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Convert Photoshop Layer Effects into Separate Layers

Most users of Photoshop should already know about layer effects. These are the extra little tidbits added onto layers via the small “fx” icon in the lower-left corner of the layers palette. Using these effects you can build a number of extra features like shadows, gradients, bevels, and a whole lot more.

layer effects custom layers fx

For this brief tutorial I'd like to explain how to convert a collection of layer effects into their own layers. Most effects are customizable and stack together when adding layer effects(or layer styles) onto a shape. But if you ever need to edit the effects individually you'll need to create new layers out of each effect. The process is quite simple but also tricky if you've never done it before.

photoshop creating new document window

First I'm going to create a new document at 600×600 pixels. The dimensions really don't matter, I just want to fit a shape somewhere in the document. If you already have a PSD with layer styles then open that up. If not you can follow along with me.

I've drawn a rounded rectangle on the document about half the height. The shape's color doesn't matter because it'll be overwritten using layer styles. Here is my setup for each layer style:

Drop Shadow

drop shadow preview window

Inner Shadow

inner shadow preview image

Gradient Overlay

gradient overlay effect photoshop

The inner gradient uses two shades of grey from light to dark. Inside the inner shadow is a very thin 1px white line at the top for a glossy effect. You can see my final rectangle shape below:

rectangle shape preview layer effects

So now that we have a layer using layer effects, how do we convert each effect into a new layer? Well first I would recommend making a duplicate copy of the layer just in case you want to revert changes at a later date.

Basically once you convert layer effects into separate layers, they behave like their own bitmap images. So you can't re-combine the shape ever again(the change is permanent). If you make a duplicate copy and hide the dupe layer, it won't show up in the document but will still be accessible at any point.

preview layers panel beforehand effects

Notice how I've also created a new layer group named “Separate Layers”. Move the visible shape into this folder before creating all the new layers. This way everything is contained in a nice neat folder and you can organize much easier.

With the visible shape layer selected move up to the top menu bar and select Layer > Layer Style > Create Layers.

layer styles create layers menu

Take note this can also be done by right-clicking any of the layer effects in the layers palette and selecting Create Layers from the context menu. Both options perform the exact same task and, once completed, you'll have individual layers for each layer effect.

create layers right click context menu

When using certain layer effects you may get a notification that not all effects can be converted into layers. What happens is that each effect will indeed be converted into a layer, but some might turn into clipping masks. For example the gradient overlay is applied onto the shape layer itself – and the top shine is then applied onto both of those layers.

At the end you should have something like this:

final layers palette effects preview

Now you can actually manipulate individual layer effects to be positioned in various locations. This does give you a lot more control regarding shadows and highlights – but you also have to remember that each effect is a bit more difficult to manage.

Lots of designers want to know if it's possible to convert just one layer effect while keeping the others. According to this Stack Exchange thread it's not possible. You either have to convert all the layer effects, or none at all.

So if you're looking for a middle ground just convert a copy of the shape and delete the layers you don't want. Then you can work with the primary layer effects while also having separate layer effects on their own. Pretty neat huh?

I'm the editor-in-chief of I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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