How to Use Layer Masks in Photoshop: 5 Pro Tips

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Working with Layer Masks is one of the backbones of image editing in Photoshop. But are you really getting the most out of your Layer Masks or do you find yourself making the same mistakes on your photos again and again?

Software guru Colin Smith of photoshopCAFE is someone who has spent his whole career working with Layer Masks and he has some advice for you in the below tutorial.

“If you’ve been using Photoshop for longer than a day you realize that Layer Masks are so important to just about everything you do in Photoshop,” Colin Smith says in the video at the bottom of this post. “Right now, I’m going to give you five power user tips for using Layer Masks inside of Photoshop.

#1 Adding Mask to a Selection without Cutting It Out

“Sometimes you have an image and you’ve made a selection around an area and how often does this happen to you?” Smith asks. “You realize you want to create a Layer Mask, but you don’t want to cut anything out. Go into Layer, Layer Mask and choose Reveal All. Now we’ve added our Layer Mask and our selection is still active without cutting anything out.”

#2 Black Fill Mistake

“Here’s a mistake that a lot of people make. They select the Mask and then they fill it with black, which is sort of correct to hide it. The problem with this is if you reposition anything or you re-crop it, you’re going to start to see those [black] edges appear. The way to [correct] that is if you select the mask instead of filling it with black, hit ‘Control I’ for invert. What that does is it hides it but also if we move it there are no edges now.”

#3 Hiding and Viewing Layer Masks

“If we want to look at an image without the mask, hold down the Shift key, click on the mask and that hides the mask. Then just hold Shift and click again to toggle that, you can see this is where we did the masking. Now if you just want to view the masking, hold down the Alt or Option key, click on that mask and we can see exactly where we applied that mask.”

#4 Reusing Masks

“All we need to do is grab the [old] mask we selected before, hold down the Alt or the Option key and drag that mask up, release. Would you like to replace it? Click yes. And now we’ve just applied that to that masked area.”

#5 Transparent in Certain Areas

“What if I want to make a mask 50% transparent but just in certain areas? The mistake I see people doing is they grab a brush and they set the brush to 50% opacity. Let me show you a better way to do this. Let’s paint with 50% gray rather than opacity and watch the difference.”

Watch the video below where Smith walks you through the process of all his Photoshop tips. If you want more help with masking, check out this pro tip on how to use Range Masks in Lightroom to make targeted edits on photos.

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