Layer masking is one of the most powerful features in Photoshop — in this article, we’re going to show you how you can get started and master this practice. This Photoshop side is fantastic for combining several photos (for example, adding the sky of one image to another) or removing particular objects or people.
What are layer masks?
Layering in Photoshop is stacking images on top of each other and editing them in unison to create one final unique image. Layer masking makes this type of editing easier because sometimes you want not just to edit and see one entire layer — often, you need only to see and edit a part of the layer.
For example, you have shot a landscape image with a meadow in the foreground and edited its saturation but find that the grass just seems too dramatic or has the wrong shade of green now. Layer masking allows you to single out that area of the image and adjust the grass saturation and color correction as needed.
You can also use the eraser tool to create a similar effect, but using layer masks has some significant advantages. Here’s why.
Working with layer masks allows you to:
- speed up your workflow.
- undo particular layer edits much better than simply using the eraser tool.
- have a better overview of edits and layers, so you can track all the modifications you made and easily change anything you might not like later.
How layer masks work in Photoshop
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to layer masks in Photoshop.
- Select the layer you want to edit.
- Click on the button ‚Add layer mask‘.
- Your layer will now be white and does not affect the photo (yet)
- If you want to select a specific area of the layer, use the black brush.
- Now brush over the area of the mask layer you want to single out. By brushing over the masking layer with the black brush, you will notice it removes the area of the photo. In reverse, if you paint over it in white again, the contents will appear again -> black reveals, white conceals.
- To change the opacity of the layer mask, simply add gray to the area — just how opaque that area will depend on the strength of your gray.
Here’s a great video describing the process in detail.
Layer mask shortcuts in Photoshop
If you want to become a pro and speed up your workflow, using shortcuts is your go-to. Here are our favorite mask layering shortcuts that will improve your flow.
Add layer mask
Press the ‘Option key on Mac (or Alt on Windows)’ and click on the ‘Add Layer Mask’ button in the Layers panel.
Delete layer masks
Go ahead and right-click the layer mask itself and delete it from the tooltip menu.
Invert a layer mask
To invert your layer mask, simply select ‘Command + I’ on Mac (or Control + I on Windows) to quickly move between the two.
Move a layer mask between layers
To move a layer mask, simply drag and drop the layer mask between different layers.
Add a layer mask based on selections
By clicking on the ‘Add Layer Mask’ button, it will reveal your selection; then again, if you want to hide it, simply hold the Option key on Mac (or Alt for Windows) while clicking.
How to duplicate a layer mask between layers
Sometimes you will want the same effect on different layers. To duplicate a mask layer, simply hold the ‘Option key on Mac (or Alt key on Windows)’ and then click and drag to the new layer.
Want to up your Photoshop game even more? Here’s how.