• Swarnavo Datta

Its layered.

Going back on the digital art bandwagon. Today we are talking about something very basic. We are talking about the very basic elements of digital art. No, we are not talking about the Undo button that God kindly bestowed upon us. We are talking about Layers!


When stepping into the world of digital art, layers is the first thing you will come across. The earlier you understand its benefits, the better.

Imagine drawing a basic landscape. Yes I am talking about that classic! The mountains, the sun behind, thrown in a winding road (can be a river too), a few houses, maybe a few trees, clouds. Oh and birds. Exactly 3 birds. Or 3 ‘V’ s on the sky.

You know what I am talking about. I am sure you have made that at least once in your life.

You are done drawing it and now you feel the tree would look better on the other side, or smaller or larger. You feel that the sun looks too bright…if only there was a way to edit only that element while keeping the rest of the artwork intact. Enter, Layers!

Let’s simplify and pick up an example illustration. A pretty simple one.



The elements here are:

  • Sun

  • Clouds

  • Mountains

  • Trees

Also if you look at the mountains, you can notice separate ‘layers’of mountains. They are different in color and easy to identify.

The traditional way would be to take a paper, start making the outlines with maybe a pencil and then coloring them. Taking care of not letting the color of one mountain smudge in another.


Now imagine this.


Rather than one paper, you have multiple sheets of transparent paper. Imagine plastic sheets. Stacked on top of each other with one white paper at the bottom.


The traditional way would be to take a paper, start making the outlines with maybe a pencil and then coloring them. Taking care of not letting the color of one mountain smudge in another. as you wanted it to be.


Now in case you want to make changes to the layers, it’s possible to individually edit each layer without affecting the others. Once you get this in your head, a whole new world of possibilities open up as an artist.


You can add a new element wherever you want. You can make a layer more ‘transparent’ than the other. (ex. The sun is slightly transparent as the layer below is partly visible).



You can add shadows, play around with light.



More than anything else, you have the ability to experiment with the artwork without worrying about accidents which are irreversible.


The idea behind layers is applicable to most illustration applications. Procreate, Photoshop, Sketchbook pro…you name it.

Here are a few things you can do with layers:

  • Change the order of the stacking. Bring something to the front, push it back.

  • Adjust the opacity of each layer to make things more interesting.

  • Show/Hide layers. I always make the sketch outline in a separate layer. This allows me to make changes easily later. Sometimes I decide to hide the outline layer to give my illustration a more ‘soft’ feel to it.

  • Duplicate. What if you want to add another tree in the background without having to draw it from scratch.

  • Combining/Merging layers.

  • Now in case you want to make changes to the layers, it’s possible to individually edit each layer without affecting the others. Once you get this in your head, a whole new world of possibilities open up as an artist.

  • Reposition/ Transform elements.

  • Changing the color.

  • Lock a layer. Once happy with a layer, lock it so that you do not make any changes to it accidentally. Life saver!

  • Group different layers together.

  • Lock a layer. Once happy with a layer, lock it so that you do not make any changes to it accidentally. Life saver!

And so many more! This is definitely a unique tool to have while illustrating.

Tip: Always try and create all your elements in individual layers. Will help you in future.

Also remember, the higher the quality of your artwork, the number of layers you can use will decrease. This depends on the RAM of your system. Lets say you want to create a raster artwork of 5x5 inch you will have more number of layers available. But if you want to create a raster artwork of 500x500 inch with a really high resolution (print quality) the number of layers will drastically fall down. Will do another blog on resolution later.

Hope this helps…happy sketching! 

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