I’ve written a lot about layer masking on this blog. Masking in Adobe Photoshop is probably one of the most common tasks you’ll face when editing photos and creating graphics. It’s just one of those things you have to learn about. It’s right up there with layers. Once you understand the concept of layers, your brain will be ready for layer masking. And once you get masking, you can do anything.
I’ll admit that there are certain areas of Photoshop that have given users pause through the years. I can remember trying to teach individuals about what layers represent and only after I broke the concept down into easy to grasp pieces was the person able to fully comprehend what I was referring to. The same thing goes for masks. If I had to guess, I’d say that the idea of painting something white or black makes no sense to a lot of people. Eventually, everyone gets that white reveals and black conceals. It just takes some muscle memory is all.
By the way, if you’d like a primer on layer masks in Photoshop, please take a look at this post:
In today’s post, I’m going to take layer masking from level 101 to level 102 in Adobe Photoshop. While nothing I present to you in this post is mind blowing, every tip I share will certainly save you some time if you’re a heavy mask user. I wish I knew these little tips years ago when I worked in Photoshop much more intensively. They could have helped out enormously.
I’ll be using a demo photo to show you four tips. The tips cover the topics of visualizing the current mask over the image in the workspace, how to duplicate a mask in the layers panel, how to go about inverting a mask and how to reduce and increase the mask density, which is sort of like adjusting its opacity.
I just picked a random photo for this post. It didn’t matter in the least what I used, as long as it was something. I chose this because it looked cool.
Visualizing a Larger Version of the Mask
Here’s the scenario. You have layers upon layers and you’re attempting to mask out certain sections of one layer. You use your brush with the color black and paint over what you think is everything you need to disappear. The only issue is that you can’t really see what’s going on. There’s a lot of confusion. I’ll try to give you an example below with the demo photo. I already have the mask applied to the layer and I have the color black active for my brush. I’m using the Brush Tool, by the way.
For this example, I’ll try to hide the left portion of the rear of the vehicle. Basically, anything to the left of the chrome molding. I also added a white background layer to hide the checkerboard pattern that would have been revealed if I didn’t add the white. Here’s what the Layers panel currently looks like. Nothing major.
Now, I’ll use the Brush Tool to paint the left portion of the photo black, which will make it essentially disappear from the visible portion of the photo. Let’s see what I end up with. Please forgive my artwork.
Uh oh. Do you see what happened. In my imaginary “complex” graphic, I missed a few spots with the Brush Tool. Because there was so much going on, I didn’t get everything. If this were a serious project, I’d have problems because of this. I wish there was a better way to see what part of the mask I was painting. Good thing there is.
If I press and hold the Alt key (Option on Mac) on my keyboard and click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel once, that mask thumbnail will superimpose itself onto the image in the workspace. I’ll do this now. What you’ll see below is a life-sized mask.
The cool thing is, while the mask itself is overlaying the image, I can use the Brush Tool to paint any area I want. Now, it looks just like a blank canvas that’s clearly visible. It gives me the clarity I was looking for to finish my masking.
To undo the overlay, I’ll simply hold down the Alt key once again and click on the mask thumbnail once more. That will make things go back to normal.
How to Duplicate a Mask
I cleaned up the masked area a bit for these next few sections. I didn’t like looking at my lousy artwork.
Anyway, let’s now pretend that I have multiple layers of the same photo. For whatever reason, I would like to work on each individual layer for some neat blending effects. The thing is, I’d like to apply the same exact mask to each one, but I would really like to avoid repeating all the energy I expended to create the first mask. Is there a way to duplicate masks in Adobe Photoshop? The answer is yes, there is.
If I visit my Layers panel again, this is what I’ll see.
Do you see the two duplicate layers above? Only one has a mask applied to it. To duplicate the mask, all I need to do is to click the existing mask thumbnail once to activate it and then hold down the Alt key on my keyboard. After that, I’ll need to click and drag the mask thumbnail to the layer I want it applied to and drop. That’s it. Take a look at the effect.
Now, I have duplicate masks that I could work on individually if I wanted to.
How to Invert a Mask
Continuing on with my example, let’s say that I changed my mind. I’d like to keep what’s masked for the top layer, but I’d now like the reversed area masked for the bottom one. Wow, what a mess I got myself into. How the heck am I going to get the same exact, opposite, area masked? How can I get the lines between the two to match up? Well, there’s an easy answer to that. All I have to do is invert the bottom mask and that will accurately reverse everything the way it should.
The way to invert a mask is for me to click on the mask’s thumbnail once to activate it. Then, I’ll hold down the Ctrl key (Command on Mac) on my keyboard and press the letter I (eye) key on my keyboard. I is for invert. When I do that, I’ll see the mask in question flip so the area that was white is now black and vice-versa. Take a look. I just did this, so compare the two mask thumbnails in the screenshot below.
From here, I can continue on and do whatever I want.
How to Change a Mask’s Opacity (Density)
If you want to change a layer’s opacity, all you have to do is push the Opacity slider that’s located at the top of the Layers panel back and forth.
This is fairly straightforward. The problem is, what if I don’t want to change the opacity of the entire layer? What if I want to change the opacity of just the effects of the layer mask? Can I do that? Again, the answer is yes, I can.
If I double-click one of the layer mask thumbnails in the Layers panel, the Properties panel for that mask will pop open. As a side note, for this example, I’ll hide the top layer so you can see what’s happening to the bottom layer’s mask. If I didn’t hide that top layer, you wouldn’t see any effect on the bottom.
Inside the Properties panel is a Density slider. Pushing this slider to the left and to the right controls how much of an effect the mask has on the part of the layer it’s currently masking. Pushing the slider to the left lessens the mask’s effect and allows the part of the image being masked to show through and pushing the slider to the right has the opposite effect.
If you look inside this Properties panel, you’ll also see an Invert button, among other things. Pushing this button has the same exact effect as using the keyboard shortcut I introduced earlier does. It inverts the mask. Personally, I use the keyboard shortcut because it’s much faster. I don’t have to take the time to open up the Properties panel every time I want to do this.
There they are. The four masking tips I promised I’d show you. I hope I did a thorough job explaining how to accomplish each one of these tasks. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!