How to use Layer Masks in Photoshop

Hello and welcome all to the lesson nr. 4 of our Photoshop lessons series.

Today I`ll speak about layer masks and I`ll show you how to create a black and white picture with some colored areas and how to merge two pictures,using layer masks.

In Photoshop,a Layer Mask is the best way to hide and reveal certain parts of a layer.

To add a Mask to a layer,first you must select the respective layer and then click on the Mask button.You may find the button in the bottom area of the layer`s section.


You`ll notice that in the right side of the layer will appear a thumbnail.


To start using the layer mask,click on the layer mask thumbnail and start hiding and revealing layers.

Next,I`ll present you some examples of using layer masks.You`ll see that those masks will become a must have in your next Photoshop projects.

Create a black and white picture with colored areas

In the first example I`ll show you how to create a black and white picture.After,I`ll reveal some colored areas from the initial image.

First step,download this flowers arrangement photo to get started.After you download it,load the image into Photoshop.


Next,we`re going to make the picture a black and white one.Go to Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Hue/Saturation and apply the next settings:



To make the image more lighter,go to Layer->new Adjustment Layer->Brightness/Contrast and change the brightness and contrast of the image.


Now we have a back and white image:


Let`s reveal a little color.Click on the layer mask thumbnail of the Hue/Saturation layer.The reason is simple.The layer mask hides the initial picture by painting over the black and white effect.So,to reveal the colors,we must delete the respective areas of the mask.

Now,with the Hue/Saturation layer mask selected,choose a Soft brush and start revealing the colored areas.


Start painting with the brush tool where you want to color.


The image is ready:


Here`s another images that I modified to show you how great is this procedure:



How to merge two pictures

In this example,I`ll show you how to merge two images. One of the tasks that you find yourself doing in Photoshop is cutting stuff out, putting them somewhere they don’t belong and making them fit in.I`ll show you a way to do this,using a layer mask. We`re going to add a sailing boat on a tropical sea.

Download those two pictures:The sailing boat and tropical sea.

Load them into Photoshop.



Now I`m showing you how to paste the boat picture over the tropical sea.When you load a picture into Photoshop,you notice that the first layer,named Background is locked and it can`t be edited.To make it editable,double click the Background layer.


The layer has been transformed into a editable layer,named Layer0.


To select the layer,Ctrl+Click it.Copy the selection and paste it over the tropical sea picture.


Next step is to add a layer mask to the boat layer.Click on the layer mask button to add one.


Now click on the layer mask thumbnail to select it.


In other words,to use correctly the layer mask,select the foreground color to black.This way,you`ll delete the entire areas around the boat.Otherwise,you`ll have traces of colors from the image.


Choose an Airbrush round and start painting the boat image.You`ll observe how the tropical sea is revealed.If you want to zoom the image to work more accurate,press Ctrl+ “+” .



After you`ll finish the paint job,you`ll have a boat on a tropical sea.But only a few will realize that there are two images in one.For the rest this is a real image.


If you want to see more,check out the Landscape Photo Manipulation tutorial and see how the two images are merged.Below is the final image of the tutorial:


That was all for today.I hope you`ve learned something from it! See you next time!

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Madalin Tudose

A web developer with a crush on SEO. Having my skin in the game of website development and digital marketing for more than 10 years already, you might consider me an expert. At least this is what people call me. Honestly, I HATE that term. I prefer to describe myself as a person who takes action and risks. I test every hypothesis, document every step of the process, and implement what works.

Join the discussion

  1. None on July 22, 2009 at 2:15 am Reply

    Nice introduction into layer masking. I always wondered what they are really used for. What I understand now is that you can edit the image’s appearance without affecting the originally applied photo. Thanks!

  2. Cecilia on July 26, 2009 at 12:33 pm Reply

    My question is about “Create a black and white picture with colored areas”.

    What do you mean by “So,to reveal the colors,we must delete the respective areas of the mask.” ? I can’t understand it. Coz nothing happens when I am painting πŸ™
    Who do you delete the respective areas??



    1. Madalin Tudose on July 29, 2009 at 9:36 am Reply

      Hello there…!
      You must know that when you`re giving a hue/saturation effect to a layer,it`s creating a new layer named “Hue/saturation” which has its mask.You must select this mask with a click.This layer mask is like a window veil.To view the window,you must reveal the veil.So,to reveal the colors,you must erase the mask where you want to see the colors.

      I hope I was easily understood!
      If you have more questions,don`t hesitate to tell me!

  3. odon on September 9, 2009 at 8:03 am Reply

    your picture very beautiful, thanks

  4. vijay on November 23, 2009 at 10:07 am Reply


  5. savita on December 31, 2009 at 7:30 pm Reply

    it is very beautiful.

  6. Maxi on February 25, 2010 at 2:37 am Reply

    Very good tutorial .

  7. Edwin Barreto on March 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm Reply

    Finally, a web site that provides practical, easy-to-understand tutorials on very difficult topics; my hats off to the writers of these articles.

    Truly, thank you.

    1. satish on April 5, 2010 at 6:28 am Reply

      it like a unseen photos

  8. tanu on March 12, 2010 at 4:14 am Reply

    just beautifuuuuuuuuul
    lovin it…….

  9. Shane Shaw on August 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing the tutorial, i learned a lot from it.

  10. Pink Tree Studio/Elaine on November 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm Reply

    Madalin~~thanks so much for your tutorials! I followed these a few weeks ago and today I used your technique for creating a black and white image and painting back the color.

    Today I followed your instructions on one of my own photos, posted it on Flickr and gave you credit in my description :~)

    I do have a question. Why do you create one adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation and one for Brightness/Contrast instead of just using Image > Adjustment > Desaturate to make the photo black and white? Thanks!

  11. marcio paz on December 24, 2010 at 12:18 pm Reply

    thank you so much for tuturial

  12. Bobman on June 11, 2011 at 9:32 am Reply

    I was just doing this in my online visual design class but my textbook explained it terribly. I followed all your steps and actually understand it better than my book was trying to teach! Great freaking post! Bookmarked this site!

    1. Madalin Tudose on June 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm Reply

      Hey Bobman, I`m glad I could help you!

  13. steve on June 23, 2011 at 4:03 am Reply

    thanks for this layer masks tutorial. I did test it out and it’s so great thanks again πŸ™‚

  14. JustBe on February 9, 2012 at 6:10 am Reply

    Thank you,

    I learned something.

  15. alex on July 6, 2012 at 10:46 pm Reply

    thank you for your tutorial , layer masks lessons

  16. John on October 20, 2012 at 2:48 am Reply

    Thank you so much πŸ™‚

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