How to crop with layer masks in Adobe Photoshop.

Explore different ways to crop using layer masks. Crop parts of your image to create composite photos, swap backgrounds, or make precise edits.

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Understand layers before you start cropping.

Photoshop layers are versatile tools, essential for almost any graphic design project. They let you composite multiple images, add text to a graphic, stack vector shapes into one design, and more. Layers also give you ways to edit and crop nondestructively, so you can make reversible edits and maintain image quality as you work.

Get to know the Layers panel.

Head to the Layers panel to see a full list of the layers, layer groups, and layer effects in your Photoshop project. From here you can create new layers, hide layers, and work with layer masks.

Edit impermanently with Smart Objects.

Smart Objects are special types of layers that let you transform, skew, and reshape content without editing the pixels. You can edit and crop multiple layers by combining them into one Smart Object.

A step-by-step guide to cropping with a layer mask.

A simple way to crop parts of a layer is with a layer mask. To get started, open your multilayered project in Photoshop.

  • Select it:
    Select the layer you want to crop in the Layers toolbar, and right-click on the Layer Mask icon.
  • Double-check it:
    The layer mask is visible as a blank white rectangle next to the layer’s thumbnail. Where the mask is white, the image will show through. Where it is black, the layer will be hidden.
  • Paint it:
    Use the Brush tool, Shape tool, or Gradient tool to paint black over the areas you want to crop out on the layer mask.
  • Invert it:
    If needed, you can flip your selection to crop out the inverse area. For example, if you want to swap the background in a portrait, use the Brush tool to highlight your subject with a layer mask, and then invert the layer mask by selecting it and pressing Command+I on a Mac, or Control+I on a PC. That way, only the background will be affected.
  • Come back to it:
    Objects you paint over with your layer mask won’t actually be deleted. You can easily come back to your cropped layer later and undo or adjust it.

More ways to crop in Adobe Photoshop.

When you crop images, you are trimming off areas of a photo or design to cut out unwanted items or adjust the composition. When you use the traditional Crop tool in Photoshop, it affects the whole image, including all of the layers and the aspect ratio, or the dimensions of your image. You can’t use the Photoshop Crop tool on single layers, but there are different ways to edit layers so your changes won’t affect the entire canvas.

Make more nuanced crops with layer edits.

Use your favorite selection tool to select an object, then apply a layer mask to “cut” the object out from its background. Try using this method for new compositions or collages.

Create a blended crop.

When you use a layer mask to crop, it doesn’t have to be in a harsh line. Experiment with different brush tools and different opacities of black and white to subtly fade out the edges of your crop.

Crop an area into a geometric shape.

With the Elliptical Marquee (round) and Rectangular Marquee tool options, select just the shape you want to keep, and then use Add Layer Mask to hide everything outside your marquee selection.

Crop using more complex shapes.

To crop complex areas out of a layer, use the Pen tool. Select the layer you want to crop, use the Pen tool to trace a selection, and create a vector mask by holding the Ctrl key on Windows or the Command key on a Mac and clicking the Layer Mask icon.


Get creative with your cropping.

Once you’ve learned the art of layer cropping with different selection tools, you can find fresh ways to create all sorts composites. And depending on your project, you may find that combining multiple layer crop approaches will get you the best result.

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Frequently asked questions.

Can I crop multiple layers at once in Photoshop?

You can crop multiple layers at once by selecting all the layers you want to crop in the Layers panel. Press Ctrl + Alt + C on PC or Cmd + Option + C on Mac. This creates a cropping frame around all layers. You can then adjust and resize as desired.

How do I crop a layer in Photoshop on an iPad?

Cropping a layer in Photoshop on an iPad is easy. Just select the layer you want to crop, then tap the Crop icon at the top of the screen. Move and resize the cropping frame to fit your desired area. When you're done, press Done at the top right of the screen.

Is there a shortcut key to crop a layer in Photoshop?

You can crop layers in Photoshop by pressing Ctrl + Alt + C on PC or Cmd + Option + C on a Mac. This automatically creates the crop frame around your layer. Then, move it around as desired.

How do I resize a layer after cropping the layer in Photoshop?

To resize a recently cropped layer in Photoshop, click on the Crop icon again and select Resize. You’ll then be able to adjust the size of the cropping frame. When you’ve completed your selection, press Done at the top right of the screen.