Image Mask Layers

I decided to make a tutorial on mask layers because I think it’s the best way to crop elements out of an image and also because I noticed that a lot of even skilled manipulators seem not to use them despite of the obvious advantages. As I will show you later, the greatest advantage of mask layers is the fact that you can always go back and repair a certain selection, so there is no permanent “damage” to the picture. Enough talk, let’s get to work :).


I chose this free image from www.sxc.hu for this tutorial, but you can chose whatever image you like.

gril layer

First thing to do is to copy the image in a blank document. CTRL+A selects the image, CTRL+C copy. Now close the image and hit CTRL+N (new document), be sure to select a transparent background one.

Now time to add the mask layer. Click on the mask layer button in the layers tab.

add layer mask

Now the mask layer will appear to the right of layer you applied it on.

mask layer

Be sure to click on that. Now before we get to the erasing part time for some more theory. On mask layers you can only paint with black and white and the intermediary “grays” in between them. With black you erase and with white you restore. The grays generate transparency (for example a dark shade of gray will generate high transparency while a light shade of gray will generate only some low transparency).

cleared image

Are you still with me? Good… Let’s get to the erasing part. Be sure you are on the mask layer (click on it). Now select a larger size brush to quickly erase the areas around the subject you want to extract, like it the above image.

image clearing

As you get closer to the subject, zoom in and use a small brush 5-10px for fine details. In case you make a mistake, no worries, you can always replace an area you erased by accident by changing the color to white (Tip: quickly switch between black and white by hitting “x”)

That’s about it…I played a bit more with the image, added a background and messed with the colors… Now go and have fun.

girl overlaped layers