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Save as Layered PSD

I have tried really hard to come up with even one situation when it would be a good idea to flatten and save an image, but I honestly can't think of one. Yes, it's probably a daily occurrence to make a flattened copy of a layered document, but that's quite different. I often refer to Flatten as Photoshop's “F word” and I'm only partially joking. Using the Flatten command is a potentially dangerous thing, since it literally removes all layers and gives you one layer called Background. Instead, if you need to save a flattened version of the document, just use File>Save As, and as soon as you pick a file format other than PSD or TIFF, the layers will be flattened anyway. However, using this method lets you preserve the original multilayered document in PSD format (or TIFF if you like) and make a separate copy that is flattened.

I confess, I tend to speak in absolute terms such as “never ever flatten,” and in reality, there will be some times when it makes sense to flatten. For example, let's say you've scanned a really old photo that's very faded. One way to improve it is to press Command-J (PC: Control-J) to duplicate the Background layer, change the blend mode to Multiply, and then keep duplicating until the image improves. In a case like this, there's really no good reason to keep four or five duplicated layers when all you're trying to do is improve the image. In this situation, go ahead and flatten the layers. My hope is that by saying dramatic things like “never flatten,” you'll at least think twice before flattening, and ask yourself, “Perhaps I should save a flattened copy and keep the layered original?” (You should now be picturing Dave nodding his head vigorously in agreement.)

It's probably clear to you at this point that it's unlikely that my Most Flexible Photoshop Technique Awards will never see the light of day. A shame really; just imagine all the guest presenters we could line up. Oh well. The main thing is that you recognize the importance of thinking “flexibility first” and use these techniques. You can avoid many common Photoshop problems simply by using these alternative methods.

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