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How to Unlock an Image in Photoshop

Published: 02/06/2021

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Whenever an image is opened in Photoshop, it always opens up in the background layer. This layer is usually locked, keeping you from working directly on the image. To unlock your image, you have to unlock the layer. Let’s see how to unlock an image in Photoshop using various methods.

How to Unlock an Image in Photoshop Using Different Methods

The locked status of your image is indicated by the presence of a padlock icon on its layer. Only by unlocking and eliminating the padlock icon, will you be able to edit it. While a locked layer protects your original image, an unlocked layer gives you full control over it.

Locked image in Photoshop

In essence, unlocking an image refers to unlocking a layer in Photoshop, and there are many different methods to do that. Here, we will look at all the useful and simple approaches to help you unlock your image in Photoshop. 

Unlock an Image by Duplication

Many Photoshop users like to keep their images locked in the background layer to keep them safe and retain their original form. This allows them to go back to the original picture any time they want to. If you want to keep your background layer locked, you can still edit the image by duplicating it.

To duplicate the background layer, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on the background layer. You can find the background layer in the bottom right corner of your Photoshop interface in the Layers tab.
  2. After the right-click, a menu will appear. From there, select the ‘Duplicate Layer’ option. This will copy your image into a new layer on which you can perform all your editing.
Duplicating the background layer

Unlock an Image by Creating a New Layer

Another method to unlock your image in the background layer is by converting it into a new layer. To do this:

  1. Find Layer in your menu bar at the top of the Photoshop interface and click on it.
  2. Go to New >> Layer from Background and click on it.
Creating a new layer in Photoshop
  1. A dialog box will then appear. Give a name to the new layer and click on OK.
  2. Now you will see that your newly created layer has replaced the background layer, and the padlock icon has been removed

Unlock an Image With the Mouse

This is the most straightforward way to unlock your image in the background layer. However, it does not keep your original image intact. You can simply click on the padlock icon present on your background layer. The image would be unlocked, and the layer would be renamed to ‘Layer 0.’

Unlock an Image by Converting it Into a Smart Object

You can also unlock your image by converting the background layer into a smart object. You do this by following these simple steps:

  1. Right-click on your locked background layer. This will open a menu.
  2. From this menu, select ‘Convert to Smart Object.’
Converting an image into a Smart Object
  1. As a result, your image in the background layer will be unlocked. The background layer will be renamed to ‘Layer 0.’ This allows your layer to be converted into a smart object, which gives you better layer control.

Frequently Asked Questions

The locking and unlocking of images or layers come in quite handy when you want to keep your images safe and intact. Read on to further understand the concept of locking and unlocking layers in Photoshop.

Why Is the Image Locked in the Background Layer?

The image in the background layer is usually locked because this layer basically behaves as the base of your whole canvas. By keeping your image locked in the background layer, Photoshop ensures that your image retains its original form in case you want to go back.

The locked background layer helps you get started by providing a safe base station to work from. You can build all your layers around the locked background layer. That way, you will always have a starting point to get back to if something goes wrong.

Why Are There Two Different Types Of Lock Icons On Different Layers?

There are two different types of lock icons on different layers because each icon represents distinct features. You may be seeing a solid lock icon on one layer and a transparent icon on another layer.

Two Different Types Of Lock Icons

A transparent lock depicts that a particular layer does not have all of its attributes locked. So, you can control some features while the others remain unaffected. A solid lock icon shows that all the attributes of a particular layer are locked and cannot be changed until unlocked.

Can I Lock a Layer Again After Unlocking It?

Yes, you can easily lock a layer again after unlocking it in Photoshop. You can do that by following either one of the following methods:

  • Through the Layers Menu: Go to the Layers option present in the menu bar and click on it. From the drop-down menu, select ‘Lock Layers.’ You will then see a dialog box from where you can select the attributes that you want to lock in a respective layer.
  • Through the Layers Panel Menu: The layers panel is present at the bottom right corner of your Photoshop interface. Right on top of the layers, you will find the Layers panel menu from where you can select all or some of the attributes that you want to lock in a layer.
Lock options in the Layers Panel Menu

What if I Don't Want to Unlock My Background Layer?

If you don’t want to unlock the background layer and want to work around it, you can also do that in Photoshop. There’s an easy method of layer duplication that allows you to keep your image safe in a locked background layer while you edit the same image in a different layer.

Just right-click on your background layer and select ‘Duplicate layer.’ You can also do this with the use of the keyboard shortcut: CTRL + J (for Windows) and COMMAND + J (for Mac). This will produce an exact replica of your image in the background layer in an unlocked form.


A locked image or layer in Photoshop allows you to edit the image while preserving its original form so that you can go right back in case anything goes wrong. Nonetheless, it does not take more than a few clicks to unlock an image in Photoshop by following any of the above methods.

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