How to use Photoshop images in Final Cut Pro X

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If you manipulate photographs, create graphics, or otherwise work with images, you’ve probably used Adobe Photoshop. And if you edit video, you’ve likely incorporated still images into your video projects.

Final Cut Pro X works with all kinds of image formats, such as JPEG, PNG, and TIFF. It also works with Photoshop's PSD files. You can import Photoshop files directly while maintaining transparency and blend modes. And if the Photoshop file contains multiple layers, you have access to each layer in Final Cut Pro, so you can reorder, disable, transform, or animate them. I'll show you how.

Preparing Photoshop files

Most Photoshop files don’t need any special preparation before you import them into Final Cut Pro X: Any areas of transparency and most blend modes will be respected. However, if you have vector objects (such as shapes) or layer effects (such as bevels, glows, color overlays, or drop shadows), then you will first need to either make a Smart Object out of that layer or rasterize it by merging it down onto an empty layer underneath it.

Importing Photoshop files

You import Photoshop files into Final Cut Pro X the same way you import any media: Select an event in the event library (or create a new one), and then choose File > Import > Media or press Command-I. In the Media Import window that appears, navigate to the file(s) or folder(s) to import, select them, and click Import Selected. To keep your media organized, you may want to check the Copy Files to Final Cut Events folder checkbox. If you are importing folders that have useful names, check the Import folders as Keyword Collections checkbox to make locating your files in Final Cut Pro easier.

I prefer to set the event browser to filmstrip view (View > Event Browser > as Filmstrips) with the duration slider all the way to the right so that I can see individual thumbnails of the imported files. Photoshop file thumbnails appear with an aspect ratio matching that of the original file, so some may appear tall while others look square or wide. If the Photoshop file contains more than one layer, a small badge appears at the top-left corner of the thumbnail, identifying the file as a Layered Graphic clip type. (Tip: You can create a smart collection based on this clip type that shows all layered graphics in your event.)

Photoshop file icons appear in the event browser with their native aspect ratios. If a file has more than one layer, it displays a Layered Graphic badge in the top-left corner.

Editing Photoshop layers

To manipulate the layers inside the Photoshop file, you open the file in its own timeline. You have two ways to do this, and it’s important to understand the difference between them.

Double-clicking a layered file in the event browser opens it in its own timeline, where you can select and adjust each individual layer. Any changes you make to the layers affect the “parent” event browser file—so your changes appear in every copy of the file that you edit into a project.

Alternatively, you edit the Photoshop file into a project (by dragging or using keyboard shortcuts), where it appears as a single clip. By default, Final Cut Pro X scales the item to fit into the dimensions of the project, but you can change its overall scale, position, and rotation by clicking the Transform button (the box on the left under the viewer window) and manipulating it in the viewer, or by changing those parameters in the inspector. If you double-click the project clip, it will open in its own timeline, revealing the layers—just as when you double-click the event clip. Here, however, any changes you make to the layers apply only to this copy of the clip in the project.

Either way, once you have opened your Photoshop file in its own timeline, you can drag layers up or down to change the stacking order, disable layers by selecting them and pressing the V key, trim them by dragging on either end, and transform them by changing their position, scale, and rotation in the viewer or in the inspector.

Transforming layers

Not all Photoshop files contain more than one layer, but for ones that do, manipulating each layer independently is easy. The image below is a photograph I purchased from In Photoshop, I made a selection of the woman in the foreground and put her on a separate foreground layer. I then used the Clone tool to fill in the space behind her on the background layer. In Final Cut Pro, I can now reposition and scale the model—the foreground layer—independently of the background.

Double-clicking a Photoshop file (either from the event browser or from a copy that's edited into a project) reveals each of its layers, which you can adjust individually. Here, I’ve increased the scale of the model and moved her to the right. Note the difference between the image in the viewer and the thumbnail in the event browser.

Compositing with Final Cut elements

If your Photoshop file has a single layer on a transparent background, you can use it to build a composite image by combining it with other elements such as your own images or video, or by taking advantage of the effects, titles, and generators built into Final Cut Pro X.

Here's an example of a single-layer Photoshop file with transparency—the yoga model—with the Drop Shadow effect from the effects browser applied. The image is connected to a background from the Generators Browser, with a title from the Titles Browser connected above.

You can even animate individual Photoshop layers. Below, I used a layered Photoshop image of a clock that comes from Apple Motion’s library. Motion is a companion application to Final Cut Pro X that you can use to create opening title sequences and other animated graphics quickly and easily; you can also create effects for use in Final Cut Pro X. The clock face, hour hand, minute hand, and second hand are each on separate layers. By setting keyframes for the rotation parameter in the inspector (part of the Transform group of parameters), you can animate each hand to rotate over time. (Tip: You’ll first need to move the anchor point for each layer to the base of each hand so that they rotate on their bases and then recenter the hands.)

By opening the Photoshop file in its own timeline, you can animate each layer with keyframes.


Whether you create layered Photoshop files yourself or someone gives them to you for incorporating into your video, you’ll have no problem using them in Final Cut Pro X.

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