Photoshop Layer Masks – Thinking “Inside” the (Layer Mask Thumbnail) Box – Part II

04/02/20 Updated here:


Layer Mask Tools Photoshop

In the last post, I talked about the purpose of a layer mask: To hide or reveal portions of a layer. If you did not read the last post, I would strongly urge you to do so, and to study the accompanying image. Now I’ll talk about how to create and use a layer mask. So, where do you find or how do you create layer masks? Three places:

  1. When you create an adjustment layer, Photoshop automatically adds a “Layer Mask Thumbnail” to your layer (the white box on the right).
  2. For a new layer or background layer, click the “add a layer mask” button in the layers palette. It’s one of the series of buttons at the bottom of the layers palette shaped like a box with a circle in it. Once clicked, you will see a layer mask thumbnail added to your layer.
  3. You can also go to the “Layer Menu” -> “Layer Mask” -> “Reveal All” or “Hide All“. Your choice will depend on whether you want to reveal or hide the effects of the whole layer.

Okay, so now you’re ready to get started (You might want to refer to the illustration in the last post to see how this works).

  1. Decide which layer that you want to apply the layer mask to, and highlight it in the layers palette.
  2. Now, click once in the layer mask thumbnail, and a thin line will highlight it to show that the layer mask is active.
  3. In your image (not in the thumbnail), you are going to “paint” the areas that you want to hide and reveal with the brush tool. The foreground color is the active brush tool color. Remember, a black brush “hides” and a white brush “reveals” the effects of the layer.

That’s it! You are now a “Layer Mask Guru”! Here are a couple of pointers to help you fine-tune the process and speed things along:

  • You can switch between a black and a white brush color using the “switch” feature in the tools palette, or use the speed key (X). Remember, the foreground color is the active brush color. I find it handy to keep my left finger on the “X” key and toggle the brush color back and forth as needed.
  • You can automatically choose black and white as the foreground and background colors by pressing the appropriate button in the toolbox (see the image above of the toolbox).
  • You are not limited to black-and-white brush colors for hiding or revealing: You can vary the brush transparency by using different shades of gray. Double click on either the foreground or the background color in the toolbox and the “color picker” will pop up. Choose different values of gray as desired.
  • You can vary the brush size and hardness by right-mouse clicking in your image when the Brush Tool is selected or by using the Brush Tool Option Bar at the top of Photoshop. A larger brush size will cover a larger area, a “softer” brush will leave a softer edge, and a “harder” brush will leave a harder edge.

If you have any other questions on how this process works, please feel free to contact me. I’d also like to know if this tutorial has helped you — please leave a comment and let me know!


John 🙂


5 thoughts on “Photoshop Layer Masks – Thinking “Inside” the (Layer Mask Thumbnail) Box – Part II

  1. Oh yeah, I forgot, maybe when you get to the super-duper-advanced topics, you could talk about using quick mask mode to create custom masks that take editing to a whole new level. I just learned about them a couple of weeks ago and, man, are they powerful!

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