How and When to Flatten in Photoshop {Elements}

I am on a quest – a quest to answer some of the frequently asked questions from new Photoshop {Elements} users. Today I am answering the question “what is flattening?” and “how do you flatten?”

Previously I’ve explained why we should edit with layers, the different types of layers, and how to edit with them (to many tutorials using layers to link to). I even did an hour webinar completely about layers.

Now we need to talk about what to do with those layers once you are done editing. Flatten.

What the heck does it mean to “flatten?” Simply that your layers are open and by flattening they are combined into one layer – a new background.


When should you flatten?

  • If you are a new PS/PSE user, you should flatten open layers in order to smooth skin or sharpen (yes, there is a way around flattening, but new users should just flatten).
  • After you are completely through with your edit and you’ve saved the open layers as a .psd file (if you want to access the layers later).

Think of flattening like a vice, used to squeeze the layers together.

The screen print below shows the open layers of an edit. (A tutorial using this image is coming soon, showing the steps I took to replace a window and tilt the image).


There are several ways to flatten and one way is not better than the others. For beginners, it is easiest to go to the Layer option in the menu, then down to Flatten Image.



You can also RIGHT CLICK on any of the layers in the layers panel, and choose Flatten Layers.


Once your layers are flattened, you have a “new background.” You can keep on editing some more, if needed. Or, if you are finished editing, you can save the file.


The way I recommend saving edits is to chose Save As (under File), then add something like ‘edit’ to the end of the file name. That way the edit stays with the original file in your folders. If you name it something completely different, the two files will be separated, making the edit hard to find later.

Example file naming: My file names look like ap2013n_3074.jpg, so an edit becomes ap2013n_3074_edit.jpg



If you have been using Photoshop or PSE for a while you may be wondering what is the difference between merging and flattening. They are extremely similar, with the only difference being that if there is layer that is hidden (the eye turned off), the layer will still be there after  you merge. If you flatten you will either have to discard the hidden layer or cancel flattening.

About Amanda

I am passionate about helping others learn how to use their DSLR cameras and editing programs. More information about me can be found at my About page, or by visiting my personal blog.


  1. You could also do stamp visible – then you get everything visible in a new layer and save all the original layers too

  2. Henry Belletty says:

    As a novice to PSE and photo editing, your tutorials come as a breath of fresh air.
    I eagerly look forward to the next lesson.
    Many thanks.

  3. Thanks again for a straight-forward instructions. I have learned a lot of info from you and your webinars.

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