A person bisects the image of a Mediterranean beach and a solid pink background layer using layer masks

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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.

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. 

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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.

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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. 


1. Select it:

Select the layer you want to crop in the Layers toolbar, and right-click on the Layer Mask icon.


2. 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.


3. 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. 


4. 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.


5. 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. 

A lemon and its shadow are cut from their layer using a layer mask with tool window overlaid

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.

A giraffe is profiled in front of wispy clouds and blue sky with Layer Mask tool window overlaid

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.

A pink-sprinkled donut hovers in a pink background  with Marquee tool options dialog box overlaid

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.

A pink water lily with pad floats on a pond with Pen tool dialog box overlaid

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.         

Adobe Photoshop

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

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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Explore the art of photomontage.

Learn the history of photo collage — from surrealism to modern digital compositing.

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Make a stunning combined image.

Follow along with this tutorial to create an impactful piece of art made from two separate photos.

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