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How to Create a Layer Mask in Photoshop

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this quick tip tutorial, we will learn what a layer mask is, what it does, and how to create a mask in Photoshop! 

Follow along with us on the Envato Tuts+ YouTube Channel:

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What You Will Need

You will need the following image in order to follow along with this tutorial.

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. What Are Layer Masks? 

Layer masks are your go-to tool when doing photo composites or manipulations! You can add a mask to a layer and then use that mask to hide, or “mask,” portions of the layer. 

Masking is different from erasing as you aren’t deleting anything, but hiding it. Anything you mask can be brought back at any time! Let’s get to learning how to make a layer mask in Photoshop.

2. How to Use Layer Masks

Below, I will walk you through a simple example of how to add a layer mask in Photoshop.

Step 1

Create a New Layer over a background. I’ll be using this Night Sky image. 

Create a shape using the Shape Tool.

moon shape

Step 2

With the shape selected, click on the Add Layer Mask button found at the bottom of the Layers panel, right in the middle. The icon is of a square with a circle in the middle.

A white box will appear next to your layer icon.

layer mask layer

Step 3

Click the layer mask, the white box that appeared, to make sure it’s active. This is your Photoshop mask!

Now, with a Brush set to black, you can mask out any part of that shape. 

mask using black

Step 4

You can then mask things back in using the color white! Remember, nothing is ever really gone. 

You use black to erase and white to recover. You can even use shades of gray; the darker the gray, the more it will erase. 

unmask using white

Below, I created some star-shaped selections and then masked them out with a black brush.

star mask

Step 5

If you move your layer around, your mask will follow and stay attached, indicated by the Chain Link icon located between the layer and layer mask icons.  

However, you can also Unlink the layer and the layer mask, allowing you to move the layer and layer mask around independently, depending on which one you have active. 

layer mask link

Step 6

Finally, if for any reason you want to permanently apply your layer mask, you can Right-Click > Apply Layer Mask on your layer mask.

Once a layer mask is applied, whatever is masked out will become permanently deleted, the layer will turn back into a standard rasterized layer, and you are free to add a new layer mask.  

And There You Have It!

We’ve learned how to create a layer mask in Photoshop! Layer masks are what make photo composites and manipulation possible, allowing us to blend dozens of images to create one cohesive new piece of art! The possibilities are endless. 

So, as always, keep experimenting with different techniques, continue learning how to mask in Photoshop, and don’t forget to post your version below, along with any questions, comments, or critiques!


Looking to learn more? Why not check out the following excellent photo manipulation tutorials:

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