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Recently I have received many emails and comments about the use of Layer Mask techniques in Photoshop.

I thought it might be the time that I write an article specifically explaining the relevant areas you know about layer mask, and how you can apply it in different occasions to suit your needs.

In Part One of this Beginner’s Guide to Photoshop Masks, I will show you some basic information about masks and simple way of adding, deleting and painting on layer mask.

A Brief Overview of Photoshop Mask

I’m sure everyone here knows what a Mask is and what it is used for in real life – it hides things so people can’t see what is behind the mask. Photoshop mask works exactly the same way.

In Photoshop, there are two types of Masks – Layer (Pixel) Mask and Vector Mask.

By definition (extracted from the Adobe Help Centre):

Layer Masks are resolution-dependent bitmap images that are edited with the painting or selection tools.

Vector masks are resolution independent and are created with a pen or shape tool.

Layer and vector masks are non-destructive, which means you can go back and re‑edit the masks later without losing the pixels they hide.

In this tutorial, I will focus on talking about the use of Layer Mask as a starting point of beginners.

Where Can I Find the Masking Options?

In Photoshop, there are many ways of adding masks to layer. One Method is to go into Layer > Layer Mask from the top menu.

Once you expand the Layer Mask menu, you will see a list of options such as “Reveal All”, “Hide All” and so on. In this tutorial, we will start with the first two options.

Now Load any image into Photoshop, press Ctrl + J to duplicate the background layer then fill the background layer with black colour then click on the “Reveal All” option:

As you can see, there is now a white layer mask being linked to this layer, as shown below:

Now Right-click on the layer mask you just added, and choose “Delete Layer Mask”:

Go back to Layer > Layer Mask and choose “Hide All” option this time:

Now instead of a white mask, you will a black mask being attached to this layer, and in the mean time the image will become invisible on the canvas:

In practice, if you have only a small portion of the image you wish to the conceal, you can choose the “Reveal All” and use brush tool the paint on it to hide the portion.

Else, if you have a large portion of the image you wish to conceal, you can use the “Hide All” option, then use a brush tool to paint on it, in order to the reveal the portion you don’t wish to hide.

A quick note: you can also add a layer mask by clicking on the button shown below on the layer palette:

Additional Masking Options

Now you may wonder: is there any extra settings I can apply to a layer mask? The answer is yes :)

If you go into “Window > Masks” and click on it:

Once you enable this mask window, you will see extra options appearing and you can adjust the settings to specific layer mask you wish:

Have a try with those settings and see what result they bring you :)

Use Soft or Hard Brush Tool to Paint on Layer Mask

One quick way of hiding and revealing object is to use brush tool to paint on the mask. By adjusting the brush hardness, you will have totally different results. Therefore, depending on the effect you’re trying to achieve, adjust the hardness of your brush to before you start painting.

To start painting on the mask, hold down Alt + Left-click to switch to the mask, then grab the brush tool from the toolbox.

Here is an example of using a 0% hardness brush with a single-click on the centre: (a reveal-all mask)

On the layer palette:

On the canvas:

The outcome:

Here is an example of using a 100% hardness brush with a single-click on the centre: (a reveal-all mask)

On the layer palette:

On the Canvas:

The Outcome:

As you can see, by having a different set of brush hardness, the outcome is entirely different.

There is no restriction as to which brush you use on the mask, you’re free to experiment any brush you prefer and see what results they bring you.

OK that’s it for this part one of the beginners’ guide to masking in Photoshop. Hope you find these information useful :)

In Part Two, I will be talking about advance masking such as:

  • Quick Mask
  • Clipping Mask
  • Mask on Image Adjustment Layers

Stay Tuned and have a great day!

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