How to Rasterize in Photoshop
Have you ever seen “This layer must be rasterized before proceeding. Rasterize the layer?” pop up in Photoshop and wondered precisely what causes it? I mean, of course, it means you have to rasterize the layer, but why? What is rasterizing?
Rasterizing a layer is something you’ll do a lot in Photoshop, even if you’re a photo editor. Today, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to rasterize in Photoshop. This includes Smart Objects, shapes, and text layers.
What Does Rasterize Mean in Photoshop?
The act of “rasterization” is changing a vector-based layer to a pixel-based layer. You cannot convert a pixel layer to a vector layer, however.
Vector Layers — Vectors are graphics based on mathematical formulas. The graphics consist of points, curves, lines, and colors. Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based program. You can resize a vector shape endlessly, and the edges will remain sharp and crisp. However, you cannot use pixel-based editing tools on vector images.
Pixel Layers — Pixel layers are used for any pixel-based editing tools. Meaning the tool physically changes the look of a pixel. Photoshop is primarily a pixel-based editor. This is also known as “raster-based.”
Keep in mind that, in Photoshop, vector layers are still technically pixel-based because Photoshop is raster-based, unlike Illustrator, which is a true vector program.
Sometimes, the vector shapes in Photoshop are referred to as “vexel,” as they are a combination of vector and pixel. However, in Photoshop, vector layers function similarly to traditional vector shapes and text.
The outsider is Smart Objects, which are layers with other layers inside of them. But in Photoshop, they function the same as Shape and Text layers, where you can’t edit them with pixel-based tools until they are rasterized.
When Should You Rasterize Your Layers?
You should only rasterize a layer when you need to use a pixel-based editing tool directly on that vector layer. This includes all brush-based tools and filters.
Again, the outsider here is Smart Objects. All filters applied to a Smart Object will be turned into a Smart Filter. However, you can not use brush-based tools directly on Smart Objects.
Text Layers, Smart Objects, and Shape Layers
Text layers, Smart Objects, and Shape layers are the three vector layers you’ll use most in Photoshop. Though there are others, like Fill layers.
Anytime you’re working with text, shapes, or Smart Objects, there comes the point where you’ll need to rasterize a layer. Let’s look at the pros and cons of rasterizing layers.
The Pros and Cons of Rasterizing Layers
Pros: The biggest pro is the ability to now use pixel-based tools on a layer. As Photoshop is raster-based, almost all its tools prefer to be editing a raster or pixel layer. Pixel layers are much more flexible than vector layers.
Cons: Once a vector layer is rasterized, shapes and text can no longer be scaled without at least some loss of quality. Text can no longer be changed. And Smart Objects become flattened, so you can no longer edit its Smart Filters or inner layers.
Why Is Photoshop Telling Me I Need to Rasterize a Layer?
If you are getting the “This layer must be rasterized before proceeding. Rasterize the layer?” prompt, that means you are attempting to use a pixel-based tool on a vector layer
The layer will need to be rasterized and converted to a pixel layer before you can apply the effect or use the tool.
How to Rasterize in Photoshop
Let’s look at how to rasterize a layer in Photoshop. There are two similar but different ways to rasterize a layer.
Option 1: In the Layers Panel Right-Click > Rasterize Layer
First, select the layer you’d like to rasterize in your layer panel and Right-click > Raster Layer.
Option 2: Use Layer > Rasterize > Layer
Alternatively, you can go to Layer > Rasterize > Layer.
Option 3: How to Rasterize an Image in Photoshop with a Pixel Brush
Another option is to try and edit the vector layer using a pixel-based brush like the Paint tool. When Photoshop prompts you to rasterize, select “OK.”
How to Avoid Rasterizing in Photoshop
The only way to avoid rasterizing a layer is not to edit those layers using raster-based tools and filters.
However, there are plenty of ways to work “non-destructive” in Photoshop, so the vector layer stays protected and intact.
What Does “Non-Destructive Editing” Mean?
Non-destructive editing means editing in a way that does not permanently edit, change, add, or destroy pixels.
Here are some examples of non-destructive editing tools in Photoshop:
- Layer Masks
- Adjustment Layers
- Smart Filters
- Clipped Layers
What Are the Alternatives to Rasterization?
There are a few alternatives to rastering an image; if you can avoid it, you should.
Edit the Vector Itself
Don’t use the Fill tool on vector layers. You can always edit a vector layer’s color without rasterizing that layer.
Simply double-click its layer icon, and the Color Pick will open.
Use Clipped Layers
Avoid painting directly on a vector shape or text. Instead, create a new layer and Clip it into the shape/text.
You can clip a layer into another layer by holding down Alt or Option on Mac OS, positioning the pointer over the line separating the two layers in the Layers panel, and clicking.
Everything painted on the clipped layer will be constrained to the vector shape that it’s clipped into.
Convert to Smart Objects
If you want to use a filter on a vector layer but don’t want to risk rasterizing the layer, you can convert the vector to a Smart Object.
When you apply a filter to a Smart Object, the Filter becomes a Smart Filter. You can change Smart Filter settings at any time. You can also turn them on and off, similar to layers.
You can convert a layer into a Smart Object by selecting the layer in the layers panel and Rick-clicking > Convert to Smart Object.
Create a Duplicate
Finally, you can create a backup of your shape or text by selecting the layer and duplicating it with Control/Command-J.
Then you can hide the original vector layer, so it stays out of the way, and it’s there if you ever want the vector shape again.
Changes (Reduction) in Quality with Rasterization
After rasterizing a layer, that layer will not be prone to become blurry if resized, stretched, or over-edited.
If you increase the size of a rasterized shape, the edges will become more blurry the bigger it goes. If you shrink a rasterized shape and then enlarge it again, you’ll notice even more blurriness.
This is because, when you resize a raster or pixel-based layer, you are changing the layer permanently.
Can You Undo a Rasterization in Photoshop?
You can only undo a rasterization if you’ve only just recently made the rasterization. The rasterization will have to be in your undo history. Otherwise, it’s permanent.
Press Ctrl + Z if you have just rasterized an image to perform an immediate Undo.
Altertnvley, you can go to the History panel and click on the state before you rasterized. This will undo all the steps after the rasterization as well.
That’s how to rasterize in Photoshop! It’s always best to keep your vector layers intact. Which is why I always recommend non-destructive editing techniques.
If you edit in a non-destructive way, you’ll never have to worry about regretting rasterizing an image. However, if you need to rasterize, just go for it. Sometimes layers simply don’t need to be a vector layer anymore.
Rasterizing is not a bad thing, after all.