Nov 15, 2016

How to Use Vector Masks in Photoshop

How to Use Vector Masks in Photoshop

Learn how to cut any object out of its Background in today’s episode featuring the Pen Tool and Vector Masks.

Vector Masks Vs. Layer Masks

When cutting an object out, you can choose between Layer Masks and Vector Masks, here are some of the key Differences between the two.

Layer Masks
• Determines visibility based on pixels, not shapes.
• Paint white on a Layer Mask to make areas visible, black to make them invisible
• Allows Filters like Blur and Sharpen

Vector Masks
• Determines visibility based on Pen Paths and shapes
• Paths can be altered at any time, revealing different parts of an image
• Add feathering using the Properties Window

Density & Feathering

When cutting an object out of its Background, it is important to be able to see what you are cutting out. When using vector masks, the subject can get hidden by the mask. To reveal the subject, open the properties window and lower the Vector Mask density to “see through” the vector mask temporarily.

A Vector Mask will cut an object out with a sharp edge, to add feathering to the edge, open the properties window and slide the Feathering slider to Soften the edge.

Download the Sample Image


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  • user image

    Can I use the vector mask on portrait to cut hairs or subject. And I am also interested in your 101-301 online tutorials please assist me I am attached the image (before-after) which I learn from your videos and trying to do as you shows please assist me

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Use Vector Masks in Photoshop

  • user image
    Paul Lara

    I have used the pen tool for years, but converted that to a selection, instead of converting to a vector mask – THANK YOU! Today I phlearned how to maximize flexibility – what it’s all about.
    This is very helpful.

  • user image
    Wes Jones

    Too cool. I had no idea there was such a thing as vector masks. Thanks for sharing Aaron!

  • user image

    In many years of viewing tutorials, this is the first one to teach me about vector masks–how to use them and why. Thanks

  • user image

    Can you give a REALLY good example of why someone would need to use a vector mask instead of a layer mask? I guess I am missing something important because it seems as though the vector mast takes longer and basically does the same thing as a layer mask? Thank you for the tutorial.

    • user image
      Steve Moore

      Round corners are cleaner.
      Paths are sharp. Cutting with a brush tends to be a softer edge.
      Paths can be imported straight into Illustrator.

  • user image
    Lórien Davy

    Thank you for another EXTREMELY helpful tutorial, Aaron! You asked for suggestions for more tutorial subjects, so here is my request: Would you please show us how to introduce radiating ripples into a photograph of still water — as if somebody just threw a stone into the water? Thank you, again!

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Use Vector Masks in Photoshop

  • b.berkhuijsen

    Fantastic explanation. I’m Dutch and i can follow the whole episode easy. Thats also because you show where to click in the menu’s and also reveal the shortcuts.

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    Jerry Deutsch

    I created a path using the pen and went to create a vector mask. To my surprise, the object that I clipped disappeared leaving the background…the exact opposite of what I was trying to do. Is there a setting that tells PS what to cut…inside or outside the path? Or, did I do something else drastically wrong?

  • user image

    I tried this, but it’s not showing me a preview… I’m on PS CC – latest update. Would love to know how to get it to show the preview while I’m working on cutting it out!

  • user image

    Followed tutorial step by step, but why does my mask reveal blank instead of camera?
    Tried inverting mask, but still no!!!

  • user image
    Steve Moore

    You probably already have done this Aaron but you can add a view curve above the layer you are cutting a vector mask on so as to see into the very dark areas and get a more accurate mask.

    • user image
      Steve Moore

      Laurie, Before you cut the mask go to the layer you want to cut. From top menu bar > Layer > Vector Mask > Reveal All. It will add the mask and “then” start cutting. I have found it difficult to cut this way because you can’t see under the mask being cut unless you reduce the mask opacity. To me it is better to cut the mask in the Path tab and then apply it by selecting it like Arron demonstrated.

  • user image

    Hi Aaron, thanks for all the outstanding tutorials. I am a beginner and am learning so much from them my brain is about to explode. Is there a tut for retouching and enhancing brown eyes?

  • user image

    As soon as I start with the pen-tool (with the vectormask activated), a new layer appears above the image. The selection comes in the new layer, the vectormask is disabled. What do I do wrong?