Essential Tips for Working With Photoshop Masks

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You can apply masks to layers in Photoshop documents to reveal content underneath. Layer masks (which you create with painting or selection tools) can have soft edges. Vector masks (which you create with the Pen and shape tools) have sharp edges. Here are some essential tips to remember when working with masks in Photoshop.

1. Add Masks Quickly

You can add a layer mask to a targeted layer by clicking the Add mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Hold Command/Ctrl when you click the button to add a vector mask.

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To create a layer mask that hides the entire layer, hold Option/Alt while clicking the Add layer mask button.

2. Convert Selections to Masks

To make a layer mask from a selection, simply click the Add layer mask button with the selection active.

To make a layer mask from the inverse of a selection, hold Option/Alt while you click the Add layer mask button. To make a selection from a mask, hold Command/Ctrl while clicking on the mask thumbnail.

3. Add a Mask to Your Background Layer

You don’t need to convert the Background layer to a regular layer before masking it. Just clicking the Add mask button will convert the Background layer to Layer 0 and enable the mask.

4. Adjust Masks the Right Way

You can use the Properties panel in Photoshop CC or CS6, or the Masks panel in CS5 to select and adjust masks in several ways, including their opacity and edges.

5. Adjust Mask Opacity

To adjust the opacity of mask and (and thus the opacity of the masked content) drag the Density slider. Hover your cursor over the word Density and hold Option/Alt as you drag to make the slider go slower and have a finer degree of control.

6. Quick-Disable Masks

Click the eye button at the bottom of the Properties panel or Shift+click a mask thumbnail to enable or disable a mask.

7. View Your Masks

Hold Option/Alt while clicking on a layer mask thumbnail to toggle between viewing the entire image or just the mask.


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Editor in Chief of CreativePro and InDesign Magazine. Instructor at LinkedIn Learning with courses on InDesign, Illustrator, GIMP, Inkscape, and Affinity Publisher.
  • Jud1thSB says:

    I love your tutorials. Thanks!

  • Mike Rankin says:

    Thanks! There’s always more where they came from :)

  • Broacher says:

    For a fantastic set of advanced masking tutorials in Pshop, I recommend visiting the Russell Brown ‘Tips and Techniques’ page at russellbrown.com. I picked up some fantastic masking shortcut tips there (among other stuff).

    For example, for years I had basically rolled my eyes at what I thought was the ‘useless’ Quick Selection tool. Russell explained how to use Opt modification when using this tool, and have since ‘rediscovered’ that it’s an exceptionally quick and powerful first step on the road to high quality masking.

  • Mike Rankin says:

    Excellent, thanks for the tip!

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