Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Photoshop

Do Not Fear the Layer Mask: Tips for Using One of Photoshop's Most Powerful Tools

  • Print
  • + Share This
Matt Kloskowski takes the fear out of learning to use layer masks with quick, fun tips that show you how to make the most of one of Photoshop's most powerful tools.
This chapter is from the book

I’m going to start this chapter intro out with a bold statement. In fact, if there’s one chapter intro you want to make sure you read, it’s this one. Okay, so are you ready for my bold statement? Because if you’re not, I’ll wait a moment—no, really, it’s okay. Okay, I guess I’d better make my bold statement before I just flat out annoy you. Here it is: you already know what a layer mask is. Yep, as long as you read through and understood what we did with adjustment layers in Chapter 3, you already know all about layer masks. If you didn’t read Chapter 3, then I take my bold statement back. You have no idea what a layer mask is. But you will, if you go back and read Chapter 3 and then follow it up with this chapter. Why? Because layer masks are one of the most important things you can learn when it comes to layers. It’s a topic usually avoided like the bird flu. But, once you figure them out, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

Layer Mask Basics

LAYER MASKS LET YOU NON-DESTRUCTIVELY ERASE AWAY AREAS FROM ONE LAYER TO REVEAL THE LAYERS BELOW

Let me start out by saying that if you didn’t read the chapter intro on the previous page, then stop right now and go read it. I made a very profound statement there and I think it’s important that you read it before continuing. If you don’t, then the rest of this chapter just won’t be the same for you. So go read it...now. I’ll wait. Okay, you’re back and I bet you feel much better about embarking on your journey to learn all about layer masks. Now, in that chapter intro, I said that you already know what a layer mask is. You do! That little white thumbnail that kept getting added next to each adjustment layer we added in Chapter 3 is a layer mask. The difference between them and what we’re about to do here is that adjustment layers automatically include a layer mask with them. A regular layer does not. But, it takes just one click to get the same effect.

Step 1: Open Two Photos that You’d Like to Combine

In order to really take advantage of layer masks, you need to have at least two layers. So go ahead and open two images that you’d like to combine. You can download the images shown here from the website I mentioned in the introduction.

Step 2: Drag One of the Images onto the other so they’re in the Same Document

Use the Move tool (V) to drag one photo from its document onto the other one. In this example, I’m going to drag the photo of the barrel onto the image of the James Bond–looking guy with the gun. Now that photo’s document has two layers. Once you’ve got the photo moved, you can close the original so you’re left with only the document with two layers.

Step 3: Add a Layer Mask to the Top Layer

Remember back in Chapter 3, whenever you added an adjustment layer it automatically added a layer mask (that little white thumbnail) to the layer it was on? Well, ordinary layers don’t work like that. They don’t automatically get a layer mask with them. However, adding one is really simple. First, select the layer you want to add the mask on. In this case, it’s the top layer. Then click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. It’s the third one from the left (shown circled here).

Step 4: Notice How a Layer Mask on a Regular Layer Looks Just Like the Adjustment Layer One

When you click on the Add Layer Mask icon, you’ll see that Photoshop adds a little white thumbnail next to the layer thumbnail in your Layers panel. This is a layer mask. See how it looks just like the one that we saw in Chapter 3 whenever we added an adjustment layer?

Step 5: Make a Selection of the Area on the Top Layer that You Want to Hide

Right now, we can only see the barrel photo because that layer covers the one below it. Let’s combine the two photos by hiding part of the top layer so we can see the layer below it. Choose the Elliptical Marquee tool from the Toolbox (or press Shift-M until you have it). Click-and-drag out a circular selection in the middle of the canvas.

Step 6: Fill the Selection with Black

When we were working with adjustment layers, we made a selection and filled it with black to hide part of the adjustment to reveal the layer below it. The same thing works here with a regular layer mask. Go to the Edit menu and choose Fill. Then, choose Black for the Use setting and click OK. Finally, choose Select>Deselect to clear your selection.

Step 7: White on the Layer Mask Shows the Top Layer; Black Reveals the Background

To see how things are working here, take a look at the layer mask thumbnail. Wherever it’s white, we can see the barrel layer (the layer that holds the layer mask). Where you see black on the layer mask, you see through the barrel layer to whatever is underneath it in the Layers panel (in this case, that’s the James Bond–looking guy). That’s probably the most important thing to understand about layer masks: black and white. White shows you the effects of the layer that the layer mask is on. Black hides the layer and shows you whatever is below it in the layer stacking order.

Step 8: Fill the Layer Mask with White again to Get Things Back to Normal

So, even though it looks like we erased away the pixels from the top barrel layer, we didn’t. Instead they’re just hidden from view. In real life, you’d probably save this file, then reopen it at a later time and possibly decide you want to change something. If you had erased or deleted the circular selection from the image, you’d have to go back to the original and start over. With a layer mask, though, you can always change your mind without starting over. Try it. Click on the layer mask and fill it with white this time. As you can see, all of the barrel photo is still there and the layer mask is all white again—nothing was permanently erased or deleted.

Step 9: Make Another Selection to Change Your Layer Mask

Finally, since the layer mask is still on the barrel layer, you can always make another selection and try again. This time, select the Rectangular Marquee tool (press Shift-M until you have it), make a square selection in the middle of the canvas, and fill it with black. Photoshop doesn’t care what shape you create. It just cares about black and white. That’s just the beginning, though. Layer masks get way cooler. In fact, there’s a way to automatically create a layer mask. Turn to the next page to find out how.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email ask@peachpit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.peachpit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020