Multiple drawing software packages (Illustrator, Gimp, etc) make use of both layers and groups. Seems to me that those two features can be combined together in order to simplify the UI.

You can give those object groups the ability to be hidden/locked and move them up and down over the stack. The only reason I see to keep layers separated would be supporting multiple groups per layer.

Are there any use cases that cannot be served by a combined layered+groups feature? Am I missing something fundamental regarding how those two features work together?

2 Answers 2


They are completely different features. At first, Photoshop incorporated the option of being able to work in layers in version 3.0, 1994, something existing in vector drawing programs but totally new in Photoshop and which made work much easier. Prior to this, the creativity options were based on the knowledge and good use of alpha channels to create selection masks.

The first version only allowed eight layers to be created, in subsequent versions, with the functionality improvement, by increasing the number of possible layers until making it unlimited, it generates a new problem: searching for each element within a file, somewhat tedious and with the consequent use of unnecessary time. The ability to group layers is added in version 6.0, six years later.

Combining create layers and group layers is not very consistent in principle. The layer icon is for creating and/or duplicating layers, while the group icon is for grouping layers or groups of layers.

  • I am not very familiar with Photoshop, but I was referring to grouping objects, not grouping layers. Apologies if that is not clear in the original question. In my mind, you can give those object groups the ability to be hidden/locked and move them in the stack up and down, like layers. The only reason I see to keep layers separated would be for working with complex drawings that have multiple groups per layer.
    – Miki
    Apr 10, 2023 at 15:33

I'm not sure if I understand your question correctly, but a simple example comes to mind: Let's say you have layer A with an opacity of 100%, then layer B with an opacity of 50%, then layer C with an opacity of 30% (and so on). You can't combine these layers because they have different opacity settings (or blending options or effects or tracing or whatever).

Let's say all these layers were for a bird in a tree with lots of leaves and details. You'd certainly want to have that bird isolated in a group to organize your work and not have to sift through thousands of layers. Furthermore, let's say you have several birds, so you decide to create a group that contains all the groups of birds, and then create a group that contains all the groups that contain the layer for the tree and the birds, since this is part of a larger illustration.

In short, what I'm saying with this example is that the two are conceptually different. Layers are the layers of content (sorry for the redundancy) that make up the artwork, that is, an artistic tool. And yes, you can arrange them any way you want, but if you arrange them in different ways, the artwork changes.

On the other hand, grouping is an organizational tool that is mainly used to create order. Combining layers is likely to cause a lot of problems (unless it's intentional), while combining groups is unlikely to do anything (unless the stacking order is wrong, but you can change that)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.