Layer Mask Tips

These Layer Mask tips are a few extra tidbits that I originally put into a video tutorial about how to remove a background around hair. Here's a link to that earlier post:

http://www.essential-photoshop-elements.com/remove-the-background-around-hair.html

The video for that tutorial had already ended up being quite long. I decided that the Layer Mask tips weren't essential to that lesson so I cut them out of the video.

But I thought there were some bits of information in there that might help people who are trying to understand how Layer Masks work.

This tutorial is the result. It's not meant to be a complete lesson on how Layer Masks work but it does explain some key points. You can watch the outtake from the video below.











Things To Remember

Here's a summary of the tips on Layer Masks shown in the video above.

TIP ONE- White Reveals, Black Conceals.

To me this first Layer Mask tip is the most important one to understand. You may have heard me say it before: White Reveals, Black Conceals. Huh, what does that mean?

A Layer Mask is either white, black, or gray. You'll never see a blue or green Layer Mask. OK, that explains the white and black part, but what about the reveals and conceals part?

Just ask yourself "reveals and conceals WHAT?" Well, it reveals or conceals the Layer that it's on.

How do you know what Layer it's on? Because you can see it right next to the Layer Thumbnail in the Layers Panel. Look at the screen grab of the Layers Panel below.



The Layer Thumbnail shows what's on that Layer.

The Layer Mask dictates what areas of that Layer and that Layer only get shown (revealed) in the live work area (also called the Active Image Area).

If you don't have a Layer Mask on a Layer, then the entire Layer is visible or shown (revealed) in the Live Work Area.

If the entire Layer Mask is white, then the entire Layer is visible (revealed) in the live work area. Having an entirely white Layer Mask on a Layer is exactly the same as not having a Layer Mask on that Layer.

When you add a Layer Mask to a Layer, the Layer Mask is used to either reveal or conceal parts of the Layer that it's associated with.

NOTE: The Live Work Area is also called the Active Image Area.

In the screen grab above you can see that the white part of the Layer Mask is the part of the Layer that's visible (revealed) in the Live Work Area.

Just to be clear, that Layer Mask is NOT affecting the Background Layer below it in the Layers Panel. In fact the visibility is turned off for the Background Layer. For the purposes of this lesson just pretend that the Background Layer isn't even there.




TIP TWO- Turn The Layer Mask OFF And ON.

You might find that for one reason or another you want to temporarily turn off your Layer Mask so that you can see what the Layer looks like in the Active Image Area without the Layer Mask.

You can disable or turn off a Layer Mask by holding down the Shift key as you click directly on the thumbnail of the Layer Mask.

The Layer Mask gets a big red "X" over it to indicate that it has been disabled. And in the Active Image Area you'll see what that Layer looks like without a Layer Mask.


If you want to turn the Layer Mask back on you do the same thing, shift-click directly on the Layer Mask again. The red "X" will disappear and you'll see the results of having the Layer Mask enabled again in the Active Image Area.




TIP THREE- Ways To Add Black Or White To Layer Mask.

There are different ways to put black or white on a Layer Mask. Let's take a look at four different ways:

1. Make a Selection, click on the "Add a Mask" icon.

This first technique is for using before you have a Layer Mask.

  • When you select part of your photo and then click on the "Add a Mask" icon in the Layers Panel (it looks like a circle inside of a square) the selection goes away and becomes a Layer Mask.
  • The Layer Mask is added to whichever Layer was active when you click on the "Add a Mask" icon.
  • The area that was selected is the white or "revealing" part of the Layer Mask and the rest of the mask is black.

2. Paint with the Brush tool.

  • Once you have a Layer Mask on a Layer you can add black (conceal) or white (reveal) to it by first clicking on the
    Layer Mask
    to make it active.
  • Then click on the Brush tool in the Toolbox to make it the active tool.
  • Next set the Foreground Color (the top square located at the bottom of the Toolbox) to black or white by pressing the letter "X" on your keyboard.
    Whichever color you make the Foreground Color is the color that the Brush tool will use on the Layer Mask.
  • Finally "paint" with the Brush tool over your photo in the Active Image Area on the areas that you want the mask to conceal (paint with Foreground Color set to black) or reveal (paint with Foreground Color set to white).

3. Make a Selection and then "fill" that Selection.

  • Once you have a Layer Mask on a Layer you can add black (conceal) or white (reveal) to any part of it by first clicking on the Layer Mask to make it active.
  • Then make a Selection of the area of your photo that you want to affect.
  • Next go up to the Edit Menu and choose "Fill Selection...".
  • From the dialog box that appears click on the "Use" field and choose "Black" or "White" from the pop-up list.
  • Click "OK" to close the dialog box and accept the change.

4. Use the Gradient tool.

  • Once you have a Layer Mask on a Layer you can add black (conceal) or white (reveal) to any part of it by first clicking on the Layer Mask to make it active.
  • Then click on the Gradient tool in the Toolbox to make it the active tool.
  • Go down to the Tool Options and click on the tiny arrow next to the gradient preview and from the pop-up list choose the third option which is named "Black, White".
  • Also from the Tool Options click on the "Linear" option from the five different pattern icons.
  • Finally click-and-drag with the Gradient tool over your photo in the Active Image Area beginning to the right of the areas that you want the mask to conceal (paint with black) and stopping to the left of the areas that you want the mask to reveal (paint with white).
    The areas in between where you start and stop will be filled with shades of gray which will partially conceal and reveal and creating a "blending" effect with the Layer located below the active Layer in the Layers panel.




TIP FOUR- View The Layer Mask (Bonus Tip Not In Video).

You can actually see what a Layer Mask looks like in the Active Image Area.

To do that hold down the Option Key on a Mac or the Alt Key on a PC as you click directly on the Layer Mask thumbnail in the
Layers Panel.

In the image below the Layer Mask was created using the Gradient tool:


To return to the default view do the same thing:

Hold down the Option Key on a Mac or the Alt Key on a PC as you click directly on the Layer Mask thumbnail in the
Layers Panel.


Go from Layer Mask Tips to the Home page.

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