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Layer Masks – Part I

Layer Masks

Elements 2 users, you can’t use the shortcut key method that worked in Elements 1, but you can easily add a layer mask by pressing and holding the Alt key as you apply one of the frame effects.
     Go to the Effects Browser, and in the Frames group, choose the Ripple Frame (or the Spatter, or Strokes frame), then press and hold the Alt key as you click the Apply button. Keep pressing the Alt key until the effect has been completed. If you are asked whether you want to Flatten All Layers? or Discard Hidden Layers? click OK to both. Otherwise the effect will not be applied.
     You will now see a layer in the Layers palette with a layer mask. In the illustration below, the cursor is pointing to the mask.
layers palette with mask
A duplicate of your background layer will have been generated (the middle layer, shown above) and visibility will be turned off for the background layer. Delete the middle duplicate layer, and turn visibility back on for the background layer, if you wish.
     The mask will have black content from the frame effect. Get rid of this by clicking on the mask thumbnail to get into mask edit mode. Confirm that you are in mask edit mode by looking at the icon to the right of the layer’s eyeball icon. When in image edit mode, you will see the paintbrush icon.
image edit mode
When in mask edit mode, you will see the mask icon to the right of they eyeball icon.
mask edit mode
Once you have clicked on the mask thumbnail and are sure you are in mask edit mode, press the D key on your keyboard to make sure you have the default mask edit colors (white/fore, black/backā€”the reverse of the image edit defaults). Then press Alt-backspace to fill the mask with white.
     If you wanted to mask a layer other than your background layer, or if you do not want to flatten your document, there are a number of ways to do it, but the simplest is to duplicate the layer that you wish to mask to a new document, add the mask, and then drag the layer back onto the original file. [Note that you will lose transparency on the masked layer. If that’s a problem, see the techniques in the next part of this tutorial.]
     Do this by right-clicking on the layer, and choosing Duplicate Layer. In the Duplicate Layer dialog, for Destination Document, choose New. Apply the steps described above to the new single-layer document, then drag the masked layer back onto the original file. Be sure to press the Shift key as you drop the dragged layer so it will pin-register onto the original file.

Here it is, about one year since I first posted the original (much longer) layer mask method for Elements 1, and I’ve discovered a way to add a layer mask to any layer in Elements 1 that takes about five seconds. Sigh. Anyway, here is how it’s done:
Press the following keys (in the order given with no other clicking in between!).
For those of you who hate keyboard shortcuts, the menu steps are:
Select > All
Edit > Copy
Edit > Paste Into
Layer > New > Layer via Copy
     After you’ve done those steps, you’ll have your mask, but you need to link the mask to the image. To do this, click between the image thumbnail and the mask thumbnail on the layer.
click to link mask
After you’ve clicked there, you’ll see the little chain icon that tells you the mask is now linked to the image.
linked mask
And that’s all there is to it. If you already know how masks work and how to edit them, you’re all done. If you don’t know how they work, read through the rest of this tutorial for some tips.

What can you do with a layer mask? Suppose I want to put an apple into an image of a snake, and have it appear that the apple is sitting on the ground behind the snake. Open both files and make the snake picture the active window.
     Since I know that I am going to need to mask the apple, and I also know that I won’t want to flatten the document after I have dragged the apple onto the snake image, I will add my layer mask before I bring the apple onto the snake.
     Do this by opening the base (background) image, in this case the snake picture. Use the steps described above to generate a masked layer. Then delete all image content from that masked layer by clicking on the masked layer in the Layers palette, choosing Select > All and then pressing the Delete key.
     Leave the selection active. Click on the apple’s file to make it the active window. I will have already carefully selected the apple, using the methods described in the Simulating Alpha Channels tutorial. Click on the apple’s layer in the Layers palette. Choose Select > All followed by Edit > Copy.
     Click on the snake document to make it the active window. Click on the (empty) masked layer to select it in the Layers palette, if it is not still selected. Assuming you still have your selection active (if not choose Select > All), choose Edit > Paste Into. Be sure and use the Paste Into command, and not Paste.
     I can now use the layer mask on the apple’s layer to hide those parts of the apple that are supposed to be behind the snake.
     You may be wondering why I didn’t create this mask on the apple image, before moving it onto the snake. Then you wouldn’t even have to bother with extracting it from its original background.
     I prefer to have the edges that will be showing, i.e. the top of the apple, cut rather than masked. I think you can do a much better job of blending the edges if you don’t have to deal with the old background.
     So, why not duplicate the apple layer into a new document (via the Duplicate Layer dialog box) from the image above, and add the layer mask to it there? The first step of the frame effects is to flatten the image. Flattening removes transparency. You then have to again extract the apple from the background. Easy enough with the Magic Wand, right? Maybe, but more likely than not, you’ll have problems with a white halo being left behind as shown below (greatly magnified).
     To find out how to edit your mask, go on to the next page.