How to Unmerge Items in Photoshop

The Adobe Photoshop software permits saving images created on its canvas in a number of ways, from basic graphics formats, such as JPG and GIF, to universally openable files, such as PDF. But just one of Photoshop's saving extensions, the PSD, permits you to re-access the layers of design work that make up an image. This is beneficial when you want to perform edits to a design, such as unmerging items within it. In all other cases, saving and closing documents take images past the point of no return; only in the Photoshop PSD do layers remain accessible for unmerging.

Step 1

Open Photoshop. Click the "File" menu. Click "Open." Browse to the Photoshop file to unmerge — look for a PSD extension on the document name — and double-click it to open it on the Photoshop canvas.

Step 2

Review the screen for the Layers palette in the bottom-right corner. If you do not see it, pull down the "Window" menu and click "Layers" to open it. Scroll through the list of layers in the palette. The layers at the top of the palette are the most visible, with the layers lower in the palette "merged" below the top ones.

Step 3

Click one of the lower layers in the palette to highlight it in blue. Click the small eyeball to the left of the layer name. This hides the layer from the canvas and gives you a preview of how the image would look without the layer. To remove the layer entirely — not just hiding it — right-click the layer, select "Delete Layer" and click "Yes."

Step 4

Move layers out from under each other by clicking a layer to highlight it. Click the Move tool, the top icon on the Tools column on the left side of the work area, and drag the items on the layer around on the canvas into a new place.

Step 5

Copy the entire layer by clicking the layer to highlight it. Pull down the "Select" menu at the top of the work area and click "All." When blinking lines appear, press the "Ctrl" and "C" keys on the keyboard.

Step 6

Paste the layer into a new Photoshop document by clicking the "File" menu, selecting "New" and clicking "OK." Photoshop automatically sizes the canvas to what's in its copied memory. When the blank canvas opens, press the "Ctrl" and "V" keys to paste in the copy.

Step 7

Repeat to create a new document for each layer in the original document's palette. Save each individual document by clicking the "File" menu, selecting "Save As," typing a new name for the image and clicking the "Save" button.


The only way to unmerge items in Photoshop is before the document has been flattened and still maintains its layers. The only file format that permits layers is the proprietary Photoshop PSD extension. All other formats, such as JPG, flatten layers when saving, which means everything gets merged together.