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Using Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 6 of 6

Layering to Create Realistic Depth

Ben Willmore

Using Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

6. Layering to Create Realistic Depth

Lesson Info

Layering to Create Realistic Depth

Then I'll show you a complex image where I found it to be very helpful. This is an image I created from scratch in Photoshop using the shape tool. I drew one shape, which would look something like this, except for it just looked like a literal flat shape. It looked like that. You could use something like the pen tool to create a shape like that. Then I added effects to it. And those effects included a color overlay, which is the only thing that changes the color of the various shapes, this one happened to be red. Then a bevel and emboss, which gave it a three-dimensional feeling, and something called satin, just to make it a little different. And there's also a drop shadow I could've applied that's turned off. Then all of these other ones, each one was simply rotated. And the color was changed. That's the choice, called color overlay. It's a layer style. I don't expect you to want to recreate this image. What I wanna do is show you how I pushed it to another level using layer masks. Th...

e red shape is the topmost shape. You can see the entirety of the shape. I want to make it look like it's woven in between the other shapes. And let's see if I can do that. I can't have a layer be both on top of another layer and below the same layer at the same time. There's a definite stacking order. So instead I'm gonna hide the red object wherever it should look as if it's below something. So I'll add a layer mask. So I can paint with black to hide various areas. And then we'll use a trick. Here let's say this yellowish shape, I want it to look as if it's on top right here, and then I want it to look like it goes underneath. Well that layer in here is I believe, the layer right here called yellow swoosh. You see it going on and off when I turn this on. There's a trick in Photoshop where you can get a selection out of any layer that looks like an object that has a checkerboard surrounding it. If you hold down the command key, control on Windows, and you click on this little thumbnail. It means select all the solid stuff. Don't select the checkerboard at all. So when I Command + click right there it gave me a selection of everything that was on that particular layer. And now with that selection active I'm gonna paint on my mask to say hide right in that area. Therefore it looks like it's underneath. Here I want it to be on top, I come over here and I want it to look like it's under this purplish one. So I look and find the one that's the purple one. I think it's this one. No. That must be the pink one. There it is. I do the same trick. I Command + click on it to get a selection and therefore I'm only gonna paint in the area where it's selected. I work on the mask I worked on earlier that's the mask that hides the red layer, and I'm gonna paint right there. And it hides that red layer. Main reason I wanted to show you this image is 'cause did you notice the 3D effect applied to this changed 'cause I painted. Well there's a special setting. Anytime you end up using any of these effects, like bevel and emboss. And that's what I want to show you. If you go to the letters FX at the bottom of your layers panel, and you choose the topmost option, one of the choices in here, you got a whole bunch of choices, is called Layer Mask Hides Effects. That means if I have a layer mask attached to this layer and I hide something, have the effects like bevel and emboss totally ignore that layer mask. Don't let it change what the effect thinks is the shape of that layer. Just make it hide those effects without changing where they apply. And that caused this just to go back to the way it was. If I choose undo, see the weirdness, whereas there it's not. That will only be useful for those that use layer masks a lot. But anyway, I can go through this process and once you get good at it and you actually understand what's going on, you should be able to come in and hide this wherever you need to. So it goes underneath there, here it goes on top, and then it goes underneath this next one. And in the end that red object is on the top layer. And if I hide all the other layers you can see I'm just hiding little bitty pieces of it to make it look as if it goes under other elements, when in reality, it's truly on top of them all. I don't expect you to be able to necessarily follow this unless you're used to using shape layers, layer styles, and layer masks. The main thing to take away from it though, is if you ever want to make it look like one layer goes underneath one object and over another, and you just can't arrange your layers in a way that that would actually be the case, instead wherever you want that layer to look like it's going under something else and being obscured by it, just use a layer mask to hide the layer in that area. And if it has a layer style like bevel and emboss and it gets messed up when you do, then go into the letters FX at the bottom of your screen. Choose blending options, and turn on the one feature that is called Layer Mask Hides Effects. All right, that has been layer masks in Photoshop. I use them every day. And I love them. And I hope with a little bit of practice you will too.

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