How to flip a layer in Photoshop

In this tutorial, we’re going to show you how to flip an image in Photoshop, and blend the results with the original. Have you ever had to flip a portrait in editorial to face into the page or tried mirroring an image to create a mandala pattern? It may not be the most common request, but being able to flip an image is a basic Photoshop skill and should be in every designer’s toolkit. But as with most Adobe software, even the simplest of effects can have many different approaches. 

Here we summarise the basic Photoshop techniques for flipping an image and how to blend with the original. To finesse your skills even further check out our roundup of Photoshop tutorials, or boost your toolkit with some Photoshop plugins or free Photoshop brushes.

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01. The big flip

Flipping the canvas in Photoshop

Flip Canvas can be found hidden in the Image Rotation drop-down

If you simply want to flip an entire image, without any differentiation between layers, go to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas. You will find options to flip the canvas horizontally or vertically, performing the same action consistently across all layers. But if you prefer to control each layer separately then read on…

02. Unlock layer

Setting a New Layer in Photoshop

You can define a locked layer as a New Layer or simply click on the padlock icon

If you have just opened an image in Photoshop, then it’s likely your layer will be locked. This means that it is protected and cannot be edited. To make any changes to this layer you must first unlock it, either by clicking on the small padlock icon to the right of the layer or double-clicking on the layer to define it as a New Layer.

03. How to flip a layer in Photoshop

Flipping one layer in Photoshop

Flip a layer in a matter of seconds with the Transform options

The most direct method to flip a layer is located in Edit > Transform. This drop down gives plenty of options for transforming your image, but we are only interested in the bottom two – flip horizontal and flip vertical. Each of these will flip only the layer you have selected, in whichever direction you choose. It is worth noting that this function works on all types of layer, not just raster images.

04. Free Transform

Using Transform to flip a layer

Typing -100 for the width in Free Transform will perfectly flip a layer horizontally

If you want more control over the process, you can use the Free Transform tool to resize the layer. Select the tool under Edit > Free Transform or use the shortcut Cmd + T. You can either drag the edges across by eye or type -100 into the width box in the top menu bar.

05. Check the results

Errors after flipping

Make sure you check for anything obvious that appears back to front

Quite often people will flip an image without giving it a second thought. But there are often noticeable artifacts of the transformation, which immediately give the game away to any eagle-eyed viewers. Most obvious of these is text, which will give you a mirrored version, much like Da Vinci’s code. Other errors to look out for are graphics, icons and distinctive marks, such as freckles or tattoos on a person. If you’re really committed to going ahead with a flip, then you could use the clone tool to remedy this or select the area with Lasso and flip it back.

06. Blending

Layer mask on bird image

Two images can be blended easily enough by painting black onto a mask with a soft-edged brush

Some images lend themselves to a mirror effect, effectively blending the flipped image with the original. To achieve this you must first duplicate the image layer and flip it. Add a layer mask to the top layer and paint black onto it with a soft-edged brush to remove the parts of the image that should be blended. It is easier when the image has a block colour or repeating patterns. Sometimes the Pen tool can be useful for more refined selections.

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