The Importance of Layer Masking
Layer masking is one of the most powerful features that you could ever learn.
It is my single favorite Photoshop tool and I use it all of the time. True
professionals use the layer mask all of the time. The layer mask is used
to mask or "hide" pixels without having to erase them. When you erase
pixels, you are getting rid of them permanently (unless you have an original
layer copy around) but with a layer mask you can not only "erase" pixels but you
can bring them back and even fade them: you never "lose" anything with a layer
Why would you want to use a layer mask? Simply to hide pixels or make
them invisible so you can see layers beneath, create a perfect blend, "erase"
something that shouldn't be showing, etc.
My secret weapon? Should I be telling this? It's the gradient
tool with the layer mask. It will literally solve all of your problems!
It is how to create perfect blends and fades. Since movie poster's are
just about my favorite genre of design, I've found that 90% use (gradient) layer
masking. If you're someone who respects movie posters, then you should
respect the power of the layer mask because now you have the power to create the
same results as the best of the best!
If you understand how to use the gradient tool, you can use it on a layer
mask to create perfect fades and blends. You can also use brushes,
paintbrush, or create selections and "fill". It is important to note that
when you create a layer mask you are creating a new channel of information that
can be found under the, yep; channels palette. When you are 'on' the layer
mask you can also go to the channels palette and take a look at it.
When you paint, fill or use the gradient tool with black as the foreground
color you are going to be HIDING pixels on that layer. When you paint or
fill with white as the foreground color you are going to REVEAL pixels (if they
were already hidden). It may take a while for this concept to sink in but
it is absolutely worth understanding. When you work on a layer mask, (it
has it's own channel) you use Black to White and any shades of Grey in between
to reveal or hide pixels. 50% grey is exactly in between. The closer
shade of grey to white that you get, the more of the original pixels you will
reveal (or "buy back" as I like to say). The closer the shade of grey to
black that you use, the more you will hide pixels.
You can easily create a layer mask by clicking on the layer mask icon near
the bottom left of the layers palette. You must switch back and forth
between the layer itself and the layer mask. You will goof this up many
times because even I will "accidentally" find myself using a gradient on the
layer itself; make sure you are on the layer mask when you want to be. You
will notice the link between the layer and the layer mask; this simply means
that the layer and mask are linked together (almost always where you'd want it).
So get some practice fooling around with the layer mask, trying out the
different tools (brush, paint bucket, fill and gradient tool) to hide and reveal
pixels with Black, White and the different shades of grey. You can toggle
between white and black as your foreground colors by pressing "D" and "X".
What's the secret weapon again that pro designers use to get that perfect blend
or fade of a layer? That's right. The gradient tool. I will
only use the brush (almost never paintbucket or "fill") when I need to get in
tight and close on a layer to hide some edges for example; otherwise, I'll
always use the gradient tool and switching between the different modes (using
linear and radial the most).
Make sure you understand the concept and application of layer masking and get
some good experience because it is one of the most practical AND professional
things you could ever learn in Photoshop and you will continuously use it as a
graphic designer. The
Basic Photoshop training covers layer masking in application
extensively. You can also enable/disenable a layer mask, apply it
(essentially erasing those areas "masked").
If an area of the layer is too invisible and you want to bring back the
original pixels you a brush or radial gradient tool (which I use) with white as
the foreground color to carefully bring back the pixels that you want visible.
Here is another practical example of layer masking where I am simply
'masking' or hiding pixels.
Remember that the original layer is still
there (as you can see if you disenable, fill with white or throw away the layer
mask). If you're not layer masking yet, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW. ;)
- Orion Williams