility the file cannot be read by LR…” Does this gives any problems? And when you choose to save to TIFF all the layer are flattened?

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    • I never, ever, ever choose to save any file as a TIFF. Ever. Ever, ever. Ever. πŸ™‚

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    • I *always* save to TIFF instead of .PSD because the latter is a proprietary (Adobe…) format. PSD uses a kind of compression while TIFF gives you the full Monty.

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