PHOTOSHOP How To: Understanding Layer Masks

hir0

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The software used for this tutorial is Adobe Photoshop CS2. Previous versions should be very similar.

This tutorial teaches you the basics of what a layer mask is and how it works.
Layer masking is a very powerful tool for making 'selective' changes to your image.
you can apply filters etc. to parts of your image, allowing you better overall control.
I'm going to walk you through a simple 'clean up job' on an image using a layer mask.

1. open your image.


2. set your foreground color to white, and your background color to black. I'll explain why later.


3. right click your background layer in the layers window and select 'duplicate layer'.


note: another way to create a duplicate layer, is to drag your background layer onto the 'new layer' icon.


4. click on the filter tab, and select 'noise' and 'dust & scrathches'.

5. the trick here, is to adjust the radius and threshold to amounts that match the texture of the skin,
yet covers the blemishes to an acceptable level. you can easily toggle back and forth between the edited
and unedited version by clicking the image inside the 'dust and scratches' window. when finished click 'ok'.


note: your image will look very bad at this point, don't worry about it. we will fix it later.

6. this is where our layer mask comes in. with the background copy layer selected in the layer window,
click the 'add layer mask' icon in the bottom of the layer window.


7. click on the new layer mask box that is to the right of your duplicate layer and make sure it's selected.


8. click the edit tab, and select 'fill'. make sure 'contents' says background color (black, remember step 2). click ok.

* if you look at your image you'll notice that it looks the way it did when we started. on step 2 i had you
change your foreground color to white, and your background color to black. when dealing with a layer mask,
black "hides" changes in your layer, while white "reveals" changes. when we created the layer mask, you could
have clicked the layer tab -> layer mask -> 'hide all', and we would be at the same point we are at now. the
reason i had you change your foreground/background color and then had you fill the layer mask with black, is
to illustrate the association that layer masks have with the two colors.
remember black hides, and white reveals. or think light you can see, and dark you cannot.

9. select the paintbrush tool and change your brush size so that it is big enough for the smaller blemishes.
use a soft brush, i like to use 50% hardness, and lower opacity and/or flow. i only change flow to 50%.

10. since black hides, and white reveals - what we want to paint with is a white brush. we already changed our
foreground color to white in step 2, so with the paintbrush selected - we should be ready to go.

11. make sure the layer mask is selected in your layers window by clicking on it.

12. feel free to paint away the blemishes. you aren't covering them, they are covered already. what you are
doing, is revealing the layer that you applied the dust and scratches filter to earlier. don't be afraid to change
brush size, hardness, opacity or flow. change all of these variables to suit your needs. This is what layer masks
are about, selective editing of your image.

note: if you make a mistake, you can easily fix it by switching the colors on your palette. this is easily done by
clicking on the arrow icon next to the foreground/background colors displayed on your toolbar - or by pressing
the 'x' key on your keyboard. just paint over the mistakes with black. that's it!



13. when you are finished with your adjustments, right click the background layer, and select 'merge visible'.


14. you are now down to 1 layer, and finished with your layer mask.

end note: this tutorial wasn't designed to teach you to clean up blemishes. the purpose of this tutorial was to
give you a better understanding of what layer masks are, and what they do. use your imagination, and there is
no end to what uses you can have for layer masks.
 
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Schnauzer

Fire Eel
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Feb 23, 2005
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HirO ,
I just today 18th saw your tutorial . Its great . Since I have never used layers you used just the right approach for someone who knows nothing about it . I am very pleased .
Now I want more - more - more .
 

Schnauzer

Fire Eel
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I think we need a big poster put up telling about our tutorials as they come up that will attract attention and stay their for a while . After not having the internet for a few days I just stumbled on them . Maybe their is something their that I didn't see . If their is it didn't grab my attention .
 

phishphorphun

Jack Dempsey
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Great article Hir0. However, I'm getting only red X boxes instead of images for steps 1 thr 11 :confused: I us Microsoft IE, could that be the problem?
 

Schnauzer

Fire Eel
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Hi Bobby ,
I tried hirO's method a few times and it works great . The pictures were showing , but I am also getting red X's now .
 

hir0

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I had to re-upload them to my server sorry. Ed! need somewhere more permanent for these images. my webspace is very limited.
 
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