How Do You Unmerge Layers in Photoshop | A Beginner Guide


People who used to work in Photoshop are typically familiar with the nuisance created when you have to edit or work on a certain element of a document in Photoshop only to find that it’s merged with other contents in a separate layer. It often becomes a difficult issue to resolve. You will often wonder how to unmerge layers, how to go back to the actual arrangement you previously had, and how you can work on an individual element. Lucky for you, we are here discussing that exact process and how to do it. Read through this article on how do you unmerge layers in photoshop to learn all about it. 

How Do You Unmerge Layers in Photoshop

Unfortunately, you can’t perform the action of unmerging layers unless you have the step of merging in the History panel. If you have just merged the layer, on the other hand, you can undo the last action by pressing CTRL + Z (Windows) or CMD + Z (macOS). If that’s not the case and you are still wondering how to unmerge layers to work on individual elements or get the part back to its original layers, there are other methods. We discuss three easy ways with a straightforward first one. 

They are the following:

Using the edit panel to undo merging

This is possibly the simplest and quickest method. However, this is easier if merging the layer was your last action. Press CTRL + Z (CMD + Z for macOS) to undo the previous step, which is merging the layer or got to Edit -> Undo Merge Layers from the dropdown menu at the top of the Window.

Using layer masks to separate elements

This process is fairly simple for the most part. However, it might get tedious and repetitive if there are more elements you need to separate. Nevertheless, this is a very effective method of unmerging layers. Before getting started, note that this method will only work properly if the content you wish to move to separate layers is not covered with other content sitting on top. Simply put, there shouldn’t be any overlapping content.

The steps are as follows:

  • Go to File -> Open and open the file that you want to separate the layers from
  • Determine the number of separated layers you plan to have and duplicate the merged layer many times. Right-click on the linked layer in the Layers panel and select Duplicate Layer, or select the merged layer and press CTRL + J to duplicate (CMD + J for macOS) the merged layer as many times as you need to.
  • Add Individual Layer Masks to the duplicates and the original layer. Go to the Layers panel and click the New Layer Mask button (the one with a circle inside a white rectangle at the bottom of the Layers panel) with each layer individually selected. 
  • Next, Black Brush each layer to keep only one element visible on each of them. Make sure the visual element is different on each layer. Click on the Layer Mask Thumbnail and make only one aspect visible on each layer. Remember that a white brush reveals areas and elements of a layer, and a black brush hides the same. 

Select the Brush Tools (keyboard shortcut – B) with black as the selected color and mask over the entire layer leaving out only the element you want to keep visible on that particular layer. The Layers window also displays a preview for the layer mask. Repeat this process on every layer mask with different elements visual on each  Once done, you find your layers essentially unmerged and separated into individual layers with different elements. Now, all layers are independently editable as they are not merging, to begin with.

Use the history panel to go back to the point where the layers were merged

Merging the layers might not have been the last or most recent completed action. That’s when you undo the action using the History panel. However, this only works if you haven’t closed the document since merging the layers.  Start by going to the History panel or Window on the right. If it isn’t open already, go to Window -> History from the dropdown menus on the top of the Photoshop window. This opens up a log of all the previous actions starting with the most recent changes you made to the document.

Clicking on an earlier instance in the History panel essentially reverts the document to the state while undoing all changes that were made following that particular action. Keep scrolling up in the History panel until you find the Merge Layers action. Click on the move or change you made immediately before that, which should be right above it. This will unmerge your layers allowing you to retrieve and use separated layers. Unfortunately, this will also revert all changes you made following the merging of the layers. This means you have to make those changes again.


Merged layers often cause inconvenience while working on a document in Photoshop. Hopefully, you are better equipped to deal with such situations after learning how do you unmerge layers in photoshop.

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