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Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

By June 24, 2011November 7th, 2017Tutorials

Layer masks in Adobe Photoshop can be extremely powerful. What the heck is a layer mask!? I’m sure there are a million websites out there that explain layer masks. Well guess what… I’m just going to add to that number. So if you’d like to read elsewhere about the topic, be my guest!

Jason MaskAnywho, a layer mask is basically a NON-DESTRUCTIVE way to hide parts of a layer. For example, say you have two photos each on a separate layer. The top photo is black and white while the photo beneath it is in full color. They’re the same exact size and all that jazz. And you’re thinking to yourself, “It’d be freakin’ sweet if the shirt I was wearing was in color while the rest of the photo was in black and white because it’s so cliche and I want it as my Facebook photo!” Well the first thing that comes to mind would be to grab the old eraser tool and erase the top layer’s shirt right? Guess again sucker.

Remember that term I used earlier…NON-DESTRUCTIVE? If you just start erasing parts of a layer, you lose that layer’s information forever! With a layer mask, you paint the areas of a layer you want to hide in black and it reveals the underlying layer. And say you accidentally removed a part of your sweet shirt you didn’t want to, all you have to do is paint white over the area you painted black. BAM! Your black and white portion is brought back to life! And you can go back and forth as much as you’d like without losing any image information. Hope that makes sense because I can’t explain it any better. How about a mini tutorial?

Mini Tutorial

  1. Old CoupleOpen your color photo in Photoshop.
  2. Duplicate LayerDuplicate the layer by dragging it down to the “Create a new layer” icon.
  3. Black & WhiteMake the top layer black and white by choosing Image -> Adjustments -> Black and White. Choose your desired color settings then click OK.
  4. Layer MaskMake sure the top layer is still selected then click the add layer mask button. You’ll see a white layer mask thumbnail is created to the right of the original layer thumbnail. You can now either select the image thumbnail or the mask thumbnail. Make sure the mask thumbnail is selected (it will have a black border to denote it is selected).
  5. BrushSet your foreground color to black and adjust your paintbrush diameter and hardness.
  6. Grandpa Blue ShirtStart painting the area in the photo you’d like to hide. If you make a mistake, change your foreground color to white and paint over the area to reveal the black and white layer again.

That’s really all there is to it! Layer masks can be a very powerful tool and a great way to edit your layers without losing image information. If you have any questions about this tool or any other Photoshop tools, feel free to contact me.

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