Is It Possible to Unflatten an Image in Photoshop?

Using multiple layers allows a designer to add or subtract elements from a design without altering the original image. An image constructed with multiple layers can be flattened to reduce the file size, but you may be wondering if you can unflatten an image once the layers have been merged.

Flattened images created in Photoshop cannot be unflattened if the progress has already been saved. If progress has not been saved, steps can be taken to reverse the flattening of layers. Some data can be lost in the unflattening process, however it will prevent you from starting at the beginning.

To learn more about how layers work and what steps to take if you need to unflatten an image, continue reading.

Unflattening an Image in Photoshop – What You Should Know

As stated above, once you have flattened an image and clicked the “save” button there is no going back therefore this section will discuss tips and tricks for working with layers and how to save your work and still make changes if necessary.

Go Back Into Time – Use Your History

Before going into further detail let’s begin with what to do if you have not saved your work yet and find that you need to unflatten the image.

First, access the “history” tab from the settings menu. Next, scroll until you find where you merged the layers. Then click on the item before you merged the layers and your work will retract to that point.

Although you may have to redo a few steps you have not lost all of your progress and can quickly get back to where you need to be.

Create Duplicate Files For Editing Purposes

One way to avoid the dreaded problem of having a flattened image that needs editing is to create a duplicate document without merging the layers.

Saving a copy of your work will prevent you from having to start all over or go back through your history to undo your work. It is the best way to protect yourself and save a lot of time.

In some cases, it may be helpful to save more than one version depending on how many images and layers you are using that way you have more options if you need to go back and make changes to your work.

Duplicate Layers Give More Editing Options

The next best way to ensure you don’t run into issues with flattening and saving your image is to create duplicates of each layer you are using in the image.

Using duplicate layers is great because you can try different techniques or design ideas and see how they look with the rest of the image.

You have the option to hide a layer or make it visible. Creating duplicate layers helps you to get the image correct the first time and can save a lot of time in the long run.

Additionally, when flattening the image you can select which layers are merged so you can save the flattened image and still have an unflattened version hidden in the document.

You can easily make it visible and make any necessary changes if you decide the flattened version falls short of your expectations.

Although this may not help the issue of reducing the file size it will help if you need to make changes. Once you are positive you won’t need to make any changes you can always save a duplicate version that has been flattened.

Organization is Key When Managing Layers

When using multiple layers things can sometimes get confusing. It is essential to your sanity that you properly label and organize your layers.

It is always a good idea to keep the panel that controls the layers open on the side of your screen so you can keep up with what you are doing and which layer you are working on.

If creating duplicate layers as suggested above the best way to keep them organized is to label them in a way that makes sense.  

For example, if layer two is named background then its duplicate layer should be labeled background two or something equivalent to let you know that it is the duplicated version.

Don’t Be Too Hasty With the Save Button

Now you know that if you flatten an image in Photoshop and hit the save button you cannot unflatten the image. If you follow the advice in this article about creating duplicate documents and layers you can be more relaxed and focus on your design instead of trying to correct a mistake.