Layers in Affinity Photo | Explained (2022)

If you’re trying to learn how to use Affinity Photo, you should start familiarising yourself with layers. Layers are one of the most fundamental features of any image editing software, as they allow you to create and edit complex images by stacking multiple layers on top of each other. Layers are combined together to create your complete design, which will be displayed on your page.

In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at how to use layers, the different types of Layers in Affinity Photo, and why they are useful. We will also include tutorial images to help illustrate how layers work.

Understanding Layers

Layers are essentially a way of stacking multiple images on top of each other. This can be useful for many reasons, such as combining images to create a composite, or adding text or effects to an image. Each layer can be edited individually, which means you can change the transparency, position, and appearance of each layer without affecting the other layers below it.

Layers in Affinity Photo allow you to organize your images and work on them more efficiently. For example, you can create a layer for each element in your composition, such as the background, foreground, and middle ground. This will make it easier to edit each element separately. Layers can also be used for retouching and repairing images.

Layers are like a stack of books on top of each other. The bottom book is the background, and each book above it represents a layer. Unless, the book at the top is transparent, you cannot see the underlying books through the pages of the top book.

However, if we change the transparency of the top book, we will be able to see through it and view the underlying books. The opacity of a layer controls how much of the layer or layers below is visible. The way layers work and which parts are visible is all in your hands. The order of your layers, which layers are visible, the layers’ settings and the use of child layers all affect the outcome of your design.

Layers Panel

The Layers Panel is where you manage all of your layers in Affinity Photo. Whilst noting that it can be moved around easily, the Layers Panel is typically found on the right-hand side of Affinity Photo’s interface. This panel may be used to construct your design which is made up of several layers, with each layer dedicated to a specific component. These include filters, adjustments, text, lines, etcetera.

The Layers Panel features several options that allow you to add new layers, delete layers, and control how they function. From the Layers Panel, you can select a particular layer and if you right-click on it, you will be able to copy or cut it, paste it, hide it, lock or unlock it, duplicate it, adjust the opacity and so much more.

You can change the order of layers by selecting them and then dragging and dropping them with your mouse. The squares at the right-hand side of a layer allow you to toggle the visibility on and off. At the bottom of the Layers Panel, you may choose to ‘Edit All Layers’, create a ‘Mask Layer’, apply an ‘Adjustment’, pick ‘Layer Effects’ and add ‘Live Filters’. Additionally, you can ‘Group Layers’, add a new pixel layer or remove a layer.

This screenshot will help you familiarise yourself with the Layers Panels and all the options available.

There are various types of layers in Affinity Photo, but the main types are the following: Pixel Layers, Mask Layers, Adjustment Layers, Vector Layers and Clipping Layers.

Pixel Layers

Pixel Layers in Affinity Photo are the most common type of layer and are used for images and graphics. As the name suggests, a Pixel Layer is comprised of pixels, which are the smallest unit of colour information in an image.

When you create a Pixel Layer, Affinity Photo creates a new file that is the size of your document’s canvas. Any changes that you make to the layer will be applied to this new file. This is why it’s important to keep your layers organised and tidy, as messy layers can quickly use up disk space and create problems down the line.

Have you ever tried to edit an image layer and you are unable to use destructive tools, effects and adjustments? This is because in order to modify an image, the layer has to be a pixel layer. Image layers preserve all of the original image data. On the other hand, pixel Layers are composed of pixels that you can modify and manipulate in any way you want. In order to turn a particular layer into a pixel layer, you have to rasterize it.

Rasterizing a layer means that you are turning it into pixels, which will allow you to edit the contents of the layer with tools and effects. To make sure that a layer is a pixel layer, take a look at the layer in the Layers Panel. If there is ‘(Pixel)’ written next to the name of the layer, then it is definitely a Pixel layer. This is clarified in the image below.

Mask Layers

Mask Layers in Affinity Photo are used to hide or show parts of other layers. They are typically used for compositing, which is the process of combining different elements into a single image. For example, you can use a Mask Layer to hide the background of an image so that you can see the subject more clearly.

