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  • What is Non-Destructive Editing?

  • by Aaron Nace
    September 17, 2019
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Tutorial Description

If you’ve watched a PHLEARN tutorial before, you might have heard us talk about the importance of a non-destructive workflow. But what does that mean?

Watch and find out how a non-destructive workflow can help you work faster, stay organized, and make it easier than ever to go back and make revisions to your work.

This is a great start, but if you want to learn even more about how to develop a strong editing workflow, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Photoshop!

Destructive vs. Non-Destructive

So if a non-destructive workflow is so important, what does it mean to work destructively? A destructive workflow generally means that you’re working on a single layer which, more often than not, is the layer containing the original image you’re editing.

Let’s say that your original image has some sort of distraction in the background that you want to remove. Working destructively, you might select your image layer, choose the Spot Healing Brush Tool, and then paint over whatever the distraction is.

Does this solve the original problem? Sure! The distraction is gone and you can move on to the next step in your edit. Are you able to get back to your original image? Well, sort of. With this workflow, you’re depending almost entirely on the Undo command. Undo allows you to roll back edits up to a certain point. But if you go beyond the maximum number of Undos allowed or, more commonly, close and reopen Photoshop, your edits will not be removable.

There will also be times that you make an edit and then later decide that you want to make a small adjustment to it. A destructive workflow would normally mean that you have to start from scratch or, even worse, edit over the top of a previous edit.

This is where the power of a non-destructive workflow can save you time and headaches. You can completely undo any edit at any time or make small adjustments to any edit without having to completely start over.

So how do you work non-destructively?

Tips to Work Non-Destructively

Layers are the foundation of a non-destructive workflow. Any edit or adjustment you make should always be done on a new layer (where possible). So if you’re using the Spot Healing Brush to remove a distraction, first create a new layer on top of the image you’re working with. Or if you want to change the color of something, use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and then choose where you want it to be visible using a Layer Mask.

Learn more about what Layers can do in our PRO tutorial How to Master Layers & Groups in Photoshop!

Here are some of Aaron’s tips for working non-destructively:

  • Always create new Layers.
  • Save your work as a layered file like a PSD or TIFF.
  • Use Adjustment Layers to adjust color and exposure.
  • Use Layer Masks to show/hide Layers and adjustments.

Follow those and you’ll be well on your way to a smooth and professional workflow!

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