Open Image vs Place Image in Photoshop
Learn the difference between the Open command and the Place Embedded command in Photoshop, and which is better for blending two images together!
In this tutorial, I show you the difference between opening an image and placing an image in Photoshop. As we'll see, both the Open command and the Place command let you select an image and open it. But where that image ends up once it’s in Photoshop depends on which command you use. One will open the image in its own separate document. The other lets you open the image as a layer in an existing document, which makes it easy to blend two images together! Let's see how they work.
I'm using Photoshop 2021 but you can follow along with any recent version.
Let's get started!
How to open an image in Photoshop
For this lesson, I'll open two images into Photoshop, first using the Open command and then using a separate command called Place Embedded. I currently have no images or documents open.
The Open command
Let’s start with the Open command, which you can get to by going up to the File menu in the Menu Bar and choosing Open:
The Place Embedded command
But before I select it, if we look further down the list, there’s another command under the File menu called Place Embedded. And this is what we use to place an image into Photoshop:
At the moment, the Place Embedded command is grayed out, which means we can’t select it. And the reason is that I currently have no other documents open. Before we can place an image, we need to have at least one document already open. You’ll see why in a moment.
Opening the first image
So since we can’t select Place Embedded, I’ll choose Open:
Then I’ll navigate to the folder on my computer that holds my images. In this case, I have two jpeg images. The first is a portrait and the second is a texture. I’ll click on the portrait image to select it, and then I’ll click Open:
And the image opens in Photoshop as expected:
Now what has actually happened is that Photoshop created a new document to hold the image, and it placed the image inside it. The name of the document appears in the tab just below the Options Bar:
Opening the second image
I need my second image as well, the texture image. So I’ll open it by going back to the File menu:
And this time, since I already have one document open, notice that the Place Embedded command is no longer grayed out, which means I could select it:
But to see the difference between Open and Place Embedded, I’ll ignore it for now and I’ll once again choose the Open command:
Then I’ll select my texture image and I’ll click Open:
And the second image opens in Photoshop:
Two open images, two separate Photoshop documents
But notice that the second image opened in a separate document, and I now have two documents open, one for each image. We can switch between the documents by clicking the tabs at the top, but the images are completely separate from each other:
Each document has its own Layers panel showing the image on the Background layer. But because the images are in separate documents, there’s no way for them to interact:
How to place an image in Photoshop
Having images open in separate documents is fine when we're working on each image independently and we don’t need them to interact. So for those times, the Open command works great.
But what if we want to blend or combine the two images together? In that case, having them in separate documents doesn't work. Instead, we need a way to open both images into the same document. And that is where placing an image comes in. And to place an image in Photoshop, we use the Place Embedded command.
Closing the second image
I’ll close my texture image for now by clicking the small x in its tab:
Leaving the first image open
But remember that to place an image into Photoshop, we need to have at least one document already open. So I’ll leave my portrait image open:
Placing the second image
Then to place the second image into this document, I’ll go up to the File menu:
But instead of choosing the Open command, I’ll choose Place Embedded:
I’ll select the texture image and then I’ll click Place:
Two open images, one Photoshop document
And this time, instead of opening in a separate document, it opens in the same document as the first image:
By default, Photoshop opens the Free Transform command so we can resize the image before placing it. Since my texture is a bit smaller than the portrait, I’ll drag the handles to make it larger:
Then to accept it and close Free Transform, I’ll click the check mark in the Options Bar:
Placed images open as layers
In the Layers panel, notice that the second image opened on its own layer above the first image.
If I turn the texture image off by clicking its visibility icon:
The portrait image reappears:
And if I turn the texture layer back on:
The texture reappears. So by using the Place Embedded command instead of the Open command, I was able to open both images into the same document:
Blending the two images together
And because both images are in the same document, I can blend them together. The easiest way to do that is with Photoshop’s blend modes.
Changing the layer blend mode
With the texture layer selected, I’ll change the blend mode from Normal to Soft Light:
This blends the texture with the image below it:
Lowering the layer opacity
Then to fade the texture, I’ll lower the opacity of the texture layer from 100 percent down to 60 percent:
And here's the final result with the texture looking more subtle:
Where to go next!
And there we have it! That’s the difference between opening an image and placing an image in Photoshop. Use the Open command when all you have is a single image or you want to open multiple images in separate documents. And use Place Embedded to place an image into an existing document.
Now that you know how to place a single image into an existing document, check out my other tutorial where I show you how to load multiple images as layers into a document. Visit my Photoshop Basics section for more topics. And don't forget, all of my tutorials are now available to download as PDFs!