Can You Unflatten Images in Photoshop?

June 13, 2024

Most images cannot be unflattened in Photoshop. Once the layers have been merged, you cannot unflatten it. However, if you still have the document open, you can undo steps back to the original image. If your layers are merged into a Smart Object, then you're in luck because you can unflatten those. In this tutorial, we'll show you what to do when you need to unflatten an image.

Scenario 1: Undo Your Steps

If you were editing your image and still have your document, don't close it! Go to the History panel (Window > History) and find the "Merge Layers" step. Select the step before/above the Merge Layers.

I know, this means that everything you did afterward is gone. But ask yourself, is it easier to recreate everything from scratch?

Scenario 2: Unflatten Smart Objects

Did you merge your layers into a Smart Object? Great job! And I mean it because that is the correct way to merge layers. Because it is a Smart Object, you can place the layers back into your main document. Here's how.

In the Layers panel (Window > Layers), double-click on the thumbnail.

Your layers will open in a new document. Select all the layers (Hold Ctrl/Cmd to select multiple layers). Click on the panel menu located on the top-right corner and choose "Duplicate Layers".

Select your original document in the drop-down menu. Your layers will be copied to that document.

Close the current document (without saving) and go back to your original document. You'll find the layers copied there. Don't forget to delete the merged Smart Object because you don't need it anymore.

Worse Case Scenario: Unflatten an Image

Let's say you've opened an image, such as this interface, and you want to unflatten the layers. Sorry, you can't. It is simply not possible. Instead, you will need to recreate it. Keep reading because I'll show you some tips on how to do this easier.

Use the Eyedropper to Sample Colors

Every image is different and I can't create a tutorial covering every type of image. But here are some tips for recreating layers in Photoshop. The first one is to use the Eyedropper tool (i) to sample colors. If you are creating vector shapes, you can sample color by clicking outside the Color Picker.

If you find that it's not picking up the correct color, select the Eyedropper tool (i) then select "Point Sample" in the options bar.

Cheat by Duplicating and Resizing Patterns

Sometimes you can cheat. In the example below, instead of creating a gradient, you can:

  1. Grab the Rectangular Marquee tool (M)
  2. Draw a selection of the gradient.
  3. Press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate it into a new layer.
  4. Press Ctrl/Cmd+T to transform the layer.

Find Fonts With Photoshop's Match Font Tool

Photoshop CC has a great tool most people don't know about. The Match Font tool can detect fonts. Start by making a selection of your font then go to Type > Match Font. It will then guess the font. Sample larger bodies of text for better results.

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7 comments on “Can You Unflatten Images in Photoshop?”

  1. THANK YOU - this was so helpful!!

    My client sent a brochure in PSD format with flattened layers!

    I used your tip to sample colors and recreate the brochure. Typed everything out again.

    The font looked somewhat different but my client couldn't tell.

  2. great tips. I had to recreate an image because my client sent a PSD with no layers. The duplicating and transforming trick worked

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