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Interested on how you can create quirky images by rotating your layers? I’ll help you out. AS you may know, Photoshop is dependent on layers. These layers allow the developer to manipulate the picture exactly the way they want. With layers, you can edit parts of the image while leaving the rest of the image untouched. You can even “turn off” layers to see what the image would look like without one element. Let’s learn this basic and very useful tool. Learn about Photoshop Essentials.

Step 1

In order to rotate a layer, you’re going to need a layer first, right? So, if you have a picture you’ve previously created in Photoshop – that has layers – go ahead and open it and then go to step 4. If you don’t have an image with layers created yet then go to Step 2 and I’ll talk you through how to make one. It’s easy, don’t worry.

Step 2

You’ll need to open a new canvas to get started. Go to File–>New to do this. A screen will pop up asking you to adjust the size of the canvas. If you want, you can change the height and the width to match the image you plan on creating. If you’re not sure, start off with something like width: 600 pixels and height: 600 pixels. You can always adjust this later.

Step 3

This white canvas is your background. You need to add a few layers on top of this background to give you maximum flexibility while designing. To create a new layer, go to your layers palette which is in the bottom right hand corner of Photoshop CC. There is a tab that says layers next to “channels” “paths” and “properties” make sure it is the one clicked on. You’ll see a white thumbnail and the word background. On the bottom of that little panel there is an icon that looks like a dog-eared page. Click that and you’ll have your first new layer.

If you plan on using the shapes tool to do your first drawing, you don’t need to create a new layer as when you draw the shape on the background, a new layer will automatically be created with the title of your shape tool and a “1”. See the third example below.   

If you are trying to open an image to be one layer in your final product, there are a few more steps.

1. First, go to File–>Open and select your image. You will see it opens into a new window with the title of your image on the header.

2. To make this image a layer on your new canvas, you will have to drag it to the blank canvas. If you can see your image and your new canvas at the same time then the drag will be easy. Just click on the arrow tool which is the very first icon on your left tool bar.

3. Click the picture and drag it to the canvas and release. You won’t see the picture actually move so just let go of your clicker and it should appear.

Step 4

You’ll notice that the layer is highlighted in the picture above. That means it’s active and you can design or edit it. So, go ahead and design a piece of whatever you have in mind. I’m going to use a fun picture of two of my favorite television characters from Criminal Minds as layer 1


My image and layer 1

Step 5

Now that you have something in layer 1, you want to use a tool called free transform to rotate and even resize a layer. There are two ways to engage this tool, 1) Go to Edit–>Free Transform, 2) Hit CTRL +T. Option two is called a shortcut. All the tools in Photoshop have their own shortcut that makes accessing them really easy. Really into design? There is an online course to teach Photoshop to artists.

Step 6

Okay, assuming the free transform tool is on and your layer is selected, you should see anchor points around the canvas. This is similar to an image when you are trying to resize or edit it.

Now, to rotate it you need to hover your mouse over one of the four corners. Doesn’t matter which one right now.

You should see a half moon shaped line with an arrow on either end. Click while your mouse pointer looks like this and slowly move your mouse in the direction you want your image to rotate. If you rotated the image too far you can either 1) go to the other corner to balance out the rotation, or, 2) hit CTRL+Z which is the shortcut for undo. That way you can start over again.

When you are satisfied with the rotation of your image, you should click save under File–>Save.

If you want to adjust multiple images, go to your layers palette and make sure the layer you want to edit is highlighted and follow the steps above.

This trick is how you can create collages like this one! Each picture is a different layer and I just resized them and rotated a couple of them to create this finished product.

This is just one tool out of dozens that Photoshop offers. Take this Photoshop crash course to learn about them.

Page Last Updated: January 2014

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