Home TutorialsPhotoshop Don’t be afraid of masks! They make photoshop more beautiful

Don’t be afraid of masks! They make photoshop more beautiful

by Meago

Let’s get to that topic for once! I know myself that when I don’t understand something, I approach the topic carefully. So if you don’t know what masks are for and how to use them, I hope that thanks to this tutorial, you’ll come to love and understand them, and you’ll just sigh with relief and your Photoshop life will become colorful!


Imagine that you have a drawing on a layer and you can erase it all you want, and if you don’t like something – “unerase”, ignoring the limited number of undoings. Sounds cool, huh? So it happens that you can do it very easily by clicking on ONE and only icon. This one:

photoshop masks

You can find it at the very bottom of the layer window (between the other icons that I’ll describe sometime else). If your layer window is not visible, you can find it in the top menu: Window >> Layers

The way it works is very easy – black and white. Literally. I mean that the white uncovers and the black covers. Additionally, the levels of grey correspond to the level of transparency. THAT’S ALL 😀 See the picture below:


  1. Look at the drawing on the left. You see the actual drawing on the document and its miniature on the layer in the layer window.
  2. I click on the add mask icon – next to the layer with the drawing, another white layer appears. That is our layer mask.
  3. Now, all you have to do is to set the color to black (you can only use shades of grey on it) and you can freely erase whatever you want without any loss. The drawing will be intact – you can redraw anything back or remove the entire mask.

Now, I’ll do the opposite. I’ll color the entire mask in black, covering everything that’s on the layer and I’ll recover any particular areas I want. See the picture below:


  1. Again, I add a mask to the layer, exactly like before.
  2. Now however, I am filling the mask entirely with black (using the pain bucket tool, or with another convenient method). As you can see, it covers my entire drawing – but it’s okay. Remember that it’s still there, nothing happened to it.
  3. I recover it, coloring the mask with white. See?

A quick method to switch between white and black on a mask is pressing X on the keyboard, with these colors set as the main and background colors


I love them. I use them so often that I simply have to mention them here. The way it works is still the same, except I use a gradient instead of a brush. See below:

photoshop masks

And again:

  1. I’m choosing the layer I’ll be working on (I usually improve backgrounds this way)
  2. I duplicate it and change the color – I chose purple (You can do it with the option Hue/ Saturation with the Colorize function being on, or with another method you find convenient).
  3. Then, I make a mask on the layer with purple – I don’t want the whole layer to be purple – so I use a black gradient (Gradient tool) and drag it for example from top to bottom, covering a part of the new layer, at the same time uncovering a part of the old one from underneath. As you can see, it results in a cute transition of color – that’s what we wanted!

Of course, that is only one of the many methods I use. It’s important to be aware of the possibilities of the tool – then, using your invention, you’ll be able to do more complicated things.


Another useful thing – masks can be used also on folders. Then, such a mask works on all the layers that are inside the folder. It’s useful when you don’t want to combine all layers. All you need to do is to click on the folder and add a mask, see below:

photoshop mask

Grouping layers in one folder is really easy. You have to click the folder icon (Create a new group). You can find it near the create mask icon. Then, drag all the layers inside. You can also select the layers and click on the folder, then all the selected layers will move there automatically.


If you look more closely on the layer with the mask, you can notice that they’re joined with a clip – that is so when you’d like to move a layer, the mask will move with it as well. Nothing will move apart. But if you want to deliberately place the mask in one, unmovable spot, just unclip it from the main layer:

link layers

I’ll separate them for a moment. I’ll do it by clicking the clip between the layers.

photoshop mask

Now I’m moving just the character (I moved her down). As you can see, the shape cut in the mask stayed fixed in the place we chose before. Such a procedure is useful for example when you want to fit something into a specific shape that is to be placed in a particular spot, and you’d like to freely move the graphic

Okaaaay, I could write a little more here, but enough is enough. I hope that I managed to present the basics. However, if you have any additional questions – let me know, I’d love to answer them!

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