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Using Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 1 of 6

Class Introduction - Create a Layer Mask Using the Selection Tool

Ben Willmore

Using Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction - Create a Layer Mask Using the Selection Tool

Lesson Info

Class Introduction - Create a Layer Mask Using the Selection Tool

This time we're jumping in and talking about layer masks. Layer masks are a feature that I use pretty much every single day I'm in Photoshop. If you use layers, you also want to definitely get good at using layer masks. A layer mask is a way to non-permanently hide a portion of a layer so you can easily bring it back at any time, and therefore you can experiment with your layers without having any kind of concern for is what you're doing permanent or could you easily get it back. So let's jump into Photoshop and start working with layer masks. I have this image. I would like to remove the background on it so I just have the letter P. There are many different ways I can select this. I'm gonna try to do what I think might be quickest. So I'll go to the select menu and I'm gonna tell it to just select the subject of this photograph. It didn't make a perfect selection, so I will go to an additional selection tool. In this case, I'm gonna come in and use one known as the object selection to...

ol. Now, it's a relatively new one in Photoshop. And I wanna take away the area in the lower right that contains orange. To take away from a selection, you can either go to your options bar up here and click on this icon, which would take away, or you can hold down the Option key, and if you do, it will temporarily turn on that icon. And I'm just gonna drag around the area that I wanna remove from the selection, that, hoping that it will do an okay job. I'm also gonna remove this center orange portion, so I'll hold down again the Option key, Alt in Windows, to take away, and I will draw around that portion. It looks like I have to do this a little bit more while holding down the Option key. Oops, no, I wanna add that part, so I really have to hold Shift, sorry. I was thinking wrong there. And I need to get rid of this little portion, so let's indicate that we don't want those areas. All right, so I think I have an okay selection here. I just needed some sort of selection to get started with, and now what I need to do is convert that selection into a layer mask. In my layers panel, you'll see the layer that the image is contained on, and at the bottom of the layers panel, you see an icon that looks like a rectangle with a circle inside of it. That's the layer mask icon. If you have a selection active at the time you click on that, then only the areas that are currently selected will remain visible and everything that wasn't selected should become hidden the moment I click on the icon. The selection that I had disappeared because it got converted into a layer mask. So now let's look in our layers panel. In there you can see that we still have the full orange background on that letter, but now attached to the layer is this, and that is our layer mask. In a layer mask, any area that is white allows the image to show up as it usually would and any area that's black will hide the layer. When you have a layer mask attached to a layer, then when you grab the paintbrush tool, Photoshop needs to determine should the paint appear in the layer mask and therefore control where this layer appears or should you just be putting paint on the image itself, the layer. And it tells that by looking at which one is highlighted. You see the four corners of the layer mask are currently highlighted. If I click over here, the highlighting moves. Click over there, now the mask is active. So you have to pay attention to that any time you're working with a layer that contains a layer mask. Now if I grab my paintbrush tool and I paint with black, any area that I paint on is going to become hidden, because in a layer mask, black hides things. So if I paint at the moment, you'll see it goes away. If, on the other hand, I switch and I paint with white, white in a layer mask shows things. So if I paint, I can now make areas visible once again. And so it's a matter of switching back and forth between black and white and painting where you need to to control where a layer is visible. So let's end up using layer masks on a bunch of projects to learn when they're really useful.

Class Description


  • Understand the relationship between Selections and Masks
  • Use brushes and gradients to create complex masks
  • Understand how filters and selections affect masks
  • Use masks to combine multiple exposures to remove unwanted objects
  • Temporarily disable, overlay or view any Layer Mask


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)


Jean McMillan

Just loving this with 'bite size' chunks, I have picked up so much and it's great being able to jump in and do a short blast to re-fresh the memory. Wish all classes were short, sweet and to the point like these