Written by Steve Patterson. In this tutorial, we'll take a quick look at a few simple ways you may not be aware of for customizing your Layers panel in Photoshop to keep it free of unwanted clutter and create a cleaner, more efficient workspace.
I'll be using Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud) here, but these tips will work with any recent version of Photoshop.
Here's the image I currently have open on my screen (woman with flower wreath photo from Shutterstock):
Changing The Preview Thumbnail Size
We can change the size of the preview thumbnail depending on what's more important to us. Larger thumbnails make it easier for us to see the contents of each layer, while smaller thumbnails keep the Layers panel clean and tidy. One way to change the thumbnail size is from the Layers panel menu. Click on the small menu icon in the top right corner of the Layers panel:
Then choose Panel Options from the menu that appears:
This opens the Layers Panel Options dialog box, and at the very top of the panel are the Thumbnail Size choices. We can choose Small, Medium or Large size, represented by the three different size images, or None if you don't want to see the preview thumbnail at all. Personally, I like to see a nice big preview of my layer contents, so I'll choose the Large option by selecting the larger of the three images:
I'll click OK to close out of the Layers Panel Options dialog box, and now my Layers panel is showing the largest preview thumbnail size possible:
Another way to change the thumbnail size is to simply right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) anywhere in the empty space below the bottom layer in the Layers panel, then choose either Small, Medium, Large, or No Thumbnails from the top of the menu that appears. Note, though, that while this method is faster, depending on how many Layers you currently have in your Layers panel, there may not be any empty space below the bottom layer. In that case, you'll need to use the first method we looked at (selecting Panel Options from the main Layers panel menu) to change your thumbnail size:
Turning Off Default Layer Masks
While larger preview thumbnails can make it easier for us to see the contents of our layers, layer mask thumbnails can often clutter up our Layers panel for no good reason, especially when it comes to Photoshop's Fill and Adjustment layers. By default, every time we add a new Fill or Adjustment layer to a document, Photoshop includes a layer mask with it in case we need to target only a specific area of the image. For example, we may add a Levels or Curves adjustment layer specifically to brighten someone's eyes or whiten their teeth, and in that case, we'd need the layer mask to target only the areas that need to be affected.
Other times, though, maybe more often than not, we want the Fill or Adjustment layer to apply to the entire image as a whole, which means the layer mask isn't needed and its thumbnail in the Layers panel is just taking up space. Here, I've added a Levels adjustment layer to my document to adjust the overall brightness and contrast of the image. I don't need a layer mask for my adjustment layer in this case, but Photoshop added one anyway, and it's already making my Layers panel look cluttered and messy. I can't even see the name of my adjustment layer thanks to the mask thumbnail blocking it from view:
Many Photoshop users prefer to turn off the default layer mask for both Fill and Adjustment layers and simply add a layer mask manually when it's needed. If you're wondering what the difference is between a Fill and an Adjustment layer, if we click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
The Fill layers are the first three at the top of the list - Solid Color, Gradient and Pattern. Everything below these three is an Adjustment layer:
To turn off the default layer mask for the three Fill layers, click once again on the menu icon in the top right corner of the Layers panel and choose Panel Options from the list, just as we did earlier. Then, down near the bottom of the Layers Panel Options dialog box, uncheck the option that says Use Default Masks on Fill Layers:
To turn off the default mask for the Adjustment layers, we actually have to switch from the Layers panel over to the Adjustments panel. Click on the menu icon in the top right corner of the Adjustments panel:
Then, in the menu that appears, you'll see an option that says Add Mask by Default. The checkmark beside its name tells us the option is currently enabled. Click on the option to disable it:
And now, the next time we add either a Fill or Adjustment layer, it will appear without a layer mask, and more importantly, without that unwanted mask thumbnail taking up space in the Layers panel:
We can easily add a layer mask to a Fill or Adjustment layer manually when we need one simply by clicking the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
We'll still be back to having a layer mask thumbnail taking up space, but this time, it'll be there because we need it:
Turning Off The "copy" In Copied Layers
One final preference we can set for the Layers panel to help keep it clutter-free is to tell Photoshop not to add the word "copy" to the names of our copied layers. By default, whenever we copy a layer, Photoshop adds "copy" to the end of its name. It gets worse when we start making copies of our copied layers, as we end up with highly informative layer names like "Layer 1 copy 2", "Layer 1 copy 3", and so on:
To turn off this default behavior, once again click on the Layers panel menu icon and choose Panel Options from the menu. Then, down near the bottom of the Panel Options dialog box, uncheck the option that says Add "copy" to Copied Layers and Groups:
With this option disabled, the next time you make copies of a layer (or a layer group), the word "copy" will not be added to the names:
And there we have it! That's a quick look at a few simple tips for cleaning up and customizing your Layers panel in Photoshop! Check out our Photoshop Basics section for more Photoshop tutorials!