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Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Tips for masking with paint tools, effects and type By Dave Nagel
I've written about masking in Adobe Photoshop on a number of occasions, and in almost every case I've advised you to work with layer masks, rather than some of the alternatives. Why? Layer masks allow you to remove portions of an image layer without permanently damaging the layer; so, if you change your mind, you can always just delete the mask, and you're back where you started, with your original image still intact.

But for many, layer masks probably seem a bit restricting. After all, you make a selection and convert it to a layer mask, and then you're stuck with it. Not like, say, the Eraser tool, where you can keep going back and erasing more and more until you get exactly what you want. Right? Well, if that were the case, of course, I wouldn't be writing an article about it. In fact, layer masks in Photoshop are completely--and easily--editable. You can paint directly into them and watch your mask grow (or shrink) as you go, just as if you were using the Eraser tool. And, what's more, you can also apply type and filters directly to layer masks, which you could never do with the Eraser tool alone. So let's take a look first at the basics of editing layer masks with paint tools, then explore how you can use type and filters to expand the possibilities even further.

Basic layer mask creation
But before we do this, there's a little preparation involved. It's basic stuff, but I'll show you how to do it anyway.

To begin, open you image (or create a new one). If you're working with a photograph or another flat image that contains a Background layer, you'll need to convert this into a regular layer before proceeding. To do this, open up the Layers palette, and double-click on the Background. A dialog box will pop up asking you to name the newly converted layer. Call it whatever you want. (The default is "Layer 0.")

Hit OK, and your Background will be replaced with a layer. Superficially, nothing has changed, except that you can now apply a layer mask to the layer, where you couldn't when it was a Background.

So now we just need to add a layer mask to our layer. In this case, we're going to add just a blank layer mask by choosing Layer > Add Layer Mask > Reveal All. Alternately, if you wish to start with a selection of the image masked out, you can do that as well. Make your selection, and choose Layer > Add Layer Mask > Reveal Selection or Layer > Add Layer Mask > Hide Selection, depending on how you want to do it. Either way, adding the mask creates a new thumbnail in the Layers palette that represents the mask for that layer. (In a document with multiple layers, each one can have its own layer mask, if desired.)

And, if you check in the Channels palette, you'll see that a new one has been added to the bottom of the list ("Layer 0 Mask"). Remember this. We'll be getting back to it at the end of this article.

And so now you're all set to get started with your masking.

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Related Keywords:adobe photoshop cs, masking, layer masks, photoshop


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