How to Use Adjustment Layers in Premiere Pro CC

Premiere Pro August 6, 2019 5 min read

We’ve all been there! You’ve painstakingly crafted the perfect edit — it cuts together perfectly, the audio is crisp, and the titles look awesome. Then, it’s time for color grading and effects. And so you sit there and do it, over, and over, and over again. That sucks, and we’re here to tell you there’s a better way.

If you haven’t been taking advantage of Premiere Pro’s adjustment layers, prepare to have your mind blown! If you use them all the time, we’ve got some tips to help you have more control and flexibility over your edits.

Adding effects to your video is as simple as finding the one you want and dragging and dropping it to your clip. If your sequence is long or has a lot of clips, it can take quite some time to go through and add an effect to each one. Adjustment layers can hold all of the visual effects you want to use in your video, allowing you to affect part or all of the sequence at the same time. So, let’s dive in!

Part 1: What is an Adjustment Layer?

An adjustment layer appears in your Project Browser and can be added to the sequence in the same way any other clip or media would. You can add effects to it, and it will apply the ‘look’ to all layers below it in the stacking order.

Adjustment layers are a great way of adding effects and color grading to large parts of your sequence. However, they become even handier when you want to remove effects. Since the adjustment layer is a clip on its own, it can be moved, cut, turned off or removed altogether in just a few clicks. If you have added an effect that you don’t like, you only need to delete it from the adjustment layer, not every clip that may have that effect. 

Adjustment layers are incredibly versatile and allow an editor more time to be creative. Using one can affect many clips below and across an entire edit. Once you understand how to use them, you can quickly try things out without worrying about undoing it all later if you don’t like the result. Being able to get creative with trying out different looks is a great way to remain engaged with whatever footage you might be editing.  

Part 2: How to Add an Adjustment Layer to Your Timeline

Since adjustment layers can be used with such a wide range of visual effects, it would be impossible to show you everything. In this step by step guide, we’re going to use an adjustment layer to create an aged film look across our sequence.

Step 1: Create a New Adjustment Layer

Before you can add your effects, you need to create the adjustment layer. You can create as many as you want or need for your project.

  1. Click the New Item icon in the Project Browser.
  2. Select New Item from the menu, followed by Adjustment Layer.
  3. The settings will automatically be set to the same as your sequence, so hit OK.
  4. In the Project Browser, right-click on the new Adjustment Layer and select Rename.
  5. Name your layer something relevant and hit return.

Step 2: Adding the Adjustment Layer to Your Sequence

As you will see, the adjustment layer lives in your Project Browser alongside your other clips and assets.

  1. Select the Adjustment Layer in your Project Browser.
  2. Drag and drop it into position on your timeline, making sure it’s stacked above any clip you wish to add effects to.
  3. Drag the ends of the Adjustment Layer out to cover the whole area you want to apply the effects.

Step 3: Add Your Color Grade

It’s a good idea to add any color grading you want before you add the effects as this forms the basis for how the clip will look. 

  1. Go to the Color workspace.
  2. With your Adjustment Layer highlighted in the Sequence, open the Lumetri Color Panel.
  3. Make your color adjustments, remembering every clip below it on the timeline will have the effect applied.

Step 4: Add Your Effects

The next step is to add your effects. In this example, we are going to make some color changes, add some noise, grain, and a vignette.

  1. In the Effects Control panel, search for your chosen effect.
  2. Drag and drop the effect on to the Adjustment Layer.
  3. Adjust the Effect Settings in the Effects Control panel.
  4. Continue to add and adjust effects until you are happy with the look you have created.

Part 3: Pro Tips & Troubleshooting

As with all processes in editing, occasionally things can go wrong, or behave unexpectedly, so we created a list of tips for how to keep your adjustment layers organized and trouble-free.

1. Where’s Your Adjustment Layer?

When you’ve been sat behind a computer screen editing all week, simple things might get overlooked. We get it, problems are frustrating, and we often don’t see what is right in front of our faces. 

Before you panic about something going horribly wrong, do a quick check of your sequence stack. Seriously. This is a quick fix and should be your first troubleshooting step. With a little reordering, you’ll be back to editing in no time.

2. Give it a Name!

Giving your adjustment layers names will be a massive timesaver, especially if you are experimenting with various looks. A well organized Project Browser makes your editing more efficient, and that should be the goal of every editor.

3. Color Correct First

If you are planning to add color grades to your adjustment layer, it’s vital that you do all of your color corrections first. Remember, your adjustment layer will affect everything in the sequence, and your grade will look different from clip to clip. As with normal editing workflow, you should correct your clips before adding the grade.

4. Fun with Keyframes

As the adjustment layer has the same properties as a clip, you can keyframe effects that you would not otherwise be able to keyframe. 

You can use keyframed adjustment layers to create some really cool effects, here are our top 3 favorites:

  1. Use the Gaussian Blur effect over your sequence, and keyframe the Blur Amount settings. This can be really useful when you need to add titles over your footage.
  2. Use the Lumetri Color Saturation controls to create a Wizard of Oz style color change; fade between black and white and full color.
  3. Use the Leave Color effect to slowly fade your sequence to black and white, leaving just one color in the sequence. This works really well for music videos and events promos, especially if there are a lot of different and bright colors in your scene.

5. Save Your Work as a Preset

If you’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating a fantastic effect, you might want to use it again for another project. Fortunately, Premiere Pro lets you save your adjustment layer effects as a preset, which will appear in your Effect panel.

  1. Select the Adjustment Layer in the Sequence.
  2. In the Effects Control panel, select all of the effects you want to include in your preset.
  3. Right-click and select Save Preset.
  4. Name your preset something relevant and click Save.
  5. In your Effects panel, search for your preset. You can now drag and drop the preset to any other clip or adjustment layer.

Adjustment layers can be a lot of fun to work with, as they allow you to experiment with your growing visual effects skills in a user-friendly way. They can also save you time, both in how long it takes you to add and amend your effects, and through handy preset functions. 

If you’re just getting started using adjustments layers in Premiere Pro, we hope this tutorial will help you improve your editing workflow. For those who use them all of the time, try experimenting with keyframing to elevate your edits. We can’t wait to see what you create!