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Aug 23, 2016

How to Use Layer Masks in Photoshop

How to Use Layer Masks in Photoshop

Layer Masks are one of the most important tools in Photoshop. In short, they make part of a layer visible and part invisible. The main advantage to using layer masks is they can be changed at any time – they are “non-destructive”, meaning they will never destroy image pixels!

What do Layer Masks Do?

Layer masks control the visibility of a layer, group, or adjustment layer. When a layer mask is completely white, the layer is completely visible. When a layer mask is completely black, the layer is completely invisible.

You can choose to make parts of a layer invisible by painting black in certain areas. You can use most of the tools in the tool panel on a layer mask including the brush tool, clone stamp tool, gradient tool and selections.

For instance, if you want to cut the subject out of their background, make a selection around the subject and load that selection as a layer mask, the subject will be visible and the background will be invisible.

Destructive vs. Non-Destructive Editing

When it comes to editing images in Photoshop, the ultimate goal is to do everything in a ‘non-destructive’ manner – meaning any change can be undone at any point in time.

For example, if you want part of a layer to disappear, using the eraser tool is destructive because it destroys the image, rather than just hiding it. If you use the eraser tool, then save and close an image, you won’t be able to undo those changes the next time you open the image in Photoshop.

In contrast, layer masks allow you to make changes at any time – even years from now. Rather than destroying image pixels, they simply hide them.

How to Create and Use Layer Masks

To add a layer mask to a layer, click on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel (it looks like a square with a circle inside).

You can also use the menu, go to ‘Layer – Layer Mask – Reveal All’ to make a white layer mask.

Adjustment layers come pre-loaded with layer masks, simply paint white or black on them to determine the visibility of the layer.

Helpful Keyboard Shortcuts

When working with Layer masks, a few keyboard shortcuts can go a long way.

  • SHIFT+CLICK on Layer Mask – Disable Layer Mask Temporarily
  • ALT/OPTN+CLICK on Layer Mask – Show Contents of Layer Mask
  • CTRL/CMD+CLICK on Layer Mask – Turn Layer Mask into Selection
  • CTRL/CMD+I – Invert Layer Mask
  • / – View Layer Mask in Quick Mask Mode

45 Comments


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      Stephane

      Indeed. Additionally, to access the fill menu, I have to use “Shift + F5” (as opposed to Shift + Delete) and “Alt + click and drag” moves the layer mask, does not copy it. To copy it, it appears that I need to make a selection (Ctrl + click) and create a new mask. The new mask will have the same selection as the original mask. (photoshop CC 2015.5 default keyboard settings on windows 10).

      Otherwise, I always enjoy Aaron’s tutorials and have learned a ton from them. Thank you!

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    Arindam Dawn

    Simple yet very powerful tutorial to give a solid foundation on layer masks. Phlearn has helped me evolve a lot as a designer and I would love to see illustrator tutorials from Aaron in future 🙂

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    Debe

    Aaron, thank you for all the great tutorials – they’re useful and cheery. You are a fine teacher. Much gratitude for you and Phlearn.
    Debe

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    marla julien

    another awesome video, thanks again for all the time you spend on making this videos for us to learn

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    Glenn Johnson

    This was a great demonstration about layers.
    I don’t think you have done anything about getting high quality prints from your images in PhotoShop and calibrating your computer to your printer. I would like to see that.

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    José Parcerisa Vilatarsana

    Aaron my fiend excellent as usual…….Tanks for teaching.

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    Robert Campsmith

    Thanks Aaron, another great tutorial. I never fail to learn something from you. But — what’s with the goofy hairdoo?

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    Frank Ellis

    Another great video. Thanks for going back to basics occasionally – it helps remind us of techniques we may have forgotten.

