What to Know
- Select Layer > New > Layer from Background > name the layer > OK.
- Or Duplicate background layer and make edits there: right-click Background layer > Duplicate Layer.
- Next, select Menu icon in the top-right corner of the Layers palette > Merge Visible.
This article explains how to unlock (or duplicate) the background layer in the Layers palette in Photoshop CC 2019 for Windows and Mac.
Unlocking the Background Layer
To convert the background to a new layer that isn't locked:
Select Layer > New > Layer from Background.
Give the layer a name and select OK.
The new, unlocked layer will replace the background layer in the palette.
Duplicating the Locked Layer
Rather than unlocking the background layer, many pros duplicate the locked layer and perform their edits on the duplicate. That way, if they make a mistake, they can toss out the new layer while preserving the original.
To duplicate the background, right-click the Background layer and select Duplicate Layer.
Once you're satisfied with your edits, merge the two layers by selecting the Menu icon in the top-right corner of the Layers palette and choosing Merge Visible.
The background layer always appears at the bottom of the Layers palette. You cannot move other layers below it.
Converting the Background Layer to a Smart Object
Another approach is to convert the locked layer to a Smart Object. Right-click the Background layer in the Layers palette and select Convert to Smart Object.
Why Is the Background Layer Locked?
The background layer is locked because it is like the canvas for a painting. Everything is constructed above it. For this reason, the background layer doesn't support certain features like transparency, and you can't move or delete its contents. Likewise, you can only fill a selection on the background layer with a background color. Therefore, if you want full control over how an image looks, you need to make your edits in a layer that isn't locked.