Layer masking is a reversible way to hide part of a layer. This gives you more editing flexibility than permanently erasing or deleting part of a layer.
Many different methods and options exist within the Photoshop interface for adding and editing masks, including:
Add Layer Masks: adds new masks on layers
Remove/delete Layer Mask: deletes existing masks
Apply Layer Mask: applies all changes made to the active layer mask without changing pixels in the document until the next edit – this is what we will use as it is the most versatile option.
Reapply Layer Mask: Applying Mask back onto the same Layer where Mask was created.
Mask Edge (Options): This allows you to define edge settings such as feathering or hardness.
Quick Mask allows you to paint what you want to select and not within a layer.
Simulate Pressure (Brush tool only): simulates the pressure applied on your stylus or mouse when using tools such as pencil, brush, etc.
Conceal (Spot Healing Brush only): hides imperfections in an image; perfect for retouching photos!
Properties: These options allow you to edit existing layer masks by changing their properties, such as color type and opacity. These Layer Mask Properties can be found by double-clicking on any mask in your Layers Panel and changing its values accordingly.
These methods can be accessed from the toolbar under layer” menu item at the top of the screen, underneath the “File” menu.
When you add a layer mask, all underlying layers are preserved. This means that you can edit what is shown in any layer by editing what is shown in its associated Mask. For example, if you add a black mask to a background, only the masked pixels on this Layer will be hidden from view – they will not affect what lay beneath them!
To edit an existing mask: double-click on it within your Layers Panel and adjust the color overlay accordingly (red for red overlay and blue for blue overlay etc.) or through the Layer Mask Properties option mentioned above. You can also use Quick Mask mode to paint what you want to select and what not. Press Q to enter Quick Mask mode and paint what you want to select. Press “Q” again to exit; what you painted will be what’s set after leaving!
- Create a new document with white background by going to File>New or using the shortcut Ctrl+N.
- Paste any image into the document. Make sure the Layer is highlighted so that your new Mask is created on this Layer, as shown in step 3 below:
- Go to Layer>Layer Mask>Reapply Layer Mask. This should apply all changes made onto the active layer mask without changing pixels in the document until the next edit – which is what we want! The result will look something like what you see below:
- To change the properties of your newly created Layer Mask, double-click anywhere on the Mask (not on text). The Layer Mask Properties dialogue box will appear like what you see below.
- You can also edit existing layer masks in their respective layers by double-clicking any layer’s thumbnail; this will open its properties dialogue box, where you may make desired changes accordingly. To learn more about these properties and what they do to your layer masks, carefully go through the options explained above in this article! Select “OK” when editing to save your changes or “Cancel” to discard them!
- Double click directly onto the Mask that is appears in the Layers Panel. This will open its properties menu for adjustment of color overlay values. For example, what you see in the preview box below is your Mask when you change its color from red to blue. You can also edit via the Layer Mask Properties option explained above in this article.
- To go back and forth between layer mask and Layer, just click where there are two overlapping layers as highlighted below: This will open up the “Layer” drop-down menu allowing you to select what kind of mode or property that should be applied to active Layer or what should be shown/hid through Mask. Click again on the same area for it to close!
- If you have multiple masks within a single document, double-clicking will open up all their properties boxes so that you may edit them simultaneously! Just make sure what’s shown in the Layer drop-down menu is what you want to edit!
- You can also add a mask for any layer by going to Layer>Layer Mask>Add a Layer Mask…, just like what’s shown below:
- To remove or delete the existing layer mask from any layer, highlight what’s inside the highlighted rectangle as mentioned above and go to Layer>Layer Mask>Delete this Layer Mask. This will not affect pixels on underlying layers!
- Delete the current Mask by highlighting what’s inside the highlighted rectangle and pressing Backspace/Delete. If applied, this method will keep pixels on all underlying layers untouched! A dialogue box may appear after erasing what is contained within the highlight rectangle, asking you what you would like to do. Select what’s best for you!
- You can also create Layer Masks from what is selected in your document by going to Layer>Layer Mask>From Selection, or what is currently active via the highlighted layer drop-down menu, what has been used recently via the recent Mask drop-down menu, what’s within image window via what you see below, what is already created/existing via the Layer drop-down menu that should be set to “add a mask” mode before attempting, or what is visible on-screen via Ctrl+clicking directly onto any active layer mask.
The selection method will not work if it contains no pixels! They are greyed out and can’t be selected as they won’t provide us with what we need to load what should be a mask.