Make bold edits with layer masks.

Discover the difference between layer and vector masks. Then use both to enhance your workflow in Adobe Photoshop.

Photoshop layer masks overview.

Layer masking is a non-destructive way to hide parts of an image or layer without erasing them. They’re great for making image composites, modifying background colours, removing or cutting out objects and targeting your edits so they affect only certain areas, rather than the entire layer.

Use the feathering and refining tools with layer masks to select objects that have irregular edges

Feather, adjust, repeat.

Layer masks use an overlay that can be adjusted to work with people and objects that have irregular edges. Use feathering and refining tools to realistically select hair and fur. 

Use the Brush tool, as well as other tools, in Photoshop to paint edits onto your layer mask

Paint on edits to your masks.

Adjust your masks by painting on black and white. White areas will be affected by edits and black areas will not. Play with opacity and grayscale to change the degree to which your edits are applied.

Leverage vector masks in Photoshop to create pixel-perfect precision masking when editing images

Use vectors for precision.

Unlike a layer mask that’s manually painted on, vector masks use math to create pixel-perfect lines and edges for your selections. They’re great for architecture and areas that have straight lines. 

Use any of the Photoshop tools, such as the Brush or Gradient tool, to edit layer mask selections

Ease of editing.

To edit the selections you make with your masks, you can use any of the Photoshop tools you’re used to — such as Brush tools, Gradient tools and Eraser tools.

Masks for fine-tuned editing.

Masking can help you to make precise edits to an image so you can create a result that matches your vision.

Use Adjustment layers to manipulate the contents of the layers beneath them in

Target elements of layers.

Adjustment layers include layer masks, allowing you to change the contents of the layers beneath them, so you can selectively alter parts of an image without having to edit layers individually. 

Use the Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer with a masked area to affect the colour and vibrancy

Adjust hue and saturation.

Apply a Hue and Saturation Adjustment layer to a masked area to make selective changes to the colour and vibrancy of a certain part of a layer.

How to add a layer mask to a layer.

Adding a mask to an image layer is simple. Just follow these steps.

1. Select it:

Select your layer or group in the Layers panel. 

2. Reveal it:

For a revealing mask, click the Add Layer Mask button in the bottom of the Layers panel.

3. Conceal it:

For a concealing mask, Alt-click (PC) or Option-click (Mac) the Add Layer Mask button. 

4. Adjust it:

In the Channels panel, double-click your mask to adjust its edges and opacity. Or right-click the layer mask thumbnail. To completely invert your mask, press Command I on Mac (or Control I on Windows). 

Adobe Photoshop

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Learn professional photo editing skills with masks.

Masking can be a powerful skill to add to your graphic design repertoire. These tutorials will help you master this tool. 

Discover fill layers.

Along with masks, fill layers allow you to nondestructively add colour.

Quick edits for masks.

Learn to make quick edits to your layer masks.

Frequently asked questions.

There are a few keyboard shortcuts for selecting mask tools in Photoshop, but which shortcut you use depends on the type of mask you want to select. To create a Quick Mask, you can press the Q key. To create vector masks, you can press Command + Click the “Add Layer” mask button at the bottom of the layer palette. Active paths will then create masks.  

There are five different mask types in Photoshop:


1. Pixel Masks: These masks determine opacity based on raster image with grayscale values. These values correspond pixel for pixel to the original layer. They’re great for a model’s hair or leaves on trees.

2. Vector Masks: Vector masks use paths to provide superior flexibility. Users often choose them when they need shapes with crisp lines, like interface elements.

3. Quick Masks: Quick masks use pixel editing tools versus primitive selection tools.

4. Clipping Masks: Clipping masks give layers the opacity of an underlying layer.

5. Clipping Paths: These work like vector masks, except they apply to whole documents versus layers or layer groups.


Each mask offers pros and cons and choosing the right one is essential if you want flexible, properly masked layers.

If you want to add a clipping mask, hold the Option key while clicking between the two layers in the Layer palette when the clipping mask cursor appears. You can also press Command + Option + G to clip a layer to one below it.


You can clip several layers to one master layer, but you cannot use clipped layers as clipping masks.

Quick Mask mode lets you create selections using pixel editing tools instead of primitive selection tools. You can press Q to access Quick Mask mode. 

Yes, you can do this by using a layer mask. In the menu, choose Layer > Add Layer Mask > Hide All. Then reveal the drop shadow in the places where you want it seen. Use Command + click Mac or Control + click Windows on the Layers palette thumbnail for the mask.


Once the selection is active, fill it with white to reveal those areas on the shadow’s layer. Finally, select and transform the parts of the drop shadow you haven't adjusted yet.

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