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Merge Down vs Merge Layers

by SnickerdoodleDesigns on 21 September 2013
in Designer Tools & Tips,Elements (PSE),Photoshop CS+,Tutorials Pin this scrappy stuff!

For the longest time I didn’t understand the difference between Merge Down and Merge Layers, two layer options available in both Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. If I wanted to merge layers, I tried Merge Down. If that didn’t give me the result I wanted, I clicked Control+Z (to Undo), and tried Merge Layers.  One day I decided to actually stop what I was doing, take the time to discover the difference between the two, and why I could / should choose one over the other.  This is what I discovered!

  • When we have layers that we would like to merge together and choose Merge Down, the top layer will take on the name and characteristics of the bottom layer(s).
  • When we have layers that we would like to merge together and choose Merge Layers, all layers are merged together but each retains it’s own characteristics.

In the image below, we see a pumpkin template, with multiple layers. The first layer is the stem. The remaining layers are the different sections of the pumpkin.  I want to merge the 2nd and 3rd pumpkin layers.

When I select and right click on the “pumpkin2″ layer, I see the Merge Down option.


Here is the pumpkin, without the fly-out menu open. You can see that the layer named “pumpkin2″ has an Inner Shadow and Drop Shadow applied.  Pumpkin 3 has an Inner Shadow and Color Overlay.


I have right clicked on the “pumpkin2″ layer, and selected Merge Down.  According to the definition of Merge Down, we would expect to see “the top layer take on the name and characteristics of the bottom layer.”

In the image below you can see that this is exactly what happened.  We no longer see a separate layer for “pumpkin2,” and the merged layers have the name of “pumpkin3″ with just the Inner Shadow and Color Overlay (just as “pumpkin3″ originally had).  The Drop Shadow from “pumpkin2″ is gone. You can also see that the look of the pumpkin has changed. Since these layers now have the same characteristics, their look has “blended” and they are no longer distinguishable from each other. (We see only 3 distinct pumpkin segments instead of 5.)


This is not the look I want, so let’s use our friend Control+Z to Undo, and try Merge Layers.

When we have two (or more) layers selected, and right click,  the Merge Down option is replaced with the Merge Layers option.


According to our definition, if we merge our selected layers, each layer will retain it’s own characteristics.  Let’s see what that looks like.

In the image below I merged the layers “pumpkin2″ and “pumpkin3″ using the Merge Layers option.  The merged layers have retained the name “pumpkin2″ and each layer has retained it’s own characteristics.  Just as Adobe promised!


This is the look I wanted! Now I need to texture this pumpkin, remove that orange drop shadow on the transparent area, and this little cutie is ready to be decorated for Halloween!

Next week we’ll talk about a few other merge options! I hope to see you back then!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 NathL 20 September 2013 at 9:25 pm

thank you for this! never realize this myself either :)


2 Carol 20 September 2013 at 11:10 pm

wow Karen, this was an awesome tutorial. I love it. I was having such a problem with merging layers and then being so disappointed with how they looked after the merge. Now I actually know why. Thank you ever so much.


3 SnickerdoodleDesigns 20 September 2013 at 11:43 pm

Thank you for your comments! I’m so glad you found this helpful!


4 Lois 21 September 2013 at 7:09 am

You opened up a whole new world with this tutorial for me. I always wondered why I would lose some details when I merged down! Thanks so much for enlightning me.


5 Sue Rice 21 September 2013 at 10:43 am

Just love your tuts and that you are will to share them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


6 Jody 22 September 2013 at 4:33 pm

I’m a relative newcomer to your newsletter Karen, I’ve been getting it about 6 weeks or so. Considering I’m on the QC team here, I should pay more attention to the blog but I usually just read the daily emails. Once I started getting your newsletter and found your tutorials here, I just can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed them! Many things I already knew but you gave me alternate ways to accomplish the same thing that I didn’t know and I love having multiple options. I always wondered what the difference was between merge layers and merge down, so silly me didn’t look it up and thought merge down would merge all layers down to the background layer from the layer you chose the option on so I never used it, Wow! was I so wrong!! I really appreciate you teaching me the difference between the 2 options and I look forward to your new tuts each week!! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of ps and pse with us!!!


7 LLinda 22 September 2013 at 7:04 pm

Thanks for the explanation. Now I understand why I was never happy with the results of “merge down” so I simply avoided using it. Your writeup helped me to understand this function of PS without being confusing or too technical. Love it!


8 SnickerdoodleDesigns 22 September 2013 at 8:53 pm

Thank you all for taking the time to leave me your thoughts. Knowing that you are reading these tutorials and that they are helping you, encourages me. Thank you.


9 Linda 23 September 2013 at 7:46 am

Wow…I never knew. Thanks for teaching me! No more merging down except for type.


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