Adobe Photoshop Advice: Masking

Want to put your face on a famous NFL player? I didn’t, but someone I tutored was obsessed with football and wanted to be in the heat of the game with his favorite players.

So how does one do that?

Traditionally you would get the magazine cover with the football players in question, then take a picture of one’s face in a similar position as the desired player before getting into ‘arts and crafts’ time. The process would require you to use an x-acto knife to cut out the player’s face while your image is perfectly positioned underneath. This way your face can show through. It could take mere minutes if one was sloppy or hours if one was meticulous.

The downside to the traditional method is that there is no ‘undo’ button. One wrong slip could mean a ruined piece.

This is why today’s lesson goes over the digital process of masking. It allows you to take the same concepts of a masking tool and to apply them in programs such as Photoshop.

To be honest, whenever I did any Photoshop work, I used an eraser to get rid of parts of an image I didn’t want. This meant that I had at least three copies of the layer I was working on in case my history didn’t allow me to undo enough times if I messed up. It was not only stressful but very time-consuming. This is why when I found out about masking, I wished I had known about this amazing tool sooner.

How do you use the masking tool?

First, you pick the layer you want to mask. If we refer back to the football player example, this would mean the top layer with the two NFL players on it.

Then you have two options.

1. Select the parts you want to ‘cut’ from the image by selecting those parts. You can use the magic wand, magnetic lasso, pen tool, or whatever floats your boat. Personally, I pen tool everything because that gives me the most accuracy out of all the other tools.

Once your have your selection, you go to Select > Inverse. You do this because you want the selection to have everything that will remain in the image while everything that is unselected will be gone. Finally, you click on the mask tool and ta-da, you are done.

2. Click the mask tool before making any kind of selection. Once the mask is made, click on the new sub-layer created. When you do, your colors in your palette should be black and white. With your brush, select Black. Now whatever you paint with the brush will be hidden while everything else will be visible.

Use the black and white paintbrushes to refine your work. Continue using black to hide and white to reveal. If you play around with opacities you can even create gradients of seen to unseen.

Besides hiding parts of an image, are there any other uses?

There sure are!

Ever had issues of coloring inside the lines after inking an image you drew? I sure have. So instead of coloring and constantly erasing whenever you mess up and paint outside the lines, you can put down a single base layer of color. Whatever color you want. Then after you have your entire image with that base color create a new layer.

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