Mask Layers work non-destructively, which means that the layer’s original contents are preserved. The Mask Layer simply controls which parts of the underlying layers are visible. When you paint on a mask with the colour white, you are revealing the underlying layer. When you paint with black, you are hiding the layer below. You can also use other shades of grey to control the level of transparency.

You can add a Mask Layer by selecting the layer you to apply the mask to by clicking on the Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. You can also apply a Mask by clicking on the ‘Layer’ menu, and select ‘New Mask Layer’.

To add an Inverted Mask Layer, hold down ‘Alt’ (Windows) or ‘Option’ (Mac) and add a new mask layer as instructed above. If you already have a Mask Layer and you wish to invert it, simply select the Mask Layer and press ‘Ctrl’ (Windows) or ‘Cmd’ (Mac) + ‘I’ on your keyboard. Another method would be to select the Mask Layer and click on the ‘Layer’ menu, and select ‘Invert’.

This image will help you understand how a Mask Layer can be added and how it functions.

Adjustment Layers

Adjustment Layers are used to change the appearance of other layers without permanently altering them. These layers are non-destructive, which means that you can always go back and change the settings if you’re not happy with the results. This type of layer is very useful for making global changes to an image, such as increasing or decreasing the brightness, contrast, saturation or hue. You can also apply multiple Adjustment Layers to a single layer.

Affinity Photo provides various Adjustments such as Curves, Levels, Black and White, HSL and so much more. Simply select the Adjustment you want to use from the menu at the bottom of the Layers Panel, and a new layer will be added above the currently selected layer.

Adjustment Layers in Affinity Photo are equipped with a built-in mask, which you can use to restrict the adjustment to a specific area of the image. To do this, simply select the Adjustment Layer and select the Paint Brush Tool to start painting. You can paint with black, white or any other shade of grey to hide or reveal parts of the adjustment layer.

We have included this image to show you how to add an Adjustment Layer and the variety Affinity Photo offers.

Vector Layers

Vector Layers are used for creating and editing vector graphics. A Vector Layer is made up of mathematical objects called vectors, which define the shape, size and colour of an object. Affinity Photo includes a wide range of tools for creating and editing vector graphics, including shapes, lines, text and curves.

This is how a vector looks like in Affinity Photo.

Clipping Layers

Clipping Layers are used to restrict the visibility of a layer to a specific area of another layer. For example, you can use a Clipping Layer to create a drop shadow for an object. The advantage of using a Clipping Layer is that you can change the shape and size of the clipping mask without affecting the contents of the layer. The clipped layer will be bound within the extent of the parent layer.

To create a Clipping Layer, select the layer you want to clip and in the Layers Panel drag it on top of the other layer. You can also select the layer to be clipped, click on the ‘Layer’ menu, select ‘Arrange’ and ‘Move inside’. You will see that in the Layers Panel, the layer becomes clipped to the layer which was underneath it.

For a thorough explanation on Clipping Masks, check out our blog on Masking in Affinity Photo. Take a look at these images to learn how you can clip layers together.

Other Layers

Other layers in Affinity Photo are Fill Layers and Live Filter Layers, amongst others. Fill Layers are used to fill an area with a solid colour, gradient or pattern. Live Filter Layers are used to apply filters to a layer in real-time and therefore they are non-destructive. This type of layer is very useful for creating special effects and adding texture to your images.

About Grouping Layers

Groups are used to combine layers into a single entity. This can be useful when you want to apply an adjustment to multiple layers at the same time, or when you want to move all the layers in a group together.

To create a Group, select the layers you want to include and drag them onto the Group icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Alternatively, select the layers you want to include and press ‘Ctrl’ (Windows) or ‘Cmd’ (Mac) + G on your keyboard. The selected layers will be combined into a single Group.

You can also create Groups by selecting the layer(s) you want to include and clicking on the ‘Group’ button at the bottom of the Layers Panel. This will create a new Group and automatically select it so that you can start editing it.


In this blog post, we’ve looked at the different types of layers in Affinity Photo and how they can be used to create stunning visual effects. We hope you’ve found this information helpful and that you will experiment with the different layer types to see what amazing creations you can come up with. Be sure to share your work with us on social media so we can admire your skills!

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