Tutorial | How to Create & Use Layer Masks

Hi everyone, Ona here to bring you a quick introductory tutorial on how to create and use Layer Masks.

Layer masks are used primarily to either show part of the layer content or to hide it. Layer masks are non-destructive as opposed to destructive techniques like erasing. This simply means that when you use the eraser you cannot go back and fix it, ie replace the erased part, as quickly and easily as you can when you use a layer mask.

When working with masks you only need to remember this fundamental principle: BLACK is used to HIDE, WHITE is used to REVEAL.

In this example I have used two items from the Believe in Beautiful kit by Captivated Visions. The parts that are shaded in red are the parts that I don't want to initially use.

After applying a layer mask to each item I used a BLACK brush to HIDE the parts that I didn't want. This is the result (below).

Steps on creating a mask and hiding part of the flower:

1. Working on the flower layer, click the Mask Tool. This will place the mask on the same layer as shown below.

The mask appears to the right of the flower element and by default it is WHITE which means that all of the flower is visible. Note: There is a blue line outlining the mask, this let's you know that the mask is currently active, so any brush work will be confined to the mask and not your main object, in this case the flower. If the mask is not active then you will be painting in black right on the object!! So double check that the mask is active. 

2. Making sure that the mask is active (see note in previous step) select a brush to work with and make sure that the Colour setting is on the default Foreground/Black and Background/White. Hint: Pressing the letter D on the keyboard will quickly reset to the colours to this default setting.

The type of brush you use will depend on the type of masking you want to do. Using a Hard brush will give you a clean, hard edge whereas a Soft brush will leave the edging a bit softer. In the example below I used a soft large brush to 'paint' out the major parts I didn't want, and then switched to a Hard small brush and zoomed in close to take care of the edges. The same applies for the Opacity strength you use. 100% Opacity will make the object disappear completely while lower opacity levels will give your object a transparent effect. The lower the opacity the more transparent the object will be. 

Now just start painting out the parts of the picture or object you don't need.  In this example my brush was set to 100% Opacity and as I painted over the part of the flower I didn't want it disappeared completely.

That is it! It's really a very simple and effective method for HIDING the bits that you don't need.

Now let's take a look at the string. I used the same exact steps as for the flower and you can see the results in the second image at the top of this post. 

After masking away the part of the string I thought I didn't need, I now find that it looks a bit 'short'!

The real benefit of using a mask is that now I can use WHITE to reveal more of the string because remember? I only HID that part of the string, I did not erase it! 

To REVEAL a part of an object that has been hidden using a black brush, do the following:

1. Making sure that the mask is active, select a brush to work with and make sure that the Colour setting is on Foreground/White and Background/Black. Hint: Pressing the letter X on the keyboard will quickly reverse the colours.

The notes on the type of brush and opacity above apply as well.

2. Now just start painting on the parts of the picture or object you want to bring back and reveal. 

I must confess that when I first discovered digital scrapping, I used the Eraser Tool a LOT! It took me a bit of time to realise just how powerful a layer mask could be............ especially after I had painstakingly erased a part of the photo only to find that I had erased too much in some areas. Of course that meant I had to start with the photo all over again! When I finally understood the idea of using a layer mask I was sold!

So for those of you who have never used Layer Masks before, I really hope this short tutorial has de-mystified the process a little bit and will give you some confidence to try them out. PLEASE be sure to ask any questions you have, here in the comments area of the blog. I will be very happy to help you.

Be on the look-out for some more Layer Mask tutorials in the very near future as we continue to explore the endless possibilities that masking can give you!

Until next time,
Ona xxx