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    Gina Heaton

    First Aaron, love, love, love your tutorials. I am at the beginner level with Ps but I try even advanced things. Sometimes with success and sometimes not. I have a picture that I am trying to cut out the big plastic ashtray, the ones you see in public, and I’m trying to remove a cast iron chair and replace both with the brick background. Those two items ruin my picture. I thought I have heard you say to submit a photo if you want to see how it’s fixed. Did I hear that? Well, I guess I won’t do the eraser anymore for just the reason you stated. Found that out the hard way. I’ve tried to clone, patch, heal, etc and I just can’t make the bricks and the concrete lines, in between them, line up. Then there is the top layer of bricks laying different. I actully did pretty good on that but not good enough. I’ve trashed all my fixes because they look so bad. It’s driving me insane!! I could submit it as a jpg and you could do a tutorial on tricky fixes like this. You would just have to tell me how you want it submitted.

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    John Sammonds

    Fantastic tutorial Aaron…. spot on. I am still a bit confused with Groups there usage and why to use them. Phlearn is the best for me thank you

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    Irve

    Thanx… very helpful, but I still need to watch it several times for full absorbtion. lol

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    Christine

    That was excellent. I thought I knew a lot about layer masks, but getting back to basics like this revealed all new ways to use them. Fantastic!

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    Rob Fielding

    Great informative video tutorial. I’ve bumbled and fumbled my way round PS for the last 5 years and still struggle …. guess I’m a slow learner. This was so helpful Aaron. Thank you

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    Keith

    Thanks Aaron, great tutorial as usual. Your tutorials are a great start to my day.

  • MrAhmed Desinger

    I DONT TRY FROM ALONG registry in website but you are so amazing person i love watching and learn from you what i know too

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    Rocadero

    Great tutorial!

    One (fairly important—although, perhaps a bit more advanced) option was left out of this; namely the Properties panel (Window>Properties) for changing the layer mask’s Density (transparency) and Feather (blur) as well as further options for adjusting the Refine Edges or selecting the Color Range for the mask.

    • Density – great way to reduce the mask’s effect (transparency) on the layer.
    • Feather – good way to soften (blur) the edges in the mask.
    • Refine Edges – gives you many options to improve the selected edge as well as the ability to expand or contract the defined edge of a selection.
    • Color range – a great way to select specific colors to define a selection.

    It is very useful to explore these options when working with masks.

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    Randal

    same for me, regarding the “help-search” function. I have cs6, is this the reason…. as the search

    function is only available in CC??? also. if in your tuts, would it be possible to explain if it is

    even possible to do the same actions in previous versions of photoshop, or if it is only in CC.

    thank you. I am truly appreciative of your efforts in teaching photoshop.

    my Wacom is arriving today, tks for the info on it’s usage.

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    Sandeep Gamre

    Thanks Aaron for clearing all concepts of layer masks.Very helpful tutorial

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    Adrian

    Is it possible for the followers to download the same images on the tutorial, so that we can work (practice) as we go along with you.

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    Tamian Wood

    Another GREAT tutorial on the basics. I’d love it if you’d do one on Adjustment Layers! (please!)

  • Ammerz

    Hi Phlearn team, please take a look at this arist…
    Kirsty Mitchell | kirstymitchellphotography.com WOW she’s amazing would love to see you guys do a cover on her.

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    maria carey

    I have learned so much more from your video tutorials than the photoshop classes I’ve attended. Thank you so very much! Please don’t get tired sharing your photoshop knowledge to us.

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    Amrita

    i love the way you teach…simple and straight to the point.
    i started loving Photoshop and photo editing only because of your tutorials.

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    Lynette

    Aaron this is fabulous, you explain it so well. I have been using layers masks for a long time but always struggled with the concept. You are an amazing teacher thank you so much.

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    Mark F

    Great video, the best I have seen on this subject. ! I wish this had been available when I was struggling to try to understand PS, layers and layer masks. Much better than the many PS books.

    Thanks for all the great videos.

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    JoAnn

    I bless you over and over again when I watch your tutorials. They inevitably help me to advance in my learning. Right now I have watched Layers. This one has a lot of steps, I will keeping playing it until I know it. Thank you Mr. Nane.

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    Anthony Hazlewood

    A lot to take in, but well worth it… Thanks Aaron, I learn more each time I look at your tutorials

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    Peggy Staley

    Class was awesome. Background music was annoying, distracting, unnecessary and made it really difficult to concentrate on what Aaron was teaching.